While working as a manager for Apple, Ashish realised he wanted to have a career that aligned with his values and was more mission-driven. With the combination of research and intuition, he landed on Vegancuts. Despite having no background in e-commerce, but a desire to make a difference, he set out on a journey to fulfil the potential he saw in the business. In this episode, he shares how he transitioned from tech and the learnings he brought with him into his new role. We also spoke about the whys and hows of Vegancuts' evolution as a brand, how the company selects products for their boxes, when you should do something in-house vs. hire externally, and the importance and process of establishing culture at a workplace.
We asked what that transition was like for Ashish, from cofounding a tech company, to working in the vegan space.
Ashish: 'You know when you do something in your life that's in alignment with who you are, there's a drive that comes out naturally.'
And it turns out there are quite a few lessons that he took from the tech space that he found were helpful in his new role.
1. A focus on understanding customers, and MVP. The process of developing something that's just enough to figure out does this business model work or not.
2. Concept of rewards, to help get the right set of advisors for the team.
3. Above all, perseverance, working through failure after failure.
Ashish: 'From the outside you would think it's a simple process. But actually, once you start digging into it, there are a lot of pieces that go into any business. It doesn't matter how simple or complex it looks on the outside.'
One of those pieces is the product choosing process. With veganism becoming more mainstream there are now hundreds of items to choose from, so how do they do it?
Ashish: 'It's a fascinating process, that we don't talk much about, but we should talk about more. We have people on our team who are real experts. A procurement manager in the food as well as beauty space.'
Ashish went on to talk about how some of the brands have been chosen through a long-term partnership. With Vegancuts being an older company there are certain brands they've worked with throughout the years that they know well and who will approach them with any new products they might be releasing further down the line.
But it's not just older partnerships that make the cut, with newer brands reaching out also.
Ashish: 'We're all the time going to conventions, as well as expos in the beauty and food industry, so (the procurement managers) are always on top of what are the latest trends. They do a lot of detailed work in the background, like not only is this product vegan and cruelty free, but does the product taste good. Are the ingredients things that we would ourselves use or eat.'
Ashish: 'Once we have a product we can really stand behind, then eventually we get it into our box.'
But Vegancuts is no ordinary subscription service. Every month portions of revenue go directly to selected animal sanctuaries.
Ashish: 'We introduced this around a little less than a year ago. We've always thought that as time goes on, we wanted to become more of a voice for the vegan world.'
Ashish: 'We don't want to convert anyone to being vegan, but it's important for us to let people know about some of the amazing work that's happening in the vegan community. And animal sanctuaries are something that we've personally connected with.'
We also spoke about Vegancuts' evolution as a brand. From changing their logo, to their packaging, we wanted to know what it was that sparked this change.
It turns out that the key was creating a more cohesive brand; the foundation to any good business.
Ashish: 'We wanted our brand to be relatable.'
And through that process, Vegancuts has gone on to increase user acquisition. Although for many younger startups this may be quite difficult - in particular answering the question of how to decide what to do in house vs. hire externally to help.
Here are Ashish's 3 tips:
1. You need to figure out your finances. If you have less cash on hand that you're willing to spend compared to more, you'll have very different strategies about what you choose to do
2. You need to understand what kind of skillsets you already have, and how much time you have available. For example paid ads require a lot of expertise and the acquisition cost is high, so you don't want to waste any money due to a lack of knowledge if you already don't have those skills.
3. For SEO, something a lot of smaller companies struggle with, Vegancuts already had good content writers but didn't know how to write for SEO purposes. Instead of hiring someone who would long-term write articles, they instead hired a SEO expert who helped train the team and gave them a lot of knowledge that helped build up the team's skillset, meaning they could save and continue in-house.
But with any success, comes a challenge, some of Ashish's being that when he came to Vegancuts, he not only had no knowledge of e-commerce, but the company was also designed to be a lifestyle business.
Ashish: 'It was copying and pasting what was happening month over month, and although it was doing a lot of good work, it was not focussed on growth.'
How did he overcome it?
Creating a shift in the workplace culture.
What is culture?
Essentially, culture is a set of behaviours and norms that you set up for your team. Once established, it can be pretty hard to change, and this is where difficulties may come up. The steps to get started?
1. Define your culture.
It helps to have 3 or 4 key words that you want to establish and that you value.
2. Talk about your culture.
If you have a weekly team meeting, ask people on your team to showcase what they did that aligns with your culture and reward them for that.
And if you're someone who is thinking of entering the e-commerce / vegan space?
Ashish: 'Make sure you are doing something which you really believe in.'
Along with that it doesn't hurt to...
- Understand the market and use it to think of how you can create something unique and differentiated.
Ashish: 'It doesn't have to be very different, it could be similar to other things out there. But if you do it in a way that has something differentiated, even if it's small, that can make a big difference.'
- Really think about your brand
Ashish: 'If you have a brand voice that is strong, that can be one of your differentiated factors.'
We really hope that you enjoyed this week's episode. If you have any ideas and want to share, or want to get in touch then make sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org or head to @veganstartuppod. If you want to follow Vegancuts on their journey, you can find them @vegancuts or https://vegancuts.com/. Have a great day and #biteforwhatsright!