A long letter about my business

Dearest Community of Supporters Over the Past 7 Years,

I have some big news and it’s important to me that I share it with you first. After a lot of careful thought and much heartache, I’ve decided to close IQuitSugar.com.

As many of you know, the IQS journey started at a time in my life that had given me cause to re-evaluate what mattered in life. From this place I decided to (re)build my life according to certain values. These values went on to steer the IQS message as well as the business.

The big commitment I made to myself back then was to not get caught up in the cycle. (It’s actually a very old commitment, or, perhaps, core value, which has guided me in making other, similarly big decisions in the past. Seven years ago, however, I revisited it.)

This meant doing things differently. It meant not taking on advertising. It meant starting small and growing at the same pace as the community was able to manage the messaging, and at a pace at which I could feel (dare I say it) authentic. It meant sticking to seemingly non-commercial principles. It meant “giving first”, aiming only to educate…and then seeing where it would all go. I did this for two years before feeling I could legitimately charge for my product. When I did, you guys supported me and enabled me.

At all times I have relied on the trust, smarts and support of all of you to do what I’ve done with this business. And to give me feedback. And confidence. This feedback loop, to be truly honest, played a massive part in my being able to “come out” with my book first, we make the beast beautiful and to settle into myself for the first time in my life. I am so very, very grateful for this. I will take this opportunity to thank you and to return the courtesy by explaining to you my decision to close.

So. Recently I’ve realised that to remain true to my original commitment, I must pivot course. Seven years into a movement, five years into a business, I feel my work in the realm is done. I set out to educate the world about the truth of our eating habits and to find a technique that could shift things in a meaningful way. I felt I was a good person to do it – I had journalism skills and experience and a platform. And I was cool with copping the flak. I loved I was able to build the damn thing organically, conversing the whole way with the community. It was a “gentle and kind experiment”.

But success is a funny thing. It requires feeding. It requires growth. Which sees you become caught up in the cycle eventually, sometimes without realising. To be able to take the IQS.com business where it had to go next, I had to scale. Many in my position get excited about this. It’s where most businesses have to go when you get to a certain size and level of organic success. But the particularities of the IQS business, and of my value system, just don’t sit well with such a path.

I’m going to be really honest here because I hope this decision I’ve made might invite a different conversation around the traps. One that goes beyond lazily and unkindly speculating that the business was failing (it certainly wasn’t and out of full respect for IQS’s general manager and the talented and loyal-to-a-fault staff I will defend this suggestion forcibly), or that the founder was mentally unfit (oh, yes, the suggestion has been made before, to which I say, surely we know the statistics and history of high-functioning anxious types running the bulk of the most successful businesses in the world by now?).

Once we arrived at the point where “scale” – growing the existing structure exponentially – was required, I realised the motivator now was money. My motivator had not been money previously, a freedom that enabled me to make bold decisions that at times startled peers and the industry, but ultimately, and ironically, saw my message and product spread further.

So I decided a little over 12 months ago that it was time for me to go. I’m an educator, a communicator. Not a money-spinner. It was best for everyone and for the message.

I set out, initially, to sell the business to a respectful soul to whom I could hand over the baton. They could scale. They could make the money and enable the staff to grow their careers. They could take the message further and dial up the impact on people’s health around the world. This seemed the most responsible thing to do.

But here was the rub: Normally with such a sale, the owner is kept on for about three years to continue the brand and image messaging for consumers. Golden handcuffs you might say. I, however, stipulated I could not and would not do this. And put up a reduced sale price to compensate. Indeed, at one point I floated the idea that I’d give it away, but the psychology and logistics of this proved impossible, too. Perhaps selfishly, I knew I couldn’t watch as a new owner steered my name and brand and values in directions I didn’t agree wholly with. I couldn’t be part of this scaling process. It wasn’t me. And, if I’m to be less Pollyanna-ish here, I’d be crap at it. I’d let everyone down.

But, you see, for a business that has the founder’s name and noggin all over it, my stance didn’t gel in the market. I suspect many also had a hard time understanding why a founder would want to walk from a successful business. (I’ll flag that during this trying period, the hard work of the team saw the business thrive and I was made finalist in the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, a point I raise only because the process entailed a large crew of judges digging through all our financials, thus confirming the fiscal vibrancy of the business.)

And so, after 12 months of a protracted set of discussions with various parties, some who came within millimetres of purchase, I have had to make what I believe is the best entrepreneurial decision I can: I’m closing, not selling.

I believe I have a lot more to create and a lot more education campaigns to ignite. The anxiety discussion, the food-waste movement…this is where I need to be. As I say, my job is done in the sugar-free space and it would be remiss of me stay on board just to extract money for myself. In my experience in the entrepreneurial space, this is a recipe for eventual disaster. I’ve watched such a storyline unfold many times over. Instead, I now hand the baton to you, the community. The information is out there. Use it. Please spread the word. My books will still be available in bookshops and libraries. The work of everyone who’s been part of this won’t die.

Further, the business will be running, business as usual for some time. I made my decision last week and have chosen to announce things ASAP rather than quietly winding down the service and care without full disclosure. I did not want to deceive anyone. Transparency and upfrontness is what I reckon we’re all craving. In life. As I say, there’s an opportunity to do things differently, and decently, here. The general manager, my board, the team and I feel this is important. Anyone signed up, or who signs up to take part in the remaining programs, will receive the full service in their sugar-quitting journey. The last chance to sign up and take part in the program, that has got 1.5 million people off sugar worldwide, will be in early April. I hope we can all go out with a bit of a bang.

Without a doubt this has been the second most agonising and carefully mapped out decision of my life so far. The first was the one I made a bit over seven years ago to choose a different path and to not get caught up. I hope you respect it’s not been made lightly, nor entirely selfishly. Yes, admittedly, my health – mental and physical – and my belief in living a life motivated by values were considerations. They always are. But, again, a hypocrisy seeps in if I remain someone who sacrifices my own wellbeing and values for money and success. This is the ultimate disservice to the message I’ve peddled for years. I have to walk my talk, otherwise, what the hell is it all about?

As a final note I want to pay full respect to Jorge da Rocha, the general manager at I Quit Sugar, and the whole team. They joined my business to further their careers and to join a movement they believed in. In many cases they moved states and took paycuts from Big Jobs to have a hand in something they felt was true and would do good. I owe them the courtesy of being as true and respectful with this process as I can. And to ask the industry, the media and the “socials” to join me in this.

Thank you everyone for being part of this gentle and kind experiment. You are wonderful.


PS You can read what I decided to do next and how I gave my money to charity.

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