Bit on the side: feeding a vegan soul
By Malcolm Caldwell
When I was asked to write this article about my side hustle around the theme of optimism, to be honest, I wasn’t that optimistic that I’d have the time to do it.
You see, when it comes to side hustles, there’s a clue in the title. You have to do it on the side because you already have a job (in my case a fairly demanding one as a Creative Director) and so you have to hustle just to work on the side.
And that’s before you factor in your responsibilities as a parent and a partner and occasionally, like very occasionally, your responsibilities to yourself.
But, when you’re passionate about something you find the time for it. You just do. You hustle.
So I made sure I found the time to write this article. Because it relates to two of my passions.
And I personally don’t think you can be passionate about something without being optimistic at the same time. They go hand in hand. Or at least they should do. Because if they don’t, you’re almost certain to fail.
Passion number 1.
When I started my career back in London many moons ago, I’d say I was extremely passionate about advertising. I was lucky. It was something I’d wanted to do from a fairly early age (I personally blame all of those amazing Carling Black Label and Tango ads) and so I went to Uni and did a design degree that specialised in Advertising.
I left with a decent student portfolio of work and in hindsight, a fairly irrelevant degree. But, I had my passion. Which was good news because I’d also left Uni a few years into the worst recession the UK had seen for two decades.
There was a back-log of hopeful creative grads all vying to get their hands on a limited number of vacancies that had been constricted because of the state of the economy.
As those with less passion slowly gave up and found themselves making other career choices, I continued to pound the streets, knocking on agency doors and turning up for meetings with CDs that would be cancelled as I was waiting in reception.
And when I wasn’t doing that I worked on my portfolio as if it were a job. Monday to Friday 9 to 5. I was even threatened by social security to have my dole money and housing allowance cancelled because I wouldn’t take a job in a fast food restaurant. I had to show them my portfolio and explain to them what it was and how it was going to get me my dream job.
They didn’t know what to make of it. And they certainly didn’t share my optimism.
After nine months of unpaid work placements I got a job. I worked crazy hours — as all juniors do — and when everyone else had gone home I stole briefs off CDs desks and worked on them.
Thanks to my passion, my side hustle to working in advertising became working even more in advertising.
But I was very different back then. I was focussed on myself. I certainly lived in the moment and I didn’t really appreciate the world around me.
Over the years that changed. And that growing awareness and a lost bet led me to my second passion.
Passion number 2.
I became vegan just over five years ago. What started off as a bet I lost with my wife (a vegan for animal welfare reasons), soon became more than what some call a lifestyle choice. It became a passion which then became a business.
Although I’m an animal lover and have always been one, I never really appreciated the impact of my food choices — not on the 56 billion animals (and that’s just land animals) that are consumed each year, let alone the impact of industrial animal agriculture on the planet. It would have been easy to lose my optimism about what the future held. Especially for my daughter.
So I educated myself on the topic some more, I donated and went to animal activism rallies (I promise this isn’t a sermon, I’m getting to the point) where one conversation kept cropping up: That it was difficult to know what was and wasn’t vegan. And even when you knew, you still had to shop all over town, or at least the internet to buy everything you need to lead a vegan life.
So what if I could combine my two passions with my wife’s and create a curated online vegan marketplace? Sort of like Ebay, but for all things vegan?
That’s when My Vegan Mart was born. At least in our minds.
And this is where we come full circle to the point about finding time for the things we’re passionate about.
We could have just left My Vegan Mart as a thought. Blamed the craziness of our day jobs. The fact that being parents is all consuming. That we knew nothing about ecommerce and had no time to learn about it.
But we didn’t. We set about creating a brand from scratch while trying to build an ecommerce site with the functionality we wanted. We worked early in the morning, during our daughter’s nap time and at night. We worked a lot at night (and still do).
I’ve lost count of the number of times we’d finish our day jobs and then start working on our side hustle at nine or ten o’clock, often not finishing until one or two in the morning.
Luckily being an advertising creative stood me in good stead.
We learnt that you could save time by using people on Fiverr and lose it by choosing the wrong web developers in India. We built the website. Twice. (That’s when you really need optimism.) We did a really dodgy high five when we got our first seller on board and a slightly better one when we made our first sale.
It’s been a long hard road, but we’re starting to see the green shoots of growth. We’ve just employed a S.E.M. specialist (which will save time as I was doing it – badly) and are working on a P.R. campaign.
But above all, we’re still passionate.
Which means we’re also still optimistic. Optimistic we’ll still be able to find time for our side hustle. Optimistic the business will continue to grow and we’re optimistic that as more people become vegan it can have a positive effect on the planet.
Malcolm Caldwell is a CD at Leo Burnett, Sydney. Find all your vegan needs at My Vegan Mart.