Founder and Creative Director / Health Lab
It’s now cool to be super kind to your body, and we mean all aspects of your body. Your gut, your skin, your mind, your emotions. It’s literally impossible to take a scroll on Instagram without stumbling upon a green juice flat lay, or a tray of gluten, dairy and nut-free brownies fresh out of the oven, made by some babe in denim cut-offs. Are you one of them? Good for you. If you’re not… please meet the insatiable Jessica Thomas, former corporate hustler, now the busy babe behind Australian brand, Health Lab.
Health Lab makes uncomplicated, natural and bloody delicious on-the-go snacks and drinks, designed by busy women for busy women. At its helm is a woman who has health and fitness running through her veins. Jess was born and bred in the South East suburbs of Melbourne. Surrounded by her mammoth extended family (she has 42 first cousins alone), Jess spent her childhood immersed in sport, while fostering her entrepreneurial pursuits. No idea was out of reach for this young entrepreneur, from Lemonade stands, to backyard cafes and babysitting services, Jess is our type of gal with incredible ideas but the necessary bravery to make those ideas come to life. She is a force.
In today’s #careerstory we take you on a journey from Jessica’s time at high school, to her work experience placements, and so much more. We love her candid recap on University and why the discovery of ‘Marketing’ changed her outlook on school life as she knew it. Today’s interview is for those girls that are drawn to creative subjects. Those that understand the thrill associated when you take a risk and follow a creative pursuit, whether it be acting, or marketing or event management.
Whatever your flavour, we guarantee that this interview will be as satisfying and guilt free as a handful of Health Labs famous 3pm Almond Protein Balls. Pinky Swear!
Please meet beautiful Jessica Thomas.
Hi there Jessica, YAY! It’s seriously a dream come true to have you here today. To start can you tell us a where you grew up, and how your time back then shaped your career?
I grew up in the South East suburbs of Melbourne. I’ve always loved the crazy chaos of family from a very young age; I had a huge extended family (I have 42 first cousins alone) and now I have 4 step-siblings in the mix. I spent my childhood outdoors and doing every sport under the sun; athletics, taekwondo, swimming, dancing, life-saving – you name it- we did it! It’s probably no surprise my brother ended up playing AFL. I definitely inherited my strong work ethic from my parents and was very enterprising from a young age, starting multiple business ventures from lemonade stands, hosting children birthday parties, backyard cafes, to babysitting services. We were always encouraged to pursue our passions and told that we could do anything we wanted in life. So I definitely had great foundations for running my own business.
What a jam packed childhood. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to High School at Shelford Girls Grammar. At the time, the school was very nurturing, unpretentious and intimate and I only had 36 girls in my final year of school. Shelford provided a really well-rounded education, so I was heavily involved in sports and the arts. I always appreciated going to Shelford, as I know my parents sacrificed and worked super hard for me to go there.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
I had some really incredible and inspiring teachers at schools, but in reflection, at the time our school was very conservative overall in the career paths we were encouraged to pursue. There was a lot of pressure to achieve good marks in the final year of high school and then university was considered the next natural step once finishing school. Entrepreneurship wasn’t as prevalent back then and I certainly didn’t know of any women running their own business, so this was never on my radar as an option straight after school!
We truly believe that Entrepreneurship should be part of today’s curriculum, it sounds like you might agree. Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school?
Yes, I did one at a Real Estate Agency and another one at 3aw Radio Station. Internships at all stages of your development journey from High School and during your university degrees are invaluable to identify your key passions, strengths, learn what you want and most importantly what you don’t want from your career. An industry or role might look incredible and exciting on the outside, but you need to experience it from the inside to really see if it’s the right fit for you. I recommend taking the opportunity to ask a lot of questions of the people working there, learn about their career journey, what skill set and knowledge you require to succeed in the industry, what a career path in the industry looks like and put your hand up to try as much as possible in the business.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I studied a double degree in Commerce/Media and Communications at Melbourne University. I had no real idea what I wanted to study, so took the advice of my career counsellor and friends. I really didn’t enjoy my first few years of university at all and considered changing degrees totally or deferring uni, until I discovered marketing. What I’ve learnt now after many years is that I tend to flourish the most when I have the opportunity to be creative, enterprising, challenge the status quo and take risks with ideas and concepts – so marketing was definitely more my passion and strength. The biggest thing to remember is that everything truly happens for a reason and just trust in the journey.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
Oh I have to say I’ve been really spoilt with my career journey so far. I did an internship at L’Oreal Australia in my final year of studies and was offered a permanent graduate role. I worked at L’Oreal in product and brand management marketing roles for 6 years. I then moved on to be a marketing manager at Retail Zoo for 18 months before starting Health Lab. Both L’Oreal and Retail Zoo are incredibly successful businesses, with a marketing centric culture and strong focus on customers. My time in the corporate world was an incredible foundation to build Health Lab on and from the very beginning of building my business I focused my attention on creating a full and engaging brand that connected with my end customers (as well as making amazing products of course!). My career highlight would definitely be starting my own business. I have a great sense of purpose and fulfillment, and thrive in building a business. It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride, but you learn so much about yourself and what you are capable of.
Wow Jessica, what an awesome trajectory. Let’s dive into the present day. How did you start Health Lab? And what made you want to start your own business?
The ‘lightbulb’ moment of health lab is a rather simple one to be honest. It was during my earlier corporate days working long hours, back-to back meetings, slamming down desk lunches. I used to suffer from terrible 3pm sugar cravings, and one afternoon instead of reaching for my usual chocolate fix I had a home made protein ball instead and the idea really rolled from there. I was inspired to create actually ‘healthy’, but also delicious snacks for other busy women just like myself that would help them remain energised, productive and most importantly satisfy those sugar cravings! I created the first 100% natural protein balls on the market without any added sugars. I started the business literally hand rolling the balls myself and selling them to one café, Garage Espresso in St Kilda East. I quickly had a little army of ball rollers and I was delivering to cafes, fitness studios, and offices all around Melbourne. And the business quickly gained momentum from there. So essentially I created my job that I am on now!
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Probably balancing business and family. Both my husband and I work in the business, so it can be hard to switch off from the business and have clear separation between work and family time.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
I get up around 5.30am every morning to try and fit in some exercise before my daughter Gigi wakes up at 6.30am. I then spend an hour in the morning with her before heading into work by 8am to start the day. No day is ever the same and I tend to spend my time in the business mainly across product development and marketing. So the day varies between working with my team, developing products, meeting with retailers, managing brand collaborations, answering emails, doing media interviews, designing packaging etc. I usually get home around 5pm where I spend time with the family and we try and have dinner together. Once Gigi is back down for sleep I usually do a bit more work in the evening. But usually its very busy during the week trying to balance it all.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
From a very young age I’ve loved Oprah! Her journey and story is truly inspiring, shattering so many barriers, stereotypes, and societal norms. Her positive and empowering outlook on all things life, self-belief, confidence, and business has continued to be a huge inspiration for me.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Growing a business is 80% mindset above than anything else. The only limitations are the ones we set in our minds and as your business grows, you will grow in more ways than you could possibly imagine. I had never run my own business. I didn’t know that much about food or the food industry. I didn’t have a business plan. And to be completely honest I had absolutely no idea of what I was getting myself into. But I just started. I don’t believe there is ever a perfect time to start a business and the world doesn’t wait for you to be ready. So that idea you keep on thinking about. Don’t waste time waiting for the perfect time to start or worrying about what might not work. Focus on putting your energy into what will work and just take the first step. Learn to tune out the doubters, trust your intuition, ignore self-doubt and be willing to take a risk.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration:
- Favourite Blogs or Websites: Besides The Cool Career, The Collective Hub, Mamamia, Women’s Agenda and Seth Godin.
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: Health Lab of course!
- Books: #girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
- People: Great sources of inspiration and thinking from these women on You Tube/Podcasts; Oprah, Mel Robbins, Carrie Green, Sophia Amoruso.