Meet Nicole Sanders- Founder of Veeg Card. A Brighton-based loyalty card that allows you to discover new places to eat and reap rewards while you do so. They champion businesses that recognise the value of vegan food and help them to grow whilst doing so. By joining Veeg and using the card, you’re voting with your pound and helping to make plant-based food a MUST for any business.
What inspired you to launch Veeg card?
I wanted to start a business that I would love working in every day (ok most days, as we all have bad ones). For me that meant something that reflected my ethics, something fun and something that had potential to grow. I played around with a ton of different ideas and whittled them down through test and learn activity online. Veeg was one of the first ideas I had – which I ignored initially – but it kept creeping back in. The unbelievable amount of choice and creativity there is in plant-based food in Brighton was just too much for me! I was travelling back north a lot for a contract I was working on and kept comparing the difference in choice up there vs down here, kept coming across the ‘vegan tax’ concept…then the decision was made.
What is your career background and how has this led you into launching Veeg card?
I worked in financial services and insurance tech for 10 years. The last 6 years started leaning towards tech and starting up new businesses, working with other businesses both in the UK and internationally. I’m a product marketer by trade, which means that my thinking centres around looking at trends and markets to create relevant products and using different methods to get appeal and get the word out.
There are positive and negatives to this kind of job, as with anything. I found working with insurance products pretty soul-destroying on a lot of levels (although I grew decent business acumen from it). I’d get business ideas running through my head in the shower before work, talk and think about them for ages and then decide I wasn’t ready. Fear is a funny thing.
Veeg is a combination of a few things that I absolutely love: food, plant-based lifestyle and tech. There have been some really interesting lightbulb moments that I can tie back to what seem like really random moments in my last career. My second job at 16 was waitressing, which I did for 2 years and then bits here and there over time, which I really enjoyed and even did for a bit here in Brighton while I was figuring stuff out (can’t beat putting a plate of great food out and having a chat with a customer) – having that basic knowledge of how things work in a small food business has been really helpful.
Name your top highlight since launching your business.
Well, I get excited about everything, so this is a tough one. We had a Beta launch party at BeFries right after Veeg went live. I was super nervous as I got there before and it was empty and I thought no one was going to turn up. Then it totally packed out and they had to get an extra member of staff in to cover it! People I’d met through launching Veeg came, people I’d just chatted to Instagram I finally got to meet in real life and, best of all….people who had seen Veeg, signed up and come along because they wanted to.
What do you wish you had known before launching Veeg card and becoming an entrepreneur?
It’s always funny being called an Entrepreneur. Perhaps a Professional Dice Roller is a little less grandiose sounding 😉
I think the main learning for me so far has been about self-reliance. When you start up on a tight budget, you have to pool your own resources and do as much yourself as you possibly can. I had a lot of doubt about whether I was good enough to do certain things eg post on Instagram (take a look at the earlier posts on @veegcard and you’ll see what I mean. I keep them there to remind myself that it’s about progress. The feed is nowhere near perfect but it’s improving because it’s something I’ve committed to doing better at). I did know that I was going to have to be a jack of all trades, but I hadn’t thought about what it might be like to feel totally unqualified at loads of stuff and have to do them anyway. There is a massive beauty in this though – you have nothing to lose (except your dignity occasionally, but you can always scrape that back) and it feels so good when you start to make progress.
What advice would you give to a young-woman trying to start up her own business?
I had a quick look online at male / female entrepreneur splits and was quite surprised to see it’s about 30% female in the UK. This is higher than I expected and I think it shows great potential (or maybe I have a dim view of gender equality). I’ve been mentoring a few women who are starting up on their own and these are the things that come up over and over (although I wouldn’t say these points are gender-specific).
- Clear off as much baggage, drama and personal crap as you possibly can and work on that every day as you would your own business. The biggest hindrance to an idea becoming reality is the way you approach it, the way you approach life and the way you approach yourself. When you start something, you’re your own boss, your own employee and all the rest in between. So if the boss continually tells the employee they are not doing great….nothing will happen. Same goes for if you over-praise yourself: you’ll get too big for your own boots and not learn anything.
- Use data to make decisions. Always test your ideas before pouring in lots of time, effort and money into stuff. Be prepared for things not to turn out as expected and use it as a signpost that you need to flip something in a new direction. This links to the point above. Being firmly planted in reality is key. Numbers will always tell you whether something is working or not. Friends and family, whilst their encouragement is always welcome and a massive help in most occasions, are not a source of data 🙂
- BIG ONE: I found this through a TED Talk by Tim Feriss. Fear setting. Write down all the things that you think are going to get in the way, then figure out how you will mitigate them. Be really honest with yourself. Mine are still written in glass pen on my wardrobe from months ago and it’s been a really effective way of refocussing my time and effort.
Finally, I think for women, the thing to remember is that sometimes it will work against you. And sometimes it will work for you (and I don’t mean make it work by flirting because that will never make a business fly). Coming from an industry that was SO heavily male-dominated, this was really evident. It was easier to get noticed when a project went well because of the whole ‘and she’s a woman’ thing. Then on the other side of things, I remember presenting to a bank in India once and even though I was leading the entire meeting, all questions were directed at my male counterpart who knew almost nothing about what I was presenting. At first I was a bit shocked and kind of found it funny, wondering whether it was because I was female, young, less senior, (probably all of the above) but then I just played it and interrupted every single question and by the end they were talking to me.
So; the lesson here is not to stigmatise yourself. People are going to make judgements one way or another. The only thing you can do is carry on with what you’re doing and speak up about what you’re working on. My Dad brought me up and I was surrounded by men all throughout my career so I guess I’m lucky that I don’t hold a stigma against myself, but I know a lot of women who battle with it.
What would success look like for you?
The MD of the business I first worked at told me to ‘enjoy the journey’ when I was about 23. It took me a few years to figure out what he meant because my initial reaction was thinking something along the lines of ‘great for you to say when you’re earning 6 figures and I’m scraping to pay the rent’. But honestly, first and foremost, success for me is about getting Veeg to a place where I can pay myself to do something I really enjoy, which is: getting people to eat more plants by promoting amazing plant-based food.
What is next for Veeg card?
Growing in Brighton and getting the tech to the next level so we can make the service a load more intuitive for restaurants, cafes and pubs. Generally ‘going bigger’ – but not really ready to talk about that one yet 😉
To find out more info on how you can get your Veeg card visit the website at https://www.veeg.co.uk/