Robyn Horwitz’s story is a classic entrepreneurial story. She and her three business partners launched Vegan Things during the pandemic.
They started in a garage with a few freezers and slowly built their brand up from there – all because they spotted a problem that they believed they could solve.
“There was no single platform online that could provide you with everything you needed as a vegan. You needed to visit a few stores or shop on a few different platforms, and prices would change depending on where you were shopping and how much stock they had in hand. We wanted to find a way to make vegan products more easily accessible, but also more affordable.”
Robyn also recognised that there were many local suppliers who couldn’t easily reach consumers – particularly given lockdown restrictions. “There are amazing local suppliers in South Africa. We were just trying to think of a way that we could help local brands reach a wider audience and then also help customers find the products that they love,” she says.
It’s a recurring theme throughout the Smart Business Showcase. Mark Sham’s vision when he launched season 2 was to support businesses who have been impacted by Covid-19 and the various lockdowns and restrictions we have all faced, but what has clearly emerged is how much small businesses look to help each other and solve real-world problems.
Vegan Things is a great example of this in action, as well as a number of other lessons that will serve up-and-coming small businesses well.
Robyn and her partners hit the ground running, focusing on customer service every step of the way, but she acknowledges that even though that’s generally the start-up experience, the ability to plan when you can is critical, particularly when it comes to finances. “After a year of operations we’ve actually needed to step back and put systems in place to become a bit more serious,” she says. If you can, get the foundations in place as early as possible.
“We were pioneers in terms of a vegan-only online store, but now there are new players entering the market and that’s okay. It means we’re on to something.” There is no such thing as no competitors – the key is to differentiate yourself and know that increased competition can actually be a good thing because it drives innovation.
Launching an online store during successive lockdown restrictions was an obvious move for Robyn and her partners, but what they had not expected was the dip in sales they experienced when everything opened up again. “Going to the shops suddenly became an outing. Getting people on board with new technology takes time, effort, education and patience. There’s a change management element to it that is critical to take into account.
You are going to have to adapt. “It’s difficult to try and think on your feet all of the time – it can be exhausting even,” says Robyn. “But it’s a reality of entrepreneurship.” Learning to act quickly and to stay ahead of the game is critical to success.
For a sneak peek into Vegan Things and Robyn’s journey, watch the full video here: link
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