KOJA Health from FLUX Agency on Vimeo.

Why did you start your business or take the role that you're in now? 

My relationship with food and my body has been a long one. While I’ve always been active and was a lean, healthy teenager, a gap year in London working at a pub quickly saw me gain close to 15kgs. I spent the following year doing everything I could to get back to a healthy weight, all the diets out there, large amounts of exercise and counting calories. I tried all the artificial meal replacement shakes, the diet soft drinks, the artificially sweetened diet chocolate treats etc. Despite losing a few kilos here and there, I felt terrible and nothing really worked.


Instead, it was letting go of the mental stress and pressure that was my real turning point. One day I realised that all those diet products were full of artificial and synthetic ingredients that didn’t nourish my body. Once I started eating wholefoods, and eliminating processed food, I finally lost the excess weight. I also realised there’s much better things to think about than dieting all day every day and once I realised this, I felt so much better about my body.


In addition to my relationship with diet products, a stint working in the supplements industry further opened my eyes to the impossible pressures and ridiculous ‘magic pills’ touted as health solutions. It quickly became clear to me that many people lacked an understanding of basic nutrition principles, and even more concerningly, were not eating enough real food.


Driven by a passion for nutrition and education, I initially launched a workshop series Nourish Education. However I soon realised people were just too busy to give up their time to learn about nutrition. I needed to find a way to educate fellow Australians about what they’re eating and what they need to nourish and energise their bodies in an easy and efficient way. The solution was to create a range of healthy food products that could also educate consumers on nutrition at the same time via the brand.


This is when KOJA was born. Happiness does not come from your weight or looks, everyone will always have something they might like to change about their physical appearance. You can spend your whole life trying to change it or you can get on with it, this is what I hope KOJA can help others with, by providing simple, convenient and healthy real food options, people can stop stressing about food and get on with their lives.


What inspires you and gets you out of bed in the mornings? 

As cliche as it may sound, I really did start KOJA to help others. In the six years since starting KOJA I’m incredibly proud to have always put nutrition and creating top quality, healthy products above all else, including my bottom line. Despite a ‘health food revolution’ in recent years, there are still a lot of conflicting messages, cheap and nasty ingredients (including ‘natural’ sweeteners) and no ‘real food’ in the middle aisles of supermarkets.


Being a small business making such big changes in this space is exciting. Combined with educating others on nutrition and making a valuable change to people's lives keeps me passionate day in and day out. I truly hope by providing real food and healthy snacks that fuel the body and make people feel good without worrying about calories and sugar intake, people can feel energised, nourished and get on with enjoying life.


What's been the best lesson you've learned in business or your career and why? 

Trust myself! I used to look at anyone in business and think ‘they're so smart’ and once upon a time would have listened to advice from anyone I believed was successful. I’ve realised while people may know their own business and industry well, it doesn’t mean they can give the right advice for my business in our industry. Their advice might not be relevant and most importantly, as my confidence grew, I realised my own experience and passion meant I knew my business best and should trust my instinct.

Secondly, I’ve learnt to not take things personally. In the very early days I thought everything was personal. If I didn’t secure a deal or even get a response I’d think I’d done something wrong or that they didn’t like me. Then I realised people have their own life! People are busy, have their own stuff going on and at the end of the day, if something doesn’t work out the way I wanted it to, there’s always something bigger and better to move onto. It’s important to keep perspective and as a result things don’t phase me like they used to, and as my team will tell you, there’s always a Plan B. My resilience has grown over the years of running my own business and dealing with constant change. Now I’m comfortable with all the adversity that’s part of the start-up ride.


An interview with Kate Johansen from KOJA health foods, women leaders, ARNA women's work and laptop bags.


What does the future look like for you? 

Continuing to provide real food and have a real impact on people's health. Financial success will never be my primary motivator, though understandably business success does allow me to do more - innovate more, create more products and reach more people.

It’s not about taking over the world to make millions, it’s about taking over the world to educate millions, to help people make better choices and live better lives. I hope I’m growing this business and living my passion everyday for a long time to come.

What is your boldest move to date? 

In 2015 I appeared on Shark Tank with my original range of breakfast toppers. Up until then, I’d been selling at farmer’s markets, online and at a handful of health food retailers and KOJA was still just a ‘side hustle’. My pitch was successful and during filming I accepted an offer. Even more incredibly, in the three days after the episode aired, online sales surged by $150,000. Before this, annual revenue was around $70,000. This surge in sales was during the due diligence phase, before the Shark Tank offer had been finalised, and gave me the seed money I needed to expand and throw myself into the business full time. In addition to the boost in revenue, I ultimately decided I was the best person to run my business and turned down a significant investment offer to ensure I maintained 100% ownership.


I believe it’s bold to admit when somethings not working and have the flexibility and strength to change it. This was not only the case for me turning down Shark Tank but also reviewing my own products. For example, not all ranges will be a hit or even commercially viable, like my salad toppers, which I discontinued after less than a year in market.

An interview with Kate Johansen from KOJA health foods, women leaders, ARNA women's work and laptop bags.

What's one piece of advice you'd give other women in business or in their careers? 

Get started. If you have a passion, follow it. You can teach yourself anything (like how to run a business) but there is no stronger combination than passion and hard work. For me personally, while I had a business degree under my belt, I didn’t have a nutrition qualification, despite it being a lifelong passion and having read many nutrition textbooks cover to cover. While I was concerned this might hold me back, it was either spend another four years at university or get going, and KOJA wouldn’t be where it is today or here at all if I hadn’t taken the leap and started.


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