In this blog we talk to Amber Fraser the Co-Founder of BRAVE - one of the most delicious vegan snacks on the market. After going vegan 9 years ago with her husband (Seb) and Brave Co-Founder - Amber and Seb carefully plotted their transition from their corporate jobs to running their own plant-based food company.
To celebrate International Women's Week (yeah, we think it should be a week) and Vevolution's upcoming Vevolution Topics: Entrepreneurs event on the 13th March we've created an IWD series where we've hand selected some inspiring entrepreneurial women to tell us their stories. This series is in collaboration with Vevolution.
Tell us a little bit about BRAVE – how did it all start?
The seed for BRAVE was planted 9 years ago when my husband (and co-founder) and I went vegan. What initially just seemed like a dietary change lead by ethics, turned into a mind-set that spread into every part of our lives, and eventually our careers too.
Both of us always wanted to start a business – we just didn’t always know what it was. And over the years, we became more and more convinced it had to do with plant based food because that was such a passion of ours and it was just a matter of finding the right product to start with. We spent some time looking at different things before we hit upon the amazing split pea.
We would eat lots of legumes as part of our daily diet and wanted to find new, interesting way of introducing more people to these incredible plants. We thought that if we could make delicious snacks from split peas then that would be an easy way for people to get familiar with them!
Once we had found our hero product, we then spent a whole lot of time sorting out our production, brand, strategy, etc. before we finally launched in July of last year!
Being partners not just in the business sense how do you balance your husband/wife partnership with your business partnership?
That’s a very good question and something we’re still trying to get better at ;)
The hardest part has been drawing a clear line between our business ‘roles’ and our normal lives. There have been countless times where we were supposed to be having a nice dinner or going to sleep but instead we’re talking about what’s going on with a production run or an event or whatever. It’s a shared passion of ours and so it’s hard to switch it off sometimes.
But that goes with the territory. As you guys know very well, start up life is a full-on, 24 hour gig which doesn’t leave much room for other commitments! But neither of us can really imagine doing anything else, so the challenge then is just being mindful of keeping things in perspective and making sure the relationship is prioritised every so often.
That’s the ‘downside’. The upside is that I couldn’t imagine doing this with anybody else. We trust each other implicitly. And from the start, it just made sense for us to partner together – our skills, perspectives, strengths are complementary (me with a sales background with quite a ‘go go go’ attitude, Seb with a creative marketing background with a much more strategic mind-set).
And yes, there have been times where it’s been tough on the relationship but considerably more often it’s been the opposite. We support each other through the lows and celebrate the highs together. There’s a shared sense of purpose and responsibility that strengthens our relationship.
You both left stable jobs in the corporate world to create your own business. Did you find this an easy decision to make? And how did you find the transition from working for someone to working for yourself?
We approached it a little differently. We moved to the UK 5 years ago with the explicit intention of starting a food business and took jobs in the corporate world to help us do that. We wanted to learn about the market here while working on the business after work and on the weekends. It took us over 3 years to feel confident enough with our knowledge, our product and even our financial situation to finally take the jump. But at the same time, we were itching to go the whole time. Then when it happened, it was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. Not just because I didn’t have to do 2 jobs but because I was finally free to focus on what I passionately wanted to be doing.
I love working for myself. Even though I spent 10 years in the corporate world, I never quite felt like I fit in. I was usually a bit too outspoken and unpolitical, so working for myself works perfectly!
Up until now how have you funded BRAVE?
At the beginning, we funded everything ourselves, having saved with this in mind for a number of years. But given how competitive the industry is, the kind of volume you need to be working with to make the unit costs affordable, and not to mention that founder wages are a miniscule fraction of corporate ones (if anything at all), we needed some investment to get us in a place where we could launch properly. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to get some amazing angel investors on board just before launch. They very much believed in our bigger vision to make plant-based food exciting and have been a huge asset to us since.
In a crowded market what makes BRAVE stand out?
We think there are 3 elements that make us different. Firstly, we think we have a great product that’s unique on shelves. Our roasted peas are pretty amazing when it comes to their health credentials, and that, combined with how tasty they are, makes for a winning snack. They’re high in protein, high in fibre, have fewer calories and fat than popcorn and are packed with vitamins and minerals too.
Secondly, sustainability is a big part of our mission. We’re by no means perfect but I can honestly say we’ve done our best in trying to find the most sustainable approaches to production and are always thinking about what we can improve. We’re working with farmers in East Anglia to source our peas and everything is then roasted and packed within 3 hours of London. Peas and pulses themselves are also one of the most sustainable sources of protein on the planet, requiring very little water and fertiliser to grow. They actually fix nitrogen back into the soil and as a result of all of this, we think peas and legumes will be a key to feeding the world population over the next 50 years.
The last point is a bit more personal. We (selfishly) created BRAVE as a bit of a vehicle for what we believe. At the core of that is that we’re vegans and we want to get more people interested in eating more sustainable and healthy, plant-based diets. We think in these days of insane political rhetoric and divisiveness, brands need to start taking a bit of a stand and not just be a commodity. That’s a tall order and we haven’t gotten there yet, but we want to be a brand that plays some little part in inspiring people towards positive change: whether that’s eating healthier, living more sustainably or speaking up for what you believe in.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
“Get to it!”. If you’re thinking about starting a business, then start to take it seriously as soon as you can. If fear or doubt is holding you back, take that first step and you’ll realise it’s not quite as bad as it seems. There are always other things you could/should be doing with your time and you need to work on carving out some space mentally/physically for you to develop your idea. All that takes time and nobody’s going to give it to you for free. For us, everything took 3 times longer than we expected to get everything done so starting as soon as possible is key.
Get out, educate yourself, talk to as many people as you can. Years before we launched, I was out at food tradeshows, founder talks and reading/researching everything I could about start up food business and trends.
Then take small steps forward – make some samples, make a prototype, make a pitch deck – whatever is going to get you some feedback on whether your idea is viable. I was experimenting in our kitchen with different pulses, seasonings, temperatures and giving them out to anybody who was around. Seb was working on brand ideas way before we even knew what we were doing, shopping them to colleagues and friends for feedback.
And let’s be clear, a lot of it is going to fail and be a waste of time but that’s fine because that’s how you learn. Each time you get feedback, you know what to fix. But that’s why you need time. Start by making a plan for the next year or start experimenting with your product ideas – doesn’t matter what – just do it today!
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
For any young women wanting to start a business, just start by believing in yourself and your abilities and realise that being a founder who is female has huge advantages.
Sometimes, as women, we have a tendency to underestimate ourselves (while men have a habit of overestimating themselves). In my experience, women can be more thorough and better at assessing a situation realistically and holistically. That usually means women lead in a way that prioritises long-term vision and cohesiveness, rather than short-term, short-sighted gains. There is also usually less ego involved which in turn leads to a more open and collaborative approach to issues and better solutions as a result.
Your branding and packaging is super strong - we love it. Do you think branding could make or break a company or product?
Aw thank you so much! For sure, branding is key, especially given how cluttered and busy shop shelves have gotten. You can be one of a dozen brands and have less than 3 seconds to grab someone’s attention.
And that’s only half the battle. It’s even harder to get people to remember you or even care about what you’re doing.
But if you can get it right (and we’re not saying we have), you’ve really got something. Oatly is our favourite example of this. It’s always been a great product, but they sold for years under their previous brand guise and never saw anywhere near the same attention they’re now getting. At this point, anybody trying to compete with them is going to find it a bit tough to do so because people really love what they stand for and how they communicate. It’s unlikely that you’re going to see the same level of love for the likes of Alpro or Rude Health (soz Alpro and RH!).
What’s been the biggest obstacle in running and building your business?
The biggest challenge is learning and executing at the same time. It’s always good to launch as soon as you can, but that means that there are loads of things that you don’t know and will need to learn about during the process. This has been especially difficult as our backgrounds were not in food and it’s also a definite adjustment vs the corporate world where you have a lot more support and a safety net.
How do you find inspiration?
Honestly, we’re finding so much inspiration in the vegan movement at the moment and it’s a huge motivating factor to keep us going. The last 9 years as a vegan has mostly been a solitary existence for us. When we first went vegetarian/vegan, we’d meet another vegan once in a blue moon. So it’s just THE BEST feeling in the world to know that there are so many amazing people (especially in the Vevolution community) that share the same values, ethics and morals as us and so many great businesses spreading the awesome vegan word.
Who are some of your favourite inspiring female entrepreneurs?
Renee Elliot, the founder of Planet Organic, was one of the first founders that I heard speak at an event about 3 years ago. She did a hugely inspirational talk about her journey launching Planet Organic. I remember asking her at the end if all the sacrifices she made would have still all been worth it if Planet Organic had been a failure. She didn’t hesitate for a moment. Her answer was a resounding ‘YES YES ABSOLUTELY YES.’ I got on the tube afterwards and started to well up a little. What she said just made me feel so fearless and empowered and I knew then that BRAVE would be a reality someday soon.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That’s a tough one and I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I’ll have to be honest and say that for the first 7 months after launch, we didn’t have any. We were working all day, every day, including weekends. We’ve only recently made a concerted effort to take 1 full day off per week. We’ve found that’s helped us to be more productive and come back to work more energised.
Beyond that, I try to listen to my self and prioritise eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. That means my social life sometimes suffers but we’re lucky enough to have very supportive friends! The Headspace app and listening to great podcasts have also really helped me though stressful times and I’d recommend it to everyone!
But the bottom line is that being an entrepreneur, you have to accept that you’re not going to always be able to balance work and life the way you want to. That’s why it’s extremely important that you really care and believe in what you’re doing. It’s the only thing that’s going to get you through the long and tough nights.
What advice can you offer to someone who wants a career in your industry?
The food industry is the one of most amazing place to be at the moment and would highly recommended getting involved! Food has the power to change lives and better the world, and if you’re serious about starting a career in food then reach out to people over social media or LinkedIn to chat with them about how they started out. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, most people are more than happy to do so. The founders of brands like MOJU, Ugly and Mallow & Marsh were willing to chat with us when BRAVE was just an idea and it was incredibly helpful to us on our journey.
Also – learn everything you can about the food industry. Read all the publications (the British Library is a great resource for this) and become an expert in what you want to get involved with. Showing your passion and knowledge to anyone that’s hiring in the industry is a huge step up, even over someone with more experience. Our first hire, Will, was a perfect example of this. He has a huge passion for food and came very well prepped to all of our interviews with his own thoughts on the industry, us, and our competitors. It was impressive and convinced us to pick him over some more experienced candidates!
What are your hopes for BRAVE in 2018 and the future?
With BRAVE, our ambition for 2018 and beyond is simply to get more people aware of how delicious, nutritious and sustainable peas and legumes are. The bigger a part legumes play in our everyday diets, the better it is for our health and environment – and we hope to play a role in making that shift happen!
Follow Amber on the BRAVE Instagram account to stay in the loop with what they are up to and any entrepreneurial tips they might put out.
Keep an eye on our blog for more interviews with inspiring plant powered women with our IWD Series to celebrate International Women's Day!