Caleb Marshall was in his prime when he was struck down by a terrible illness at 20. But his solution inspired a multi-million dollar idea.
Caleb Marshall was in his prime when he was struck down by a terrible illness at 20. But his solution inspired a multi-million dollar idea.

‘Horrible’ diagnosis sparks $10m empire

Caleb Marshall was a "strong, fit young guy living life to the full" when he suddenly fell ill in his early 20s.

The Sydneysider went from the prime of his life in 2011 to feeling like he had been "hit by a bus" every day for the next three and a half years - before doctors gave him a "horrible" diagnosis.

"They told me I had chronic fatigue, an exclusionary sickness, which is a polite way of saying they've got no idea what is wrong with you," he told news.com.au.

"It was pretty tough - I was in a pretty horrible mental state without hope and without answers in terms of getting better."

Mr Marshall was working as a tennis coach at the time, and his illness meant he had to dramatically cut down to just six hours per week as he battled flu-like symptoms, body aches and pains, severe brain fog, constant exhaustion and "dark mental thoughts".

One of the most confronting moments came when two of his best friends tried to take him out to a restaurant to celebrate his 21st birthday.

"I couldn't even go inside. I was a confident young man before I got sick, but I had horrible anxiety," he said.

Sydney mates Caleb Marshall (left) and Blake Mackenzie founded their health food empire at the age of just 24. Picture: Supplied
Sydney mates Caleb Marshall (left) and Blake Mackenzie founded their health food empire at the age of just 24. Picture: Supplied

According to Mr Marshall, his illness was caused after he was prescribed antibiotics for five years in his teens to combat acne.

"The long-term antibiotic use destroyed my gut and immune system," he said.

"The bad bacteria was proliferating and I had an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in my gut."

After three and a half years of suffering, Mr Marshall started hearing about high quality nutrition, and while he was initially sceptical, he realised he had nothing else to lose.

"I thought, 'I've tried everything else, I suppose is should go all in'," he said.

"I ended up cutting a bunch of foods out of my diet and adding high quality foods and my life changed drastically."

After giving up dairy, wheat, gluten and refined sugars and switching to a nutrient-dense wholefood diet, Mr Marshall's symptoms began to improve significantly within just a couple of weeks and he began to see "amazing results".

During this time, Mr Marshall and his housemate Blake Mackenzie would visit their local health food store for supplies, and they noticed they were the "only two blokes" there, and that the store had a "hippie" vibe.

After dramatically improving his own health, and realising there was a gap in the market for a "cool" health retailer, the mates decided to branch into business together in mid 2014.

Tropeaka officially launched in February 2016 from Mr Marshall and Mr Mackenzie's kitchen table when they were both just 24.

They invested $120,000 of their own cash to get the business off the ground, which left them with $0 for marketing, but decided to give their products to a slew of influencers who were so bowled over by the products they began promoting them for free.

Tropeaka products are now stocked in more than 50 countries - and it recorded a staggering turnover of over $10 million last financial year.

And at the recent Black Friday sales alone, Tropeaka raked in more than $1 million - a feat Mr Marshall described as "just insane".

The company, which sells a range of protein and superfood powders, herbal teas, workout clothes and more, is now one of Australia's fastest growing and largest health food companies. Mr Marshall said one of their greatest achievements was amassing more than 5000 five-star reviews since April this year.

"If you go to our website you'll see amazing recipes free from dairy and wheat and articles with good advice on how to live a healthier life, so it's not only about selling health food, but also educating our customers on how to live healthier," he said.

"We've had such rapid growth and to achieve that you've got to do a lot of things really well, so I'm so grateful."


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