Kalifornia Kitchen opens its doors today.Read More
Last week a survey came across my desk that got me more excited than it perhaps should have. The survey in question, commission by Planday (the software i use to communicate with employees) and YouGov, showed a number of interesting outcomes. The survey asked 2000 people across the UK a number of questions about the future of the dining economy, and sought the ascertain the key restaurant trends of the next 2 years. The results prompted a truly exciting outcome where food trends in particular are concerned; “consumers are turning away from fast food & embracing more sustainable, healthy options.”
49% of those questioned predicted vegan restaurants will be the most in demand in the next 2 years. Now, on the basis that as much as 1 in 7 people are vegan, this would still suggest that even those who don’t currently adopt a vegan lifestyle are seeing the growth in demand of these types of foods. In fact, the survey found that 75% of millennials thought at least vegan, vegetarian or foods with good environmental credentials would be the most in demand, which in light of the recently well reported environmental crisis, makes for good reading.
Nearly half (47%) of those asked cited food waste as their top sustainability priority, demonstrating that we’re entering an age where, despite the significant diversity & scale of foods now available, younger generations are being more conscious of their consumption. Only 11% indicated that sustainability didn’t matter to them.
My statement on the results read as follows: “The results of this survey absolutely reflect what we are starting to see and are responding to with our two vegan restaurants, Erpingham House in Norfolk and soon to open Kalifornia Kitchen in London. For us it is about listening to what the customer wants and delivering the highest quality food and service we can. We are thoroughly embracing the popularity of delivery services like Deliveroo, adjusting our menu slightly to ensure that we offer a menu where the food will travel well and not offering deliveries when it will put too much pressure on the restaurant to service in-house and external orders. We also know how important sustainability is to our customers and how crucial it is that we clearly communicate all the steps we take, from using Vegware plastics to carbon offsetting schemes, to reassure our customers that both we, and they, are dining without costing the earth.”
To read the survey results in full, visit https://www.planday.com/blog/planday-survey-explores-millennial-dining-trends/
The question i get asked most of late has to be “where do you find the time!?” I have to be fully transparent… i’m terrible at it. Not only am i terrible at it, but i also lack the self-awareness to ascertain how much i can reasonably be held accountable for. The truth is, i’m a sucker for saying yes. The benefit of this attitude, however, is that through my past failures of over-commitment, i’ve stumbled across some systems to manage multiple projects at once. This year, opening 2 new restaurants & a new version of my football academy , whilst maintaining speaking commitments, the odd consultancy gig & some degree of personal life, really has tested my resilience. Through these challenges, however, i’ve developed a few accidental habits which seem to work.
Under promise, over deliver.
Sounds cliche, but i’ve been guilty in the past of saying yes to something in excitement, whilst giving myself an unrealistic deadline of completing it in order to please someone in the moment. Nowadays, i’ll tend to give a little longer time than i know i can complete it, but assure people it will be done to this timescale. Before committing to anything, i make sure i’m able to deliver to the degree that it justifies my ability to be perceived worthy of doing so in the first place. This leads on nicely to my next point…
If its not a hell yes, its a no. I have to consider 3 things now to take something on. Does it make me happy? Does it make an impact? And does it reward me for my time, whether financially or otherwise? These are my 3 criteria, and ultimately, i have to be excited about it. This is often the determining factor when against a deadline and the need to get something done.
I utilise a number of apps & features on my iPhone to ensure i don’t forget appointments, deadlines and events. Favourite task management apps include Trello, which enable me to stay in touch with my team on projects and streamline our communication around topics. I’ve found that having access to the back office of my restaurants means i can make informed decisions when travelling and react quickly to any issues. Simple enough, but google calendar also ensures i know where i have to be and when.
Lists have saved me. I write down everything in priority order, under the heading of each project and work through this in the mornings. I try to do the stuff i least look forward to first, as this is often the most important. Having multiple projects running at once is helpful, because it allows me to maintain my attention span for long periods, switching between modes to get things done.
Do what feels right
I try to live outside the perceived timeline of societal norms, being dictated to by body & mind instead of culture. Monday to Friday, 9 til 5 is not the only time to work, and its also not odd to work at 9pm on a Sunday. If i’m struggling with creativity, i work on something that requires less of it. If i have a creative urge in the middle of the night, or an idea pops up, i keep it in the notes in my phone to revisit when i wake. Find new ways to work when it feels right. A recent favourite of mine is calling my voicemail in the car and making a voice note if an idea pops up to write down later.
Putting people in key positions relevant to their skill set, often ones i don’t have, has been a game changer. Im not good at editing video, i hate replying to reviews, and my attention span in meetings that i don’t find interesting is like a toddler. Being self aware enough to know this, i act on it by instead giving these tasks to people on my team who are better suited than i, and can feedback to me what i need to know, or who are trusted to take action on my behalf.
Often, its hard for the mind to focus when the body doesn’t feel its best. My productivity halves on a hangover, at the best of times! Having a solid morning routine with yoga, meditation & energising whole foods sets the tone for my day. I exercise daily, and have little triggers that remind me to be present and connected to why i’m doing what i doing.
Lastly, did i mention it’s hard work? There’s very little that can replace it. Stay focused on the bigger picture and be constantly learning. I’d love to hear your tips for managing time too!
Disclaimer* Im aware there are many variables to having followers on social media that can render them useless. Largely, if acquired only for the sole purpose of leveraging the amount against appearing established, or for mere bragging rights, this is the case and it becomes a pointless pursuit. However, when opening Erpingham House back in May, i realised that if we could cultivate a community on the photo-sharing platform Instagram, we might just be able to hack our way to relevancy.
Building this community on Instagram has done a number of things for my business. Firstly, and most simply, its helped us showcase our offering to a substantial amount of people. It means that when we have something to shout about, and spend time crafting how we're going to deliver it, the effort doesn't go wasted. We've learnt the way to grow a following that participates the conversation & contributes voluntarily, is to incentivise them to do so & offer real value in exchange for their attention.
We started by involving the world in the process of building the restaurant. We let people in, a behind-the-scenes view of everything that went on in the building process, from plastering walls to testing the dishes. We used key features, such as the voting poll on Instagram stories, to ask our audience what they would choose. Being consistent with this daily caused people to keep coming back and more new people to the fold. When people saw us take action on their decisions, it gave them ownership and made them feel part of the project, a sentiment later made clear when we overheard people comment "i voted for that."
Next, the interior itself. We know that part of the process for many when they go out now is to take lots of photos for social media, so why not give them something to take a photo of? Providing a number of "Instagrammable" photo opportunities throughout the venue is a win-win; people get their golden photo opportunity, we get user generated content to share on our platforms, and promotion to their network on theirs. By strategically placing such features (flower wall on entry, neon seat outside the ladies loo) we made capturing these shots easy.
To give people a reason to follow & stay following, we have to offer value. Value for us comes in the form of 3 things; information, inspiration & entertainment. If we reverse engineer the needs & wants of our customers, given that they're patrons of us already, a healthy-eating restaurant, health facts are a really good way for us to help our customers learn more about healthy eating. Producing a short form video on how to make a smoothie at home, or an infographic on the benefits of one of our health shot components, gives our community relevant info whilst enforcing our position as an authority on the topic.
As our following grows, it further incentivises bloggers & Instagram users to feature us on their posts so that we might repost them, sharing their page with out community and helping them to reach more people. We've held a number of small events where we've set such things up, usually around a new menu or event launch, to help us spread the message. This is effectively free advertising, and allows us to leverage the following of "influencers" to showcase our news, whilst again increasing our reach & growing our community.
In an age of hospitality where budgets are tight & we need every ounce of return for our marketing pounds, utilising the power of narrative in real time on social media is a cost-effective, genuine way to create real customers and real relationships. I implore all small business owners to invest time in finding what works for them on Instagram and other platforms.
To be an expert, or not to be, that is the question. Can you be an expert, or even excel, in multiple fields in succession? Can you work on numerous projects at once, and still have the capacity to offer each the required attention to get the job done? What are the variables that allow for some to seemingly be great at everything, all at once, whilst others struggle at their one occupation?
I believe it comes down to knowing oneself. I’ve now had around 10 businesses, in different sectors doing different things. Some successful, some not. Some at the same time, some overlapping. The benefit, I have found, is the acquisition of a diverse range of skills acquired by working within vastly different industries & with equally diverse people. This is something that’s hard to quantify. Who would of thought nervously speaking in front of 50 kids & their parents at a football camp as a nervous 18 year old would pay dividends when 10 years later, I find myself lecturing a room full of university students on economics?
The consistent advice I was given that’s bugged me, although I’m sure from a sincere place, was “you’re trying to do too many things at once” or “stick to your profession.” In the time I was getting to know myself, I would often seek out the advice of people who were adeptly more qualified to offer it in their knowledge of the subject, but less so in their knowledge of me. This has caused me to abandon projects & to work in a way that made me unhappy.
The first piece of advice, the "you’re trying to do too many things at once” has its uses, although will of course differ from person to person & is open to interpretation. Knowing myself, I know that I have a limited attention span on one topic. I can work on a specific task for perhaps 90 mins to 2 hours, then I need something entirely different. That being said, I’m quite happy working 14-16 hour days if sufficiently engaged in what I’m doing, and can go back to projects after an hour or so of diverted attention. This is where having 2 businesses or focuses has been extremely useful.
I’ve also found that when I stress test the boundaries of my skills, or focus them on an entirely different requirement, my mind is in fact being trained in a different way. This, again, has proved extremely valuable & allowed me to be highly productive. I know I work well to time constraints, so allocating an allotted time to a piece of work in line with my attention span helps me to stay focused, and the "reward" of being able to work on something else once its done keeps me in check.
Some notable people from history who were able to transcend one particular discipline at a time, and excellent role models to attest to the positive consequences of such outlooks, are Benjamin Franklin & Leonardo Da Vinci. Both were able to pursue not only a number of careers throughout their lifetime, but overlap and intertwine interests that were vastly different. The rounded interests expressed by each are testament to the value a diverse spectrum of pursuits can add to an individual.
The second piece of advice, "to focus on your area of expertise", is true to a degree but can be interpreted in such a way to sound limiting. As we change, so does what motivates us, and invariably this is manifested in what we want to put our time into. I loved football and working with kids. This developed communication skills (and patience) affording me the ability to clearly communicate sometimes complex information in a way that’s understandable.
As my motivation turned years later into helping companies communicate their brand mission on social media, those communication skills came into play in an entirely different context. The way to interpret this advice is to learn what your uniquely good at, improve upon it, but don’t limit the application of this skill to one industry/business/job. The days where we would be limited to one career are other! You only need to learn the industry, the skills are transferable, even in the most contracting industries.
In terms of advice, my advice would be, it’s not one size fits all. Those who know better, do not necessarily know you. Get to know yourself, and then find a way to work at the intersection of what you’re good at & what you’re interested in. If it doesn’t exist, create it by finding a problem to solve, or start by helping one person solve their problem.
Last night (Monday evening) i was invited to a sneak peek tasting of the new "bleeding burger" by Moving Mountains (MovingMountainsFoods.com), the first of it's kind in the UK. Having tried both the Beyond Burger & the Impossible Burger recently in the US, I was keen to see how this one measured up! On arrival, i discussed with one of the founders the story behind the brand and their ambition for it's first product, and was suitably impressed with both their vision and ambition in disrupting the plant-based meat market here in the UK.
It was good to see some familiar faces, with Gaz (@avantGardeVegan) and Tiago (@TheHealthyBeard) at my end of the table, and Tiffany (Tiffanyc_watson) and Clare (@Thelittlelondonfoodie) as well as some people i hadn't met before. After 30 minutes of eager anticipation, the first burgers were served, alongside chips and Mildred's signature pesto mayo. The burger patty was served in a brioche bun, classic style with lettuce and tomato, sizzling hot and boldly tall with a proud moving mountains flag in the middle.
As per any blogger food event, nobody actually ate for the first 5 minutes as everyone clambered for the best photo, but having not eaten since 11am, i was pretty eager to give it a go. I found the patty to be juicy and thick, with a texture akin to how i remember meat, if not a little softer. The burger is made from a number for ingredients for different purposes. Oyster mushrooms to give a succulent texture, beetroot juice to bleed in the middle, coconut oil for a fatty consistency and wheat/soy proteins to offer a fibrous texture. I liked the inclusion of vitamin B12 as a means to genuinely compete with a beef burger, and from a nutritional standpoint perhaps goes beyond (excuse the pun) that of its competitors.
Taste wise, i liked that it was served with minimal dressing so as to truly allow an experience of the patty, although i can imagine it would be excellent with a vegan cheese and gherkins, or served in a number of other styles. In comparison to the impossible burger, it held together more and was slightly thicker, with a less salty taste. The bleed was realistic, although hid the taste of beetroot quite well. The only criticism i would have is that i can imagine it would be better chargrilled after being cooked, and my personal preference is for it to be slightly more well done, although in direct comparison to the impossible burger, i preferred it.
Its great to see a UK company actively position themselves to address the flexitarian market, as this is where i believe the low-hanging fruit (another pun, sorry) exists in convincing people to further reduce their meat intake and support plant-based alternatives. Innovation via competition in this sector will help to create better products and thus remove barriers to entry for those still unconvinced they can truly switch from animal-based products. The brand is presented in such a way that it appeals to meat-eaters and vegans alike, with a clear message of big ambition.
The Moving Mountains burger is available in Mildred's Dalston from Saturday 24th February, from 12pm-2pm , on a first come first served basis.
Veganism is on the rise, the extent of which varies on the statistics you view, but even to the naked eye over the last 12 months the rate of adoption has exploded. I believe we’re seeing a transition from a niche lifestyle to a mainstream food trend, one which presents many problems for those who follow, and therefore many business opportunities by way of solutions. Over the last 12 months, a large volume of start-ups have entered the market, each looking to entice customers by offering pro-vegan products or services, but often not surpassing the initial USP of the fact they’re vegan. To crossover, and compete as the market grows, more is required.
Although veganism is growing, its still very much a nice market in the context of those considering themselves strict “vegans,” and as such any business that relies on high turnover of customers, such as food, will need to be realistic in its assessment of what portion of their customers this applies to. My estimation would be at least 75% of those buying vegan food products in London are “vegan curious” or “flexitarian.” Its invaluable to reverse engineer the motivating factors influencing purchasing decisions to better position your brand, and in this instance, i would also predict the fact they’re not fully vegan to imply that they will not resonate with intense, explicitly pro-vegan, or anti-carnivore, branding.
As more products enter the market, having a strong “why” and understanding the way this is translated throughout the output of the business is paramount to engaging with potential customers. Simply putting a “V” at the beginning of your name, or using lots of green colours, is not enough to differentiate your brand, and lacks any depth in regards to an individual message akin to your company’s mission. Just BEING a vegan brand is not enough, and nothing demonstrates a lack of creativity like resorting to the simplest possible denominator in branding your company “Vegan X.”
A well thought out brand is developed by curating answers to core questions like “What problem are we trying to solve?” “How do we want to be perceived?” “What is our differentiating value proposition and how can this be communicated?” Then, asking how this can be communicated consistently, whether it be by key words, phrases, fonts, colours and patterns, for example. How is this then delivered in a way that your brand is uniquely capable of? If your companies core mission is to make Veganism accessible for inner male teens, and in understanding this market you learn their other interests are grime music, streetwear and slang, this will give you clear branding guidelines in the terminology, fonts, colour you use, and then the platforms, channels and methods of communication that sit best with this audience. You may, and probably will have, multiple customer profiles, so therefore have a more generic brand offering thats communicated differently according to the method of delivery and subsequent recipient.
The key will be, as more players enter the game, to have a clear “Problem” you’re addressing, a “Point of difference” in the way its communicated, and a brand “Product” thats consistent throughout.
Purpose. Point of difference. Product.
My strategy when positioning any brand is centred around 3 P’s, in the order listed above. The order, and it’s conveyance in such an order, is paramount to its interpretation, and responds to psychological consumer & human behaviour research. It’s relevant to any brand, service or individual when promoting their offering, and in my opinion provides a solid structure for how to tell your story.
Purpose: why does your product exist? What problem are you trying to solve? How does this help people? The answers to these questions can establish a common connection with those who also believe what you believe. If the meaning resonates with people, they become part of your “tribe.” We’ve evolved as a cooperative race, programmed to respond to working in cohesion with each other as our best means of survival, reciprocated by our body in the chemicals it releases to reward such behaviour. We trust people with common goals & values, which is why you can hug a fellow supporter at a football match you have never met or find comfort in a strange place with someone from the same country as you.
Our purpose outlines our beliefs, and when we believe strongly this is amplified - we speak differently. It also allows us to work through discomfort, and unite people behind a common goal. Our purpose should be a common vision throughout our employees, customers, suppliers & shareholders, not something spoken about on the first day but clearly consistent in the work & underlying tonality of our combined voice. We know from neuroscience our “monkey brain” responds to this over logic, which is next on the list, but it’s most important first to create a brand which connotes the mission of your product. Tell a story. After all, this is how we’ve passed down knowledge for thousands of years, it makes sense for us to respond to narratives to remember and relate.
Point of difference - what is you differentiating value proposition? How is your offering diversifying outside that of your competitors? What’s unique about your product? This is the tangible, measurable ability of your business to provide solutions to common problems in the market, or create a new one. If you’re a technology company, what new system are you introducing & how does it benefit the consumer? If you’re a restaurant, what makes your food/service different to your competitors? Being able to list these factors then compound them into easy to digest, deliverable USPs will enable you to position your product to benefit the needs of your identified consumers.
Product - what do you do? We sell computers. We sell driving tuition. We sell doughnuts. Whatever it is, knowing what you do, and knowing it is third on the list, is golden. Regardless of product or industry, if you want to inspire people, the actual product or service comes last in the context of navigating the noise when marketing it.
If you sell vegan doughnuts, your marketing message may sound like this:
Purpose: we believe you should be able to eat the tastiest food in the world, without feeling guilty!
Point of difference: all of our doughnuts are free from sugar, animal products & come in over 30 delicious flavours!
Product: you can buy our doughnuts at....
Adopt this strategy throughout your communications to build a loyal community. This community becomes not only your customers, but advocates & sales people. Building a brand in such a way allows you to diversify with technology & culture, meaning longevity. In times of difficulty, it provides a roadmap to convey importance of priorities, creating a way to reignite the very reason you exist.
Last week i was fortunate enough to head back to one of my favourites cities in the world, Los Angeles, for some much needed winter sun and more importantly, amazingly indulgent food! I headed out earlier this summer in July, but being in mixed company wasn't able to visit the extensive restaurant list i'd had recommended to me on Instagram (thank you!) Needles to say, i kept the list and added a few more places, and once settled in, made my way over to Runyon Canyon to build up an appetite before my reservation at Crossroads that evening.
Crossroads Kitchen is located on the corner of Melrose & Sweetzer, opening back in 2013 as LA's first upmarket vegan restaurant with cocktail bar. The setting is upscale and comfortable, with no reference to vegan or plant-based other than the instruction from the server. My advice would be to order 4-6 small plates, in particular both mushroom dishes and the kale caesar. The oven roasted potatoes were especially good, and if you're a pasta fan the rigatoni was excellent. Price wise it correlates with other restaurants of a similar standing. I would estimate a large proportion of guests were not strictly vegan, and my impression of the restaurant's market position is that of an upmarket, health conscious eatery - not necessarily a vegan restaurant.
The following morning i met up with my amazing & unassuming tour guide Darbi (@Darbigwynn) to visit Moby's restaurant Little Pine for brunch (100% of profits are given to animal charities.) I went for the savoury option, choosing the scrambled tofu & bell peppers, whilst Darbi had the blueberry & raspberry pancakes. Amazing portion sizes and great service, plus a really quaint setting make Little Pine a must visit. The menu's pretty varied and the staff are happy to adapt based on your preferences.
Other good spots for breakfast/brunch were Real Food Daily, which is a casual/semi-healthy spot, and a restaurant that was recommended by everyone, Cafe Gratitude in Beverly Hills. Real Food Daily was the original vegan restaurant in LA, opening over 10 years ago but recently entering new ownership. The menu's been updated and the place given an overhaul, with a relaxed and colourful new layout. I had the vegan burrito, packed full of rice, beans, mushrooms, onions and a generous portion of guac!
Cafe Gratitude's ambience, concept, and the way its delivered, is brilliant. The menu lists items with a trait (e.g. Glorious - Blackened Tempeh Caesar Wrap) and encourage you to order by saying i am... We had the pulled mushroom sandwich, with barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw and spicy cashew aioli on ciabatta bread, with a "soul" bowl - blackened tempeh, black bean dirty rice, smashed yams, coleslaw, deep-fried chickpea frittata, sautéed kale & barbecue sauce.
I'd been keen to try the "beyond meat" burger, as it's not yet available in the UK and i'd seen the hype online. We visited Veggie Grill (there's plenty across LA) and put it to the test. Really efficient, fast food model allows an informal dining experience, the closest i've felt to a vegan McDonalds, albeit a nicer environment but equally as convenient. The beyond meat burger patty was very realistic, although the Impossible burger that night somehow blew it away. We headed to Mohawk Bend, where the menu is predominantly vegan and if not, states so, which i thought was a nice role reversal and signifies how far ahead the population of LA's understanding is on vegan food. The Impossible Burger is quite literally that, i find it impossible it's vegan. The texture, taste and consistency is the exact replica of a well made, thin beef burger (photo below.)
Vegan events in LA are famous the world over. Not wanting to miss out, and being very fortunate there was such an event on whilst i was in town, we heading 45 mins north to Eagle Rock for a santa-themed xmas vegan meet-up (we didnt get the costume memo!) The whole street was adorned by vegan vendors, with one in particular hosting a 30 person queue - Cena Vegan. The plant-based meat & cheese combination here was incredible, with enough packed into the burrito to make it heavy to carry. Desperate to make room for the vegan doughnut shop across the street, we managed to leave some and headed to "Donut friend" where the selection exceeded 30 different flavours, including make your own. I challenge anyone to produce a better tasting donut, animal products or not! We personalised ours, as most were far too sweet, but the long queue was testament to the shop's reputation.
We headed out to Yoga-Urt in Glendale, a 40 minute drive from the hills, to sample their new yoghurt pies, sundaes and cookies. Nowhere in LA is close, but Yoga-Urt is definitely worth the drive. A small, family own dessert parlour on a strip of shops that would look more in place on the east coast, Yoga-Urt were hosting a blogger's tasting event in the rear terrace, meaning we got to try lots of different desserts. The coffee flavoured pie was incredible, and if you're appetite is big enough, the stacked cookie is a the perfect contrast between soft and chewy. There's a chalk board outside encouraging guests to write messages or answer questions - what change would you like to see in the world?
The diverse variety of options, understanding and different price points available around Veganism in LA make it probably the most vegan-friendly city i've visited. People view it less as a limiting diet, and more a lifestyle they can adopt and dip into when they feel like it. Many people who don't class themselves as vegan eat in vegan restaurants or buy vegan products, although there is a large present and committed vegan community. On the events side, it seems there's a nice balance between social, food and educational gatherings, whilst the make-up of attendees is diverse. There's plenty of low price options and an abundance of health stores promoting vegan products as a health option.
Venice has my heart for its art, relaxed attitude and proximity to the beach. West Hollywood's Soho House was my work base for the week, with panoramic views across the hills and LA. Its best to rent a car, although uber is relatively cheap, and although i didn't use public transport i haven't heard great things. Runyon Canyon is a must for amazing views and a good hike, whilst my curve ball favourite part of the trip was my visit to WiSpa, a korean spa in Hollywood (trust me!) Eating is heavy work!
Other restaurants to visit:
Locali - order the Badass breakfast, anytime all day!
This week marks a year since I was dragged kicking & screaming on stage to speak for the first time. After meeting the organisers of Vevolution festival, Judy Nadel & Damien Clarkson earlier in the year, I’d spent quite a bit of time with them looking at their rapidly growing business. They’d subsequently asked me to join the entrepreneurship panel at their upcoming festival called Vevolution, a vegan festival featuring talks, ideas & workshops from leaders in the industry. After initially not being too keen on the idea, I found I really enjoyed it, which was apparently quite obvious as I seemingly wouldn’t stop talking!
Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to speak at a number or events & for various companies, and a year later I look forward to going back to give a talk on “balancing profit & purpose - how business can drive veganism.” This year, the festival has grown astronomically, with prolific speakers & brands from around the world taking part. It’s a testament to the hard work through the year of the 2 founders, who’ve done an exceptional job of promoting the event.
Why are events like Vevolution important? It’s a platform for ideas that have the power to change the world. It’s the bringing together of people that share a common vision, with varying perspectives to converse & network, providing a catalyst for much- needed disruption. The fact that the festival has sold out with 5 weeks still to go & has attracted such a diverse audience demonstrates just how hot this topic is, and just how well the team have done to crossover into the mainstream narrative.
Balancing profit & purpose is a timely reference to the work of Vevolution, who (I hope they won’t mind me saying) have been so purpose driven that profit has often been an afterthought. It’s only through profit that the cogs keep turning, and such an important message reaches the audience it deserves. It’s a common theme in this space, and one that needs to be addressed to empower entrepreneurs & businesses without them feeling like they’re being judged, often just for being successful.
What am i most looking forward to this year? There's an amazingly diverse range of high-profile speakers, but im particularly looking forward to my friend Sarah Jane-Crawford citing her journey, and also Derek Sarno, Tesco's chief director of plant-based innovation, on hearing just how big business is embracing plant-based diets. There's also a Vevolution dragon's den, offering would-be entrepreneurs the opportunity to receive both investment & guidance, which i'll be judging with the awesome JP from All Plants and Laura from Votch, as well as Derek and the Bran investment teams. Throughout the day there is workshops, food stalls, networking and an after-party!
Seeing the work that’s gone into Vevolution festival would lead many to thing there is a team with various departments covering production, logistics, etc. False. It’s a partnership of just 2 people, who have worked tirelessly over an extended period to manifest a long-term vision, which I hope to see continue to grow over the years to come. If you have tickets, I look forward to seeing you there. If you missed out this time, the talks will be available online & look out for “Vevolution topics,” regular talks throughout the year.
Any press wishing to interview the founders can contact Damien@vevolution.co.
It was a pleasure to work with Wagamama UK this week on curating an event experience to celebrate the launch of their new vegan menu. After being invited to sample the menu last month, we discussed how to further promote the new offering and showcase the many facets i had been unaware of, but was sure other plant-based food enthusiasts would be interested to know. After learning just how much time & energy had been put into creating the new menu, from the ingredients to eliminating cross-contamination, i felt an opportunity to celebrate it would be appropriate, and who doesn't enjoy an excuse for a social event!
We invited a diverse list of bloggers, influencers and businesses to attend a private launch event in Wagamama's noodle lab, a test kitchen concept on Soho's Dean Street on Tuesday evening. Here, new dishes adorn the menu on a temporary basis during the testing pahse, in addition to Wagamama's traditional offering. The menu on this night, however, was a huge assortment of all the delicious new starters, mains and desserts that make up the company's first exclusively vegan menu. From 6pm, guests arrived early and a steady stream of dishes were served sharing style. The mixed vegetable tempura and bao buns were particularly well received, but the "Vegatsu" (a vegan take on Wagamama's signature katsu curry) stole the show. Served with a sticky white rice and japanese side salad, the crispy, breadcumb-sietan is coated in a veganised, thick katsu sauce. More than one person ate more than one!
During a short break, it was my pleasure to introduce Jas, one of Wagamama's marketing team, who explained how Wagamama has actively sought extensive feedback and intently listened to the vegan community on what would make this menu special. Executive chef Steve Mangleshot said: 'We've taken the time to make this menu as exciting as we can. We haven't just taken ingredients out and called it vegan, we've created dishes with vegans in mind and will continue to do so."
Steve and the entire Wagamama team were mixing in with guests all night, answering questions and listening to feedback. It was amazing to see a large company paying such intricate attention to the needs of its customers and truly caring about their experience. The many comments from guests, who stayed well past the proposed 9pm close time, were just how impressed they were with both the food and the story behind it. It was an excellent networking experience, with so many influential and inspiring people in one room representing the changing face of veganism with guests from many of the UK's leading vegan companies, charities and media companies.
I believe its important to support big companies taking an interest in veganism. Im aware of many who feel its hypocritical, but if we all truly share the mission of creating a world free from animal products, we must understand that such companies have substantial influence and infrastructure to help propel such a message. The more accessible we make veganism, and the greater the uptake and we move toward the tipping point.
Guests left with goodie bags from sponsors Plant Curious, Seedslip drinks and meantime drinks. Special mention to guests Tiffany Watson, Sarah-Jane Crawford and the teams from Plant Based News and Vevolution for their support. Look out for the latest vegan menu, available nationwide now, and more new dishes added soon!
I’ve been pretty fond of books and particularly empowering quotes for as long as i can remember, but one that stands out is an Alan Watts quote when i was around 16 years old. At that time, like most i had absolutely no idea what i wanted to do, and the focus when deciding was very much centred around making money. My aspirations were aligned with the cultural narrative played out by so many; get a good job that pays well, buy a house, start a family, etc. The problem was, i found school difficult, and i simply didn’t see the logic in spending vast amounts of time doing something i didn’t enjoy simply for the purpose of living.
The Alan Watts quote in question was about realising that work is in fact play, and that by doing what you love and forgetting about the money, happiness would come more easily. If i look back at the businesses i’ve started, the decisions that have led me to the ones i’ve enjoyed most have been based on 3 questions. What am i good at? What assets do i have? And what am i passionate about? This has ranged from being a good communicator with bundles of time who cares about football becoming a football coach, to being a creative socialite with a good network of friends who loves partying becoming a nightclub promoter. Understanding that our interests, skill sets and assets change over time as we grow is as liberating as it is useful, and removes the capacity for us to feel stuck in the same job.
This equation doesn’t necessarily mean that upon completion you’re going to end up with your dream job, but it does at least cause us to question what we’d most like to spend our time doing, without thinking about money as the outcome. Using our skill sets instills confidence and brings out the best in us. Making the best use of our assets, whatever they are, is recognising and leveraging what we have to offer. Working on something we’re passionate about gives us purposefulness and joy, causing us to work harder. When we work harder, we often become better, and by becoming better, inherently we are likely paid more as a result. I’ve done this subconsciously in the past, but more recently consciously in my side project, being a professional preachy vegan!
I became really passionate about veganism (as most vegans do) when i further investigated looked the devastating extent of the damage caused by animal agriculture, both ethically and environmentally. I recognised that one of the assets i have is large network, both on social media and in person, through which i could perhaps influence more people to take notice. My skill sets are communications, both written and verbal, so i decided to use this triangular approach to setup a new project. I now speak about Veganism at public events, and also within businesses to help them understand the emerging vegan market. Alongside this, i’m working with brands to adapt their offering to suit vegan consumers and helping vegan brands reach more people via social media. I can honestly say i find what i do fulfilling, enjoyable and challenging.
Although our passions, skills & assets change over time, our basic human desires to feel wanted, happy and purposeful do not, and this is particularly important within a job, as its where we spend a large portion of our lives. For many, it is our identity. I appreciate this is easier when you're younger and free of responsibility, but its not exclusively available to the young. There's many an example through history of those who've achieved amazing things later in life, and these people serve as useful reminders that we can pivot when we consciously look at what we care about, what we're good at and what we can offer.
If money were no object, and everyone received the same wage, how would you spend your time? If you answered the 3 questions, which jobs or businesses could be at the intersection? Work in your passion, using your skills and leveraging whatever you have, and happiness comes with it.
Someone recently asked me why i time stamp my Instagram story. Another late finish in the office depicted by a half finished cup of coffee on a paper ridden desk, and illuminated by a mixture of Macbook keypad & a maturing night sky, with a 9pm time stamp overlaid. The answer is that when i was younger, i've been guilty of painting an unrealistic, often glorified perspective on what entrepreneurship truly is. Such behaviour isn't just exclusive to entrepreneurs, but there's many with large followings who stand to profit from their followers desire to replicate their status. Courses, books or seminars, sold on the glorification of such a lifestyle is rife, without being transparent around the reality.
Entrepreneurs should be unambiguous for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a moral responsibility to fully equip anyone considering starting their own business with the harsh realities; it is so tough, that unless your passion outweighs your pain threshold, you will give up. Period. On that basis, you must be passionate enough about the problem your product or service solves that you'd bet your life on its success. Its a long game, and if you can't enjoy the process, then the fruits of the labour will not be worth your toil and you may be better suited to the security of a job. It takes a long time to achieve such heights, if ever for most, so that shouldn't be the focal point.
Secondly, given the open access nature of most people's profiles, prospective or existing clients can view your content, which can potentially jeopardise transactions (content dependant) whilst sometimes conceding leverage with employees. Its very difficult to demand harder work from staff in a start-up whilst you post another watch pic. Its important to celebrate success, but the balance is delicate.
Even a keyword search of "entrepreneur" on Instagram, or a stock photo website, will bring up photos of luxury watches, exotic locations and the latest super car. Follow the instagram accounts of many celebrity entrepreneurs and you'll find much of the same. Its as grossly inaccurate as it contradictory, and used only as a tool in selling their courses or books. I can think of many who are popular with where the motivation is sales; buy my £1000 course and you will be on your way to this!
The reality is much less glamourous. Elon Musk slept on the floor of the office he & his brother shared, using the 1 computer they could afford to run their programme during the day and code on at night. They survived on fast food and minimal sleep, working 7 days per week with little rest. Had Instagram stories been around then, what an amazing insight it would be to see the Musk brothers develop and eventually sell their first business, which provided the foundations for Paypal and later Tesla. The motive for their business was a passion to inflict change, not acquire the latest luxury or be recognised by way of a verified twitter account. It was around impactful legacy, not personal brand equity, which is a bi-product that can be effective when use honestly.
How to build a personal brand with this in mind? I find it hugely motivating to see someone so dedicated they're going beyond conventional constructs, still working gone midnight, learning or creating. Some entrepreneurs use social media incredibly well in this way. Gary Vaynerchuk is a personal favourite, because he offers so much value without agenda. He reiterates the value of hard work and is transparent on his origins, showcasing the real level of commitment required, which is both helpful and inspiring to those who follow him.
Showcasing dedication and commitment by way of affirming an entrepreneurial spirit goes a lot further than exhibiting your latest purchase. Documenting your working life on social media can be effective in providing context for your achievements, whilst helping motivate others who follow and inspire a new generation with a realistic view of the requirements needed to be successful. The 9pm time stamp is as much for me to document what I'm doing to test its efficiency as it is to make myself publicly accountable for the success or failures of my businesses. I've found transparency to the world to be one of the biggest motivators in staying to the course.
I'd also advise anyone to go back to zero. Its amazing how resourceful you become when you have absolutely nothing. When you're sleeping at friend's houses, ego crushed from a failed business, barely able to afford food, you find out what you're truly made of. On the flip side, when you've created a business at a young age in the face of fierce competition and with everyone thinking you're crazy, there's some attributes you may of not known you had.. I only wish i would have documented more realistically in the first place!
Individual Vs. Idea.
We've all said it, or at least thought it. "That's such a simple idea, if only I would have thought of that!" Some may even of claimed to have had that very idea, but for lack for whatever excuse suits the day, failed the take action. Netflix, Deliveroo, Facebook. If only we would have had that perfect idea, we'd be in the founders shoes. I suggest to you, however, that the individual is more important than the idea. The famous Abraham Lincoln quote, when applied to this context, fits perfectly: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
If we apply our focus solely to the creation of radical ideas to change the world, and even do come up with something genuinely valuable at such a scale to make us into the next Steve jobs, the chances are when we do we won't be the person capable of execution. The vehicle, so to speak, is even more important than the idea. It's the same reason many millionaires have gone to broke and back again, those people that always seem to create a way to make things happen. The time investment is in the individual, who, in turn, becomes the right vehicle & in discovering a solution to a problem, executes on that idea. If we take most successful business owners, many would tell you they find themselves surprised in the business they are in. If asked 5, 10, maybe 15 years ago, they would be adamant upon their success, but unable to identify in exactly what arena.
We have to understand what businesses is; providing a solution to a problem, at a profit, in a way that exchanges at least equal if not more value. The assumption is rife that the value is in the idea, or limited to those who have an existing business or investment, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Blockbuster existed before Netflix. Is anybody Blockbuster & chilling today? No, because Blockbuster no longer exists. It failed to innovate and meet the needs of today's market. Marc Randolph & Reed Hastings (Netflix founders) were far less qualified than the bosses at Blockbuster to launch an online platform such as Netflix, but they took action on the idea. In today's world any half decent, and even some seemingly awful ideas, have access to funding. It's because it's the individuals behind the idea that make it relevant & effective.
Now, I'm not suggesting because someone has made themselves into a effective leader, or into a person that understands the needs of people today, that ideas will fall into their lap. But in being the right person, invariably they will come across problems in their daily life that are applicable to others & with the correct mindset, conceive of creative solutions to those problems, whether it's in their chosen industry or otherwise. Investing time in oneself pays a residual dividend. Spending all of our time on creating ideas develops many avenues but little depth of knowledge in ourselves. Time with mentors, reading, at seminars, listening to podcasts, in mastermind groups, working with people & toward goals can help to develop the mentality that, when the idea comes, can execute on that idea & turn it into something tangible.
In retrospect, great ideas are simple, scalable and time-sensitive, meaning they're applicable to widespread technological capabilities or those that are are forthcoming. Those who have conceptualised such ideas, have often stumbled across them but either consciously developed or possessed the necessary mentality and practical application to develop their ideas into reality. In the study of these people, and the common characteristics they share, we can develop ourselves so that when the idea strikes, we're well positioned to execute and create one of our own.
Millennials get a tough ride... or do they? As one myself, i'm sensitive to the fact that we've had it better than any generation before us, but at the same time our access to information and what we could have has expanded our expectations and aspirations for ourselves. Instagram feeds, celebrity access and the notion that we can achieve anything we want has left many disgruntled and unfulfilled in what a large percentage of people across the world would deem as "luxury." There's an underlying tone of entitlement when we suggest what we'd like to achieve, and the belief that the acquisition of such a lifestyle is as simple as our ability to view it on our smartphones. My belief is that there is an integral aspect of the phrase "work your passion" that many of us ignore, and that is the "work" bit.
In my teens my passion was football. I looked at my options upon leaving school and was self-aware enough to know that, despite seeing my friends pursuing a professional playing route, i was way off the mark. I also knew i couldn't wake up everyday & do something i didn't enjoy or feel passionate about. With this in mind, prior to my last year at school i volunteered with Norwich City's community football programme all summer, 30 hours a week enthusiastically picking up cones and tying kid's shoelaces. When term came around for my final year at school, i continued assisting the full-time coaches 2-3 nights per week in the evening sessions and focused very little attention on my GCSEs. I absolutely loved helping kids learn the game and knew i could happily do this as a job. I set a goal to own my own football academy within 5 years and reverse engineered what i thougth the process would look like.
From the age of 15 to 17, i volunteered whilst completing my basic FA qualifications, watching and learning from more experienced coaches and consuming as much information as i could. I began taking my own sessions and at 18, progressed to taking my first UEFA license, the tutor telling me i was the youngest person in the country to have passed. I took a full-time job with the club and began teaching sports in schools in the daytime, then football in the evenings. I knew i had to coach more football and read that many coaches were moving to the states due to limited full-time jobs in the UK and higher salaries, and with this applied for a job in New Jersey. Turning 18 and having my first experiences of nightclubs and drinking, i knew moving to the states by myself would mean i wouldn't be able to experience being an 18 year old with my friends, but at the same time knew it would accelerate my knowledge and ability, and so with that, accepted the job.
My year in the states, where my friends back home were going to clubs, was coaching throughout the day and then staying behind after my sessions to watch the older coaches. Night times i trained myself or stayed in and read everything i could. After an amazing year, i accepted an offer to move to Mexico. I was obsessed. It was a progression which allowed me to manage a programme and work with more experienced coaches. Another year abroad, living in a sometimes dangerous city outside my comfort zone and away from friends and family, allowed me to learn enough about the business and different coaching/playing styles to move back to the UK aged 20 and open my first football academy.
In January 2011, on sheer determination and next to no money, i opened one of the UK's first Coerver Coaching performance academy franchises, competing with elements of the previous company i had worked for in my home city. It was my first business and i was working full-time on my passion. I understood what that phrase meant. To wake up everyday, doing something i loved and for myself, whilst helping local kids learn to love the game was an incredible feeling. Without the "work," the time abroad, the sacrifices, the 2 years volunteering for free and starting from the very bottom, i wouldn't of had an appreciation of the position i found myself in. The "work" made the passion possible. Coerver coaching Norfolk went on to have over 225 players training every week, with trips abroad to AC Milan and players progressing through to professional academies, whilst allowing me to give employment to my friends and learn how to run a business.
I use my story as context. So many people want to be given a job doing what they love, but are grossly unaware of how value exchange works. In order to be of value to a company, or a client, you must be able to offer value beyond their compensation for your services. Why would anyone hire someone to appease their passion? Its a bi-product. When you add value, you can charge for your service. The basis for passion as leverage lies in the fact that when you work within your passions, you will work harder and as such, be of value in order to be able to charge.
If you're passionate about something and want to do it as a job, you will go above and beyond to create an opportunity that affords you the knowledge to be in a position to charge for it, whether via an employer or your own business. If you work full-time, there is hours between when you finish and start work. If you're too young, or have no experience, volunteer. If you don't know, learn (libraries are grossly undervalued accessible resources. Books and videos contain knowledge from the best minds on the planet!) If you're hiring, you will know someone's passion as it correlates with their effort in showcasing it. It IS possible to create a lifestyle based on your passions or interests, but your passion must be in proportion to the amount of work you're prepared to put in to make it work.