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How to be a successful entrepreneur – and a vegan

The vegan food business allplants’ time may have come, but for its founder Jonathan Petrides it is hardly first time lucky.

What connects a vegan food delivery business with a Kenyan mobile banking app and a network of rural health centres? Other than their founder, absolutely nothing – but for serial entrepreneur Jonathan Petrides, that’s part of the magic.

Mr Petrides, a former McKinsey consultant, says the companies he has built don’t come from overwhelming expertise in any area. But with enough commitment and the right connections, he says that doesn’t matter.

“I started out at McKinsey, which was incredibly useful and where I learnt an enormous amount. There is an excruciatingly steep learning curve and without that I wouldn't have had the confidence and the kind of brashness to think that I could build things from scratch.”

Despite the global consultancy’s huge bank of knowledge, once Mr Petrides moved from observer to owner in business, he realised ‘‘that every problem is different”.

Across his various businesses, Mr Petrides says he has “made every mistake you can imagine” but considers dwelling on them to be the negative option.

He prefers to take each one as a lesson. “I have had business partners who have completely pulled out of things and I have gone into business with people I didn’t totally trust,” he says.

“I have had to shut down ventures. My first startup was a mobile bank in Africa and after around two years I had to lay off a team of about 15 or 20 amazing people who'd all been so dedicated to create something really special, but we couldn’t overcome the regulatory pressures.”

More often than not, surrounding himself with the right people has helped him overcome the pitfalls he encountered. “As a founder you need to be really deliberate and obsessed with only getting people who are super-passionate about the problem you're trying to solve from the outset. It is an absolute game changer,” he says.

“The thing that I find most exciting on a day-to-day basis is seeing people in my team discover amazing potential and achieve incredible things.”

He says being unafraid to lean on others would be his biggest recommendation for aspiring business owners. “You can become as close as you like to a world-leading expert within days ‒ if you're willing to hound loads of people who are experts.

“Get them to give you half an hour of their time and download everything they've learnt as quickly as possible, then it’s up to you.”

How to find a mentor

Many young entrepreneurs describe founding businesses as a lonely endeavour, and Mr Petrides stresses how important personal relationships have been for his latest business, allplants, a vegan food delivery service.

“Relationship-building outside the business is something I want to get better at. I want to ensure that all of our young, amazing team coming through are actively seeking and cultivating it, because I think it’s transformational,” he says.

“At McKinsey it's really drilled into you to create mentorship relationships and then thoughtfully tend to them. When I left the UK for about five years and went to Africa I lost contact with that network and I think it had a big impact on my decision-making.”

While Mr Petrides says that an entrepreneur needs to remain dogged and confident in their own abilities, he emphasises the critical importance of an outside perspective for any business leader. “Regardless of what you're doing, having that changes your outlook on yourself and your ability to self-learn,” he says.

“I haven't had a boss for over 10 years so I have had nobody managing me and giving me feedback on what I'm doing at all, which is insane because I think feedback's one of the greatest gifts.”

Now back in the networking swing, Mr Petrides says that the most powerful mentorship relationships should emerge naturally from the “spark” of shared interests and values. “At that point you don’t just want to have a one-hour coffee, you want to go for dinner and stay in touch and really develop something that could be beneficial in both directions.”

The vegan movement

The experts that have informed allplants have been close to home, however. His brother Alex is the co-founder of the business and helped build the successful popcorn business Propercorn in its early stages, so knows the UK food market, while Jonathan’s understanding of plant-based diets was developed through his wife’s vegetarianism and veganism, which led to his own.

“My journey into a more plant-based lifestyle is actually quite typical for a number of people,” he says, “in that it started with trying to impress a girl. When we started living together I wanted to show off so we decided to be veggie at home.

“I'm Greek Cypriot, so I was brought up on grilled halloumi and meat and was clear that, ‘I need to eat like a man,’ but in true iterative entrepreneur fashion I did a test so that I could at least say without being a hypocrite: ‘Not for me.’ I tested out being veggie for a week, then vegan for the rest that month and it was great.”

Mr Petrides says what inspired him was “going down the rabbit hole” of research and documentary of the environmental footprint of the food industry, “particularly of animal agriculture and the way that completely overshadows the entire transport industry in greenhouse gas emissions.

“I realised that this is bonkers, it is an existential threat to us and much in the same way that we have to pivot off coal and gas toward solar or some other technology, we need to change the way we eat.”

Now nearing its second birthday, allplants represents not just a business but a movement, says Mr Petrides. “We are building a model for plant-based living and today that is chef-prepared, plant-powered meals delivered to your door.”

“We started allplants with a singular belief that the best thing we could do for the planet was to help to inspire the next billion plant-powered people.

“We don’t want to turn the population vegan overnight, but over half of the adult population in the UK are actively reducing their amount of meat, fish and dairy already and we believe that by around 2030 the whole Western world is going to be significantly more plant-based.
“It's our role to try and make that happen as quickly as possible.”

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