Kayla Itsines

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Kayla is the definition of success! 

She's grounded, wholesome and has a unique sense of purpose - she wants to improve the lives of women!

I've always been drawn to her authentic social media presence and it was easy to see why she's the perfect fit for 'My 30 Minutes'!

She boasts an impressive 9 million Instagram followers, 20 million Facebook followers and the largest female fitness community in the world.

Her 'Sweat' app has rocketed her to multi-millionaire status and she's got abs that will make you start crunching the second you see them.

To top it off - last year Forbes named her the most Influential Fitness Star in the World. The world! Not the most influential female - nope she beat out all the boys too!

Kayla and I met for the very first time when we sat down to do this interview. A team and I flew to Adelaide to catch up with her & film our interview for the first time. She was warm, engaging and real. So what's the secret to her success? You'll have to keep reading! 

Here's 'My 30 Minutes' with Kayla Itsines. 

One of the first questions I wanted to kick off with was telling people how to say your name. Because every time I talk to people about you or we reference your program, people don’t seem to know how to say your name? And you tell people often on social media...

“I think once you’ve had it in your head it’s like ‘it-signs’ and that’s it done for them. They can’t understand that it’s ‘it-seen-ess’ but it’s very Greek.

Kayla Itsines everyone!

Thank you so much it’s a real thrill to catch up with you. We’re in Adelaide, it’s a cold kind of stormy day but it’s great to be in your home town with you. You are a fitness star, that’s how people know you. Forbes made a pretty big call last year calling you the number one influential fitness star in the world. How does it feel to have that sort of title?

“It feels amazing! 

I’m so blessed to be in the position I’m in but also blessed to have people recognize me for doing what I love doing – that’s helping women, training women.

So it’s awesome. It was actually a shock, but it was awesome.”

How do you see yourself in a snapshot? If you were to do 30 seconds of who Kayla is... what do you see yourself as?

“30 seconds? Umm me? Personal trainer, family person, I would just keep saying family person, family person, Greek. I love helping people, hard worker.”

Family is cool, that’s great!

“Yeah family is my whole life. That’s why I don’t move from Adelaide.”

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Do you think family or relationships in general play a pretty big role in why you’ve been so successful?

“Yeah definitely, they’re humbling. My grandparents are Greek, they don’t really speak much English. They don’t really know what I do, like they do, but they don’t and that’s really humbling. When I go to their house they’re not talking to me about work, they’re not talking to me about newspaper articles. They can’t read the magazines that I’m in. So it’s nice to just go there and eat and for them to talk about what they did. Their biggest issue is that the barbeque doesn’t work, or something. So it’s really humbling and having family makes me a better person.”

They don’t speak much English?

“Nope.”

So when you go there are you speaking…

“You have to speak Greek of you can speak very slowly. They don’t say much, they say ‘how you?’ Good. ‘You want to eat?’ That’s it, that’s as far as the conversation goes and you just sit and eat and then they speak to you in Greek.

You have a sister – do you speak to your sister in Greek?

“No we speak in English.”

Can you speak any other languages?

“No! (laughs) I can count to 10 in Chinese.”

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Going back before all of this began. You nearly didn’t study personal training. Your mum sort of thought when you were a teenager… maybe this wasn’t the best career move. Can you see how your life might have been different?

“My mum is the most supportive mum ever and she said to me... ‘whatever you do we’ll support you but where are you going to be in 10 years?’ It was actually 10 years now.

I said ‘I don’t know’. And she said, ‘is this something you’ll do for the rest of your life, can you do this for the rest of your life?’ I said ‘yes, yes I really want to!’ So, she said ‘Ok, ok.’

I said I would do teaching as well. So, I went to university and studied teaching, but I love personal training so much that I deferred, with all intention of going back. But then I just didn’t go back and I’ve just stuck to it ever since.”

What were you going to teach?

“P.E. (Physical Education). I wanted to be a P.E. teacher. Because both my parents are teachers, so naturally I thought I’d fall into teaching like them. But I guess I am sort of a teacher in a different way.”

When you made the step to pursue personal training, knowing that your mum said, ‘give it a shot but how viable is this as a career?’ – did it feel like a bold move at the time?

“No, I don’t know. It just felt right for me. It felt like – this is what I want to do, this is what I love, I didn’t really care what anyone thought, it was just right for me. So, I think really think I was being a bit sneaky doing personal training I just thought ‘I love doing this’. I was able to change people’s lives just in Adelaide and that was enough for me.”

You finish your personal training, you’re starting to train people, what happens from there?

“I first started women’s only personal training sessions. We had a system there where we had to upload their before and after photos. It was a confidential system, we did it to show clients their results with us after a few weeks.

Then when I started doing mobile personal training, when I started my own business... I really wanted those progress photos and I missed that computer system. So, I thought ‘I’ll just take them on my phone and then my little cousin said ‘why don’t you just put them on Instagram, it’s like an app where you can upload your favourite photos’. So, I started doing that and women just started following me. They started requesting for me to train them, requesting for my help… and they did not live in Adelaide.

Then my partner Tobi said to me ‘why don’t we create some e-books for them so you can put what you’re doing with your clients in an e-book so they can do it at home’. So, we did that and it honestly just took off. We worked hard, like we worked so hard with those e-books to make sure it was perfect for them.

I did every single workout, I did every single exercise to make sure it flowed perfectly, there’s a lot of science behind it. But they just loved it.”

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The concept is amazing because if someone wants to work out and work out with a PT - that is a physical 30 minutes or hour with you. And if you’re going to work fulltime… say you’ve only got 40 hours a week… or so many hours in your day.. you and Tobi had the foresight to say ‘let’s make something so others can join in on this’.

“Yeah, everyone can join in. Well not everyone – it was aimed at women! Part of the market just wasn’t there for women. So, we do 28 minutes – there wasn’t anything that was that sort of program. There was nothing that was targeted specifically at women, it was all programs for men ‘altered for women’. There was also nothing like that for women and there was also nothing that told women – work out to be strong and fit and confident. Women were like ‘excuse me’. It all sounds weird now sitting here in 2018 that those words have been thrown around and that’s what people would work out for, but back in the day that’s not what you saw on TV – it was ‘get shredded now, lose 10 pounds, all the celebrity diets’ that’s what was there. So, when we came up with this plan people were like ‘what is going on?’ So, we hit the market where it needed to be!”

Because it was tailored to women, when I think about exercising, there was always exercises that existed for men – if you’re a female you do your push ups on your knees. It was a very condescending system working out as women, as if it wasn’t for them. Were you breaking the mould in that way?

“Yep! The first thing I did on my first world tour, I would tell the women ‘the next exercise is push ups.’ I stopped and I stopped the music and I said to everyone ‘we’re going to do push ups on our toes.’ I said ‘can anyone tell me what the push ups on the knees is called?’ And someone yells out ‘girl push ups’. And I was like ‘absolutely not! This is a modified version of a push up but it is not a girlie push up! A push up on your toes is a push up, a push up on your knees is a push up.’

I didn’t want someone to think we’re precious or we’re fragile!

That’s the first thing I ever did – built women’s confidence up. I remember one of the ladies came up to me once and said ‘I am so glad I built my way up to doing a man push up.’ And I thought – we’ve got this all wrong! But now I think that’s all changed.”

I think it’s changed too. Now we’re expected to do push ups on our toes and it’s not a man push up, that’s just a push up. So perhaps you can be credited with that culture shift in our country?

“I hope so!”

For someone like me who wasn’t privy to all the details on the inside of your journey – it really seemed like your star rose and rose and rose over the last 10 years. Did it feel as fast for you as it did seem to someone like me on the outside. Or to you, do you just remember hard work?

“I remember the hard work. I’ve only been around for like three or four years. I was a personal trainer before that, but no one really knew because there was no Instagram, or I wasn’t on Instagram. But I remember the hard work. I remember the hours. I remember getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning and finishing work at 11 o’clock at night. These were huge days!

So when people say ‘you’re so lucky...’ yes we are lucky, I feel lucky, but both Tobi and I worked so hard, so many hours, we had so many clients, we had bootcamps, we had personal clients, we had group sessions. We didn’t just go on Instagram one day and say ‘here’s a program’. We had those results from real time clients. So, we did work really hard.”

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Has it come to a point where you are able to pull back at all? In terms of your output in specific hours or how much you have to do, have you been able to pull back in a different way?

“In a different way – yes! I don’t have my bootcamps anymore or the big group sessions. I still do some clients – I’ll train my friends and stuff like that, but I don’t have the hours and hours for clients. But you have to work hard in different ways. If you’re doing world tours you’re training 4000 people at once, you’re travelling all over the world, you’re doing stuff like this, early mornings, freezing cold outside… you guys can’t see that... but it’s freezing cold outside. So you work hard in different ways.

I think I’ll continue to work hard. Like I said, my family is Greek and all they do is hard work. So I know nothing, like I wouldn’t be able to do nothing. Nope.”

Was there ever a point for you where you did look around and although you were working very hard and it was one on ones and then it was kind of evolving in a way. Was there ever a point for you where you looked around and kind of thought ‘this is working’. Was there ever that shift?

“Yeah - when the first girl started sending in their transformation photos! We grew very organically.

Remember there was no sponsored posts, there was no advertising on Instagram, so there was nothing like that. We grew through word of mouth.

When our program got released, I think it was six months after that it grew really big, really organically and women were talking about it and they were loving it. So, I think that’s how we got most of our following – out of the culture and the community. And then again, the world tours were amazing because you get to see people in person and bring a community of women together.”

You talk about culture and community – social media can be a pretty ugly place to spend time if you’re looking at some people’s posts. Your community is incredibly positive! I’ve never seen anything like it. I want to believe women are good at supporting women, but so often we’re not and I think in Australia ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is really rampant and even when you want the best for someone, sometimes because you feel insecure you maybe bring them down. But in your community it is the complete opposite, where you’ve got women who are strangers to each other and they add this hashtag to their profile that says ‘I’m part of Kayla’s team’. It’s phenomenal and they all themselves end up with stacks of followers because people journey with them. Why do you think that’s happened?

“I think positivity attracts positivity. You surround yourself with the people you want to be like, or you surround yourself with people that will bring you up and that’s why these women have so many followers because they’re literally like rays of sunshine. I started with a few really positive girls and it just grew, and I attracted what I am, and I attracted more and more women like that.

We’re now the world’s biggest online female fitness community and they are incredible!

So when people write uneducated comments, like you were saying about social media being harsh sometimes... someone will write something like ‘I think she looked better before’ and someone will jump in and say, ‘it doesn’t matter because she feels fantastic now’. Having that support so that I don’t have to do it, I don’t have to come in and justify it, someone else will do it for me. So, I think that’s really nice as well, having that support. I’m supporting them, but they’re also supporting me.”

How do you feel about social media? It’s a big part of your brand, maybe you never chose that intentionally but that’s how it’s evolved.

“Social media is like my friend. I’m a friend of social media because of what it does for the business, because it’s able to bring so many women together in a positive way. If it was different for me, I was in a different situation and there was a lot of negativity surrounding what I did or if I was a different person – then I can understand how I wouldn’t love it as much as I do. But for me it’s brought a community of women – the biggest community of women – all over the world, through health and fitness, through being happy, being confident… for me that’s the ultimate!

I brought people together through health and fitness. That’s unheard of.

Women wanting other women to do well, women wanting other women to work out and do well... that’s honestly unheard of. I want to go to the gym, I want to be healthy.”

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It’s amazing because to so many other people in your position – with that level of influence on social media – there’s a lot of striving that goes on, particularly on Instagram. At the moment you’ve got 9.4 million followers. No doubt that will have gone up by the time some people are seeing this. In terms of having that big of an influence – what’s amazing about you is you’re not a sell out to anything. A lot of people who are using Instagram, they’re promoting something or they’re just a real level of striving on there. How important is it for you to maintain that – you’re just authentic on there, you’re not trying to sell people Adidas pants or…

“100 percent and that comes from the very beginning where Tobi and I sat down, and he said to me ‘we need to set up some rules because both of us have never used Instagram before, this is growing really fast. I want to know if we’re going to start a business and we’re going to have staff members – what will you do and what won’t you do?’

Even if we go on doing media because we never did media before, and for my first media I was so nervous. We had to send them a sheet of what wouldn’t I do. And they sort of just laughed at the sheet - Kayla will not be in a bikini, Kayla will not be sexualised. But my things were like – I didn’t want to be sexualised to sell a product, I didn’t want to promote things that I don’t believe in or that’s not relevant, things that I posted had to be relevant for my community. Not something that I think is cool - something that’s relevant for health and fitness. There were just heaps of little rules that we set, and we just stuck to them and I think it’s made it really, really good.

Of course we’ve had amazing opportunities given to us, but we’ve just had to say no purely because it doesn’t benefit our community. It’s not what the girls want. It might be awesome for me to get a pair of whatever it is, like a pair of clothes, but it doesn’t benefit the community, so I have to say no. And it’s been really good. I’d much rather pay for it myself – we were just talking about how I have a hole in my pants, it’s ok these are old.

But I’d much rather pay for it myself, wear it for three years and get holes in it than take something away from the community.”

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Do you find you spend a lot of time on your phone because of social media? I know you record videos every day but how many hours a day are you spending on your phone?

“I say to people – as much as you would spend say you work 9 to 5 on a computer at work, I spend that on my phone plus more. I’m not going to lie and be like ‘I put my phone down’. No, and it’s worse because I work with Tobi and he’s the CEO of the company, so we come home and we talk about work. People ask ‘where’s your balance?’ We like it though! We can come home and talk about what’s exciting, we’re both on our phones, we’re on them together. So yeah, I’m always on my phone, always. From when I wake up, to when I go to sleep I’m on my phone – but I’m working. That’s what I say.”

You mentioned Tobi and you’ve talked about family. You and Tobi have been together for a long time, he’s obviously incredibly instrumental in your success and your brand. He works as the CEO – do you work together throughout the day?

“No, we’ve got amazing staff members and his job is to run the business, and my job is to run my little BBG section. It makes more sense now that there is Sweat because Tobi is the CEO of Sweat, and I am the trainer within Sweat, and I work on the BBG community, my BBG program, so I am BBG – Bikini Body Guide.”

We probably didn’t cover that…

“28 minutes Bikini Body Guide. The reason we called it that... some people are often like ‘what, what is that name’… is so that we can change the way that people thought about the words ‘bikini body’. I wanted people to go onto my profile and see all these different bodies and think ‘there is no bikini body’ – it’s just when you feel comfortable, when you feel confident.

He’s the CEO and I guess I work for Tobi, but we’re in a relationship so when I’m at home I’m like the Greek boss of the house. (laughs) Then when I’m at work I listen to what Tobi says.”

You launched the Sweat app in 2015 and you mentioned BBG. Did it feel like you were differing your brand by giving people a new name that they’re connecting with?

“Sweat came out in 2016. Sweat with Kayla was the first one and we only did that because people were asking for an app because they kept losing the guides. They’d print them off, they’d leave them at the gym, they said ‘can we just have an app so we can have you on our phones and travel with you everywhere.’

So at first it was just my program within an app and then it became Sweat and there was no dramas with that. I was happy with that. I stuck to my BBG, I’m in control of my community still, so it wasn’t a big transition for me. That girls loved it! Having two other trainers, they loved that as well.”

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Tell me about the success of the app, because it’s been massive?

“It was massively successful. Women absolutely love it, they say it’s like a personal trainer in their pocket. Having 28 minutes on their phone – so easy. Having 2 other trainers, so now there’s post pregnancy, there’s weight training, there’s yoga, there’s my program, there’s high intensity, there’s my stronger program. There was a need!

Again, when we started there was a need for women, there was a need for women to train, a need for women to have more confidence. Once they got that there was a need for women to be able to, or a want for women to be able to swap between programs.

Women don’t want to do the same program for the rest of their life. They want to be able to change and chop between and Sweat offers that – so that’s what we did.”

Not to undersell yourself but in terms of app pricing, your app came with a fee. It’s like a membership paying for a subscription. Were you worried that the dollar value on it would or wouldn’t discourage people from coming on board?

“I think at the start because we were one of the first people to have a subscription model for a health and fitness app it was a bit of a shock and people were a little bit taken back.

But then we explained it – it’s like a coffee. It honestly is the price of a coffee a week, for all of your workouts, all your food, all your progress tracking.

I think once women got on the app and they started using it they were like ‘this is fantastic and so worth it’. That’s the feedback we got. At the start people were like ‘we have to pay weekly for an app?’ It was unheard of, but then they were like ‘wait a second we pay weekly for our gym membership and then we have to pay for classes, and then we have to pay for…’ And they loved it.”

They don’t need to go to the gym to do these exercises. I should point out too – the app really changed everything because it’s got you doing exercises in a moving sense. People can watch you by hitting play and see how to do it. It’s actually you filmed doing it. I know when I downloaded the app that really helped me, because you want to do the exercise 100 percent correctly, so I think that transformed it?

“We had a really big green screen, so we did all our exercises on the green screen. Even little things like having Apple Music integration – we were one of the first people to have that in our app.

So having your workouts there and you can actually see the exercises that you need to do in the right form, rather than it just be burpees with a photo... it’s burpees with me actually doing a burpee.

So yes, I filmed every single one of those exercises, I was so sore! It was like 500 exercises.”

You say you’re on your phone a lot, you work a lot and you and Tobi go home together as well. How do you find a work-life balance? Family is hugely important to you and you try to see them almost every day. How do you find work-life balance, or is it all consuming because you’re passionate about what you do there doesn’t need to be a differentiation between being at work and then being at home with Tobi?

“Both. In terms of Tobi – we’re completely understanding of our relationship in terms of how much we work. But we also have fun together. If we want to put down our phones and go to dinner or bowling, we’ll do that.

In terms of my family – I book them in like appointments. So, I am at my grandparents’ house at 8:50am, I have to be there at 8:50am because that’s when my grandma puts the coffee on and if I’m there any later I miss out. She’ll tip it down the sink in front of me. I’m like ‘DON’T!’ So, I’m there every morning for a coffee. I make sure that I see my grandparents. And my mum will text me at like 2pm while I’m out shopping saying ‘dinner at my place’… so we always see mum and dad.

We live a 2-minute drive away from each other, which is so Greek, so it’s very easy. And we’re in each other’s lives as well, like I’ll get home and my mum will be vacuuming my house. I see them all the time!”

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You do live in Adelaide and that’s something I wanted to ask you – you could live anywhere in the world being as successful, influential, obviously money you could kind of live wherever you want. But you stay here in Adelaide?

“Yes because I love my family too much. If I didn’t have my grandparents or my parents, it would be a different story. I think it would be a different story. If I didn’t have my family here it would be completely different. Or not completely different.

I do love Adelaide but having my family here there’s no way I could leave them.

I can’t leave my grandparents, I see them every single day, coffee with them every single day and I have dinner with them once a week. There’s no way I would trade living in, I don’t know somewhere in America in a big house, for not seeing my family.”

If you did live somewhere else – hypothetically – where do you think you’d want to be?

“I would just move north in Australia, so somewhere where it’s a little bit more sunny than Adelaide. I wish you guys could see how cold and rainy it is outside today. But I would just move a few hours up. Somewhere in Queensland, yep probably Queensland.”

So you’d stay in Australia?

“I love Australia. When I’m travelling, like I love travelling, I love meeting new people but I always get back to Australia and I almost kiss the ground. I love Australia and I think it’s so beautiful and some people don’t understand how beautiful it really is here and how lucky we are.”

 I want to talk about success with you because when I talk to women I find that we seem to be really hesitant to acknowledge our own success. I don’t know why. Men seem to be wired really different and they are always proud of their success and really own it. You’re 26, you’re about to turn 27.. I could list a million things – you’re a multimillionaire, the most influential fitness star in the world, have a great relationship, have family. Do you feel successful at this point in time?

“Yeah of course. This is a silly story but when I was younger I said to my mum ‘we’re rich aren’t we?’ And we were not rich, our house was like mud, we were trying to renovate. My dad was a teacher, my mum was working at a fish shop. She was a real estate person before hand, but she started working in a fish shop and then she did volunteer work in a school in the background. But she said ‘Yeah we are. Why do you think we’re rich?’ And I said ‘Because we have a biggest family and we have so much family!’ I honestly thought that money was family. I don’t know how I though that when I was a kid but I always thought I was successful.

If you have family, not necessarily family by blood but people around you that love you, you love what you do every day and you have friends/family - I think you’re successful! And I honestly think that, I’m not just saying that as like a ‘oh I feel successful because I’ve got my family’ I really think that!

So I felt successful before. And like I said when I had my clients and I was training people in my backyard – I felt successful. They loved it. We were in the rain outside, there was no cover, all my equipment was getting wet and rusted – I thought I was successful then!”

 So if all of this, if the community, if social media, if Sweat, if everything disappeared you’d be ok?

“I say that every day. I would miss my community. I love my community. I love what I do, and I love being able to help women but if someone just went (clicks fingers) and said ‘all you’ve got is your family’ I’m happy with that. Take my family away though...”

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40 seconds – what can we expect next to see from Kayla?

“Helping women more. 40 seconds! (laughs) I’m doing a few bootcamps this year. I’m travelling more, I’m going to a few countries. We were talking about success just before – I want to talk to women about being successful, not putting themselves down. Do more motivational speaking and things like that, so that’s what’s next for me I think.”

Is moving into a speaking role maybe a bit different? Because you’re always up there working out and doing something?

“100 percent! I hope to combine the two – speak first and empower women, and then do a workout as well. I don’t want to just go places and just speak. I’m a personal trainer, that’s what I do, so I hope to combine the two together. Definitely!”

Alright, time’s up!

*N.B. - This was not a paid interview. Kayla donated her time for 'My 30 Minutes'.

Sarah Timmerman

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Sarah and I met for the first time at the Queensland Young Achiever Awards. She was nominated for the Online Achievement Award and I was the MC of the event. I was probably a little naïve about just how successful she was. She was unassuming, humble and real! While I wasn't familiar with Sarah, I was very aware of her company Beginning Boutique. 

Two years later we finally sat down to talk about success and share our passion for women in the workforce. What I loved most about it - Sarah brought her 10 month old son Finn to the cafe in West End. Welcome to the modern world! 

Here’s what I learned about Sarah Timmerman in My 30 minutes.

Lots of people would know your company name – if I say to them Beginning Boutique they’d know what I’m talking about. But a lot of people may not know about you, so who is Sarah Timmerman?

"Well she’s not that exciting. (laughs) I love reading, meditation, I have a baby, I have a cat, I’m quite nerdy and I want to run the New York Marathon this year in November. And I think probably... it’s a hard question because I think when you talk about ‘who are you’ I think a lot of the words you have to use are more describing words rather than ‘I have a baby and I do this’, so I think for me...

"If something isn’t making you happy, change that thing. So that’s who I am, I think?"

Your husband didn’t get a mention?

"He’s good though. I love him. Maarten is the reason I could stay doing what I was doing, because he supported us when I wasn’t working. He worked as a welder and brought all the money in. Then when we could afford to put him on staff which was only 2 years ago – he had no digital marketing skills - now he’s running all our paid digital advertising which is really cool."

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How did you start Beginning Boutique?

"It was a trip overseas that inspired it and just shopping on James Street when I was 20 or so, and you wanted to buy one nice thing from 'sass & bide' and feeling like you’re an imposter in their store, and I really hated that. I hated feeling like you had to prove you could afford to buy something. I think people should treat you really well every time you go into a store. That’s what I experienced in Paris - even if you only had 20 bucks to spend, it wasn’t an issue. Not every store in Paris obviously, but this one store!

So decided I wanted to provide a really awesome customer service experience with a cool product. This is before there were those awesome shops like General Pants which has a cool mix of fun product, as well as cool clothing. That was the original idea and it was supposed to be on James Street but there were no shops for lease, so my friend suggested that I went online. That’s when we decided to go online."

What year was that?

"It was 2008.

"It was really difficult to convince people that online retail was a thing."

And that I wasn’t an eBay store that was going to cut all their prices. It was really difficult to get started. Also because there wasn’t that much traffic online."

Which is crazy because the rate at which online has grown in 10 years is almost unfathomable?

"I’m so glad that I went into online because being in physical retail – like we did a pop up store 2 years ago and you’re just really stuck, you can’t really scale out of a store, yeah it's great in terms of building online traffic but the investment it required is very high."

At that time because no one was really doing that... how did you model the business and what did you do before you actually every launched?

"My mum was a CFO of a company, so we modelled out the financials before I started. I got a loan from family to buy the inventory and to launch the website. And I started with my graphic designer doing the logo design. From there I was recommended a web development company. From there we built the website. It was a nightmare – being 20 and female, dealing with a mid 30s male who had been building websites for the government... everything was my fault, which clearly it wasn’t. So it was a really difficult initial year before we even started because the website was so delayed and we had designer stock that was sitting there for 3 months without a website. Everybody doesn’t want to buy 3 month old stock at full price, so it was a really interesting problem to solve."

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At the time was there anything that nearly held you back? What is it about Gen Y that you just think ‘let’s just go for it’?

"I wonder when people say that if it's a generation thing, or if it’s just a sheer belief thing. I always believed I should have my own business.

"My nana said to me just before she died ‘You never regret the things you did do. You regret the things you don’t do.’"

I have always kept with that. If there’s something I think I should do – I go do it! I’m not talking about stupid things like spending all my money on a race car, but it is really important to follow your purpose and what you think your dream is. So I don’t know if that’s a generation thing or just a belief thing?"

Did you feel there was any sort of fear holding you back?

"100 percent fear. There’s always fear. Even now there’s still fear and I think that’s a struggle because you’re obviously trying to push the envelope with everything you do and that’s scary because people want to cut you down and say why you’re wrong, or why you’re wasting money, like everyone has an opinion about what you’re doing wrong. But then there’s always amazing people around you saying you did a good job, that things are cool, that you’re doing different things. I’m always scared of letting my staff down, I would hate to let them down. I’m not really scared of losing what Maarten and I have because we love each other, and I could just go live on nothing with him somewhere and we’d figure it out again. Fear is definitely always real.

So it’s 2008, you’re 21 years old, you’ve finally launched, things are up and running – what was the big moment that things shifted and you saw this as really working?

"It was actually in the 4th year. The first two years I spent working out how we were going to fix the website because it was so bad. I got a pop-up store at South Bank in the cinemas there and it was pretty ridiculous rent when I look back at it, it was very expensive. I used to work my butt off in that store, I did all the hours. I did have some people who covered for me and that was great because otherwise I would have gone insane. But I saved up enough to rebuild the website and I had this guy rebuild if for me and it all turned around from there.

When we had a proper functioning website – it all turned around. That’s when we started using influencers as well. We were giving people $150 vouchers if they wrote about our store on their blog."

At that time were you one of the first people doing that sort of thing with ‘Influencers’?

"I think so because people didn’t really understand it. I’m sure it was happening overseas – but here in 2012 blogging was very new. That’s before Gary Pepper Girl was huge – before she was Gary Pepper Girl, when she was still Gary Pepper Vintage."

When you were in your 20s the company you owned turned over a 7 figure amount – when was that milestone?

"I don’t actually know when that milestone was, because honestly it was not that important to me. I was more focused on building the business. It took me like 6 years before I took a proper wage and that was like an entry level wage. It was never good money, it was never about the money, it was always about just growth. Not growth at any cost – considered growth."

This is your 10th year in business. What are you going to do to mark the milestone? And when you look back what do you think?

"I want to have a big party, definitely a big party in October! When you look back at something like that it’s almost like your first child. It’s nice because it really does relate to raising a child like the first few years are so intense and hands on. Now that it can walk on its own, I can focus on bigger strategy things like running the company.

Some of the things I look back on and am really excited about is actually when I’ve given myself permission to run the company as I want to. As you work with more and more people, and especially sometimes being younger than them, they’ll impose their thoughts and beliefs on you. I haven’t worked for anyone else, so it’s very difficult not to take that as ‘oh that’s just how it needs to be done’. So every time I’ve given myself permission to run it how I want to run it – there have been such cool things come out. Like the Tammy Hembrow shoot, what we did with Splendour. And then just some really cool things that aren’t even cool – like when we got PayPal for the first time... just stupid things."

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How have you found the fashion industry? There’s a bit of a stigma that it’s competitive, obviously it’s a very visual industry. In terms of other people – did you find a lot of support or was tall poppy syndrome a problem? Were people looking to build you up?

"It is a very isolated industry, but I think it’s also a choice. So for me I’ve always chosen to make a conscious effort to support other people, and I think you get what you put out. If I’ve ever known that someone is upset with me or upset with Beginning, I’ve always called and tried to apologise and make things right. But there’s room in the industry for everyone and I think people forget that."

I like that... there’s room in the industry for everyone?

"Definitely. If you are doing what your customer wants you to do, they will reward you with shopping with you." 

"It’s not about how many players there are, it’s about how you do it."


Consumerism seems to be really ramping up – because of things like social media. Even viewing your friends photos is a form of advertising and it makes you think you want things that you don’t have. Are you seeing that in terms of growth?

"We’ve had really exponential growth but I’m not sure it’s because of social media or if it’s because we’ve had a renewed focus on our customer. In the last year I changed everything and my team really changed everything as well. So we’re seeing growth from that. Of course social media plays a role because it’s a form of advertising but you could probably invest the money on Facebook advertising or something like that and have the same results, if that makes sense? But I do think when Kmart is doing $29 velvet chairs and beautiful interiors – consumerism is on the rise in terms of cheap product, but it’s because they’re meeting customer demand."

When you look back at the 10 years do you feel you’ve reached a level of success? How would you measure success for you personally and do you feel like either you’re there, or there’s glimmers of it? Or are you someone who is always looking to the next thing?

"It’s definitely important to be happy right now, but you have to enjoy the ride and I think people forget to do that. I’m happy right now, do I think that I’m ridiculously successful – no, I think there’s always more to be achieved, but I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far. When I look back because I turned 30 two years ago… I look back and think ‘did I use those 10 years wisely?’ And there are times when I thought I should have just done what I wanted to do and I didn’t.. but for the most part I’m happy with how I used my time."

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If I asked you to create a definition of success, what would it be?

"I think it’s definitely tied to profit in terms of business success. It’s definitely tied to profitability because otherwise you’re not running a successful business. I think it’s also tied to staff happiness because you could be the most profitable company in the world, but if everyone hates your guts I think that’s not success either.

"I would tie it to a profitable company, with a company culture that encourages the staff to grow and have fun."

What about personal success?

"Happiness, love, cherishing the relationships you have because the grass isn't greener on the other side."

You can’t have a different family, you can’t have a different husband, you can’t have a different baby. Just enjoy and love what you have! That’s success because you can have that right now. You don’t have to achieve something for that!"

You recently had a baby. Finn is now 10 months old – what was that like as the CEO of a company? Especially in the lead up because a lot of women worry that if they have a baby it will change their career prospects. Did you have to look at that?

"I think the man should be doing that as well. I’ve always had a really supportive partner in Maarten and he always said he would be the stay at home dad. I think he thought that meant a lot more PlayStation than it does. (laughs) We planned it and I planned it – the timing, everything around the retail calendar year. If you had a baby at Boxing Day it would just be a nightmare. I have a friend who planned their pregnancy around their businesses peaks. You do have control, so use it would be my number one thing. Also there’s no rush to have a baby because as soon as you do have a child it does become all about them, obviously. If I didn’t have a supportive partner it would be a lot harder to remain CEO of Beginning Boutique, unless I got a nanny. There’s ways around everything actually – you could have a cook, you could have a cleaner, whatever. It’s all around perspective and making sure you have the support in place."

Did you have any concerns about how a baby would change your work?

"Definitely. I worked right up to the day I had Finn. I had preeclampsia and he turned the wrong way around a week before he was due, so once he turned the right way around it was time to go. For me that was perfect because I didn’t have to stress or think about anything but there is always fear. It’s a huge change in your life. You now have to consider something else above everything else. No regrets obviously, it’s part of my plan that I wanted for my life, but it does change things and you just have to work with it. But that is business – it changes all the time, no week is ever the same."

Finn is 10 months old now – how have things changed? What was the journey after giving birth and when you returned to work?

"I think the hardest part was the pressure to breastfeed. I know that’s something people don’t like to talk about, but for me that was a really huge pressure because my family had very strong beliefs on breastfeeding.

Vogue Online Shopping Night happened and a crane fell over on the corner knocking out all the power in our office, so it was a massive day for us and we had no electricity. I had to go pick up two generators with a staff member, we set up the generators, we set up hired lights so we could get our packages out, and I forgot to express. So I’m sitting up in the board room overflowing, should we use that word? And someone is trying to have a conversation with me while I’m expressing. And I thought ‘this is not worth it – how can this be a good family decision?’

Also the time it adds into your day! So you want to express – you have to take yourself away and you can’t work at full capacity for at least 45 minutes and you need to do that two or three times a day. I’d rather be at home for three hours. I think that was probably the biggest pressure.

So when I stopped breast feeding at three months, that was a huge relief. Other than that, life has stayed relatively the same except with new routines. Like you don’t go out for dinner, you go out for lunch or breakfast. That’s all got to do with Finn’s sleeping, like he’s sleeping now next to us as we do this interview. He’s really great, if he was a baby with colic or whatever - totally different story - I’d have a different interview for you."

Have you still been able to work and what are your hours like?

"A normal day is either eight until five, or nine to five. After Finn goes to bed I’ll do some emails. Nothing major, I don’t work major hours. That’s definitely not part of my definition of success. If you’re working until midnight… I just can’t function without nine hours sleep, I need that. So nine hours sleep, interrupted by baby, but nine hours sleep and nine hours work."

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When you’re in the office, he’s at home with dad. Do you find you’re able to fully focus and do what you need to do?

"100 percent! You’d be surprise that when you have a baby life feels more normal in the office, than it does with the baby. That’s not because I don’t love him but that’s because it’s a new routine and I’m a very routine person.

I’m learning everything about Finn, I’m learning how to be a mum, and how to live both lives. Whereas at work it’s so natural - you just get to work, get your job done and go home. On Friday’s I’m at home with Finn and it’s a lot of fun! When he’s awake we’re playing and when he’s asleep I’m working. But when you go to work it’s just work."

What’s been the reaction from people that Maarten is a stay at home dad?

When we were in the hospital... the amount of times we had to keep saying ‘Maarten is going to be the stay at home dad, can you please tell him how to do this’ and they just kept referring to me. When I didn’t go to Finn’s first doctor’s appointment, the doctor was like ‘Oh I expected that the mum would be here’.

"I found it really strange that if a dad took five weeks off he’d be a hero, but because I only took five weeks off it’s really strange for people and people struggle to understand the role reversal."

But Maarten is a better stay-at-home dad than I could ever be. When I was stay-at-home I had an app that I would put everything of Finn’s into, I was not a good stay-at-home mum. I would have driven Finn and me crazy with organisation and stuff like that."

So we’ve got a long was to go with that stereotype still?

"Absolutely. Even the assumption that I would hand the business on, and the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to do my job anymore.

I had HR specialists tell a team member when I wasn’t there... that even though I said I was coming back, they needed to prepare for me not to come back full time. Two male HR specialists. It was very shocking and it was very presumptuous considering they’d never met me."

So after Finn your business carried on, and so did your personal life - you went on a big overseas holiday last year and you took Finn. A lot of people think that once you’ve got a baby you can’t go overseas. What did you do?

"When Finn was four months old we wanted to go back home to see all of Maarten’s family and friends. We went back to Spain and it was amazing. We got a campervan, and yes Finn was jet lagged and it had it’s challenging moments, but not really. It’s just the same routine in a different country. The only problem we had was not getting a big enough van and Maarten couldn’t fit in the bed. (laughs) The trip is a really special memory!

That’s another thing I would define in success – taking time for yourself. We always have four weeks off a year. Not always in a block, but at least four weeks annual leave. Life is not all about working, it’s about doing a good job when you’re at work, but not always working."

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You turned 30 a few years ago. How was that?

"I was four months pregnant and it was actually one hell of a time in my life. We outsourced our warehouse and there was major problems there and we had to bring it home. So we had just got our warehouse back with one weeks notice – that was incredibly stressful, huge legal battles! We also decided to buy a house without finance, which was fine because we figured it out – you always figure it out. But we bought a house at auction. We brought our warehouse home. I was four months pregnant. And on my 30th we had it at a café close by called Miss Bliss, it was just all my friends and we bought them dinner. It was really lovely. It’s a good time to look back and go ‘Am I happy with how I spent my post school time, what would I change, what would I keep?’"

Looking at the future both professionally and personally – what are you hoping for?

"We definitely want to have one more baby. Finn needs someone to bitch about his parents with when we’re old and crazy.

Personal life is all about making sure we’re ready for retirement. All the normal stuff – planning your financial future and that sort of thing.

Also, personally I’m very passionate about helping women in business and trying to figure out how I can do more for that – pay equality and ‘me too’. So hopefully it will get to a stage when I can do more on that.

Professionally with Beginning – making sure we don’t hold back. Continuing to be innovative and hopefully game changing across the entire company.

And there’s always more to do, always more to improve."

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Do you have any ambition to do another business?

"I think the fun thing with Beginning is that if I want to do bikinis I can, if I want to do active wear I can, if I want to do handbags I can. There’s so many businesses in the business.

But I have thought of that – would I want to run another business but it’s almost like we already do. If I want to go to China and help with fittings I could, if I want to go to Coachella with influencers I could.. it’s pretty cool!"

Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?

Maarten wants to live on the Gold Coast in 10 years, in eight years actually. Potentially living near the ocean. I definitely want Beginning to be more of an international player and we’re working on that pretty aggressively. So in 10 years I’d like to think that will be cemented. And definitely doing more work in terms of helping other women in business. Maybe business coaching – but not as a profession more just investing into women.

We are right on time – 29 minutes 53 seconds."

*N.B. - This was not a paid interview. Sarah donated her time for 'My 30 Minutes'.

Hetty Johnston

Hetty Johnston is a female powerhouse.

More than 20 years ago she took a stand against child sexual abuse and she hasn't stop fighting since. Hetty is the kind of person who makes you question what you're doing with your life. Not through guilt, but by inspiring people to help, to do more, to make a difference!