Gymbod · Cian Dawson & Courtney Brown

Cian & Courtney created healthy ice creams and ice blocks all made in Australia.

February 19, 2022
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Table of contents

  • Gymbod
  • Founders - Cian Dawson & Courtney Brown
  • Founded in Toowoomba QLD, now operated out of Sydney NSW
  • Started in 2018
  • 2 founders

Cian & Courtney, what's your backstory?

GYM BOD was started by Melbourne girl Cian and Perth boy Courtney in 2018.

Courtney and I met in Sydney in early 2018 as part of a National Graduate Program for an Essential Services Company.

Courtney is a Mechanical Engineer, and I'm a self-proclaimed 'generalist' (AKA I did an Arts Degree and majored in Gender Studies). The graduate program saw Courtney and I relocate to Toowoomba, QLD, to work for a Gas Well Servicing Subsidiary Company.

We started as friends, but things escalated, and our house-mate status quickly turned into dating.

There wasn't a whole lot to do in Toowoomba, so I started studying a Grad Certificate of Business (to overcome my insecurity of being in Corporate Australia and not having a commerce degree).

To get me through the long nights of study, Courtney would make me Chocolate and Peanut Butter Protein Slushies. They were DELICIOUS, and I couldn't believe they were healthy.

We are both dessert lovers but were constantly struggling with finding the balance between indulging in our favourite ice creams and then working out at the gym.

Courtney worked out the macros on the Protein Slushy drinks, and they were pretty damn good. Then he thought, "I wonder if I could make this into a Soft Serve". Courtney bought a $99 soft serve machine from eBay put the protein mix through it. It came out like a lumpy soft serve!

We jumped around, thinking we had struck gold.

1 month later, a Commercial Grade Soft Serve machine arrived at the Port in Brisbane, which Courtney had successfully imported from China.

Courtney drove his corolla hatch to the port to pick up the machine, not realising it was 136kg and came in a wooden crate. The machine somehow made it back to Toowoomba and lived in our garage. Most evenings after work and every weekend, we would work on tweaking our  High Protein, Sugar-Free Soft Serve recipe.

The Grad Program moved us back to Sydney, where we bought our first Food Truck.

We spent every weekend painting/smashing out the interior so it would fit the 136kg machine. We also worked on council documentation to get a permit to sell our Soft Serve at all of Sydney's most iconic beaches.

After battling with the council for approvals and testing the market, we realised our product was niche. It needed to be sold directly to our target market: Fitness focused people. People who go to the gym on Saturday morning and post it on Instagram. I started hitting up F45's and started getting bookings for the Soft Serve Trailer. Customers loved it, and then someone said, "Why don't you put it in a tub?". The Penny dropped just as we were at our wit's end with the Soft Serve Trailer - running an insufficiently equipped food truck sucks.

We realised we should outsource everything we didn't know much about and found a food developer. We started developing our High Protein Low Sugar Ice Cream.....and the rest is history!

The funny thing about this business is that when we started talking about it (2 weeks into us starting dating), we thought it would be a great 'passive' income. At the end of the day, Courtney and I wanted delicious snacks we could eat every day and not worry about the impact they could be having on our health...And we do just that! There's NOTHING passive about this business, though!

Our goal for Gym Bod products is to be stocked in every major supermarket worldwide and truly help people find their own version of 'balance' when it comes to diet and nutrition.

Tell us what your company does?

At GYM BOD, we help health-conscious people make decisions they can be proud of through our Better Option Desserts (This is the BOD in GYM BOD!)

We create nutritionally optimised versions of your favourite desserts, making them Higher in Protein, and Ultra-Low in Sugar, without compromising the flavour or texture.

Gym Bod was created by two ice cream addicts who wanted to eat ice cream every day and not compromise their health goals.

In the Gym Bod Range, we currently have; Ice Cream, Ready to eat Cookie Dough, Icey Poles, and lots of cool stuff in the pipeline.

How did you come up with the idea?

Our initial name was Gym Boy. This was supposed to be a fun play on Mr Whippy, an outdated brand that often has an old man in a sweaty singlet selling soft serve out of a beat-up van. With GYM BOY, our vision was to be the new kid on the block with a health-focused ice cream product. The Boy in the name stood for Better-Option-Yes!

However, we had really mixed feedback about our brand name once we took it to market. People either loved it or hated. This is not ideal when trying to grow a mass-market brand. On reflection, we didn't do enough to educate our customers on what was the meaning behind the brand. This year, we decided to drop the Y and replace it with a D to become Gym Bod.

Gym Bod: Better Option Desserts better captures our Value Proposition, and we are super excited about the potential this tweak in our brand name has resulted in.

How did you go about building and launching the business?

We launched our MVP Ice Cream products in May 2020. It was essentially Sugar-Free, Fat-Free Ice Cream and was SUPER HIGH in Protein.

When we produced the ice cream at a scale of 250 tubs per flavour (a lot for us back then - and we had 5 flavours), it turned into rock hard blocks.

We quickly realised the shit position we were in as we had done a really sleek marketing campaign where our product looked super creamy. The reality was far from what we'd advertised. We had also presold heaps of ice cream through our Instagram/Shopify page.

Courtney and I drove around Sydney in our beat-up Freezer Van (we called him Vance), delivering the ice cream to our early adopters.

Dreading the feedback we'd receive. Our super health-obsessed customers loved the ice cream and were willing to compromise the texture. People would let it defrost for 20 mins before eating.

This left the other 99% of customers not impressed at all. Not good! You've got a big problem when you have to explain how your ice cream needs to be cared for.

We realised we needed to learn what our customers actually wanted. We realised that what Courtney and I wanted in a product at that time didn't necessarily mirror what was in the mass market.

We did ice cream tasting sessions at gyms every Saturday and Sunday to hear what people had to say about our product.

We learnt that people say they wanted our V1 Nutritional Requirements (ultra-high Protein, ultra-Low Sugar, ultra-low Fat). In reality, what they actually spent money on was Ben & Jerry's.

We went back to the drawing board, reviewed the nutrition parameters we were trying to hit, and brainstormed with our developer.  

V2 was in production in July-Aug 2020, and we added more cream into the product to help stabilise it and protect it from heat stress. Yes, that's a thing in the ice cream world.

With every production run, we'd tweak the product playing with the protein, fat, and mix of natural sweeteners and the amount of air pumped into the product. With each production run, we saw improvements to the texture and flavour.

We threw out hundreds and hundreds of tubs of ice cream with all this testing, which broke our hearts. We knew nothing good came easy, so we proceeded with our vision.

We realised that B2C wasn't the way to sell ice cream. Our home delivery model around Sydney was draining after a long day at work.

We were also battling with IGA's to get ranged (and then get paid once on the shelf). We wanted scale! We wanted that elusive passive income!

Through a friend on LinkedIn, I met a fellow FMCG startup founder, Tim, and he had just had his product (Bae Juice) ranged at Woolworths.

We were amazed at what he and his business partners had achieved and decided we wanted that.

We had several chats with Tim, and he shared some contacts and words of wisdom. I reached out to the business development consultants he'd used with Bae Juice. We got talking and entered into an agreement.  

Our business development guys shone a really harsh reality/mirror into our eyes, telling us our product wasn't ready for Coles/Woolworths. We had to think about if we wanted to make more changes (more expense!) to our products.

With our tails between our legs, we sulked for 15 minutes, then realised we hadn't gone through two years of refining our product to only come this far.

So we did the jump and did our most extensive reformation ever to get the product to where it needed to be. We upgraded our packing and changed the manufacturer so we could meet the mass market compliance requirements.

We have learnt so much from our business development team and what it takes to get a product before a Coles or Woolworths buyer.

In our first pitch to Coles, we got told our name was terrible. We replied, "we will change our name; we already have registered our new name and new domain". This quick response (and the taste/nutrition of our latest formulation) must have done enough to get on the radar of the Category Manage. She proposed Gym Bod be trialled at Coles from Oct 2021 across the East Coast.

Today, we are ranged in 60 Coles Stores across VIC, NSW, ACT & QLD, which we are really proud of considering we haven't been in the market for very long. It's been an insanely steep learning curve, only made possible by the fantastic team we work with. While we were ramping up for our Coles trial to commence, we also started exporting our ice cream to the United Arab Emirates. It's so true that all it takes is one win to start building some momentum.

Today I can look back at what we have done over the last three years and say shit that's fast. In reality, it's been 3 years of grinding, with weeks and weeks on end of things going wrong, constant rejection, constant financial pressures, and many sacrifices. I wouldn't swap it for the world.

How have you grown the business?

We've grown this business through hard work, determination and a sheer belief that we will make this work. Failure has never been an option. Every time the shit hits the fan, we learn, pick ourselves up off the floor and get to work to adapt so that problem doesn't happen again.

We have an outsourced model. Courtney and I project manage our business. Each of the respective elements (formulation, ingredient procurement, manufacturing, distribution and business development) is outsourced to our fabulous contracting partners.

We wanted to achieve scale and needed to bring in the experts to accomplish this. We've been lucky to work with people who have taken the time to educate us on the FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods_ industry, as we knew literally nothing (and still don't know a hell of a lot!).

In regards to marketing, we have invested heavily in content creation to create a premium brand. I think we only stayed alive in 2020 because our pictures looked cool on Instagram.  

When we first launched, we did a whole influencer campaign, which was really tough as a founder. You put all your time, energy and money into a product to get it to market, then you have to give it away for free.

We found that 8 times out of 10, the person who received the sample didn't care about the story behind the product and would do a quick Instagram story, and that was that!

They didn't care that people had driven over an hour to hand-deliver ice cream to them, then reschedule as they weren't home when they said they would be!

It was really eye-opening how many people don't respect other people's time. I found it hard not to get upset by the influencer side of marketing, given how emotionally invested I am in our brand and products.

Getting our first break with an opportunity with Coles has been huge for us. It's forced us to take financial risks like never before. We did our most significant production and a full outsourced logistics model.

This is the first time it's not Courtney and I delivering ice Cream out the back of our car. It's also been so damn hard, and we have cried WAYYYY too many times over ice cream.

We are super proud of starting to export our product to the GCC (Gulf) region. We met our lovely GCC Export Agent, Mark from MC Linked, and he's worked tirelessly to sell the GYM BOD vision overseas.

Our first stock orders sold out in Carrefour in the UAE was a real 'pinch me' moment. Growing our export business is a key focus for 2022.
We believe we're fortunate. The harder we work, the luckier we get.

What’s your biggest selling product?

We have our best selling ice Cream flavours ranged at selected Coles stores. They are Chocolate Pudding, Cookies & Cream and Peanut Butter Salted Caramel.

These flavours have 21g+ of protein per tub, are 96% Sugar-Free, and have between 350-430 Calories per Tub.

Chocolate Pudding is my favourite flavour, and Courtney is team Cookies & Cream.

You can find these flavours at Selected Coles Stores. Here's the link to our stockist's locator;

What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?

Courtney and I always laugh that people think we are in the ice cream business, but we believe we are in the 'turd polishing business'.  

Packaging is where we are specialists in royally screwing up. Courtney and I both have terrible attention to detail.

The first ice cream tubs we purchased for our Ice Cream V1 in 2020 turned out to be Soup Cup. They weren't purpose-built for protecting contents in -20 degree freezers.

This meant that our already sensitive product got destroyed within its own casing. As the ice cream eventually melted, the tub would disintegrate in your hands, creating a lovely mess.

We purchased 20,000 (that's how confident we were) soup Cups and then hand stickered 10,000 of them with nutritional panels and flavour stickers. To avoid the dreaded minimum order quantities with packaging.

It took us over 100 hours to sticker 10,000 tubs, and sadly this was not the last time we had to sticker these damn tubs. We misprinted a nutritional panel, so we had to re-sticker a whole SKU. Then we added an additional sticker for a warning as the high protein brownie chunks we had in our ice cream at the time froze hard.

We were terrified we would get sued by someone who broke their tooth when enthusiastically trying to bite our ice cream.

We vowed we would never sticker again. We saved up and purchased 10,000 tubs of each of our 5 flavours, and we felt on top of the world.

Until 1 week before the container arrived from China, we realised that we had left a 'gluten free' claim on one of our flavours that were not gluten-free.

Disaster! We couldn't use them as we would have a product recall. We got a quote for stickers and for us to sticker over the tubs. It would be cheaper to order another 10,000 tubs with the gluten-free claim removed.

So we did that......then, 4 weeks later, we had our chat with Coles and decided to change our name from Gymn Boy to Gym Bod. When the packaging eventually arrived 2.5 months later, the packaging was completely redundant! My favourite part about this range of tubs was that we had to re-sticker most of them anyway to sell overseas!

Note to self: Never make giant claims about 'never stickering again!'

Through these experiences, my attention to detail has definitely improved. Now I have at least 5 people check our packaging before we push GO on printing.

We've learned not to invest in packaging before we have a paying customer for our products. This ensures that no more last-minute changes are needed.

What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?

Courtney is an avid E-Book listener and goes through 2 a week - his list is too long to even put here.

My favourites from this year are;

The Company I Keep My Life in Beauty by Leonard A. Lauder

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Stop Listening to the Customer: Try Hearing Your Brand Instead by Adam Ferrier

I gained so much solace from these books as Leonard and Phil talk about the years and years and years of grinding they did. Plus, the sacrifices they made to grow their companies into what they are today.

Adam Ferrier's book was an eye-opening account of brands' homogenisation and how what consumers say they want and what they actually do varies drastically.

What digital tools do you use regularly?

We use Shopify, Instagram and Facebook Business Manager.

Any podcast/websites that help you run your business?

Can't think of anything Podcasty/Articles/Twitter! Just general consumption of Instagram & LinkedIn. Nothing noteworthy.

What quotes do you live by?

"Laugh don't cry" - there is always a glimmer of hope/humour in every situation!

What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?

Looking after mental health is so important when running a business that managing burnout needs to be P1.

Courtney is really strict with his routine. He makes sure he's at the gym at 5:20am 99% of the time. He listens to audiobooks on his commute to and from work every day. He makes sure he has time allocated to ponder on problems to find solutions. Courtney is naturally a very calm, level headed person - he does a superb job of looking after me.

I also prioritise exercise and go to F45 at least 5 times a week for the 6am class.

I'm one of those people who needs to eat every 2 hours, or I become a goblin. I make sure I also have good food to eat.

I am not naturally a calm person, so I have to work really hard to not drive myself insane from putting too much pressure on myself.

I love a good list of actions and priorities to work through, as this productively drives my energy.

Courtney and I are both progress people. If some form of progress doesn't happen in the business every day, we feel stagnant. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I eat a tub of our ice cream every night in bed and get as much sleep as possible. I love a 9:20pm bedtime.

We go on long walks on the weekend, and we inevitably end up talking about Gym Bod, but that's 100% ok as it's our obsession and our future.

In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?

To be a founder brings immense pride. The fact is that from sheer determination, you can create something out of nothing. It's a constant mental challenge with a never-ending rollercoaster of emotions. My favourite thing about talking to fellow founders is realising that we are all out there rolling turds in glitter, and that's just part of the fun of it all - you've just got to laugh more than you cry!

What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?

Keep going. Keep grinding. Keep pivoting. Keep observing your customer's behaviour, and don't stop until you've tried everything.

Also, get like 5 separate people to check your packaging before you send it to print.

Where can people find out more about your business?


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