Alexis Oladipo (now Mrs Alexis Adjei) is the founder of Gym Bites, an exciting new brand made up of a group of passionate individuals who really are out here to #FYHL (Feeding your healthy lifestyle)! They understand that not everyone will have the time to prepare delicious healthy meals after a sweaty workout, especially in today’s day and age where people are extremely active with work, family and of course maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They want to replace that protein shake or that protein bar full of preservatives for something honest, filling, tasty, nutritious and most importantly healthy without all the added junk! Gym bites is all about the tasty goodness of a healthy salad in a jar. VMM chats with the proactive founder to hear her story on setting up a business and the motivation that spurred her on and kept her going.
Tell me a bit about your studies at university, your dreams and ambition relating to your chosen degree in Media & Culture. What did you want to do after graduation and how did that turn out?
To be honest, I went to university because I had to. I have never been an academic, something I can PROUDLY admit now. I am a creative; I learnt this about myself when I quit my job at Selfridges. However rewinding back, I had always enjoyed media studies, since secondary school, so when the time came to go to university, I literally picked a media course. At the time, any media course would do. I don’t even think I read what the course entailed, but I was soon to find out, I hated my course, it wasn’t anything I expected, I felt like I studied sociology and English to be fair. Having nowhere to run, I kind of just stuck with the course and rode it out, too afraid to admit to my mother that I wanted to try something else. Eventually I graduated with an average 2:2; I was actually two marks away from a 2:1. I cried.
One thing I did discover at university, was my desire for cooking and fashion, they were my two loves, great clothes and great food. It was then I wanted to pursue a career as a fashion editor. Ha!
How did it make you feel that you were not able to follow that path to become a successful stylist within the fashion industry?
Well the idea was to actually become the best fashion editor in the world, but then I discovered what a stylist was, and as mentioned I’m not an academic person so when I realized being an editor didn’t only involve wearing beautiful clothes, but writing about them, I thought “screw that” and said I’d be a stylist and create beautiful looks instead! So I did!
After graduating from university, I left my sales assistant role and secured a job at Selfridges, which I was over the moon about. However my enthusiasm for the role didn’t last long. I soon came across a book that had been recommended to me a few times called ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki and the moment I read that book my whole life changed.
‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ birthed something in me I never knew existed. Yes I wanted to be a stylist but I wasn’t necessarily doing the steps to take me there. I liked the idea of being a stylist but I was still working in retail and making somebody else rich. Something in me woke up and I left my Sales Assistant/Brand Ambassador role at Selfridges and began to pursue my dream as a freelance stylist.
Well... What can I say? I failed. Two and a half years of hard a** grinding, tears and rejection, I felt that I had failed at making my “dream” as a stylist come true. Well, what I thought was my dream. The thing is at the time of our growing period, we never quite get what’s going on but little do we know that God is just preparing us and working things out for our good.
Money wasn’t coming in and I was on jobseekers. Enough was enough. I decided to get back into work, however I couldn’t get work. I applied and applied and applied and all I got was rejection after rejection after rejection... I eventually let my pride go and took a job as an office cleaner, working 3am shifts everyday in the City, cleaning the office desks and kitchens of some of the richest financial bankers in London. From an aspiring fashion stylist to a cleaner, you can only imagine how I felt.
I felt like a failure, things were also going on in my personal life that had a bad effect on me that caused me to go into depression, I lost quite a bit of weight, I mean I really wasn’t happy at all, but with that said, I kept going, I didn’t give up, I kept my head low and worked very hard. I had a point to prove, not only to the people who once mocked me but also to myself.
How did the idea for gym bites come about? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Thankfully, even through my dark times, my creative flame kept burning and business ideas would still come to me. When I initially came up with the concept of Gym Bites, it was through sheer frustration of not finding anything remotely healthy to eat after a gym workout one day. In fact I shared the idea with a friend however I got discouraged and didn’t pursue it.
How did you go about bringing the idea to life? What necessary steps did you take to create the brand?
One thing I have been cautious about is the type of people I have around me. I believe that energies are very contagious and bad company corrupts good habits. My friend’s sister at the time had joined the Princes Trust Enterprise program and recommended it to us, so we did just that. We joined and I completely forgetting about Gym Bites went in with 4 different business ideas, changing them every other week.
It was not until I broke down in front my millionaire mentor, expressing my frustration for not actually knowing what I wanted to pursue. He then asked me one question: “Alexis, what are you good at?” I said fashion and food; well they were the first things that came to my head
at the time. He kindly told me in the nicest way possible to let the fashion thing go for now and perhaps begin to explore ideas around food. That’s when I remembered Gym Bites and shared the idea with him. To my surprise he was so enthusiastic and championed me to explore the idea further.
How did you test your assumptions?
The first ever time I tested out my product was in 2014 at Pure Gym, Alperton all the way in North London off the A406, a foreign area of London to me in a nutshell. I went in with no labelling or branding, just food stuffed in these massive square jars. However I still managed to sell some, which gave me hope and let me know I was onto something.
What was your mission at the outset? How has that mission evolved over time?
The mission was to create a brand that would shock everyone, like I mentioned I had a point to prove and I wanted to show that I could make stick with something and make something of myself. Even till this day its still shocks people that a Black British Nigerian girl from East London could create such a great brand.
So I took my sweet time in the development process, sometimes not out of choice due to capital constraints but it worked out in my favour. I worked close with my branding team who were fed up with me by my 4th revision but I had to get it right. The jars had to change, which was hard for me to accept because once I have my mind set on something, I don’t really want to change it. However I had to learn to take constructive criticism understanding that the advice given was in the best interest of the business idea.
How did you then go about advertising the business and getting it out there?
Social Media was my best friend and still is till this day. I relied heavily on it because unlike other brands I just did not have the budget to pay for PR or above the line marketing, which cost an absolute bomb. However I didn’t allow this to hinder my progress.
How did you make your first sale?
First REAL sale was when I was given half my Princes Trust loan to prove my idea actually works. I decided to have a soft launch on a market stall out in Fenchurch Street London on an unfortunate rainy day. Thankfully we sold about 10 salads and it was enough to convince Princes Trust that I had a viable business.
How did you overcome the challenges and struggles you mentioned earlier?
I had to have faith. I had to believe more than anything and having strong faith in God enabled and allowed me to overcome my struggles. I strongly believe that without faith and complete trust in God, I would not have been able to make it through the storms and trials that came my way. I have no idea where I’d be now if I had doubted my idea and vision for my life and the brand. I know it definitely won’t be where I am today doing what I love. Doubt and fear are some of the strongest barriers in our minds that
hinder us from achieving what we truly want in life and I have come to know first hand through my experience that if you do not have Faith, real faith to believe, faith that can take you through the storms and dark hours, and you allow any ounce of doubt, fear, rejection, or a NO get in your way, it's a wrap. I overcame by believing and having faith and I still do.
How important was it to have a mentor whilst you embarked on this new journey of your life? How did they help and what did they teach you that have helped you succeed with Gym Bites?
I believe having a mentor is great. Having a mentor through this journey helped me a lot with things I did not know concerning business in general. They will always have a different perspective from your friends, family or anyone you have once worked with in the past as they have been there and done all of what you are trying to do for yourself. Some have even failed numerous of times and will direct you and explain to you the necessary steps to take so as not to make those same mistakes so therefore bringing to the table their expertise and diverse experience of how the industry works and guide you in making the best decisions that affect your brand and business positively unlike family and friends some of whom have no idea how a business works but want to advice you on how to run a it.
What would you say were some of your greatest fears concerning your brand and the business when you started?
Running out of cash or someone stealing my business idea and being out shone by a really big competitor.
How have you overcome those fears? Do you still worry and how do you deal with those on a daily basis?
Yes I do still worry but I don’t let it hinder or stop me from putting in steps to getting my brand out there. It is said that most startups fail within their first year so that’s always been at the back of mind but at the same time, it keeps me passionate and enables me to work very hard to keep the business afloat and I tell you I put my all into it. I have also learned that if someone or another business tries to imitate your brand or idea, take it as a compliment, it means you’re doing something right. They can try to imitate or steal it, but you have the blueprint, the original concept and plan and no one can imitate that. The core of what you grow your brand on cannot be duplicated by anyone else. Yes people will try, let them. Just do not be caught up in being overly concerned about what they are doing that you take focus away from what you are doing. That's a recipe for failure. Concentrate on you and your brand.
What makes you fearless?
God. One of my favorite scriptures is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13 and I hold onto those words when I begin to doubt myself.
To what would you attribute your success?
My tenacity. There are many times I wanted to give up and there are many times I wanted to just get a normal 9-5 and cut a check, but if I was about just the money, then that’s exactly what I could have done, but it isn’t just about the money. I am in love with entrepreneurship. Building something from nothing brings me great joy.
If you could time travel and go back to the beginning of your journey and had 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you have acquired with the intention of saving yourself half the grief you have gone through, the numerous mistakes you have made the heart aches, what would you tell yourself?
I would have told the former me to surrender my life to Christ sooner. I would probably be a millionaire by now. LOL
I will be honest and say as much as I would love to change a lot of things I went through, I am happy and truly glad for the experience and would not change anything. Sometimes we need to go through certain experiences to learn about who we are, learn about our strengths and weaknesses, what we can handle and what we can take as lessons from these experiences. Living a life with no struggle or pain teaches you nothing and does not equip you for the real world. I am stronger for the life lessons and more determined now more than ever.
So to answer that, I would spend that 15 minutes with my former self telling her or should I say me, that its going to be tough, heck its going to be painful and downright ugly but brace yourself because you are going to be just fine. Sometimes we really need people or someone to tell us that. To reassure us that we will be fine even though its not going to be easy. At the end of the day, if it were easy, everyone would make it. But it takes a certain type of person to go through the burning furnace like a diamond does and come out at the end shinning bright.
What habits helped make you successful?
Being very prayerful and disciplined.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
We not only focus on the product, but the story behind the product. When people can connect with the brand on an emotional level, you’re more likely to win them over, as opposed to brands that have loads of financial backing and all the experience and expertise in the world.
How did you deal with failure and what did you learn from the times that you felt you failed?
I never accepted it. Meaning yes I may have failed in CERTAIN areas, but I didn’t let it defeat me over all, because I kept going. Failure was and never is an option for me, no matter how many times those voices try to tell me they are, I rebuke them and keep going.
I learned that failure only makes you stronger and drives you to learn from your past mistakes. It exposes those areas that you need to fix or attend to. It enlightens you to be more aware of who you are and prioritise quickly on what and who you want to be and begin making better strives at getting there.
I believe that if I did not fail at the things that I thought I wanted so badly like becoming a stylist or wanting to be a fashion editor, I would not have realised I had ideas that were deep down inside of me that I could pursue. I would have been stuck in jobs, roles or sectors that would not have fulfilled me wholly and still would be unhappy. But by trying and failing at them, I learnt so much and am channelling those lessons into what I am doing now.
What are some of your goals moving forward for Gym Bites? Where do you see Gym Bites five years from now?
That would be telling. However I will leave you with ‘BIGGER and BETTER’ and absolutely nothing short of that.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Keep your head down; don’t talk about what you are doing in the first few years. It’s nice to keep people guessing and it also protects your idea and your brand. Plan and take your time to strategically execute each phase of your business. Never think small, always think bigger than your very own imagination. Above all else, have self- belief, have faith, have a vision, believe in your vision and do not let anything make you doubt your vision.
Interview by Thomasina R. Legend
Photography by Sammy Baxter
Hair & Makeup: Jumoke Amos of Monique Artistry,
Styling & Creative Direction: Thomasina R. Legend
Assisted by: Annette Boateng
Published in VMM Volume 3, Fearless