Approximately 400 million people around the world today choose a plant-based diet. abillionVeg are on a mission to make that one billion. Here’s how…
Meet Vikas Garg, a man worthy of legend status although he’s usually just referred to as the Founder and CEO of abillionVeg (ABV). Vikas is on a mission to turn one billion people vegan around the world. His story begins on Wall Street, where like most people, he found himself looking out the window of his office to greener pastures. And we quite literally mean “greener” pastures, he stared out that window and thought “we simply cannot continue consuming the way we do if we care about our planet.”
One resignation letter later, abillionVeg was born. Today it functions not just an app that makes finding plant-based options all over the world easier, but also as a community for people looking to live a more inspired and sustainable life while saving a couple of animals along the way. In fact, you could even say that the app is digitalizing activism. It’s certainly arming the average person with the tools they need to influence through their actions. No longer will consumer feedback fall on deaf ears (I mean, let’s face it, when it comes to offering your opinion to a waiter, it goes in one ear and out the other). “But if you can get your feedback to the restaurant manager, owner or chef, somebody who cares, you have a decent chance at influencing them,” Vikas told us. So that’s what he set out to do, and automated the process along the way.
If you love taking pictures of your food, you eat plant-based sometimes or all of the time, and you think that your opinion matters, now you can make a bigger impact with something you can do every day. Through every meal, you can potentially make a difference in the ecosystem around you because every time you take a picture of your food (we love using the Foodie app for that) and upload it with a review of the dish, it instantly sends a message to the restaurant that you want more. But the idea is bigger than just sharing vegan and vegetarian restaurants, it’s so much more – it’s the world you’re going to change. And this is the story of how abillionVeg is going to help…
Pssst….we made a video in case you’re looking for the Cliffsnotes version. You’ll find it at the bottom of this interview.
GITNB: A billion people is a BIG goal. Why are you doing this? What’s at the core of your passion?
Vikas Garg (abillionVeg): Why am I doing this? Well, the reality is that since birth I’ve been a vegetarian and since I was about eight years old I’ve been a part of the animal rights movement. It’s very important to me because I’ve seen the transformative effect that an animal can have on a person whether it’s somebody’s dog or a chicken that a kid holds for the first time at an animal sanctuary. What we’ve done is chose to focus on animal rescue, whether that’s marine life conservation, or farm animal rescue, or even wildlife.
For this business, the world and the kind of business that we want to create, well what we ultimately want to disrupt is this sort of equation of how media companies and how the marketplace businesses make money and the impact that those businesses then have on the community.
So for our particular interest, we care about animals and the environment so when we make money, we want to build a platform that contributes to the causes that we care about. So our goal for this business is for us to become the largest supporter of animal rescue causes in the world. We see that animal rescue is very much in line with education, awareness, compassion – a lot of the things that we aspire to be as people. So want to do it better and build a company that stands for that and ultimately gives back to the community.
What’s the story the that brought you here?
I spent most of my career, like many of us, in a very corporate environment. My first job was on Wall Street when I was 13-14 years old and I spent my entire career in the finance profession. But it just kept on hitting me that the things that I was most proud of, in spite of having a very successful career and in spite of rising to the place that I always dreamed that I wanted to go, had nothing to do with that. Instead, I was more proud of the things that I cared about, like animals and especially the people that I helped support through school and what they were going through in their lives. I just kept coming back to this idea that it should be possible to combine these things that I do outside of the workplace that brings me so much joy with the things that I do at work. That’s when I made the decision to resign and start this company.
Tell us a bit about how the app works? Is it true that every time you leave a review, it sends it directly to the restaurant?
It is true. In fact, I wanted to cry when something happened yesterday. I was sitting in a meeting and I was so excited. There is this local WhatsApp group in Singapore called Animal Allies and somebody in the group was sitting in a restaurant, taken a photo of their vegan dish, and submitted it. The manager then came by and since they had gotten an email with the review – it was instantaneous. That’s what we’re trying to build.
Reviews are great but if you’re somebody who is looking for something plant-based or cruelty-free, well most of the content that’s out there, like 99.9% of the reviews on platforms like Yelp and Tripadvisor are written by somebody who ate or purchased something that you can’t have. What we wanted to do was improve that process and at the same time deliver that very pointed feedback about that vegan option or veganized option. Then we take it an extra step forward and we send the restaurant those reviews, and also reviews from their competitors because it’s all about getting these businesses to think about this type of consumer and think about sustainability. If we can get restaurants to go from 99% animal-based products to 90% or 95%, that’s a huge step forward for sustainability.
What about the inner workings of the process?
What we do, so you guys know, a lot of this is the hard work of our team of interns. Let’s say we all go to a brand new restaurant that’s never been reviewed on our platform that has no dishes listed yet, well we’re not going to have any information on it when you open the app. But our backend searches Google and we’ll find the location so you’ll be able to review it. Then there will be a notification in our internal database that our team will see who will then the will spend five minutes going on Facebook or LinkedIn to try and find e-mail contact information. Once that goes into our database, the reviews go out to those people.
Also, if a business has been tagged as Japanese for example, then we’re going to send them the best rated vegan options from like-minded businesses around the world. We’ll also send them the best rated vegan Japanese dish. It’s like digitalizing activism – that’s what we want to think about. We want to make activism more business-friendly and arm business with really relevant information that helps them improve.
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