FROM an organic farm to the 'dark side' of pharmaceuticals, Protein Supplies Australia's founder Mathew Stillone has almost gone full circle in his career.
Stillone was a single dad when he started the business four years ago after working in a pharmacy, at a time that truly felt 'do or die'.
Protein Supplies Australia is now tracking a multimillion-dollar turnover and has been for three years running. To top it off, Stillone has just taken out the 2015 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Manufacturing, Wholesale and Distribution Award.
"I was working as a vitamin consultant and selling supplements I wouldn't use myself after checking the ingredients and had just gotten to a point where I was so disenchanted with what I was doing in life," says Stillone.
"I was actually driving to work one morning over Story Bridge and just freaked right out and said to my boss - I'm done, I can't come to work today.
"I sat there and wrote the business plan and everyone at work pretty much laughed over the next month and said I knew nothing about protein from a business point of view."
Stillone had a son, now 11, to seriously consider at the time and says he literally put everything on the line.
"It was hard times just trying to put food on the table as well as starting my own business," he says.
"Having my son at an early age was my driving force though and he really was the blessing in disguise - if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have had ambition to do anything significant with my life."
Stillone says this balancing act has been the single biggest challenge of his business journey to date, as the director of a company, a full-time single parent, friend and supportive partner.
"I had to push all day and night in the first year because I had no option, no bailout and if I failed then I'd probably be on the streets," he says.
Stillone started Protein Supplies Australia in a garage and in three years moved to a purpose-built 500sqm facility. All manufacturing and packaging of the brand's 46 stock keeping units (SKUs) is done onsite and the business has more than 1000 retailers.
He says this ensures 'creative control' with product development and also 'brings an element of craft' to the operation.
"Being that our products are natural - our motto is literally Natural Nutrition Without The Crap - we do lead in the way of offering alternatives to a world full of artificial ingredients," says Stillone.
"We've created products which are a first in Australia such as Spark which was the only completely natural pre-workout in Australia without nasties and free from anything artificial."
This is all a huge turnaround from Stillone's volatile life only a number of years ago.
"I started the business with only $5000 to my name and that was from Mission Australia's New Enterprise Incentive Scheme," says Stillone.
"I was really stupid with my money when I was younger and, with the exception of my son, I had nothing to show for my life at 25.
"I grew up on an organic farm though; my dad was a naturopath and started his own health food store in the 90s which probably had more bearing on me than I previously thought."
From his other former life though, in pharmaceuticals, the only similarity can be found in the margins.
"Selling in pharmacy is a very different environment, but it's the same in the way that margins and relationships with manufacturers are the most important things to survive," says Stillone.
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