Ahead of our Vevolution Topics: Entrepreneurs event next week - we spoke to Scott McCulloch, Co-Founder of The Vegan Kind. In this wide ranging interview he shares valuable insight into the life of any entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little bit about how The Vegan Kind come into existence?
Sure thing. We knew that in order for veganism to grow, people had to find it more accessible. We had found the transition a bit frustrating, having to check labels permanently, and realised that we were starting to gravitate towards certain brands which you could rely on. We knew there were vegan or accidentally vegan brands appearing all the time, but there wasn’t really a platform for these manufacturers to get their products direct into the hands of vegan consumers en masse.
We wanted to solve that problem and also show that being vegan is not in any way difficult, when you know what brands/products to look for.
One thing a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with is knowing when to make the jump and go full time on a business. When did you go full-time on the business and did you set milestones that you wanted to achieve before you did this?
It really is such a big jump to take! I remember the feelings and emotions very well! Basically, it is all down to mindset. You make the decision, and commit to making it work. We were quite strategic about it. After about 18 months of The Vegan Kind (TVK) being set up, we were ready for 1 of us to quit work. We both had great jobs however I had just been promoted, so we sat down and decided it would make financial sense for Karris to quit her job as a Project Manager for Santander, as much as we were both at this point itching to jump full time into the TVK world.
I remember being so envious of Karris at this point, but we knew we were being sensible playing things safe. We then waited a further 18 months and I left my role as a Regional Director for Worldpay. At both points, it was a huge leap of faith to take, but we felt comfortable that the business was growing, and able to support us at those junctures. Me leaving work felt like a particularly big gamble because I had been promoted to a dream job with ‘dream’ money, but I never ever felt fulfilled in the role. I loved my job, and the company, but all I wanted to do was finish my meetings and get back to my laptop to work on TVK. I was burning the candle at both ends for far too long by this point, and I really couldn’t go on having my head in 2 spaces any longer (employed/self employed).
Leaving that job was a humungous risk because it wasn’t that TVK could ‘replace’ my salary at that time, but more so we felt it had the capability to, if we had the guts to hand my notice in. So, I quit, and then we set up the TVK Supermarket to bring additional revenue in. Thankfully it was a success. From the day we set TVK up, it is all Karris or I have ever wanted to do – other income/employment was just a means to an end. I would urge anyone with entrepreneurial endeavours in mind, to do the same as us. Set something up while in employment and you have an income stream. Yes, you work your ass off 24/7 for years on end, but the end result is that you can hand your notice in and take control of your own destiny. We always fully talked through our decisions and supported each other, understanding that we were ‘in it together’.
TVK is one of the biggest vegan Instagram accounts in the UK. What do you think has been the key behind the brands success on social media?
Definitely the fact that we don’t just sell or promote our products on it. It is as much a funny meme account as it is brand promotion and marketing for the brands we feature. Karris in particular devoted herself to growing the TVK insta page, she definitely has a great eye for content and is very much ‘on the ball’ with everything within veganism, Live as it happens! We have also since opened the account up to several staff, so we can get content from different people, going different places at different times. It keeps content interesting. We advertise quite a lot on PPC/FB/Instagram, so the ‘sales’ content is still there on these platforms which grows the audience, but we don’t need to then sell or promote what we do on our organic page posts as much.
We use socially engaging content to build the audience, which then means there is a wider reach when we do post about the brands we are featuring in our boxes. We just share content which makes us laugh, or we feel has an important message, or promotes veganism in general. We stay clear of any content which could be deemed graphic or offensive and try to keep everything light hearted and positive. We also have a few other accounts @accidentallyveganuk @thevegankindsupermarket and @veganbeauty_uk – check them all out
TVK recently grew to a team of over 10 people. How do you go about identifying and keeping motivated staff that fit with our company culture?
In terms of identifying staff, we haven’t found that too challenging to be honest. We have put posts on local vegan FB groups when we have roles available, and the right candidates have just appeared by magic All of our staff are vegan, so in one way it lessens the pool of candidates on offer thusly making the selection process a bit easier. Our latest recruit, an in house Webmaster and Multi Channel Manager, was sourced via a company called Adopt An Intern, where they find out what skills gaps a business has and the scour the locale for candidates to put forward to you. This process worked exceptionally well for us.
In terms of motivation, I think by virtue of everyone at TVK wanting the world to go vegan, we are self-motivated. Everyone knows that TVK is one of the prominent vegan businesses in the UK and that as a team, we can really push forward and make real change. We all believe that by growing TVK to be the best, most efficient business it can be, we are in-turn helping grow veganism within the UK.
We need activists, we need health gurus, documentary makers, environmentalists, detractors to debate with; and we need vegan businesses to be a success. The more businesses that succeed, the quicker veganism will grow. We firmly believe we are a big part of the ‘everyone-going-vegan’ picture.
TVK are based in Scotland. Have you experienced some significant business benefits from being based in Scotland?
Potentially cheaper operating costs? But then I don’t think it is cheaper here in Glasgow than say Newcastle, so that’s maybe not a Scotland-specific benefit. It is maybe more a benefit that we are not operating in London, than specifically that we are in Scotland. As an online business, it is your fixed costs that are the biggest burden, and biggest struggle to reduce. Operating from a cheaper warehouse is of course going to make trading conditions easier and less stressful. We are about to move to a 10,000 square foot warehouse. I shudder to think what that would cost in London. In terms of specific business benefits – I’d actually say we would probably benefit more from being in London (other than the cost element to things). Veganism is very London-centric (going by our sales data anyway), so we do feel we miss out on events we would otherwise be keen to be a part of (shout out to vevolution for asking us down ).
In fact, I get the question now – and the answer is IRN BRU!
How did you go about scaling the business? Did you take investment, borrow from the bank or self-fund?
We have had no investment and a very small overdraft. We basically self-funded it, focussing as much on our employed roles, scaling the corporate ladder to earn more, so we could plough more into TVK. We did recently win something called Scottish Edge though, where 250 businesses pitched to a panel of entrepreneurs, backed by RBS; this was whittled down to 100 businesses, then 25 businesses which each had to pitch to a further panel of entrepreneurs in front of an audience of 300 people at RBS Gogarburn head offices. Karris and I won the second highest prize of £75,000 – a game changer for us. I’m sure someone shouted out Go Vegan when we were announced as winners and we very much walked away beaming ear to ear feeling we had put veganism ‘on the map’.
What do you find the biggest challenge in relation to being an entrepreneur?
I struggle massively to switch off. I am never content with where we are, and always looking to scale and grow. Making big decisions and leaps all the time can be quite taxing because in a way, although I have said we were ‘playing it safe’ by the way in which we left employment, really it could be argued that entrepreneurs are never playing it safe. We are always taking gambles and leaps that others are holding themselves back from. So for me that means I feel I am constantly taking steps into calculated danger. I’m never really ‘worried’ as such and always working on an iron-clad mindset that we will make anything we do a success, but the reality is that making these leaps means you permanently are strategizing in your head and considering all your options. I don’t watch movies or Netflix or anything like that. I watch sport, mainly because it is easy to have on in the background and still be broadly paying attention to. Anything that requires my attention to be held for too long, I struggle with, because my mind is always racing with ideas and decisions. I find that exhilarating at times, but also exhausting.
We have 2 beautiful, amazing vegan kids and I am very conscious of trying to ensure there is an appropriate balance. In the early years of TVK, both Karris and I worked 6pm-1am every night, and then all weekend. Now though, with a (nearly) 2 year old, and a 6 year old at home, the weekends are all about them and taking them to Dancing, Gymnastics, Jiu Jitsu, Mini Kickers etc (albeit I am writing this on a Saturday actually!). But yeah, being able to switch off is a struggle. Have tried mindfulness and tried to meditate once or twice but I don’t think I have the patience!
What are your hopes for the future of TVK?
My hopes are that we can continue to get better and better at what we do, in-turn helping more and more and more people GO VEGAN every day. We want to be able to provide the absolute best service to our customers and have the widest range of products available in the UK (for instance we just launched an Ethical Fashion section). We can only do this by scaling up our operations, hence we are making a very bold move into a new 10,000 square foot warehouse with a 3 tier pick and pack mezzanine system, a chill room 4 times the size of what we have now, and potentially we will move into frozen goods (if we can circumvent the logistical difficulties therein to our satisfaction). Ultimately, we feel we are making big, scary leaps and decisions as a business – increasing our team to 10 (will be 11 by end of summer), relocating to a huge new warehouse etc; but back to my earlier point above – we firmly believe that in order for veganism to grow, vegan businesses have to be brave and grow too. We want to lead that charge. We feel we are being brave in making these recent changes, but we know we have a strong following now and hope that everyone will continue supporting us while we strive to provide a service and offering befitting of all the awesome vegans out there. We should never have to settle for less than best.