Why some vegan businesses fail and others succeed: it's all about you

Building a successful business is like running an obstacle course, with each obstacle just being another problem you need to overcome. But if you don’t have the right mental attitude to learn how to overcome each obstacle as you hit it, then you will join the majority of the population who get stuck or just give up. 

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I’ve known and worked with a lot of successful businesses over my career, I like to think I’ve even run a couple, and one big thing I’ve noticed is: no matter how badly the economy is doing, there’s always a bunch of people who are running successful businesses.  And at times when the economy is doing really well, there are always people who launch businesses that go absolutely nowhere.  And this has taught me that no matter what’s going on in the world, regardless of what the economy is doing, there will always be companies that succeed and other companies that don’t. 

So the economy can’t be the reason why a business finds success.  Nobody can change the fact that we’ve just had one of the biggest shake-ups that businesses has ever seen with a global pandemic but have you also noticed that, again, people are still launching businesses and making money even during a pandemic?  I know people who were doing one thing a few months ago have won huge new contracts by evolving really quickly.  Breweries making hand sanitiser; people who were giving 1-2-1 services now coaching over Zoom and finding a global audience; online shops such as The Vegan Kind Supermarket hugely increasing their turnover.  And I’m not going to lie, some industries have been almost wiped out but again, why have some companies in those industries found a way through when everyone else has closed down?

If you become a student of why companies are successful you will see the real reason is down to one simple common element: the people running them.  And more importantly, these people’s attitudes and determination above and beyond everything else.

One big issue we have in business is that we only get to hear from the people who have been successful.  That’s a problem because it creates an ‘entitlement’ of success.  There is a misconception that if you have a good idea or a good product, then that alone is enough to find success.  Beyond Meat become an ‘overnight success’ with their meat-alternative burgers, listing on the stock exchange in May 2019.  But did you know that Beyond Meat started out as Savage River incorporated in 2009?  That overnight success took 10 years.  Their first product that aimed to emulate chicken using pea protein took a decade of lab work by two university professors before the company even launched – and then it took another 5 years until they had a recipe for their chicken-free strips which you could only buy at Whole Foods stores in Northern California.  The problem is, we don’t look at what leads to success.  It’s like a plant growing under the ground: we only see the buds breaking through the earth in the spring, not knowing how long the bulb has been growing for.

Take a look at Tofurkey, one of America’s most successful plant-based brands.  Seth Tibbott launched his food company in 1980 and even lived in a treehouse while he was trying to find the perfect plant-based product that would really take off.  In his book ‘In Search of the Wild Tofurky’ (which I highly recommend as one of my favourite vegan business books by the way) Seth calls Tofurky a 40-year overnight success story.  So if it took some of the biggest most successful names in vegan and plant-based five or ten years (or sometimes even longer) then why are you getting frustrated and ready to give up on your business because you’re not getting any orders a month after your website goes live?

 

And the difference between why a business fails and why a business succeeds (and it’s one of my favourite words in the English Language) is tenacity.  It’s the determination of the people behind the business to succeed.  So yes, when you talk to successful founders they may say that luck played a part but they made that luck happen.  They may say that a chance encounter with the right person or investor was a turning point in the business but they did everything they could to make sure they were in the right place (and wearing a high-viz jacket) to make those chance encounters happen.  They may say that it took the right opportunity to come along but they were out there hunting for that opportunity.

There is no entitlement to success and that is what people who build successful companies understand.  Success in business is not coming up with a killer idea, building a website and then sitting back and counting the orders.  Success in business comes by overcoming a really long line of obstacles one by one like an assault course.  You overcome the first obstacle and you’re faced straight away with another.  And success comes by keeping climbing over these walls, by keeping jumping over these hurdles and getting further into the assault course than everyone else.  And after every one of these obstacles you overcome you will notice there are fewer competitors alongside you.  Most people give up when they hit the first obstacle because it’s just too hard.

For example, the first wall you hit might have been getting a website online.  You might have spent months trying to learn how WordPress works, trying to point a domain name at the right server, trying to get your logo to display the right size, having to learn how to upload products to WooCommerce – and finally when you work all this out, when you’ve got a website that you are finally happy with, you hit publish and immediately hit the next obstacle:  no one buys anything.  You are expecting that just having a great product and a website should be enough to get people to give you their money.  But that isn’t how it works.  Think about all the products or services that you look at every year but don’t buy – why do you think the rest of the buying public is any different than you?  So once you’ve overcome that wall of getting a website online, you’ve now got the next two obstacles to tackle: learning how to get people to your website and then understanding what actually makes people buy.  Most people found the first wall hard enough, they didn’t realise how long this obstacle course was when they signed up.  So when they instantly hit another wall they just give up instead of tackling it head-on. 

After every obstacle you overcome you will notice there are fewer competitors alongside you.  Most people give up when they hit the first obstacle because it’s just too hard.

But do you know who doesn’t give up?  Those people who are going to be successful.  They understand that this is just the next obstacle to get over, the next thing they have to learn.  They know most of their competitors will give up here so they keep going, they understand that this is a much longer obstacle course.  Yes, they scaled the first wall of getting a website online but they understand that they now need to learn about why people do and don’t buy.  They know they are going to have to learn about how to get people to a website, and they know that (unless they have built a successful business before) they are going to have to work everything out as they go.

The money you have to spend often makes no difference, especially in the early days.  If you’ve got money in the bank to spend then all that means is that you will be tempted to spend more when trying to get over each obstacle.  You might have had to learn to build a website yourself whereas someone else might have paid someone a few thousand pounds to have one built for them, but you will both still find the same next obstacle hiding behind the first; the only difference is that you will have saved yourself a couple of grand and learnt a valuable new skill.  And this is the reality of building a successful business.  It’s like tackling a long line of hurdles and the secret is getting over more of these hurdles than most other people.  Go read the real stories of how people became successful and you will see the same patterns.  Few found success with their first idea; they headed in one direction and the skills they learned, the obstacle they learned to climb over and the new connections they made along the way opened up other opportunities and new paths that were not available to them before.  

I know that this might not be what you want to hear.  Going back to the opening question of why vegan businesses fail, you might have been expecting me to say it’s because their idea wasn’t good enough, or their marketing was bad – but I’ve seen lots of businesses find huge success with the most boring products imaginable and really mediocre marketing plans.  What they did have though were people who approached the business in a really determined way with a hugely positive mindset and a willingness to learn.  So how do you do that?  How do you change your mindset?  Especially if you’ve been grinding away for a couple of years and feel like you’re banging your head against the wall instead of climbing over it.

Well, you can sit there and keep waiting for success to happen, or you can start moving yourself towards it.  And it’s going to take some hard work, and it’s going to take effort when perhaps you think you’re already all out of energy, but it’s WHERE you put your effort that makes all the difference.  Because the thing that you need to put the most effort into is YOU.

Business guru Jim Rohn said: “Set a goal to become a millionaire.  Not for the money, but for the skills you have to learn and the person you have to become to achieve it.”  I could not have put that better myself.  The biggest asset of your business is your mentality and your attitude.  Don’t ever be put off because you haven’t found success or got all the answers yet; instead, have faith that your real superpower is that you are really good at learning.

 

Learn to approach the obstacles in your business as problems that have answers just waiting to be worked out.  And if you can’t work it out yet, that means you just need to get out there and learn more.  So you’ve got that website live and no one is going to it.  Well, there are millions of people who HAVE already worked out how to get traffic to a website, and you probably even have some in your online digital circle.  

So don’t pay for a course; go find people you know have actually already done it and ask if you can learn from them.  And if you haven’t got anyone in your circle who has learned how to do it, then your first task is to work on extending your contacts and work on who you are linked to until you start finding these kinds of people on your connections list.  Go to the kinds of events they go to, hang around the kind of places (either digitally or physically) that they do.  Start making a strategy to improve the kinds of people you are linked to.  And because you are vegan, you already have an opening to some of the most successful and biggest names in the plant-based sector.  You are 99% more likely to be able to make the acquaintance of a successful vegan professional than the rest of the population because you are both on the same mission.

And once you start surrounding yourself with people who have already climbed over those obstacles and are waving at you from the other side, the more likely you are to throw yourself at those obstacles with renewed vigour.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are the first person to hit this problem, because you will seriously improve your rate of success as a business by going out there and finding people who have already climbed the wall you are staring at.  I’ve done this myself many times and it’s where we get a lot of the advice from that we share at Vegan Business Tribe – by finding people who have already overcome a specific problem that we know our members have and record an interview learning how they did it.

And what more motivation do you need to overcome a problem than having a vegan business?  If you are ever struggling for motivation, just ask yourself: how many animals were killed today needlessly?  How many are going to be killed tomorrow while you get your act together?  How many people could have avoided a serious health issue if you’d already helped them switch to a plant-based diet?  Remember that if you’re not successful with your vegan business then you cannot help us move towards a vegan world.  So if you are ‘so vegan that it hurts’ then it is your duty to get better at doing business so that you can create a vegan company that actually makes a difference to the world.

And what more motivation do you need to overcome a problem than having a vegan business? If you are ever struggling for motivation, just ask yourself: how many animals were killed today needlessly?

So, from today, you’re going to approach your business differently.  And a really helpful exercise to start this is to take yourself out of your business for a day.  Or if you can’t find a day, then half a day.  Or even just a couple of hours.  Just because you are taking the time to read this article (and you’re a fair way down it now!) then I know that you are already open-minded to learning and finding ways to get better – and that means that you are ahead of 90% of other business owners.  Most people are not out there actively trying to improve themselves; they spend so much time working in the business that they never get the time to work on the business, or more importantly to work on themselves.  So give yourself a pat on the back that you are working on yourself, because this is mentally training yourself to be able to scale those walls and get past those obstacles.  Sit with your notebook for a few hours.  Spend some time reconnecting with the reason why you started the business in the first place.  Once you have re-centred yourself then start to make a plan for a very specific goal.  What that plan will be, or what it’s going to focus on, will be unique to you because it’s going to depend on what’s stopping you moving forwards right now.  So going back to the example we used earlier, your big problem might be getting a website online – so put some time aside to actually plan how you are going to climb over that wall.  If you are going to have to learn to do it yourself, how are you going to learn?  Are you going to find a YouTube course or are you going to reach out to someone you know who has built a site themselves and ask for them to point you in the right direction of how to start?

And never back away from learning how to do things yourself, even if it’s completely outside of your comfort zone.  Even if you know it’s something you will never want to be in charge of doing in the long term for your business, learn how to do it in the short term so that you understand it.  If you plan to bring someone in to do your social media, first learn how to do it yourself so that you understand it, have a handle on it and can give better direction to anyone you bring in to do it for you.  If you understand how something technical works yourself, then it will always cost you less when you get someone else to do it for you later because you won’t be going to them with a blank sheet of paper.

And it might be that, right at this moment, you don’t actually know what the obstacle is that you’re trying to overcome.  You might be sat there with your notebook and you’ve written down 20 problems and you don’t know which is stopping your progress.  Or maybe you can’t write down a single one because it’s just too much of a mess in your mind right now. 

And that’s an OK place to start from too – as long as you are actually starting to do something about it.  Become comfortable that you don’t have the answers yet but you have faith in your ability to take action and work it all out.  Obstacle number one might be spending more time working on yourself before you can work out what problems need fixing – but the amazing thing is, and what a time to be alive, everything you could ever want to know is at your fingertips.  Go read Seth Tibbot’s book about how he founded Tofurky.  Go read ‘Vegan Ventures’ by Katrina Fox for lots of amazing stories of people who have started up vegan companies and how they did it.  If you have got to the point in your business where you need to choose ‘fight or flight’, decide that you are going to choose ‘fight.’  Actually take action.  Join one of Lisa’s goal setting and accountability workshops.  Surround yourself with other people who have achieved what you want to achieve.  Don’t just learn from them but also take inspiration and motivation from them.  Even set out with the goal to make some of them your personal friends.

 

And once you’ve come up with a plan (and that might be a plan of how to tackle the next obstacle, or a plan to re-invigorate yourself and improve your mental attitude) then create space to make it happen.  You need to actually get yourself over that wall that’s stopping you from moving forwards and often that means creating time that isn’t currently there.  As a small business owner, or if you’re working as part of a small team, finding the time to move your business forward can be difficult.  I get that entirely, I’ve been there.  But you have two options: you either find that time or you stay exactly where you are now. 

When I first wrote our vegan marketing course I had no time to do it.  But it was a huge part of our strategy, something that we knew would really move Vegan Business Tribe forward and give members a lot of value.  So I ‘created’ the time.  I set my alarm for 4:30am five days a week for a month, and the vast majority of the course was written in the twilight hours between 5:00am and 8:30am before the rest of the world got going.  I created a beautiful three and a half uninterrupted hours at the start of every day to make time for something really valuable – that’s an extra seventeen and a half hours a week just from going to bed early.  Is your business worth that to you?  Is it worth giving up a few hours of Netflix so you can go to bed early for just a couple of weeks to make something really significant happen in your business or to take a course or learn a new skill that is stopping you from climbing over that next wall?  What difference is that going to make not just to your business, but to the sort of person you can become?

And sometimes it’s worth keeping some flexibility on where this journey is taking you.  It might be that the business you start out with doesn’t fully work out but the skills you learn in setting that business up is what makes the next one so successful.  You are learning so much more than you ever realise until you look back.  Understand that building a successful business is like taking on an obstacle course.  Understand that you’re not going to know how to get past each obstacle when you get to it, but develop an unshakeable faith in your ability to learn and figure each one out.  Remember that whatever the situation, you are far more likely to get a better outcome if you approach it with a positive attitude than a negative one.  Choose ‘fight’ not ‘flight’.

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2 comments on “Why some vegan businesses fail and others succeed: it’s all about you

  1. Wow, David. A really inspirational read – thank you for writing this article. I’m sure going to incorporate some of what you have talked about here.

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