An Interview with Paula Alcalde Co-founder & Managing Director of GreenBay.
- How did GreenBay initially start?
Myself and my business partner started developing the idea of GreenBay in 2014, a few months after becoming vegan. At the time, some stores offered vegan alternatives to meat, cheese, and cosmetic products, but they were not very easy to find, and the available options were very limited. We wanted to create a one-stop shop where people transitioning to a plant-based diet or interested in vegan products were able to find everything in just one place. Our aim was – and still is - to inspire and encourage people to adopt a kinder lifestyle by showing them how easy it can be, and how amazing vegan products are.
Choosing a name for the business was not easy; we wanted our brand to reflect what the business was about, but without necessarily having to include the word vegan in it. Not because we are not proud of being a vegan business, but because our goal was to target people who are not yet vegan; After a few brainstorming sessions, GreenBay was born.
After being open for a few months, we realised there was a big demand of our products from customers outside of London. People would travel to our store in the weekends from outside of London (crazy, but I’d admittedly do the same for vegan food!) and that’s what led us to launch our Online Supermarket. The Online Supermarket currently has over 1500 products that we ship Nationwide, and we are constantly adding new and exciting ones.
- What were you doing before you opened GreenBay
Originally from Spain, I moved to the UK in 2010. After learning the language, I started my own Engineering company which I run to this day. My business provides Engineering Design services to clients across London and the UK in the Transportation Sector. I have been lucky enough to be a part of the biggest Infrastructure projects to this date not only in the UK but also in Europe.
Starting my own business at a young age allowed me to open GreenBay, but my end goal is to be able to work full time for GreenBay in the future.
- What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Do a lot of research. There are many unexpected things you will come across when starting a business (specially money related!), so the more informed and prepared you are, the more chances you will have to succeed.
Prepare to spend more money than you anticipate. Financial planning is a crucial part when starting your own business, but it can only be so accurate. There will always be things that you missed or didn’t expect. Starting a business, particularly a brick and mortar retail business in London, is extremely expensive. You should not only plan ahead to have enough money in order to start the business, but also to run it a for a few months after you start. You should always have more than what you think you’ll need.
Brand awareness is key. This might seem like common sense, but it is one the reasons many businesses fail when they start. When you open your business, you expect customers to be flowing through the door (or website if you are online based). But the reality is nobody knows about you or your brand. You have to really find ways to get yourself out there so people start recognising your brand. In our case we had a limited budget, which makes it more difficult, but not impossible.
Find something unique about your business (whether it’s the characteristics of the product you sell, your brand, the ethics behind your company), and find ways to get it out there for people to see. We found in our case the most efficient and affordable way to create brand awareness was through social media. Whether it is collaborating with brands and people with a larger following, doing giveaways, or creating good quality and shareable content, social media can be a big help. Attending events like markets or festivals to showcase your products is also very beneficial.
Only invest money that you are prepared to lose. Starting a business can be very expensive, and nothing guarantees it will be a success. In fact, 8 out of 10 new businesses fail within the first 18 months. If starting your business means that you have to re-mortgage your house or get in mayor debt that will cause you mayor life-changing issues if your business fails, my advice is don’t do it. And that takes me to the next point:
Start small. There is no easy way to guarantee that your business will succeed before starting it, but trialling the idea or investing a relatively small amount will help you get an idea of whether the business is likely to grow or not. If you have a product range, start with one. If you are online based, start small (from your own home If possible) and avoid getting a warehouse at such early stages. In our case, as a retail store, this was not easy to do, so we decided to start with smaller premises that we had initially planned in order to test the idea. This allowed us to start the business and test the market before jumping into bigger premises and bigger financial commitments.
Don’t strive for perfection. In an ideal world, you would want your product or business to be perfect before launching it. In the real world, you might have to compromise. You might not have the resources or time to make everything perfect. For someone as perfectionist as me, this was a huge lesson to learn: it is better to start with something imperfect, than not start at all.
Be prepared to work harder than you ever had. If you want your business to succeed, you have to be prepared to put in the time and dedication that it requires. An idea can be great, but without real hands-on work, it is not likely to succeed. Dedication and commitment are the key factors that make or break any business. The Iceberg Illusion analogy is a good representation of what people see versus the work that’s behind it.
- How to keep organised and on top of things with running your own business?
One of the most difficult things when running your own business is managing your time. You basically have no time! So you have to make the most of what you can get. In my case I used to get really anxious at the feeling of never having enough time to do everything. After a year and a half of running 2 businesses I have come to terms with it and understand that I can only do my best.
I write lists, literally for everything. It really helps me a lot to keep my thoughts organised. My brain is always so scattered with so much information that I need to write things down in order to set some order in my life. After I write down all the tasks that I need to do, I start by the most important or urgent ones (I highlight these in red). Then I go onto the moderately urgent ones (orange). And at the bottom of the list are the “not-so-urgent” ones. If you are in a similar situation, you will find that the ones at the bottom of the list are not likely to get done, or at least any time soon. There is always something more urgent that pops up and pushes them back down again. And that is ok! You can only do so much, don’t beat yourself down for it.
- What are the pros and cons of working from home?
At the moment I split my time between the office (for my own business), the store (GreenBay) and home, where I also do GreenBay-related work. Working from home can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you are at the comfort of your own home, which might seem particularly attractive in London, where the weather is not always great. On the other hand, I find that working from home I get easily distracted. Whether it is tiding up, cooking, a bit of dust in the corner that all of a sudden must be cleaned… there is always something! It is amazing what kind of things can attract your attention when you are working from home!
Another con of working from home is that your home becomes your workplace, so disconnecting from it becomes very difficult. Your computer is always there, emails keep coming in, and you know that eventually you will have to deal with them. If you work from home, you need to allow yourself time to switch off (literally) and take time for yourself.
- What quote do you live by?
“You didn’t come this far to only come this far”. Running your own business is an emotional roller-coaster. We all have those times when we feel we are not good enough, could have done things differently, could have done more… I have this quote in my desk, and whenever I feel in a low place, it helps me remind myself that despite all the hardships, I made it this far. So why stop now?
- Do you have any regrets?
I think my only regret is not doing things for the fear of failure. I have come to learn that failure it is just a part of success, it is not an easy straight road. Failure is relative, and mistakes allow you to learn and become a better version of yourself, whether personally or in business. So if you want to start something, keep failing! Fail a lot, fail small at the beginning. That will allow you to learn a lot and prevent you for making bigger mistakes – and more expensive ones! - later on. And you will eventually get great at whatever you are trying to achieve.
- What is your favourite vegan meal?
I am a huge foodie, and I honestly love most things vegan. I particularly love Japanese food; Itadaki Zen is an amazing 100% vegan Japanese Restaurant in King’s Cross, which I really recommend! But I also love burgers and pizza. We are lucky enough at GreenBay to be surrounded by vegan food businesses like 222 Veggie Vegan or Picky Wops (an amazing Vegan Pizzeria). So there is always so much choice that it becomes hard to choose, especially in London!
- What is your long term goal for Greenbay?
We are currently working on a couple of very exciting projects, but they are still at an early stage. We will be able to talk more about them later on in the year.
Our goal when we started GreenBay was to encourage people to adopt a kinder lifestyle by making vegan products readily available for everyone. Our long-term goal is to continue inspiring and helping people make the transition as easy and fun as possible, and to keep providing new and exciting products for everyone to enjoy.
- How do you unwind and relax from a stressful day at work?
My brain is always busy so I also enjoy doing things that can help me take my mind off work and unwind;
My husband is my best friend and I love spending quality time with him; we both love food and enjoy trying out new eateries in London. He is an amazing vegan cook so when time doesn’t allow for eating out, he is always cooking yummy food at home. Our world really revolves around food!
I also love doing normal things like listening to music, reading a good book or watching some mindless tv (I have to admit I am a reality TV junkie!)