Can you please tell us a little bit about your career so far?
I graduated in 2008, so I’m on the ten-year anniversary this year and I’m not even sure how that happened! I came out and, like everyone else, I struggled to find work—particularly in Newcastle where I graduated, because when you graduate in Newcastle those jobs are pretty few and far between and everybody wants to stay locally. I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to stay if I wanted work. I’m from Taree originally which is two hours north of Newcastle, so I was lucky enough to get a job in community health and from there I ended up in a job in Taree in private practice. I was in employment there full-time for about a year. From there, they closed down and I was without work for a few months so I moved back to Newcastle with my now-husband and drove him crazy being unemployed. And he decided that “You know what? You’ve done your sports course, you should probably look into just doing a little bit to keep busy and keep your mind active.”
So, we started up Compeat which was just seeing clients—whether it be via email or one-on-ones—mainly triathletes because that’s what I was into as well and we knew people. That’s where it started probably in 2010 or 2011. We also got the opportunity to go overseas to play hockey. We went to the Netherlands for a year and played hockey and gave nutrition a complete rest. I just played hockey for a year, and travelled Europe which was unreal. When we came back, I was lucky enough to be offered a fellowship position at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 2012. That was a really big turning point for me because I was interested in sport, but it was really hard to be specific in sports because full-time roles are very few and far between. So, from there we moved to Canberra and I had that fellowship position for two years—from 2012 to 2013. In October 2013, it was great to see the persistence and hard work pay off, when I got a full-time position at the AIS and I stayed there until we moved in 2015.
Following this, we decided to start a family, so we moved from Canberra to be closer to our extended family ending up in Foster, New South Wales. Obviously a very rural area—not any elite athletes and not really a great location to create a successful private practice. I guess the big thing for me was that we looked at our options on going to the usual private practice option or hospital position. Then my husband said to me, “You didn’t work for nearly four years at the AIS to go back a step in your career,” so we really had to look then at our other options and how we could do things differently. That’s when we decided, teo years ago now, to go into that tech space and really give Compeat a good go.
You took a break from Compeat while you were at AIS I assume?
Yes. The fellowship was a minimum wage role, so you work your butt off, learn a lot, get really great contacts, but you don’t get paid much. I did a little bit of Compeat on the side out of hours. That was no drama, they were okay with that. It was mostly email-based; very clunky and time-consuming, but I really enjoyed it at the same time. It kept going and ticking away, but it wasn’t a money maker or anything like that—it was more of an interest project. It wasn’t until after I’d had our first baby, Reuben, that I decided that we should really give it a go and I had the amazing support from my husband to do that because we couldn’t have done it otherwise.
I decided to go two years without pay. We said, “If we’re going to do a tech start-up, it’s going to be at least two years before it starts paying us.” We knew that going in that this was a long-term plan and it was a risk—we were almost gambling on ourselves, but we decided that it was something that needed to happen in the nutrition space. It needed a shake up; it needed a reinvention because the system that we were looking at—how much we were capped for making—was definitely broken. My husband is an engineer by trade and also really big in the business space of asset management, so he was really asking those questions of “Why do we do this the way we do? Why don’t we try something different?” And really asking that why question a lot about the whole profession, which was really cool.
Obviously Compeat is different from than just a traditional dietetic service online. It’s not just online through Skype or anything like that; you’ve got a bit more of a system. What does that really involve?
We knew that the big thing that we needed to get around was improving our efficiency and we needed to get around the current issue of really our time being our cap of how much we make. We also knew from experience and also from talking to a lot of dietitians that our retention was awful—as a profession, our retention is not what it could be, not just in the sports space but in all areas. If you think about our target market, most of them are working full-time and they’re exercising outside of those hours as well. Seeing a dietitian therefore tends to be put back on the list after physio or dentist or massage or whatever it may be. We knew that was a real barrier to service that we had to break down, and Skype didn’t necessarily get around that issue. It got around the issue for me, but it didn’t get around the issue for the client. I could have done Skype and that would have worked, but it wouldn’t be fixing the problem in the market.
When we look at the market research, almost 65% of the population exercises three or more times a week. So really, if we’re looking at who could benefit from our nutrition services, it’s a really big chunk of the active population. Less than 5% have ever even seen or even considered seeing a dietitian or sports dietitian. We knew that our profession didn’t have the employability, but we were also wanting to tap into the other 95% of the market. Why weren’t we tapping into our market? That’s what we noted down and what we had to look at. So, we did a lot of trial and error and there was a lot of data to be created as well. That’s why it took us a good two years to get to the point in March this year where we were actually ready to launch our full product.
It took a lot of design work and involved a lot of investment, so we had to wait to take enough to reinvest again—like renovating a house really—you do the priority first and then you wait until you save enough and then you do the next step.
We also wanted to make sure that the product we were developing was actually what the client wanted. We would release a product as a soft-launch, do some market research and get feedback. Then we designed different membership options based on that feedback. So, we wanted to know that what we were designing was actually what the client was needing and wanted, rather than what we felt they would benefit from.
What was the best way you found for getting clients for those trial runs?
Word of mouth mainly. We were lucky that we had lots of connections in the sporting world. Obviously, I had the AIS experience coming in, but mainly it was actually do with where we were in terms of the triathlon, running and cycling space. We had lots of connections from different towns that we lived in, which led to people we had met referring us. We really wanted to keep it close with what we were working on so that we knew that we had something different and innovative, while also being first to market. There was definitely a lot of strategy involved with how we launched and how we prepared.
What was the biggest challenge involved in setting all the tech up?
Financial was definitely number one—it’s really expensive in the tech space because it takes a lot of time; lots of trial and error. It was a really big challenge for us and we were completely self-funded. Also, as a dietitian coming into a tech world, it was completely new to me. Knowing what was possible, knowing what was going to be impossible and questioning the why and making something different—that was probably our biggest challenge as we were doing something completely different and having that risk involved.
I think, personally, the hardest thing was the risk. I love that safety net of knowing there’s something coming in each week in terms of income and going without that for two years, not even knowing if it was going to pay off, was hard. I wanted to quit many, many times. I have probably lost count of how many times I just wanted to give up and just do something normal—get paid sick leave, get paid holiday pay and just know that there’s an amount coming in each week. That was probably the trickiest thing for me, knowing that I was gambling on myself and having that risk associated with it.
Are there any features that your clients find they benefit most from in particular?
I think the biggest feedback from our clients is that we’re removing that need to remember everything at one consult. You don’t sit there for an hour and try and tell someone something and then hope that they remember it; we’re actually there all the time. It’s a continuous support model. We are actually with the client as they need it, so we get messages through our platform and we talk to clients in real-time as they need it. As the exchange may be in their training program, they might all of a sudden go out that night and need some guidance on how they can actually fit their nutrition in better. We’re actually there when they have questions or there when they need it. We really made it about us fitting into their lives as opposed to them fitting into ours as professionals; it’s all about the client as they say. That’s what we wanted to design and that’s what we feel like we have achieved, which has been unreal. As a practitioner, I now can’t even imagine doing it the other way.
Do you do any consults still or is it all just through the platform?
We do phone calls, Zoom or Skype if people need it. We do catch-up sessions if they need it, but there is no payment for consults; it’s all membership.
When someone gets injured, seeing a dietitian is a low priority for them, but because the membership is already there you can get straight onto adjusting their nutrition and assist them with recovery.
Absolutely. That agility was something we mapped out right from the start. We wanted to have a service that was agile enough to change as the athlete or the active individual needed it. The technology allows me to adapt and change recommendations, goals and nutrition programs immediately. It’s very much an agile service that changes as the client’s life or situation does do, and it brings the dietitian into the forefront of the mind before everything else, which has been really neat.
In a sporting environment, dietitians can be the last to know about any training changes or injuries. But there’s some great research to show that return to play is actually enhanced through nutrition strategies if we get in early enough and do it properly. The return on investment for dietitians are often lost because we’re too late to know or not agile enough to give out recommendations, i.e. “We can definitely do something, but I don’t have an appointment for another two weeks.” Those are the types of things we’re eliminating.
Some articles suggest that sports dietitians really should be measuring body composition, whether it’s through skinfolds or another method, during every single consult. How do you get around that barrier?
Yes, and I knew that going in when we went on the online space we were going to have to let go of some of the things we really do like doing or really value having. The body composition aspect is a big one. We actually do use body comp as a guide and we utilise Dexa a lot in the private space. Dexa scanning is the gold standard in body composition if done properly, so we utilise that in different sites all over Australia no matter where our athletes are. Particularly in the capital cities they’ll be able to access Dexa body comp assessments. We utilise that a lot, and then additional to that we will utilise a lot of subjective measures such as energy levels, performance, motivation to train, hunger and appetite cues.
Particularly in the active individual space, some people really like to have the skinfolds or body comp done, but a lot of the time body composition measurements aren’t really necessary and more of another point of stress. We have such a range of athletes—and I call everyone an athlete no matter how active they are—in terms of what they’re wanting to achieve, and weight loss or body comp change can be a goal, but it’s not always the goal and often performance can be achieved without necessarily having that targeted on or pressured on. Body composition is great in working on performance outcomes, however education and skill building in the athlete are just as important in athlete development building their resilience.
Obviously, in the elite space, monitoring body comp can be a really big thing, but it’s not the only thing either. There’s always the opportunity for us to refer on as well. We know that being online, we have limitations and there are counselling and things like that we can’t do that the one-on-one can do, so we’re very good at referring on very early as soon as we see a need to. We know that we can’t answer all questions and we know we can’t tick all boxes and we’re not going to try to. There are different ways to get around issues, but that referring on is really important to us to know that there are some really quality dietitians in that one-on-one space that are very, very valuable to different individuals. We don’t need to monopolise, we create a space that provides another option to the individual to access nutritional information other than face-to-face or Skype.
Do you feel like your experience with AIS first was a big factor in platforming you for this success?
Yes, absolutely. We would never have come up with the idea without the AIS. I wouldn’t have had the name in terms of the contacts or anything like that without the AIS, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence—that’s for sure. I became a totally different dietitian and a different person professionally from the experience and the support I had at the AIS.
I think a big thing that I learned there is that it was really cool to have the athletes in that unlimited space of support and I really wanted to bring that to everyone. A big thing for me was that not everyone could have had that level of support and education and I wanted to figure out how could we actually provide that not just to the elite sportsperson, but also to the general active individual.
Are there any features you’re looking to adjust or create moving forwards?
The plans are unreal, but I can’t give them away! I think the best way to answer that is that we’re never going to be finished and I don’t think we’ll ever feel like we’re finished. I think that’s an overwhelming thing, but the most exciting thing at the same time. We’ve got so much mapped out now of where to go from here that I don’t think we’ll ever actually be done—and that’s amazing. It’s more a priority system of “What can we tick off next? What makes this better? What has been suggested by our actual clients that they would like to see, and where can we actually lead these figures?”
What we’ve created is not sports-specific. We’ve started in the sports space, but what we’ve created is well and truly not sports-specific. It’s very exciting. We’re very passionate and I think having Dan in this space where he’s not a dietitian has been really cool because he feels like he’s got this opportunity now to actually reinvent a whole profession and bring value which may be being lost when social media is taking over, or tech is taking over. It’s really, really cool to work with him. A lot of people say, “Oh God, how do you work with your husband?” But we’ve got completely different skill sets and I think that’s why we complement each other is that we’re very different in the professional world. He’s very much the business/strategy/design side of things and, and I’m the dietitian/practitioner part.
We’ve also just got our first employee on board two weeks ago in a full-time position—it’s been amazing to start to fulfil that dream. Onwards and upwards and lots to do! At the moment, we’re in an investment round getting venture capital in to raise enough money for our next phase of development. We did a start-up slingshot program last year. I was very pregnant at the time and I was pitching to investors. It was like Shark Tank, but a little bit different in the way that they give you a ten-week course to fast-track your business and ideas and provide connections for investment. I went in for the first week with a two-week old and a two-year-old as well, and we did the best that we could in ten weeks and then pitched at the end of it to a whole lot of investors and connections. It was a really great opportunity that has then led us to the point where we are now much faster than we probably would have originally done.
It’s a different world with different lingo. I guess we never really thought of ourselves as a tech start-up as such; we were just trying to solve a problem within an industry. That’s how we ended up in this space. We had a whole lot of mentoring and investment assistance just through brilliant minds who have been there before or could see the potential in our product, which was really affirming because when you’ve got your head in a space for this long without even talking to colleagues because you can’t, you just want to know that it’s actually something that’s going to be useful. So, that’s been really nice since we launched to actually see that come about.
Was there anything else you wanted to add?
It’s important to mention that we haven’t designed this to eliminate the dietitian—I think that’s a really key thing for dietitians reading this interview to see. It is that this isn’t a cookie cutter; this isn’t an elimination of the dietitian. While we aren’t quite there yet, we are actually building this platform for the dietitian to utilise and for the dietitian to improve their value, their efficiency and the impact they can have on an individual’s life.
This isn’t to eliminate face-to-face. It is important and useful when it’s needed, particularly in the sports space. It’s actually to add another dimension to service provision, enhance that and to support it because, if you think about it, when teams are actually in training, their nutrition is pretty well-controlled. You don’t really need to stress about it because the environment is allowing them to eat in a performance-centric manner. But it’s when they’re in that day to day environment that they need that support; they need to have that education, that guidance and the dietitian in their pocket basically. That’s what we wanted to create. We want to actually employ lots of dietitians and we have lots of big plans about how we will scale and create this platform to bring dietitians to the tech space and actually improve their future.
Aidan has been exposed to the most recent and up-to-date evidence based approaches to dietetic intervention. Dating back to well before starting uni he has been fascinated by all things nutrition, particularly the effects of different dietary approaches on body composition and sports performance. Due to this passion, he has built up an extensive knowledge base in multiple areas of nutrition and is able to help clients with a variety of conditions. One of Aidan’s main strengths is his ability to adapt plans based on the clients desires. By having such a thorough understanding of optimal nutrition for different situations he is able to develop detailed meal plans for clients, or he can provide flexible guidance that can contribute to improving the clients overall quality of life.