The niche Facebook group that became a small business smash hit

Skinnymixers was launched when its founder couldn’t find any thermal cooker recipes that appealed to her tastebuds. She decided to create her own solution and ended up building a Facebook community in the process.

Nikalene Riddle is candid about how her business, Skinnymixers began. She clearly remembers the moment that sparked her big idea. It was 2013 and she was at her home in Adelaide looking at a $2,000 appliance that had been sitting unused on her kitchen bench for a while now.

The appliance in question was a thermal cooker. Nikalene had received it as a Mother’s Day gift, but was distinctly unimpressed with the recipes that came with it. Her message to a Facebook interest group for thermal cooking enthusiasts was simple: “Hey, is anybody else trying to lose weight and not really happy with the available thermal cooker recipes?”

The answer from the other Facebook users in the group, she says, was an overwhelming and resounding “yes”. She had an idea.

“On a Sunday morning Michael – my husband – and I, sitting in bed, came up with the name ‘Skinnymixers’ and by the end of the day we had over a thousand members in our own Facebook group.”

Organic growth exemplified

A thousand members is a lot for half a day’s work. Nikalene’s honesty accounts at least in part for this immediate popularity and the phenomenal success of what is a business noticeably free of go-betweens and agents.

In fact, Nikalene says, the lack of formal marketing or promotional strategy that existed back then, for the most part, exists to this day.

That may sound strange or even unlikely for a venture – “movement” may be a better word – that now includes 165,000 members, has led to seven cook books and a number of high-profile business awards. But when you get to the heart of what makes Skinnymixers work, you realise it’s anything but that.

“Our community has actually dictated the Skinnymixers business model, which is why we’ve had the level of success that we’ve had. They very much tell us how they want us to run the company and we give them what they want and that has worked really well for us,” Nikalene explains.

That strategy of letting the community decide on the business’ objectives came from how Skinnymixers developed in the early years.

“Over the course of about a year I started developing recipes. I was finding the food I was writing recipes for, and cooking myself tasted so much better."

The Skinnymixers community took notice. This was more than just an online meeting place – although that was incredibly important. This was a place to converse with someone who had interesting things to say and a compelling way of conveying it: an unassuming leader.

“The community asked for a blog. I started publishing it three years ago and then they started asking for books. And I self-published my first book, which was A Little Taste of India.”

The book that began the blitz

Nikalene describes publishing that first book as “an overwhelming process”. In fact she says those involved didn’t even have the luxury of a moment to feel excited when it finally launched – they were just too busy.

As all-encompassing as self-publishing was, however, it was equalled by the awe-inspiring support that they had throughout the process. The community responded to the publication with enthusiasm.

“I remember when we launched the book we had ordered around three thousand copies from the printing house. We outsold that by two thousand in the first night. We had to call the printing house and say ‘Hey guys - we’re going to need a lot more books.’”

Visit the book’s page on the Skinnymixer’s website and you can’t fail to notice the glowing reviews, some of them involving quite moving accounts of how the recipes literally changed a person’s approach to food, health and cooking.

Today Skinnymixers ships around 37,000 parcels a year – including three more A Little Taste of… books (Asia, Spain and Mexico) to 50 different countries.

Nikalene says Australia Post “has been there from day one”, a time she recalls when they were still using paper envelopes and stick-on stamps to deliver their books.

“Australia Post has helped our business flourish. The biggest challenge they helped us overcome was transitioning from traditional postage to massive bulk distribution using Parcel Post.”

“The integration with our systems has gone seamlessly but without Australia Post supporting us along the way, I don’t think that we would ever have grown the business to the stage that we have.”

“They’ve also helped us provide a better service to our customers – now we can provide things like tracking, signature on delivery and Express Post.”

First Facebook… then the world

Nikalene’s success has not gone unnoticed outside the thermal cooking community. Skinnymixers has been recognised with numerous awards in its relatively short history. Most recently it won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition.

The prize was a trip to New York and Fiji. Nikalene got to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and was invited to Tony Robbins’ private resort where she received one-on-one business mentoring from the entrepreneur.

“The biggest thing that I took away from my time in New York and Fiji with Tony was that in order to have a successful company – and to continue to have a successful company – you have to have a raving fan. Tony was confident that I had already done that.”

Skinnymixers was also a finalist in the Australia Post Online Retail Industry Awards (ORIAS) 2018 for the People's Choice Award. The ORIAS recognise retailers for their innovation and outstanding customer experiences, and the People’s Choice Award is a category in which customers vote for their favourite Australian online retailers.

Nikalene says she looks back at what she’s achieved so far with something like disbelief.

“On the Sunday [in 2013] when I created Skinnymixers, what I was looking for was a community that I could hang out with on the internet that might encourage me to use my machine more and perhaps lose a bit of weight.

“I could never have imagined that it would turn into a company with employees and a huge team of volunteers and a life-changing experience where I get to travel the world and meet people and change people’s lives.”

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