Transforming a passion for ice baths into business success

1 June 2024

Odin ice baths
  • Jono James’ health issues led him to discover what he calls the ‘restorative power’ of ice baths, but he found them hard to come by in Australia. So, he started making his own.
  • After validating his concept in a Facebook group, he began his business, Odin Ice Baths, and went into production.
  • Jono shares how building a business requires persistence through challenges, adjusting strategies during tough times, and consistently learning.

You could say that Jono James’ entire life led him to the moment he opened his business, Odin Ice Baths. He was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes severe damage to the lungs. “I was given 10 years to live when I was born but my mum made it her full-time job to be a health advocate for me,” he says. “Thankfully, I ended up being quite a healthy kid.”

 “My whole philosophy is you’ve just got to try everything and anything to help yourself.”

As Jono got older, he gradually took over researching his condition and managing his health. His research led him to try saunas as a form of treatment, which in turn led him to his passion: ice baths. “Ice baths are another tool in my arsenal against my condition,” he says. “It’s not a cure, it’s not a magic bullet, but it just gives me that little bit of extra edge. I feel like I get sick less often, I sleep better – I just feel like I’ve got that bit more resilience.” 

A passion project that turned into a business

After trying an ice bath, Jono knew he had to have one, but buying one wasn’t quite as easy as installing a sauna.

“I thought, ‘Obviously I can just buy an ice bath from a website,’ but that was not the case – or at least not in Australia, and not at a price that I was willing to pay.”

That’s when Jono saw the gap in the market and the opportunity for a passion project that aligned with his values and personal needs. He began by designing a prototype that was based on the look, feel and price point he was after.

Validating the ice bath concept

From experience, Jono knew not to dive right in – he needed to test the idea before moving forward. “I've been in business before and been one of those people who fall in love with their own idea,” says Jono. “I’d throw my life savings at something without validating it and it hasn't worked out.”  To test this idea, he posted an image of his prototype in a DIY ice bath Facebook group.

“I didn't expect it to do that well. I thought maybe I’d get 50 likes.”

“I got around 450 likes and 300 comments, and 150 people on my mailing list wanting one,” he says.

Growing the market

“It’s funny but finding customers has never really been an issue from day one. We've always had 300 people in the backlog,” says Jono.

“I think it's just a matter of finding people who are passionate about your product and then presenting it to them in a non-spammy way.”

So far that strategy has resonated with customers and Jono’s side hustle has quickly expanded into a full-blown business. “About two years ago I moved into my first factory,” he says. “Now I have three locations, 40 employees and we’ve sold more than 1000 baths.”

Jono’s key learnings for business success:

Put yourself at the heart of the business

“Everyone struggles – most people have something that they're dealing with but it's not what happens to you in life, it's your reaction to it. That’s why I thought my business might provide a solution for others that I've provided for myself.”

Test the waters

“First, validate the market – that’s the most important thing. Everybody has an idea, but until you prove that idea by asking someone for money, it’s just an idea. That’s my litmus test to determine if it could be a business or not.”

Resilience is essential

“I wanted to give up every day for the first 12 months. Business is not for the faint of heart and I underestimated how difficult a business would be to run. But we got through the tough times, and we just got a bit better at everything and we learnt as we went.”

Build a strong team

“Every person you can share the burden of running a business with means there's another person who can take a little bit of stress away from you.”

Clearly communicate your vision

“It has become more of a crowded marketplace than when we started, so now we have to be clearer on what makes us unique.”

Be authentic

“I'm not in it to make money. I tell my story and people tell me that hearing it helps them. I've been successful in my battles, and it helps them with theirs.”

Get professional help when you need it

“I hired a PR person to find publications for us to be featured in. The investment has helped spread the word in a way we couldn’t.”

For support on how to start, run or grow your small business, visit the small business hub or talk to one of CommBank’s small business bankers.    

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