(FFM3) Julian Hearn, Founder Huel – on Making $4m Profit in Year 3

julian hearn

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Every week Graham Brown from Founder FM interviews inspiring and insight stories of entrepreneurs. Come and explore the world of startup founders, investors and bootstrap entrepreneurs.

Introduction to Julian Hearn

Julian Hearn is an entrepreneur, biohacker and founder of Huel. In this episode of Founder FM, we’ll talk about growing and selling a successful business.

He left school at 16 with few qualifications to his name and didn’t start his own business until he was 26. Starting with just $2,500, he grew his online business to over $4,000,000 profit in the 3rd year.

Julian Hearn, Founder Huel

Julian Hearn’s main driver wasn’t to make millions but to create a lifestyle where he didn’t have to commute 3 hours a day. He started his business on the side, built it up to a point where he could save up 6 months of money, take time off and concentrate on the new business full time.

After selling the business and taking a year off, he decided he didn’t want to sit around all day. He wanted to start another business. This time he’d trade online voucher codes for a physical product, a product he could feel proud of. Enter… Huel.

Entrepreneurship is a grind. It’s a war of attrition - Julian Hearn @julianhearn Click To Tweet

Key Quotes from the Show

  • “It’s a grind. It’s a war of attrition. You’ve really got to stick at it. Most people would not do what I did. When I was working full-time, I’d come home at 7:00 in the evening, and then work until 12:00 at night for a year when I didn’t need to and I was on good salary.”
  • “You’ve got to look into stuff, you’ve got to listen to people, and learn from people who’ve been there and done it. Spend as much time as you can, expect this is going to take a long time.”

Download the Julian Hearn MP3 File

Listen to the Interview to Find Out…

  • How you can build a business with very low overhead and few staff.
  • How Julian Hearn felt the day after selling his business for millions
  • How he got the inspiration to start Huel and why he wanted to build another company even though he didn’t need to work for the money.
  • How is the business different from an online affiliate marketing model to a physical product?
  • Why Julian Hearn recommends starting a low cost online business first before venturing in physical products
  • How your network influences your own expectations and how meeting the right people can change the course of your life
  • Why the best time to start a business is when you’re working full time
  • Why he’s passionate about listening to podcasts and learning from other people
  • Why Google is your friend when starting your business
  • Why Julian wanted to start a brand rather than building a business on Google
  • What you should do if you’re starting a business domain in a field where you’re not an expert
  • Why you should avoid starting out in business with a product that needs a long development cycle
  • Why having a stronger competitor is often an advantage in growing your business

Julian Hearn Show Transcript

Julian Hearn, Founder Huel

Turning $2,500 into millions

Graham Brown: “Hello, welcome to Founder FM. My name’s Graham Brown. Today I want to introduce you to an entrepreneur, a bio-hacker by the name of Julian Hearn, founder of Huel. We’re going to talk about growing a successful business, selling a successful business, and a bit of bio-hacking on the way. Julian, welcome to the show.”

Julian Hearn: “Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.”

Graham: “Julian, what I find interesting about your story, and let’s put this into context, your previous business, which we’ll talk about in a minute, you started with £1,500, which is about $2,500 US and then you grew that business to £2,000,000 in profit within 3 years, you sold that business for an undisclosed sum, but we can comfortably say it’s measurable in millions.”

Julian: “Correct, yup.”

Graham: “Here’s what’s interesting, Julian. Rather than sail off into the sunset, you started another business. What on earth is going on there?”

Julian: “I didn’t start another business straight away. What I did do, I did take some time out. I had a young child and so I took probably a good year off and it was very nice, but I suppose I’ve got an inherent itch to do something else. I wanted to do some sort of work. My father’s 77, he still works 3 days a week. I think there’s something maybe whether it’s in my genes or just in family genes that make you think you just don’t want to sit around all day long, and just watch TV, and sit in the garden, so I had a desire to do something else. Plus, I wanted to show a little boy that you do need to work, you can’t just sit around all day.”

Graham: “A lot of people must of thought you’ve earned this now, you’ve made your money, you could live off this for the rest of your life. Why go back and do all this again?”

Julian: “Alternatively I’ve got some of my friends think I’m crazy. They would probably spend all my money by now.”

Graham: “Let’s talk about the business that you were in before. You had what was a voucher code business. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you got into that originally?”

Starting his first business

Julian: “Yeah, sure. I’ll just take a little bit of a step back. I was working full-time. I think this is where this original idea came from. I was working full-time and the main driving force was that it was a 3 hour commute per day, so that’s 15 hours a week, which is nearly 2 full days extra. I was desperate to work from home, so I was looking for opportunities and at my work place we actually had some affiliate marketing people that work for us. I knew the sort of money they was earning and I assumed they were fairly big businesses. There was a get together. I went to meet these guys and they weren’t big businesses. They were just single guys who were working out of their house, sometimes in their pyjamas, but when I met them they were very normal people. They weren’t rocket scientists, super bright, but they had a lot of money, all turned up in Ferraris or Aston Martins, very flashy cars.”

“I was thinking I’m doing something wrong here, so I looked into the affiliate space a bit more and realized there was some opportunities to make some money there if you can get traffic from Google. My background is in online marketing, so I felt I could get traffic from Google. What I did is I spent probably a good year before I actually jacked my job I was working in the evenings learning the ropes and trying to prove to myself, and then also to my wife, that I could do this as a business on the side. After a year of doing that in the evenings, I started making a little bit of money, but wasn’t making enough to jack my job. I did say I need more time, I need to work on this full-time.”

“I sat down with my wife, we looked at the numbers, and I said, “Look, what I’m going to do, we’re going to save up a bit of money and I’m going to take 6 months off. Jack my job, take 6 months off, and at the end of that 6 months if I’m not making the same salary I was making before, I’d go back and get a job again.” We had enough money in the bank to pay for the mortgage, but within 3 months of starting the business I was earning more money than what I was working full-time. From there on, it just kept on growing, and growing, and growing, so that was the place where I started from. It was an SEO business really, you had to create a website, and then you had to get traffic from Google, so it was very long hours, it was very tough.”

“That first year before I gave my job up I was working full-time doing 3 hours commute, and then coming home, having my evening meal, and then working from 7:00 until 12:00 in the evening learning, reading, listening to podcasts, just trying to get all the knowledge I needed so that when I gave my job up I could make it into a real business.”

Graham: “That point 3 months into the business, you’ve left your job and you’re now earning more than you were in your day job previously. How did that feel? Did that feel real at the time?”

Julian: “Yeah, it’s a good point. I suppose it didn’t feel real to start with. I started thinking maybe this is too easy. Anybody who’s worked in the SEO space before, they’ll know you can get traffic quick, but you can also loose those rankings. Even all of that 3 years, every morning you’d wake up, you check your numbers, and sometimes you’d see a drop in traffic. If you’d dropped from say 1st, 2nd, 3rd place down to 10th, that’s almost all of your traffic gone. It can be just that fragile. Some mornings we’d have some problems with say, I don’t know, a server problem the week before and then Google sort of drop your rankings for a few days. You’d wake up in the morning, come down, sometimes you’d feel sick, so it did feel quite unreal, but it also felt quite … You sort of expect the worst is to come in some ways. You never quite know when that’s going to last.”

Graham: “At that time, were you completely sure it was the right thing to do? Did you have any doubt in your mind that I’m doing okay now, but this may all go belly up? I’m not sure, were you completely confident about your decision?”

Julian: “No, I don’t think I was. I think the thing I was confident about is I was confident that I could get another job. I had skills in online marketing, quite a lot of skills in online marketing, so it was quite a new area really. There’s obviously people been in marketing for a long time, but online marketing’s a bit more specialized and I had a good background. I worked for very good brands, so it felt that even if it went wrong I could go back and get a full-time job.”

Graham: “The most interesting part about the story for those that love the numbers is that you grew that business to £2,000,000 in profit within 3 years. How many employees did you have at that point?”

Julian: “The first 2 years it was probably myself and myself alone. I used freelancers rather than employees, so there were other people involved, but they were just on a freelance basis. We had pretty much a full-time coder, but again, he was a freelancer. For the first 2 years it was just myself, and then the final year it was myself and 2 full-time people.”

Graham: “Then you were generating £2,500,000, which is about $4,000,000 US in profit.”

Julian: “Yeah, it was a very high margin business because costs were extremely low. There’s no physical product, there’s no customers, there’s no customer service. It’s literally just a website. If you can get traffic to that website, then you can then pass the traffic onto the retailers, and that’s where the purchases are made. Then you get a bounty or a commission based on what you drive to those retailers.”

Graham: “Were you running all of this out of your house at the time?”

Julian: “For the first 2 years, yup. Out my front room, pretty much around that. Didn’t see a need for getting a flash office with ping pong tables or anything like that you see with startups sometimes. It was purely just very, very low cost business and then for the final year we got staffing and just built it up into an even bigger thing.”

Julian Hearn’s Life after selling the business

Graham: “Let’s talk about the point where you’ve sold the business. I imagine there’s a point after you’ve sold the business where you’re still waiting for the money and there’s a lot of anxiety about whether that comes in or not, but it’s like anything, any sort of transaction. You’re kind of waiting for it to be done, but then that happens and then you wake up that day. What was going through your head at that time? How were you feeling? Was it a sense of exhilaration or was it sort of an anti-climax? How did it feel?”

Julian Hearn, Founder Huel

Julian: “I don’t know. I’m really surprised by myself that I’d listened to other podcasts where people talked about when they sold their company and they were like you say, they were really excited, they couldn’t wait for that day, and all their dreams had come true, but for me, it was almost like 2 years before that that I’d probably reached the goals that I wanted to get to. My objective really was to stop having to commute into London and I’d achieved that objective before. We were earning very good money, we’re not big spenders, so I was very satisfied with what we were doing even a year previous.”

“I don’t know, I suppose once you get above a certain number the numbers become, not meaningless because I knew at that point when we sold this company, we’ve got enough money now for me and my family to last the rest of our lives without having to work again, so it was a big achievement, but at the same time it wasn’t like somebody winning the lottery. That’s an overnight success. This was a much longer … It was still quick, 3 years plus when we sold, but it’s not quite the same as one day having 0 and the next day having £10,000,000 lottery win.”

“It’s not quite that feeling. It’s more of an ongoing process. Your sales are going up all time. One month we earned £250,000 profit. I remember that. We had plenty of money in the bank, it’s not like we needed money, so it was less of an exciting day as what you might imagine.”

Graham: “Right, so you sort of scaled up to it gradually as you were saying.”

Julian: “Correct.”

Graham: “I’m curious to know that you had sold your business and you’re in this new business now, which we’re going to talk about in a minute, which is Huel. There’s this gap between that. What was going on in that point, in that phase between the businesses?”

Julian: “I took probably a year, maybe a bit more, out. Literally did family stuff, putted around the house, looked after the house. Took a bit of time out basically and thought about what I was going to do. I was 40 years old. I was too young to retire, didn’t want to go back to work to work for somebody else. That just seemed silly when I didn’t need to work at all, so I was a little bit confused in what to do. I felt bad because we had a young child, I felt bad if I was going to go back and start a new business, so I didn’t decide to do that straight away. I just got itchy feet. I couldn’t not do something. I needed something. Ideally I wanted a business that maybe 3 days a week rather than full-on 5 days a week.”

Julian Hearn’s Adventures in bio-hacking

“That’s what I started looking around for, and one of the things I’ve always been passionate about was health and fitness. I had this idea in my head that if you want to get fit, there’s so much conflicting advice you never quite know which way to turn, so my theory was we’d create something like a price comparison site, but for fitness programs. What you’d do is put lots of people through different fitness programs and diets, we’d monitor them very carefully, take weekly photos, weekly data, and then put that data into a website. Then the best programs would float to the top and then you could see that program, you could see what results it delivered. Then you could go on to buy that program, which was my next company, which was Body Hack.”

Julian Hearn, Founder Huel
“I put a lot of effort and time into that one, but that one, it got traction in the very early stages, but then that died away quite quickly, and we just realized it was going to take so much time and effort because you need hundreds, if not thousands, of people through different programs. It’s just going to be too much work, too much money. We shelved that, but that was the genesis for the idea that I’ve got now, which is Huel, because during that Body Hack launch I was the guinea pig. In 3 months I dropped my body fat from 21% down to 11.5% body fat, which is the leanest I’ve ever been in my life in just 3 months.”

“I was eating 5 meals a day and only exercising 3 hours a week, so it was no more than what I was normally doing, but the key was that I was weighing all of my foods. I was very, very precise in what I was eating. By restricting certain bad foods and also by knowing exactly how many calories I was in-taking I achieved that body fat drop. I felt very fit, very healthy. I was cooking all my food from fresh, weighing all my food, and they said, “I can’t do that. It’s not realistic.” That’s when we looked into protein shakes, which was one of the things I was using, and how convenient they were, and why can’t we make a more complete protein shake that contains everything that you need.”

Huel is born

Graham: “This is Huel.”

Julian: “Correct.”

Graham: “What exactly is Huel, for those who haven’t tried it or seen it yet?”

Julian: “It’s a nutritionally complete food, so what we do is we take 6 main ingredients, which is oats, flax seed, pea, rice, coconut, and sunflower. They’re all dried and milled into a fine powder, and then that gives you all of your vitamins and minerals. We do put a bespoke mineral and vitamin blend on top. That gives you everything that you need. It gives you all the fats, the proteins, the amino acids, and all the 26 essential vitamins and minerals in a single product.”

Graham: “The idea is that you can take this product for a busy lifestyle, right? It’s not necessarily a replacement for food, but it’s there to support the kind of lifestyle that people have where they’re all snacking, they’re eating on the go, people don’t eat the right things, and so on, right?”

Julian: “Yeah, correct. The thing is that 64% of people in the UK are either overweight or obese. Lots of my friends have got this sort of problem. They said, “I want to lose weight,” but they don’t know how to do it. We all live busy lifestyles and in an ideal world we’d all grow our vegetable in the garden, we’d have fresh meat if you’re a meat eater, we’d have that grown in our local fields, but the reality is that that’s not what’s happening really. In an ideal world we’d all have whole foods and we do totally recommend that, we totally support that. If you can construct a nutritionally complete meal from whole foods, I totally agree that is the way to go, but there’s times when you can’t. There’s times when you’re not near a kitchen or there’s times when you haven’t got time to go shopping, or there’s time when you haven’t got access to those types of things that you may be at a work place.”

“For me, what I personally do is I use Huel in the morning, so it makes my life very quick. I just get up in the morning, have a Huel, take it in the car, and then have it on the way to take my boy to school. Then when I get to work there’s no kitchen here that I can create food and there’s no cafeteria, so I have a bag in workplace, and then I just have my Huel, don’t have to pop out and get a sandwich, or a panini, or something like that, which probably would be lower quality food. Then I have a traditional meal in the evening with my family, so I don’t miss out on the taste and textures that you can get from food. I get the best of both worlds.”

Graham: “This is a physical product that you actually make yourself, right?”

Julian: “Yes.”

Graham: “You’re actually involved in sourcing the ingredients, and you create the packaging, and everything from end to end.”

The challenges and rewards of selling a physical product

Julian: “Obviously we outsource some of it. We don’t actually create the packaging ourselves. We’ve designed the packaging and we use a packaging company to create that. We use a contract manufacturer to actually blend and source the ingredients for us. In some ways it is a little bit more virtual than you might imagine. We may in the future create our own product, but at the moment we use contract manufacturers because it’s a skilled job to be able to do that, but yes, it is a physical product.”

“Compared to the website business I had before it is so much harder. We’ve got real customers this time, we’ve got real customer service you have to provide, it’s a food product, so we have to be extremely careful in what we’re doing, the quality has to be extremely high. We can’t let the ball slip, otherwise we could end up causing somebody physical harm.”

“It’s really important we do all those things and then we have to rely on delivery companies to get the product to the end user at the right time, so yeah, it’s a different kettle of fish than what I ran before and it’s super hard.”

Graham: “Right, I mean, that’s what fascinates me is you’ve switched from what seemed like, I’m not going to say it was an easy business before because that was super hard work building a business to £2,000,000 in profit, but it was a straightforward business, there was a formula which you could follow. Now, you’re in a space where there isn’t necessarily a formula because you’re creating a brand which is in a very innovative space, there isn’t a whole lot of other products in that space, you’re defining your own market, et cetera, et cetera. That’s a real switch in mindset. How are you dealing with that mentally? How are you bringing yourself around and learning on the way?”

Julian: “I think you just got to get on with it. It is new, but learning new things is interesting. It’s fascinating what I’m doing now. I’m much more proud of this company. It’s a physical product, I can see it, my friends can use it. I’m more proud and that’s one of the things I wanted. I wanted to create something that I’d be proud of, but yes, it is something which as we grow we will take more staff on and they will have more specialist areas. Then I can get back to what I’m really good at. At the moment I’m dealing with all different types of stuff, but eventually we’ll have people who are specialist in terms of packaging. I’m much more of a marketing person, so then I can get more specialized back into that, whereas obviously the previous company, that was perfect for me because it was basically an online marketing business. You had to get traffic and that was about online marketing, so that suits me down to the ground.”

“This one, I’m spread a bit thinner over different areas like having get involved in new product development of food products, or packaging, or customer service, or deliveries, and it is a broader business and it is super tough, much tougher, but I think it’s got the potential to be much, much bigger and much more beneficial for the world. I think it’s something that I’m prepared to put up with the hard times in the short term because I know that in the long term it could really be beneficial for everybody.”

Graham: “It must be nice there to actually have a business that you can talk about people to because I imagine before when you were doing affiliate marketing, most of people just sort of looked with a glazed expression when you explained what you were doing.”

Julian: “Exactly, yes. It is exactly like that. Affiliate marketing, it’s got some negative perceptions, and there has been some scam and stuff like that, whereas this business is much more fulfilling in some ways. I can be proud of it and that’s great, but I’m glad I did it the way that I did. I mean, the online marketing, the good thing about it was very low cost, very easy to get off the ground, which is probably some of your listeners, that’s probably what they’re looking for, that type of stuff, whereas this business, I wouldn’t recommend you going and creating a food product. It is much more difficult and it does require a lot more working capital.”

“I’m glad I did it the way I did. I made my money from the business that I could do. At the time I couldn’t have created Huel back then. I can do it now, so this has been the right path.”

Graham: “Just switching gears a little bit here, Julian. You started your first business when you were 36, 37, right?”

Julian: “Correct.”

Graham: “For a lot of listeners, that might be a bit of a surprise and also inspiring as well at the same time, but I think a lot of people think that entrepreneurs are starting their first business 21, straight out of college. Why did you take so long?”

Why wait to 36 to start your own business?

Julian: “Good question. I think it’s just because I didn’t have people around me that had their own businesses. Maybe I just didn’t think it was what I was meant to do. I suppose all my friends were working people, my family are working people, were employees, so I suppose it was just the norm. It’s just what you did. You left school and I mean, I left school at 16, so I got a job at 16, qualifications were pretty poor, got a job in a shop, and then worked on the local council digging the roads up, filling pot hole in and stuff like that. Then one of my girlfriends, she said, ‘You’re too bright for this. You need to go back to college.'”

“I went back to college, then went on to uni, then got a good job, so got into the normal career progression working your way up the ladder. I think it really was that meeting that I went to when I met these guys that were no brighter than me and they were making really good money working from home. I thought, “Yeah, it can be done.” It was a business that didn’t require a huge capital to get started, you could start very, very small, and I suppose that’s why it took so long because if I’d met those guys 20 years previous I maybe would have started 20 years previous, but I didn’t, so it was that that started it for me.”

Graham: “Does that ever bother you? Do you ever think, ‘Well, if I’d met those guys straight out of college I’d be 15 years ahead of myself now.'”

Julian: “I suppose you could look like that, but at the moment I don’t. I’m happy where I am at the moment and sometimes these things just have to follow a natural path. It was the right time for me to do it. I don’t know, I’ve always had business ideas when I was younger. I can remember my mom’s got a picture of me when I was, I don’t know, 10 years old with a little stall outside the front of the house. We used to sell plants out of her greenhouse, so obviously I had something in me, but I just didn’t have that example, that role model, of somebody that I knew that had done it. Therefore I didn’t think it was possible.”

Graham: “You had the graft, which there’s no question about that from an early age. I’m curious to know what it is that you have in it. You’ve probably had time now to look back on your career as an entrepreneur as well that made you so successful with the previous business and now with this business as well taking off. What is it that you do that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t do? A lot of entrepreneurs don’t grow a business to £2,500,000 in profit in 3 years. What do you think that you did different? What was special about the way that you did that?”

You got to put in the hours

Julian: “I don’t know what they’re doing wrong. Sometimes it’s a bit of luck. I don’t want to put it all down to luck. I’d say I do put more hours in, I think, than most people that I know, so for example, some of my friends have asked me how did you make all that money. I told them and some of them go, “Yeah, yeah. I’ll do that,” get all excited. A week later, 2 weeks later, they’re not doing it anymore. You’re not going to make a business in 2 weeks, you’re not going to make a business in 2 months. You got to stick at it. It’s a grind. It’s a war of attrition. You’ve really got to stick at it. It’s a long, long time. You got to put mega-hours in. Most people would not do what I did. When I was working full-time, I’d come home at 7:00 in the evening, and then work until 12:00 at night for a year when I didn’t need to and I was on good salary.”

“There’s that. I can give you another example of a friend that I did show how to do what I was doing and he made some good money as well. He ran an affiliate’s business for 2, 3 year, 4 years. He’s a cement mix driver and he was doing the same as me. He was coming home in the evening and he was grafting. It can be done by people that are not rocket scientists, but I think it is the grind, it is the graft you’ve got to put in. You’ve got to go beyond what other people have prepared to do.”

“You’ve got to come home and you’ve got work in the evening. If you’ve got a full-time job you can’t say, “I’m going to jack my job and I’m going to start a business.” Start the business in the evening, prove to yourself you can do it before you jack your job in. Don’t jack your job in and then have no money to work with. At least when you’ve got a job you can use that money to buy web development tools or whatever you may need to get that business off the ground, but don’t jack your job in until you start making some money.”

Graham: “You seem to me very self-disciplined person from what you’ve just said now, and the fact that you’ve taught some of your friends and some of your friends it worked out, others it didn’t, they gave up too early. With yourself, you seem to have the ability to follow a formula, and make that work, and do what is necessary to make that work. Looking at, for example, your experiment with bio-hacking, you went from 21% to 11% body fat or something. That’s phenomenal in 3 months. That’s the kind of thing that many people would dream of. You must have had self-discipline in spades. I’m just curious to know how you run your day. What is it like for you? What is the day like for Julian Hearn? When you get up in the morning, are you phenomenally self-disciplined or are you just like a normal regular guy?”

Julian: “I’m pretty regular I think. I mean, today I got up, I took the dog for a walk for an hour. I mean, it is a bank holiday here and I’m doing this podcast, so I am doing a bit more than some people. Some people say, “No, it’s a bank holiday, got to go out and do stuff.” I will go back this afternoon and we’ll go out to the cinema or something. I think I’m pretty normal. I go out and see my friends often. We go out every Thursday night. Sunday afternoon I meet my friends down at the pub. I do normal stuff.”

“I’m not different from anybody else. I suppose I’m constantly thinking, maybe that’s one thing that other people may not do. I’m constantly thinking about the business, showering in the morning, when I go to bed at night. I listen to podcasts when I take the dog for a walk. I always listen to podcasts. That’s an hour a day that I try and walk the dog and that’s an hour a day that I can listen to podcasts. In those podcasts you always find little gems to help your business. I highly recommend you listen to the podcasts as well.”

Graham: “It seems that you’re constantly learning as well.”

You have to be constantly learning

Julian: “Exactly. I think you’ve got to be constantly learning. Things change. The world changes. Like when I was doing that SEO, the amount of stuff I used to read. I used to read forums. Google is your friend. If you’re trying to start a business, Google totally is your friend. If you’ve got an answer, Google’s already got it. Yeah, you’ve got to weed your way through the daft information and you’ve got to learn how to tell when somebody’s talking rubbish and when somebody’s talking the truth, but once you find somebody who’s talking the truth, then really dig deep into that person to try and learn as much as you can.”

Julian Hearn, Founder Huel

“There’s so much information out there that will help you and that’s probably one thing that I do do is I’m constantly trying to find. I’m not a great reader, I don’t read many books at all, so I get my information from either blogs, sometimes forums, but they’re a bit iffy, but podcasts are the one for me. You can find so much quality content out there you can listen to from entrepreneurs who’ve been there and done it. Listen to them, don’t listen to people who are trying to sell you some sort of online course or something. The people who’ve done it are the people you should listen to.”

Graham: “Exactly and surprised as well that you haven’t set up your own affiliate marketing course as well. It seems to be the thing to do, isn’t it?”

Julian: “Yeah, no. If I did do that, it’d be totally free. I wouldn’t charge for it.”

Graham: “Do you think you’ve changed as an entrepreneur since you’ve started out? You have a relatively short career as an entrepreneur compared to your employee career, right? It’s been a very fast career as well. You’ve risen very fast, you’ve experienced a lot of successes, and very squashed down into a very short period a lot of things have gone on. Have you changed in that period?”

Julian: “No, I don’t think so. I suppose yeah, it has been quite quick, but I suppose it’s been 15 years in the making. I’ve done 15 years in the workplace, I’ve learned a lot during that time, so it’s not like I come straight out of school and then suddenly made a £2,000,000 a year business. There had been a lot of a build up to that period. I had a lot of previous knowledge. Obviously I’m older and wiser than what I was when I was younger. I’m not saying young people can’t make a business.”

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Graham: “Are there things that you know now that you didn’t know when you started out in business? The way you look at business, the way you look at your own success, and so on.”

Julian: “Yeah, the key to my last business was SEO. What I learned there was that Google can deliver so much traffic it’s unbelievable. At the time it was maybe 98% of my traffic was coming through natural search. It was just phenomenal. I was getting hundreds of thousands of people a month, maybe millions. I can’t remember exact numbers, but it was huge, but Google is a very difficult beast to deal with because they change their rules and sometimes they break their own rules, and so it becomes very frustrating to be relying on one business. This business I convinced myself that I’m not going to be relying on Google anymore, I’m going to build a brand this time because brands last. Coca-Cola’s been around a long time, it doesn’t matter what Google’s rank is off of Coca-Cola. It’s still going to be around.”

“That was one thing that I learned is that brand is going to be really important. This time we spent a lot of time and effort on the branding for Huel. It might not look like that, it looks very minimal, but sometimes minimal takes more time than complicated. That’s one of the things. This time I’ve also looked into possibly getting funding this time. We weren’t funded last time, but this time I’m thinking some of our competitors at the time, they got funded and they weren’t bigger than what I did. I look back and think maybe it was a little bit of a shame I didn’t go bigger. Could have been a much bigger business, so this time we’re looking at getting funding and building a real business. That’s probably some of the stuff I’ve learned.”

Graham: “It seems like you’re not afraid to start at the bottom again as well, almost put yourself in a position where you are not the expert. You’ve gone from being an expert in one field to even though you carry across a lot of basic knowledge about business and you’ve got a lot of success behind you, you carry all that with you, but then you’re going into a completely new domain and you’re not afraid to start with zero, almost, in knowledge. That’s fascinating. That to me is a sign of brave entrepreneur because not a lot of people would be prepared to do that.”

Julian: “Well, the thing is there’s always somebody out there that can help you, so the first thing I did, I acknowledged that I wasn’t a nutrition expert. I wanted to make a nutrition product, so I need a nutrition expert. I found James Collier who’s now our co-founder. At the time, when I first found him, I used him on a contract basis just to look at what the formula of Huel should be and we got working together. I asked him some more questions, then we realized that I probably needed more, and I said, “Do you want to be part of the business?” He did, so he came on board as a co-founder. Just acknowledge that you can’t be perfect at everything, so you need to find people who can compliment your skills and fill in the gaps.”

“With this business, my gap was nutrition, so I found James. If it was visa versa, if it was his business, if he started it, he probably would have acknowledged he needed somebody in terms of marketing or branding, and then he could have brought me on. I think that’s probably one thing you’ve got to do. They often talk about co-founders are really, really important as you’re starting a business. It’s going to be tough. You need somebody to lean on, but my first business I didn’t. I did it all by myself and ran it all by myself. I’ve done it both ways.”

Graham: “Yeah, I mean, it’s a fascinating story and inspiring as well. I think that every entrepreneur wants to do what you have done, grow a successful business, sell a business, and what is most inspiring about the story, Julian, is that you didn’t come through the MBA route. You weren’t the Stanford graduate who walked into X million of funding for your startup. You did it all by yourself more or less and you didn’t start when you were 21. I know it was the long, hard road to overnight success story, but you were 36, 37 when you started your first business.”

“I think a lot of people will be inspired by that because listening in they will think, “Wow, I thought that was impossible,” or, “There’s a guy just like me.” Maybe you’re a few years downstream to them and they’re thinking, “Yeah, I can do this now.” What kind of advice would you offer people thinking about starting their own business? Maybe they were running a day job like you, doing the commute, thinking about I want to do this, I want to do what Julian’s done. Could you offer them any advice at this stage?”

Take time to learn from people who have already done what you’re trying to do

Julian: “Yeah, I think you’ve got to do your research. You’ve got to look into stuff, you’ve got to listen to people, and learn from people who’ve been there and done it. Spend as much time as you can, expect this is going to take a long time. It took me a good year to build up to jacking my job in, so in that year, if you set yourself a target of a year from now you’re going to launch your business, then spend a lot of time listen to stories like this, listen to people who’ve been there and done it, listen to podcasts, do a lot of reading, and at the same time start looking for that business idea. Once you’ve heard other stories you can try and work out what sort of business you need to create.”

“What you’re probably looking for in the first instance is some sort of business which is going to be fairly cheap to get off the ground, is low risk, and you’ll get instant results. You’re looking for a business that doesn’t take 6 months or a year’s worth of product development. You’re looking for something you can get started and it can grow. If it doesn’t work, you can cut your losses and move onto something else, but you don’t want something that’s going to take a lot of product development. You want something that’s going to be fairly simple. There’s so many ways to have money now online. I’m not going to give you specific ways to do that, but the more you read and the more you listen to, the more you will have ideas springing off in your head.”

“Expect it to be a good year and once you start experimenting before that year ends, then start trying to source out ways to make money from that. Then once you’re confident that you could make money from this, then yeah, maybe look at jacking your job in and going full-time on it, but always have enough money in that bank that will pay your mortgage so you don’t get into a sticky position. It will be tough, but obviously the rewards are going to be there at the end if you can get it right. Just expect there’s going to be somebody else exactly like you on the other side of the world trying to do exactly the same thing.”

“It is a competitive thing, you do need to be better than that other person. Always think there’s somebody out there trying to beat me and find somebody who you aspire to be that’s maybe 2 or 3 rungs up that ladder and target that person. Try and think, ‘Right, I’m going to get more traffic than them,’ or, ‘I’m going to get more sales than that person.’ Then once you get above that person, then target the person 2 rungs above that. Just keep trying to move your way up the ladder that way because once you’ve got a competitor in mind, I think it’s easier sometimes to reverse engineer what they’re doing or look how they’re doing stuff.”

“Try to think, “Yeah, I could do this. I could do that. I will beat them that way.” I think that was important for me to try and always pick someone that I wanted to try and get above because I think that’s what motivated me anyway. That’s my motivation, I think, ‘I am going to beat that person,’ or, ‘That person thinks I can’t do it.” That’s what really gets me going is to think, ‘Somebody says I can’t do something, I really want to do it.'”

Graham: “There you go, guys. Don’t waste £30,000 on an MBA. Just listen to those last 2 minutes of advice there from Julian. I think that’s probably more valuable than anything you learn at business school in terms of building a successful business. That’s Julian Hearn, everybody. Entrepreneur, bio-hacker, founder of Huel. Julian, where do we find out more about you?”

Julian: “Go to huel.com. In terms of me personally, there’s very little on there about me, so I don’t think you’re going to find that much more about me, but by all means, if you’ve got any questions just you can email me julian@huel.com.”

Graham: “Fantastic. Julian, it’s been a real inspiration having you on the show. I think a lot of people listening in will probably connect with your story at some level and think, “Wow, I can do this.” Thank you very much for sharing it with us today.”

Julian: “You’re very welcome. Thank you.”