These Two Mums Co-founded a Thriving Business to Support Women Through Pregnancy

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Busy doesn't even begin to describe it.

Johanna Clark and her three children in the kitchen

Johanna Clark, co-founder of Franjo’s Kitchen

A product that promises to ‘make your mooies milk’ is shaking up the new-mother market, thanks to co-founders Johanna Clark and Fran Woods, two mums with a brood of five between them.

“When Fran and I went into Bank of Melbourne two years ago with this idea to make breastfeeding biscuits, the bank manager said, ‘Okay, great!’,” laughs Johanna, a naturopath, who’d met Fran, a lawyer and keen cook, waiting at a set of Melbourne traffic lights with their prams. So came about Franjo’s Kitchen, a business that garnered more than 90 stockists in its second year. Now the business boasts a range of scrummy, nutritionally sound snacks designed to support women through pregnancy and early motherhood, with a range for littlies due to be released in February 2017. With Franjo’s ‘Tanker Topper Crackers’ swiftly becoming the talk of the town, Johanna reflects on the “rocky road” that got them there.

What we’ve learned over the last few months is that we can’t, as a small business, let our focus go. We want to be known for being the best lactation biscuit company in the world. We feel like everyone around the world can benefit from these biscuits; there’s no reason every health food store, every chemist, in the world doesn’t stock them. We don’t see why we can’t do that.

We have chalked up so many mistakes. The first three years, you just stuff it all up. And you throw money away and you learn from those mistakes and you don’t do it again. I would put at least 70 per cent of those mistakes down to the fact that we are two juggling mums with five kids between us, including newborn twins, and trying to make big decisions.

One of the big learnings [we’ve had] is that to get from a product idea to getting it out on the shelf takes a lot longer than you would expect. There’s lots of back and forth and there’s lots of time and money involved. One of the biggest mistakes was to launch a product that we said was gluten free and it wasn’t. And I’m a naturopath! And that’s because we did it too quickly; we didn’t take our time. And the biggest thing I learnt from it is that everyone makes mistakes and that’s okay. You chalk it up, and in the first three-to-five years you make zero money.

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We were so hamstrung with our cash flow that it was preventing us from growing. So that’s where Bank of Melbourne has come in and helped, and they’ve been really great. They’ve enabled us to buy our own cracker machine from Italy… They’ve also given us a credit card and an overdraft, and we’re just refinancing now so we can take the next step, which will enable us to put on a marketing person three days a week, and to increase the number of hours our sales team do.

We have to really focus on our website, and our e-commerce, because 50 per cent of our sales are online. We get our biggest margins there, and all our customers are online all the time. Heaps of our sales are at 2am, 3am, from mums feeding in the middle of the night. So we’ve really put a lot of attention on that.

In our second year we grew 400 per cent. And that was the year that I had the twins and Fran had her second baby. So despite not having done much marketing and PR, we’ve got something here.

It’s a massively rocky road. It’s been a roller coaster. And it’s not easy, but if it was then everyone would be doing it. You have to have passion and willpower, because there’s no way it’s going to be easy sailing. And don’t expect the figures to be fabulous straight away. I just love the challenge, and that’s what keeps me alive.

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