Amanda Falconer is the founder of an Australian dietary supplement company for dogs and cats – Bestie Kitchen. I founded Bestie as an 'ode' to our dogs Alfy and Mondoe, and because of our belief in good food as the basis of good health. However, before Bestie, I’d spent 30 years in marketing, covering everything from industrial textiles to bricks, fibre cement and concrete.
Here’s out chat with Amanda.
How did you come to start your business? Was there a particular spark or a significant turning point?
In a way, the decision to start bestie came overnight. In another way, it was a long time coming. Work change had been coming since I turned 50. I’d been a marketing manager in big corporates for years; I made the leap from that to starting a marketing agency. By the time I was 55 though, the delight I used to have in my work, had gone. And I was sick of working on other people’s companies and ideas.
Around my 55th birthday, I just woke up and knew it was time. Our beloved little dog Mondoe had also just died, at 22 years of age, and I think that desire to really do something different, that I believed in and cared about, added to that ‘cycle of life’ stage, gave me the impetus to say, you know what, I’m done. It’s time to start this new thing.
What makes your business unique?
Our uniqueness is a function of category, formulation approach and technology. By that I mean that we only focus on supplements. We want to add to fresh food and diets to create good health. We also base all our formulations – created by our holistic vet and animal nutritionist – on peer-reviewed published research. If we could afford to do our own clinical trials we would but until then, we don’t pursue fads; we looks for the science. We also try and use technology to add both value to the consumer and stickiness to us. We already have a simple food calculator app and are working on mark 2 via a Jobs for NSW MVP Grant.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
My vision is to create a global brand of nutraceuticals for dogs and cats, supported by technology that gives personalized nutritional support. That’s where I’d like to be in 10 years! As for me, I still see myself in the thick of it, but probably doing less of the things that I’m not so good at…
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I really see starting and running a business as a creative expression – even if your business is steel engineering, I still think it’s creative. For me, it’s just so satisfying in a way that working in companies never was or could be. Part of that is all the problem solving you do, and the new things you need to learn, coupled with the freedom to have an idea and then work out how to bring that to life. I just find it all so energizing. I guess, another aspect is that for my entire corporate life I felt like this square peg in the round hole…I just never seemed to fit with the culture; I was always too fringe, too creative, too something. With bestie, I’m creating the culture and it’s hand in glove with me.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
1. Deductive reasoning: work out what the right problem or focus is. It’s not always what you think and often there’s kind of a decision tree you need to create for yourself: if this, then that, but if that, then this.
2. Problem solving: once you know what the right problem is, you need to get very good at learning what you need to solve it OR find the right people who can.
3. Resilience: some people are born with this of course, but I think it’s a skill you can learn. You need to practice it. (Actually, sport or physical training is brilliant for honing this.) And what goes hand in hand with resilience is believing in yourself. You’ve got to get the skill of being able to support yourself emotionally.
How do you generate new ideas?
If I say, they just come, that’s not exactly helpful, I realise. But they do. What I think you can do, is set the right conditions. I was told a long time ago that you’ve got to make a ‘clearing’ for new things to show up in, and I have seen that over my life. So, I really try and make time in my day or week, for activities that require me to be present, but that also allow me to kind of drift off. Swimming is one, running, long showers…OK I know that’s not quite so environmentally fantastic but the shower is a good place for ideas! Sometimes though, you just get stuck patches in life. Then, I forget about trying to make ideas come. I do things that really make you stay present, like improvisation classes! They really get the brain firing long after the class…
What keeps you going in difficult times?
Sometimes, no matter how resilient you are or have trained yourself to be, things are difficult. At those times, I think it’s good not to be your own brains trust. I know I have period of self-doubt (see next question); that’s just me and what I’m like. So, what I did early on was set up a small board, and the guys on that are really helpful for giving me an objective perspective and other ways to see and approach things that are difficult. I also turn to my partner, who’s great at saying to me, darling, I believe in you; you’re onto something I know it…plus that good old one…if it were easy, everyone would do it! So, I listen to what he says, and I think to myself, why am I doing this? Yes, that’s right. This is my goal, pick yourself up and keep going.
Having a business is like running a marathon. So, just like running an actual marathon (which is why endurance sports are brilliant for building up mental and emotional resilience), you will go through ups and downs. You just need to remember that it will change.
How do you handle doubt?
As I mentioned earlier, I do go through periods of doubt. I always have done and I recognize it as one of the key challenges that I have as an entrepreneur. That said, I know about it so I manage it. So one of the things I do is have a journaling app on my phone (Day One). And I have a special journal called ‘inner’ in that app, and whenever I get down or doubtful, I jot a little note down in that journal. Or rather dictate that into my phone! That gets the narrative out of my head where I can see it. That’s much better than it running around in the background, infecting my moods and other thoughts. Then, I look at the date. And typically, I’ll be able to go huh. Right on time. I had the same kind of narrative running around last month. That’s just your cycle Amanda. I’ll also be able to hold that up and go, is that true? Is this the only interpretation you could have for what’s happening right now? Is sticking with interpretation helpful? No? Well, then…
Do you have any tips for work life balance?
Move to Newcastle! Just kidding. You know years ago, when people began to talk about work-life balance, I thought they were nuts. I was a workaholic and loved it. Now though, I realise that it just doesn’t work for me. (Excuse the pun.) I love my business and want it to do well, but I also love ocean swimming. Running. Playing with the dogs. Hanging out with friends. I never had the mental space to do that before; now I want to, and I make sure I do. It does help, that we’re living in a place with less ‘contextual stress’…there IS something to be said for less crowded, slower regional locations…
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
For a couple of reasons I’m going to say Michelle Bridges 12WBT. I had 5kg to lose a few years ago and did her program. I had no idea who she was. But I have to say, that I was amazed at how well-designed the program was; there was real cleverness at work behind the scenes. So, hats off for that.
The other reason for choosing them (instead of say Allbirds, for a whole bunch of other reasons), is that doing 12WBT is the best business training you’ll ever do. Why? Well, this comes back to top skill number three. If you weren’t resilient before, following the guidelines of say the 10km running program, will show you the power of consistent effort, and let you practice going through ups and downs, and doing it anyway.