How to build relationships and grow big
I met Victoria a while ago, a few months maybe, a time that doesn’t feel very long. I got to know her very well over the period of just one or two months, it’s been a journey of getting closer and sharing a lot of personal stories, experiences and adventures, late night cups of chai tea, and some fluorescent face paint.
Still, I’ve been sitting there in amazement as I went through my interview questions with her and listened to her answers.
One thing I did realise before the interview is that we’re very like-minded in the way that we think and in the mindset with which we approach life and business. I knew talking to her would make an amazing interview.
What I didn’t realise though is how much real value and, let’s call it wisdom, she has to share. Oh, you have to know that she’s only in her early twenties. I am 100% convinced that she’ll make it to the top, she’ll get to where she wants to be and even further, and that she shares a lot of views and belief systems with the ‘top people’ out there, if you can call it that. Think Richard Branson (more on that later too), Steve Jobs, Elon Musk.
I hope this is enough to convince you to keep reading and take in what she has to share, there’s immense value in her words.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Victoria is how many people know her. And how many people she knows. It’s possibly the one thing about her that stands out, that anyone would attribute to her if there was just ‘one thing about Victoria’ to know. She’s incredible with people and building relationships. So I’ve asked her about that too. Her main passion is her business though. Victoria runs the Food StartUp School, which provides food startups with opportunities to help them grow. I’ll let her share the rest.
Tell us about the Food Startup School, what you do, but even more importantly, what makes you different and sets you aside from your competitors?
Essentially we connect entrepreneurs, food and food tech startups both with larger businesses and opportunities to help them build, grow, and scale what they’re doing, to really help them take their business to the next level, make it bigger and more successful. When you have small companies working with large organisations their products and services can actually have a big impact, because those companies have a much bigger reach than the startups themselves. So we’re really trying to change and transform the food eco system, admitting that you do need the big guys to make it happen, or you need to at least work with them instead of against them.
We’re in the lucky position that we don’t have a lot of competition. When I came to London I basically set up the business because I realised that there was nothing like this out there and there still isn’t really. But I think the interest in the food and food tech area is growing, and if anything, our advantage is that we have built a big community. We now also run London Food Tech Week, which is the world’s first ever week long celebration of food tech innovation in business. So that puts us in a pretty unique spot for now.
What’s your personal story, what makes you unique? The one thing that you believe makes you stand out?
It’s probably not just one specific thing, but it culminates in the fact that I’m very positive. I love talking to and being around people, and also when I have the confidence that I can do something - and usually that’s because I know that there are great people involved, which I’ve been lucky to have. But really it’s when I decide that I’m going to do something I put everything in place to make it work. I have a plan A and I don’t have a plan B. I’m going to make plan A work. I think a lot of people have a plan B, and so if you don’t 100 percent believe in what you’re doing then you’re never going to be giving it the 100 percent that you would if there was no plan B.
This ties into my next question - what are you proud of?
I’m quite proud of the fact that just about a year ago I moved to London, not knowing a single person, and am now in the position where I’m running London Food Tech Week and bringing so many of the key players together, connecting and working with amazing people.
You’re awesome with people - whoever I meet in London knows you, you know everyone… What’s your secret to building meaningful relationships and making them last?
You almost said it in that question. First of all, I try to listen and understand some things that are important to the other person. It’s really important to not just talk at someone, but actually listen enough to understand them, and then find things you have in common. And most importantly, things that you have in common that are outside of work, because that actually creates a connection.
I have this philosophy that there are two types of people - there are ones that give me energy, and then there are ones who take the energy. I told myself I always want to be someone who gives energy, I never want somebody to walk away from a conversation with me saying I took energy away from them, or that they feel drained.
Also, I just love seeing other people happy, so doing something positive, for example having a conversation and then understanding what they would need and how I could help them. I think when people realise that you’re not just full of shit, that you actually care and you’re actually going to do something about it, that makes a difference as well.
And the other thing, and it sounds really banal but it’s important for business relationships, is that I always make sure that I write a thorough follow-up email of what the meeting was about and what the next action points are, and stay on top of that. It seems like such a normal thing to do, but 99 percent of people don’t do it. So when you do it, it makes you stand out and puts you in control without being bossy. I think everybody should do it.
Let’s go back a few steps, before you even meet those people.
I always think the first person to smile wins. Almost every single time you get a smile back. A smile doesn’t cost you anything, it only adds, smiles are free. With a smile you just open a door, and then usually someone will think of something either boring or something interesting to say, but this starts the conversation. Then after a short time you realise, ‘hey this conversation’s over’, or ‘hey, this is really fun’.
What does dreaming big mean for you?
There’s a really good quote by Steve Jobs, in my own words, “those who are crazy enough to believe that they can change the world actually do”.
We can talk about being crazy too, craziness and big dreams.
Most of my friends would say I’m crazy, not in a mental kind of way, but in a ‘I do things a lot different’ kind of way, or I don’t really care about what people think. Actually, I think that’s probably one of my biggest cues to happiness, not caring what other people think. And that ties in with dreaming big. I think it’s about creating something that’s bigger than yourself. It’s not about me, it’s not about my team, it’s about creating something that actually does something positive. And you have to dream as big as you can to get somewhere close to it. Not everything always goes perfect and there are always ways to make things better and bigger, but you have to start somewhere. But if you only wish to go to the top of the trees you’ll only go to the top of the trees. But if you plan to reach for the stars you’ll get close to it.
Can you share an important or big decision you made within the last 6-12 months that has had a real impact on your business? What went into making that decision, and why was it an important turning point?
The turning point was the realisation that without the big companies, and without involving them in trying to change the food eco system, it’s not going to happen. Because they have such big impact. And realising that, it changed who I considered doing business with and it changed where I saw the relationships with the small companies and how I approach the companies.
Something else that’s really important is to be sure that whoever you work with can reflect your company and what you do in exactly the way that you’d want to do it. Part of it has been making really difficult decisions about who to keep on the team and who not to keep on the team. That’s been an important realisation first of all and then a difficult decision.
What about competition? You said there aren’t really any competitors around, but even comparing to other people in the food industry and other entrepreneurs can be dangerous. Yet, if you do have competitors it shows that there is a market for what you do. How do you deal with that in a positive way, turning it into your advantage rather than letting it bring you down?
My dad gave me some really great advice ages ago, and I’m sure it’s nothing new, it’s not rocket science. He said, Victoria, whatever you do, you either have to make sure it’s really different from the competition, or it’s a lot better than the competition. So whatever comes up, I know that the way to deal with it is to either differentiate myself enough, or to make sure that what I’m doing is just a lot better than what they’re doing.
How have you implemented this during the last year? What does it look like for you?
Before I did my first event I did a lot of research on what events are out there, what made them good and what made them crap. I realised that a lot of them were really crap because a) they were really passive, it was a lot about listening and you’d almost fall asleep in your seat, and b) the networking wasn’t very good. You go, you might meet one or two people there who might be interesting, but really the chances of that are quite low. So I wanted to ensure that with everything I did, it had a different twist to it. In terms of how people interact and engage in the event and how they enjoy it.
Food of Genius for example is a phenomenal networking opportunity, which again shows how valuable personal connections are. As we talked earlier, finding something personal that you have in common builds actual, solid connections. You know, chances are you’re going to have at least three different types of careers in your life - and so I’d want to work with you no matter what you do. That’s the kind of situation it should be.
What do you believe is one skill that has helped you grow immensely both in business and life?
If it’s one thing, it would be determination. I don’t know if that’s a skill, it’s more of a mindset. I think skills can be learned, basically anybody can learn any skill. For example, I didn’t even know what an HTML file looked like and yet I wanted to build a website. And I managed to put it together in three days because I really wanted to. I was so determined to do it, so I just did it. I just believed that it’s possible. Some people call it delusional or something, but I’m just determined to do it. You need the positive belief in something and the determination that comes with it.
You just said that any skill can be learned - if you could learn one skill overnight which, again, would have a huge impact on your business, help it grow and get you to where you want to be in a few years time, what’s the one skill you believe it all comes down to?
What I’d like to be able to be better at, and I think it’s just an amount of practise, is working with and negotiating with large companies. It’s something you can’t really learn anywhere, it’s just about experience. I wish I had more of it already. Apart from that, if I could just have one skill overnight, just to save myself headaches, it’d be coding. But I don’t think it’s the best use of my time to be honest, it would just be a great skill to have. I’m much better at the outward facing part of the business than the backend of the business.
So what about negotiating with big companies and getting them on board, what have you learnt?
While there are a lot of things that big companies have that you wouldn’t have as a small business, like a ton of money, a ton of connections, there are also a lot of things that big companies don’t have that you have as a small company. Which is flexibility, which is very niche insights and knowledge and it’s just being really agile. It’s to find out what that thing is that you can offer them that’s really different to what other people offer them. Basically find the things that money can’t buy that you can do differently.
I’m not taking credit for this one, it’s from Tim Ferriss’ podcast - what purchase have you made recently that was below £100 and well worth the money spent?
I’ll have to cheat because it’s not below £100, it was about £250 that we paid for our designer for a pdf for London Food Tech Week. It meant that we had so much more credibility going into conversations with companies, because we showed that we’re serious and that we respect the fact that they look at hundreds of proposals every single week. You want to make something that stands out, that’s pleasing to the eye, that they want to read and that also gives them confidence that you’re doing something good. So that was money really really well spent.
A lot of successful people have daily routines such as meditating, running or the 5-minute journal, which they stick to no matter what. Do you have any routines that you can’t do without, which have proven valuable?
It’s strange, I go through cycles and it depends on what I’m doing, because in business you go through cycles as well. For example, right now I spend a lot of time writing proposals and getting stuff done. Whereas a few weeks ago I was out from sometimes seven in the morning till 9pm in the evenings meeting people. It’s really hard to have a routine when it fluctuates so much.
Something that I do do everyday, I write down something positive every morning, something that I’m grateful for.
I prefer working early, so what I try to do is take at least two hours of my day where I’m not doing work, but having a conversation with someone. I do it when I know that I’m not going to be productive, around 3-5pm.
What kind of role does reading play in your life?
It plays a smaller role than I would like it to right now. I do have a book on my bedside table all the time though. I usually read popular science, I really like Malcolm Gladwell and then there are also lots of great books for entrepreneurs. Essentially the best source of learning, in terms of learning from other people’s mistakes, wisdom from other entrepreneurs and if you really want to build your business and make it better, is to just read.
There’s this fun illustration of an entrepreneur’s emotional journey - it starts way up there with feelings like ‘I’m amazing, I’ve got the best idea, I’m going to take over the world’. Then it goes down to ‘ah, this sucks’. Somewhere in between you’re like ‘just keep working’, and then it’s up and down again. How do you deal with these emotional ‘imbalances’ of being an entrepreneur? Have you got any practical tips, and go-to practises that help you when you’re feeling down, when doubt and fear, and all the common entrepreneur struggles seem to come together?
I only noticed recently that for yourself what you do is normal, what other people do is different - whereas that’s not necessarily the reality. I realised that other people remember negative things a lot more, I just tend to forget negative things. Maybe it’s a bad thing, but I tend to just not think about them. They come up, and I just try to think about all the positive things instead. With a negative thing, you have to always think about whether it’s something that you can change or not. If it’s something that you can change, then what the fuck are you doing being upset about it, go try and change it. And if you can’t change it, then why are you upset about it, you can’t change it.
Is this something you’ve come to learn through personal experience?
I used to get quite upset with things around me, like getting pissed off because something wasn’t going my way. It sounds really weird, but I went on this almost cathartic trip to Thailand backpacking by myself, it was essentially me forcing myself to let go, to let go of control because I loved being in control all the time. But as an entrepreneur you don’t always have control over what’s happening.
So I went without any hotel reservations or flights booked within the country, I just had the flight there and back. One month, I can go wherever whenever. Literally, I’d show up at a hostel and go like ‘hi, do you have a place for me to sleep tonight?’. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. You realise that it’s just about jumping over your own shadow and not being afraid to get a ‘no’.
Do you think that’s the key to letting go?
I think the key to letting go is the confidence that it’s going to be ok in the end. To not worry so much. Worrying is just negative energy. In German you say ‘Ich aergere mich’ (I’m annoyed) or ‘es aergert mich’ (it annoys me) - it’s on you to decide how you process something. If you process it positively you let it fly, you stay happy and it doesn’t affect you in a dragging you down kind of way. Or you can decide that it’s really going to ruin your day. But that’s up to you, that’s not the other person’s fault. I could be calling you 15 different horrible names right now, and you could walk out of here with a smile, or you could walk out crying. But it’s the way that you decide to interpret or take in what I’m saying.
I don’t know if you learned from Buddhism or any kind of meditative, mindfulness practise, but a lot of what you say seems to come back to what I’ve learnt about Buddhism so far.
When I went to Thailand by myself I actually spent a lot of time not only sightseeing and being in temples, but just sitting there enjoying what was around me, and just soaking up the energy there. And I’ve read a few books about Buddhism in everyday life and things like that. I think Buddhism has so many things that are just focused on the positivity and on happiness and on things around energy and around how giving comes back to you.
Who or what comes to mind when you hear or think of the word ‘successful’?
There are a lot of great entrepreneurs that I admire, but there’s one who stands out to me because he has remained in his super crazy and positive and childish mindset his entire life. He is the best example of someone who is crazy enough to believe that he can change things in the world and actually did and created a ton of businesses, and that’s Richard Branson. I think he’s the kind of person who can turn anything he touches to gold. And that for me is really fascinating. With Steve Jobs I would say he was super great at being a visionary in terms of design, in terms of usage and creating technology and products that people want. He had an amazing way to look at it and to make it happen - really impressive. Bill Gates is also someone who has tackled a lot more with what he does, he has this amazing foundation, the Bill Gates foundation, and puts so much money into research and has a really big impact on loads of things that don’t even affect him or his family.
But I don’t think that success is defined by money and how big a company is. Everybody has a different definition of it.
I know that whatever I do, I just want to be happy. I think that so much of being successful is being able to be happy. The best thing that you can do as a person is to just pass on your energy, and convince people not by preaching, but by doing, what the positive effects of being positive and helpful are.
So let’s continue to do the work and create amazing things that are bigger than ourselves, because accomplishing a task creates more positive energy. If you know some of those amazing people who build and do great things pass them on. Let’s share and spread ambition and inspiration.
For issue one we’re looking for people and businesses who care and create positive change. People who do good. Good that goes beyond just business, but has a real, lasting impact on the world, drives global change, and encourages sustainability, social and environmental growth. Know someone? Let us know.