I’ve been wanting to bring back my ‘Jennifer Hamley meets’ blog series for months (maybe even a year!) but I never quite got around to it, which frustrated me because I LOVE learning from the women I get to interview. In an inspired moment just over a week ago I sent out a tweet on Twitter asking if any of the inspirational women that I follow would like to feature. I was overwhelmed with the response, fabulous women from all kinds of businesses wanting to share. I’m over the moon to kick off with one of the most inspiring women I have ever met, Helena Hills.
I first met Helena when I joined the six-month business accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark in February of last year. A true dynamo around the office; focused, energetic and getting shit done, I must admit, I was a little intimidated by this fabulous woman to start with. And then I spoke to her. Friendly, helpful and understanding, with the most infectious energy, she taught me that most fears are unfounded. I am absolutely honoured to count Helena as a friend and to have her here with me today to answer a few questions.
To give you a little background, Helena and her husband Simon launched TrueStart Performance Coffee just last year after coming up with the idea during IronMan triathlon training (lesson one, always be ready for when inspiration hits, it can happen anywhere!) The idea; a coffee designed for sport, with the perfect natural caffeine boost every time with no crash.
Their focus and dedication has seen rapid growth for TrueStart and they’ve secured major listings with Ocado and Holland & Barrett amongst many others. They’ve built an army of loyal customers, from Olympic athletes to those running their first 5k, and have received international press from the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Helena was also recently awarded the Natwest Everywoman Brand of the Future Award. She truly is a to woman watch and learn from!
Helena, It’s fabulous to chat to you today, how are you doing?
It’s fabulous to be here, and I’m feeling great thanks. A productive day so far, we’re in the middle of launching our new product range – the TrueStart Hero bars which are the first ever ‘real food’ caffeine bars. A huge amount of teamwork with our customers has gone into the range and I’m so proud of them. I’m especially proud of my husband and Co-Founder Simon, who has headed up the entire development process and the result is something truly ground breaking.
Now I’ve got a TrueStart Coffee in my hand and am about to go for a bike ride, what’s not to love!
Sounds idyllic – As someone that also runs a business alongside my husband, it’s so good to see the energy you guys share. I’m really looking forward to trying out the Hero bar!
What advice can you give for sustaining a successful business in an ever-changing world?
Stay unbelievably close to your customer! This is something we’ve been obsessed with since day one – going out to events, handing out TrueStart and just talking to people. Doing the ground work yourself is important, you are the brand. Simon and I still train and race with our customers and it’s really easy for people to get in touch with us. My challenge is how to effectively scale that, whilst ensuring the direct engagement is never lost. Through it, we’ve built an army of incredibly loyal customers who really resonate with our mission to up your game in sport and life.
I agree with you 100% – meeting customers and future customers, then keeping relationships close has been the most rewarding both personally and for the business, I love that you’ve said how you are looking at keeping this going as you grow.
Looking back at yourself from when you started in business/your career, how have you changed?
I’ve become more confident in following my gut, and calling people out where necessary. If I could give one piece of advice to myself two years ago, it would be to quickly focus on learning what your gut sounds like and listening to it! Every major mistake we’ve made has been as a result of going against our gut.
There have been times in the past when I’ve been too trusting and I’m now much better at analysing people which is a critical skill. I also definitely have less time for bullsh*t. Am I allowed to swear?
Amen! Swear away! I love that you’ve said this, it is SUCH a critical skill – I know that if I’d learnt to trust my gut sooner I wouldn’t have made some of the costly errors I made, both financial and time wise. They should teach ‘listening to your gut’ in schools!
What would you say is your greatest passion?
Growth. In all forms! Last year Simon and I spent a lot of time defining our core values, and therefore TrueStart’s core values. It was driven by a desire to understand why people are productive or not, happy or sad, relaxed or angry at any given point, and what really drives day-to-day behaviour. What we kept coming back to was individual values. We realised that you can’t live a fulfilled life until you’re living it true to your personal values on a daily basis. And everybody is different.
Before then, I had never really thought in-depth about what makes me feel good, or acknowledged why certain things do, so I started to think about what a good day is versus a bad day, for me personally. A year beforehand I would have said that developing others makes me feel good, but when I really got down to the meat of it, I realised it wasn’t that simple. The value at the core of that desire to develop others is actually growth.
I absolutely love enabling growth and am genuinely happiest when a customer smashes their next goal and TrueStart has been a part of that. If at the end of the day I haven’t seen my team grow, my customers grow or even myself grow, I feel really unfulfilled. And stressed and frustrated. There’s a really clear correlation, and that’s why TrueStart’s mission is to up your game in sport and life.
Amazing, thank you for walking us through how you found your true values, I’ve done a little work on it in the past but I’m not sure I ever came to such a specific conclusion. This really makes sense – I think it’s time to revisit my own to make sure that I’m living my truth. Thank you for that.
What do you think is going to be the next big thing?
The performance lifestyle. That’s our big bet. Health is becoming something we think about every time we consume food and drink. We’re starting to choose between functional or indulgent every time, with less and less in between. We either want our food to be improving our health and productivity, or providing us with a unique, exciting adventure. Whichever option we go for, we expect the same three things every time; first, a great experience – this includes taste, how we consume the product and brand interaction. Second, provenance – including quality and sourcing of ingredients and an engaging brand story. Third, convenience – we’re a busy society and time is precious.
That’s a fascinating insight into behaviour and choices we make, your passion and knowledge for the subject really shows. What would you say is the most important thing in the world to you?
The people in it. When we started TrueStart, Simon and I came to the conclusion that if literally everything went wrong, we still had each other, our family and friends – who would never leave us without a roof over our head. That’s so much more than many people have, and we realised that it’s literally all that matters. We didn’t used to think this way, when we had well-paid, secure jobs and a depressingly typical nice-house-and-car set up in Surrey. After moving to Bristol, we became Airbnb hosts and people are always asking us whether we’re concerned that our belongings will get stolen. The answer is no! Don’t get me wrong, I’d be gutted if I had to eat my words – mainly due to the inconvenience and also I’m very attached to all the hugely sentimental artwork we received as wedding presents – but fundamentally I care about nothing except for the awesome people in our lives. And our two Bengal cats, Kooga and Sabre. They count as and behave like people! This take on life is honestly reiterated every day, TrueStart has brought too many unbelievable people into our lives to be able to count them all, and it has shown us who our real friends are too. It makes me emotional thinking about how strong our support network is, we’re very lucky. People are amazing. And if you ever need some faith restored in humanity – become an Airbnb host!
Wow, I love this. In the west we truly are amongst the luckiest people in the world. The first part about you still having each other if it all goes wrong, perfect. I was reading a chapter of a book this morning about fear, and what you say really puts our unfounded fears into perspective. We will still have the people we love and the adventures we choose to take ourselves on, so we might as well go for it, right!?
Thank you Helena for your time, the insight into TrueStart and your inspiring answers to my questions.
Helena will be back with us on Thursday, where we will get to know her even better when we take a peek in her work bag for our ‘What’s in Your Handbag?’ post.
Helena’s journey can be followed across social media on with these links here – say hi, and join her on her epic journey!
If you’ve never tried TrueStart but would LOVE to, friends of Jennifer Hamley can claim an exclusive 25% discount until the end of January – just enter the code JEN25 at checkout. You can visit their website here, and read some raving reviews here.
Be sure to join me next Monday when I will be chatting life, business and inspirations with our next business superstar, Michelle Reeves.
Until next time, keep on being amazing,