Steve Chapman was born in Sydney, around the Mosman area. His dad worked really hard, seven days a week while his mum ran a small business but was able to be more present during his time growing up. Between him and his brother, there was rarely a moment that wasn’t a competition.
“A lot of my childhood I was super curious with creating things and tinkering with things, I was also into creating my own small businesses. From age 8 I would hire the local kids for $5-10 to wash a car, then get the customers to pay $20-25 per car wash, I thought this was fun and I enjoyed making money.
As I got older, I expanded on my business model and began to import designer hair straighteners from overseas. I would import them from the US and then sell them on eBay and then sell them to my girlfriend’s friends and investing all that money back in. At one point I had around 50 coming and they were all seized by customs because of how much money they were worth.
Everyone around me at the time was telling me I would be good at business when I grow up and so that’s what I set out to do.
I planned out my career and thought I would start out in a big accounting firm because they’re the only ones that hire out of high school. I thought cool, I can move to an investment banking role in the future.
I realised after much reflection that I developed an ego back in high school, as I felt like an outsider across a bunch of circles. The ego was developed to protect myself mentally and to try and fit in.
Two weeks after finishing my Higher School Certificate, I got a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as an accountant.
I up-skilled quickly on the job but realised shortly after that it wasn’t the entrepreneurial start-up thing that I was doing when I was a kid, it was auditing, accounting and tax.
I knew the accounting path wasn’t for me so I decided to leave PwC and university to pursue entrepreneurship. I wrote a sixteen page letter to my parents telling them as such.
So I started working on an app, a tech start-up. I had seen what Mark Zuckerberg was doing with Facebook and how much they had just bought Instagram for (at the time) and I got very excited by the idea of creating an app and selling it to Facebook for millions of dollars.
I foolishly told PWC in my exit interview that they could read about my next move in Forbes magazine, I had an embarrassing amount of bravado that it would work out. So I started to work on an app called Facebuy, it was a combination of EBay and Facebook. From the get go it went well, I got a lot of press and won some young entrepreneur awards and the app got thousands of downloads. All this was reinforcing my ego that I developed in high-school, and that this get rich quick scheme was working. Unfortunately I was breaking Richard Feynman first rule “that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool”.
I had no experience or proper knowledge on building an app so people were trying to give me feedback and I just turned a blind eye to it. I mistakely just thought I had all the answers.
My plan was to sell this app to Facebook, and remember clearly when one morning I got an email at 2am from Facebook legal team. To my horror it was cease-and-desist letter from their lawyers because Facebuy was too similar to Facebook, and I couldn’t use the integration with their platform anymore. I didn’t know what to do because they had a huge legal team and I had zero, plus the app had stopped working technically because I’d gotten it built overseas and had many bugs that were not yet sorted out.
The worst part was that the whole project had cost me $80,000 and that money I had borrowed from my dad, from his retirement savings. Within 72 hours I had nothing to show for all my hard work and lost all my dad’s money.
It was devastating and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. I had a lot of people around me at this time, but it was very dark. I remember doing a lot of soul searching and trying to figure out where I went wrong. I had to reflect on my mistakes and learn from this, where I went wrong. I looked at every aspect of my life and spent a lot of my time in introspection.
I finally discovered the biggest insight that changed my life. My main obstacle was my ego, and a severe lack of humility. I was then determined to address this issue, or else I was sure that all other business ventures would be doomed to the same fate.
Through my experiences, I met Dr. Sam Prince, the owner of Zambrero (which now has 170 restaurants globally) and a really impressive human. He was the kind of mentor that I wanted to emulate everything; he had a concise value set and an impressive way of living. I thought that if anyone could teach me humility, it would be him.
I really enjoyed learning from him, and we built up this great friendship. He saw that I had potential and he took me on board as an apprentice (officially a Personal Assistance) which included getting coffees, writing notes in meetings and trying to shadow him and learn from him as much as I could. It was the opposite of what most young entrepreneurs do but it was the best thing I’d ever done. All these wounds that I had, Sam and I started stitching them back together.
I spent three years as his full time apprentice and right hand. I wasn’t active on social media, and I was just focused on reading books, learning humility and reminding myself that I never wanted to be in a position to ruin things all over again. I stopped drinking alcohol, starting waking up at 4am everyday and did a complete 180 to my previous lifestyle.
Sam and I had always wanted to start something together, and we started looking around at what trends were happening and what we could see. We saw soft drinks in decline, along with sports drinks and energy drinks. Consumers wanted natural ingredients and were becoming more aware of what they were putting into their body. They wanted healthy ingredients and clean labels, low sugar and low calorie but to not sacrifice too much on flavour.
We came across some research in the food world, that there are ingredients that had been shown to improve brain function, to help with memory, concentration and mental clarity.
We started to look if anyone had innovated in this space in beverages and whether there were any ‘smart drinks’ on the market and there just wasn’t, globally there was nobody doing it. We wanted to create a healthy drink that you could feel the benefits of after consuming. We wanted to help people work smarter, study longer and be more productive.
Importantly we didn’t want it to have that crash like you’d get from a coffee or an energy drink. So we wanted to create a whole new category and not be compared to a ‘healthy energy drink’ because as soon as you put caffeine in something people start to question whether it is just an energy drink. And to us that is kind of like throwing a few extra lettuce leafs on a Big Mac and calling it healthy… people still think that McDonald’s isn’t good for them.
So the biggest challenge for us was to not be classed as a ‘healthy energy drink’ and to be able to create this new category of our own and make sure it stands for health, natural ingredients and functionality that are high quality.
We started looking at data and saw a bunch of interesting things happening in the US, particularly around Kombucha, where these probiotic, healthy functional beverages were the fastest growing new category.
We asked the philosophical question of; do people still want a mental pick me up that they usually get from a soft drink, energy drink or coffee? And we accepted that people are more stressed and overworked, they sit at their desk for a long time and are needing to concentrate. Work hours are extended now and we’re always switched on through our mobile phones, so we realised that people definitely still need this mental pick me up, but people are more conscious of what they are putting into their body – they don’t want to sugar, the additives and the crash that often comes with it.
We quickly realised that the customer demand for the benefit is still there, which is why we felt confident with our products, which are to give people the chance to shine and the chance to be their best in their day-to-day lives.