Toni Doidge co-founded ATP Science – one of Australia’s leading science-backed health and supplement brands with her husband Jeff and friend, lead scientist and naturopath Matt Legge.
From digital design artist, content creator, financial administrator to mother, soccer coach and wife; Toni Doidge is the perfect example of the all-encompassing 21st Century Businessowner.
She’s proud to have built a company that prides itself on integrity and providing customers with products that are what they say they are.
“I will always make sure we can hold our hands on our hearts and say our products are top quality with the best ingredients formulated in a way that will genuinely help people. That’s what I care most about – helping people,” Toni says.
We chatted to Toni recently about how she navigates business as a co-founder and with a family.
Can you please share with us how you came to Co-Found ATP Science?
Originally, my husband (Jeff) and I owned a Brisbane sports supplement store selling protein and other products to customers. We borrowed a loan from my parents, and I did all the graphic designing, digital art and website marketing for the company. It took off from there and we outgrew our first store within 6 months. We were really lucky when we entered this industry in the early 2000’s, it was early days for retailers online which really boosted our brand and sales. We also understood good customer service and what people wanted and that really helped our online sales takeoff. Our store then became one of the biggest online supplement businesses in Australia at that time.
During this time, we met Matt Legge our naturopath/scientist and he changed our mindsets. He came into the store one day and we asked him “what do you think about these formulations?” because we’d really started to question them and whether they were really working. And Matt said to us “you don’t want me to tell you. If I start telling you what half of this stuff is doing to the body, you won’t be able to sell it anymore.” From there, our eyes were opened, and we used Matt’s science and naturopathy-based knowledge to create our own products that worked.
Matt helped me with my own personal health issues – specifically chronic fatigue – and one of the first products we created, Infrared, was instrumental in me getting better. It is a carbohydrate-based electrolyte pre-workout with no stimulants. It was designed to treat chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia – it’s what helped my fatigue– it’s real energy and in turn, it’s also excellent for sports people as a pre-workout.
Initially, what difficulties did you face?
We had a lot of struggles in the early days – consultants ripping us off, accountants trying to blackmail us, 3rd party contract manufacturers adding ingredients into our products that weren’t in the formulation…so many things that would shut most start ups dead in their tracks. I also had a preemie baby who struggled to feed, and I was tube feeding him and expressing for the first 3 months all while I was still working full-time and trying to keep the business afloat with Jeff and Matt.
As the business has grown, the hardest thing for us has been finding a way to educate people about our products without making claims. Sometimes we see competitors who shout claims from the rooftops about their products and what they will do and what they will fix; but we follow the Australian regulations and we use our podcast to educate the market about their health concerns. Although educating people is a more time-consuming process, it gets better results for people and gives the power back to them to make their own decisions about their own health.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
In the early days I think the thing that got us through as a trio, was just pure grit and stubbornness. We knew what we had was special, and we knew that it would help a lot of people and for that reason alone we refused to lie down and die.
One of your co-founders is your husband, how do you navigate that?
I honestly don’t know any different. We have been married for nearly 22 years now, we were married when I was 21, we started our first business together when I was 22 so it would actually be very strange to NOT work together.
We both think very differently which actually helps because we come at things from different angles. We then (usually) end up agreeing!
It’s taken us a long time to get the balance right, but I think we’re getting better with it. Especially after we had kids, that balance became even more important. We have made a rule that we don’t ever discuss work at home, especially when we’re around our kids. We don’t touch our phones on the weekends – no emails on the weekends. We’re involved in the kids’ sport and coach the sports team, so we give them our full attention and we work very hard to be ‘present’ all the time.
Do you have any advice on how to make a business work as a Co-Founder?
The three of us (Jeff, Matt and myself) work so well together and we think along the same lines for the important things, even though we have different roles in different areas of the business. I think it’s important that you’re always on the same page with your co-workers and you align yourself with people who have the same ideas, morals and want the same outcome.
We also never make a decision without the other two present. We always run everything by each other and make sure we’re in the loop. I think the most important thing is to work as a team and be open and honest with each other. It’s the only way you’ll stay true to who you are which is reflected in the brand.
What do you think was the biggest mistake you made in business?
That is a really hard question…every time I think on this and come up with one, I realise it then led us down the path that took us to where we are now, and I honestly wouldn’t change that for anything. So, I don’t really think there has been a “mistake” as such…. more of a training ground, which felt super tough at the time but ultimately lead us to the right path.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
To ignore the vulture capitalists (sorry I mean venture capitalists) who told us we were fools and would never be able to educate the market and create new categories in the sports supplement industry. We clawed our way out of a hole and into a surplus just to prove them wrong and that’s what lead us to the podcast.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
Jeff always loves to quote Simon Sinek – “To start with – you must find your “Why?” We live by this motto and I think businesses that tend to fail, are the ones that don’t have a strong enough “Why?”
At ATP Science, our “Why?” is we’re sick of seeing products being sold that “might work” and instead we wanted to make products that really do work, and we maintain that integrity through the entire process. When you come up against decisions that challenge you, your “Why?” is what channels you in the right direction. That “Why?” is what leads you to the next step.
How have you personally measured your success?
By the testimonials from our customers. We get hundreds telling us how our products or podcast have changed people’s lives
Do you have any tips for those struggling to gain a successful work life balance?
I think it is just a process you have to go through and work out yourself. Every stage of life changes and that balance changes with it, it is a constant battle that you have to conquer.
How have your kids impacted the way you structure your day?
I get up at 4:45am to do my gym workout and have my ‘me time’. This is so important mentally as well as physically and it sets me up for the day. I then get the family up at 6.30am to get ready for school and work and while I get dressed Jeff makes the kids lunches and herds them up to get dressed. We are out the door by 7.30, drop the kids to school and drive to work together. We try to leave work no later than 4.30pm so we can collect the kids by 5, I make the dinner, Jeff does readers with our preppie and he does the dishes. It is a long day for them and so our weekends are pretty much tailored to spending a lot of quality time with them. That is why we committed 3 years ago to coach and manage our eldest son’s soccer team so that we had that connection with him. Our youngest has just started soccer too now so we will help with his team in a couple of years too.
We make sure we have 4 decent family holidays a year to create really special memories.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I can’t talk for the corporate world, it’s never something I have been a part of. In your own business however in Australia I don’t think there really is any barrier. Australian’s businessmen are not really sexist, or not the ones I have encountered anyway, from certain other countries, for sure! I have met some of the most arrogant sexist men in business meetings but all of them were from overseas. The only thing I could think of would perhaps be children and there are so many work arounds to that, you just have to be creative.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the entire process of creation. I love seeing Matt start with a tiny piece of research and then that research develops it into something that helps people. Then it comes to Jeff and me. We work really well together to work out target markets, how to market it, where it finds in which industry, what personality the product will have etc. I then give it a “face” – I design an image that fits that product and a label and with my amazing team (one of which has been with Jeff and I for 11 years now!) we develop a marketing concept behind it.
It takes a long time to develop a new product with so many different stages and nothing makes me happier than seeing the outcome of that process and knowing all the hard work has paid off when someone with a chronic illness takes the time to write writes to us to tell us they’ve seen relief with our products.
Who are the women around you that allow you to thrive?
I have 3 close girlfriends who I can always be myself around…. if I couldn’t, they quite simply wouldn’t be my friends. If I can’t be honest and direct with someone and have to tiptoe around them then I feel suffocated. The females on our team are all women who respond well to direct input which creates a culture where we can all thrive and genuinely care and support each other.
Here’s where you can connect with ATP Science.