Update 11 March 2015: Belle Gibson’s story of survival from terminal cancer has recently come under speculation after an investigation was sparked by her comments to The Australian that she may have been misdiagnosed.
Like many media outlets, we were taken by the phenomena that is Belle Gibson’s The Whole Pantry and her multi-platform success and conducted a career-focused interview with her through her publisher. Below is the unedited interview we published in December 2014.
Five years ago, Belle Gibson was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of twenty. And so began her journey of self-education outside of conventional medicine, and a catalyst for change – both personally and professionally.
Today, her journey shared has evolved into a bible for over 20,000 social media community members. ‘The Whole Pantry’ has also spawned an award-winning App and, now, a book.
Rescu. talks to Belle about her overcoming heartbreak, her desire to serve a purpose and how social media has carved her career.
RESCU: How social media savvy were you before the launch of your app, The Whole Pantry?
Belle Gibson: I had been using Instagram publically for seven months before we launched, but using it pretty freely without any kind of strategy or process. I was just enjoying engaging and learning about the lives of those who followed me.
RESCU: What was the initial plan for The Whole Pantry? Or were you working day-to-day at the time?
Belle Gibson: In the very beginning we were working day-to-day, though it rapidly progressed to needing a project plan. Without recognising the overall scope and needs of what the entire project was we wouldn’t have been able to launch as successfully as we did. Looking back, there were a lot of optimistic deadlines, but I think when it is your own project, and you’re passionate about the vision and getting it done, you never account for the inevitable hiccups.
RESCU: What was the biggest learning curve during the set up of The Whole Pantry?
Belle Gibson: There were plenty, and again, wandering into uncharted business territory, none of the learning curves were expected until they happen. I had initially set a budget of $20,000 to get the app live and running. Looking back, that was quite naïve and optimistic. In the first development meeting a quote was put forward for $80,000 AU, which included some really dramatic compromises. Moving forward without compromises and having TWP exactly how it was needed, it was beyond that initial $80K figure. This was a good lesson. I think it’s important to chase your dreams and do all of what you believe in or think is a beautiful contribution to the community, though, to prevent delays or disappointment, it is important to flesh out the foundation of your idea or project before getting too involved in it.
RESCU: How influential was social media for accelerating your business?
Belle Gibson: I get asked this often, and think about it often. It’s interesting because most assume social media was critical to the launch of The Whole Pantry. Communicating quite openly with our digital community shows me that many discovered I was the founder of TWP after they had downloaded it, and this even extended to a huge amount of our followers not knowing an app goes hand in hand with watching my daily musings online.
I regularly see comments or get emails saying “wow! I’ve been following you for more than a year! How did I miss this!” or “I love your App, but I didn’t know you were the person behind it until a friend and I read an article about you on the weekend”.
In saying that, when we launched, there was a dramatic explosion of support on social media, specifically Instagram. Being so submerged and consumed about the process of developing the App, I didn’t consciously realise that others were not only taking notice, but also eagerly and passionately waiting for the launch. It was a great way to generate feedback, support and conversations around what they were enjoying or learning with their friends.
RESCU: In which order did the website/app/book come and how did one act as a nudge to the other?
Belle Gibson: We’ve been celebrated over this before, doing business a little differently, and breaking out of the mold. Typically an App comes to support or encourage an element of a business, where as with The Whole Pantry, it was the business foundation and will forever be our roots.
I had hired someone to build and design our website, though after the deadline becoming over four months late, I added it to my own list of things to get done. I had been at a conference all weekend, which turned out to be quite personally motivating. When I woke up, I worked on the design a couple more hours and launched it before I went to get breakfast… when something has to get done; you just focus and do it, especially if it is something that is important to you.
The Website came first, but the app soon followed, within a few weeks, even. The website acts as a landing page to encourage those without TWP App to learn more about it, send me feedback or questions, and give direct links to download through.
The book offers started coming in just weeks after the App was launched through the App Store. Without the App, the book would have never come, but they both compliment each other beautifully, offering entirely different experiences and exclusive content.
RESCU: What are your thoughts on the absolute tidal wave of popularity? Is it surprising to you?
Belle Gibson: I wake up every day and just lay for a moment in awe that this is what I get out of bed for. I feel incredibly honored to be leading such a beautiful, dedicated team and to be in a position to offer such a supportive, innovative project and platform. I knew what I set out to do was going to be appreciated, but never had I thought or dreamt of it being picked up in this way.
I believe everyone’s measure of success and popularity is different. For my team and I, success means that we’re effectively achieving our foundations of providing a supportive, inspiring and nourishing resource.
When we won Best App of 2013 for The Whole Pantry App, I stood in my bedroom doorway, reading the mail, crying. I was in such absolute shock, I didn’t tell my partner immediately, and didn’t announce it to our community for three weeks. I do what I love, what feels good, creates good, with good people, and for that to be celebrated just overwhelms me, I’m privileged.
RESCU: What would be your advice to others starting out their own online site/app?
Belle Gibson: To have a point of difference, to solve a problem or serve a purpose. All of these things are the crux of great business, but specifically a great app. You need that little piece of technology to speak your message on a really small platform, you need it to be an engaging experience or else you lose your opportunity.
Always account for it to take 10% longer, and have a budget with some flexibility on hand. Things happen, priorities and vision changes: prepare for this.
RESCU: If someone had told you ten years ago that this would be your life now, what would you have said?
Belle Gibson: I wouldn’t have believed them! I look back now at all I’ve been really interested in and passionate over and they seemed to have become puzzle pieces to this life I live today.
Working in web development, hospitality, having to grow up and nurture my family through food on top of idols and mentors, it all ended up influencing and becoming the backbone to The Whole Pantry, book and app.
I find it incredible how things work out, but without a lot of these visionary elements, I couldn’t have possibly of ended up here, doing what I do.
RESCU: What is the one key message you want The Whole Pantry to convey?
Belle Gibson: We have a few key messages, but I think one of our most fundamental ones is that living a healthy life doesn’t start and end with the food you eat, it’s about respecting each element of life, including exercise, the home you live in and the environment around you.
Often I see those in our community still living with compromises and settling for happiness or wellness that isn’t ideal or optimistic, and this is usually because 100% energy and focus is given to just one aspect of living The Whole Life philosophy.
A balance needs to be found, and this balance looks different for everyone. I wrote more about the TWP philosophy in the front of our new book, with hopes to bring guidance or clarity to those who get overwhelmed by transitioning to a healthier life, and feeling a pressure to fit it all in.
RESCU: What is the next step for Belle Gibson?
Belle Gibson: Though I’m wholeheartedly behind and amongst my work, I am not my work. TWP is its own, in its own right. I’m the bill payer, director and do all the long yards to keep it alive and thriving, but would hate for anyone to think I am The Whole Pantry, considering the nature and intention behind it all.
Personally, I’d like to take more constructive time off. I love what I do and have recently become aware that those who have start-ups, or run their own businesses, the line between ‘work’ and ‘off’ time gets blurred because you become so passionately enthralled in what you do. This is okay, but to maintain and encourage a balance that we build the TWP foundations on is important, too. More long baths, proper weekends and really celebrating this, rather than letting the guilt sneak in for putting yourself or family first.
The next step for TWP though? We’re relaunching the app in the New Year, but currently still in the depths of supporting the release of our new book, including its release in the US and UK in April 2015.
RESCU: How do you balance it all; motherhood, wellness, travel and a career?
Belle Gibson: I am really blessed to do what I do, and I know ‘blessed’ gets overused often, but I truly am. I’m able to work from home, take Wednesdays off so I can rest and have focused time with my little boy, Olivier, and travel with him while he is still young.
I wrote in the book about the importance around routines and setting up morning and evening perimeters to prevent burning out, or rather, to encourage calm, clarity and wellness into what is already a full or busy life for each of us.
RESCU: How has having a focus such as The Whole Pantry boosted your wellness?
Belle Gibson: The Whole Pantry was an idea that came from the heartache of losing a child. I was feeling isolated and deeply hurt, and could see the need for a resource that facilitated all I felt like I was living without; motivation and support for a healthier, more balanced, informed and inspired life. I am more encouraged to take even greater care of myself, after all, I strongly believe you can’t teach something which you aren’t learning or living yourself.
The Whole Pantry book is available through Penguin Books Online and from all good bookstores RRP $35.00