In this episode, we chat with the founder and CEO of abillion, Vikas Garg, on aligning passion and purpose, scrappy hiring and scaling a business.
Looking for a way to connect to your community while also making conscious purchases – for food, plants, gifts and everything in between? Enter abillion. Founded by Vikas Garg in 2017 as a way to ensure the rest of his career aligns with his values, this new take on a social media platform has already made quite an impact. As of 2021 they had donated $2 million, helped 60 nonprofit organisations, fed over 41,000 hungry children and replaced 580,000 animal based meals. Tune into our conversation with Vikas to learn how he has accomplished it all.
In the conversation we learnt…
– What was the trigger for Vikas to start abillion (00:35- 08:23)
– How they are using user-generated content and crowd-sourced opinions to create a new generation of users and consumers (08:49 – 15:50)
– How Vikas innovated and used scrappy methods to hire his first software developer (18:45 – 20:37)
– How the correct partnerships can help grow your business as they can be more authentic and give you much faster traction than using ads or influencers (20:37 – 23:10)
“I felt a very strong pull, to really bring these two different parts of my life, my work and my career, and sort of my value system and the things that I really felt very passionate about. I felt like if I could bring these things together, I just wouldn’t have a lot of regrets.” (05:34)
After the shocking 2016 elections, and having spent over a decade in his fast-paced, high-performance finance job, Vikas was triggered to look into shifting careers. Finance, and being driven by money was a key part of his early career, but that was something that inspired his teenage self. After reevaluating his priorities and concerns, in 2017, he combined his values with his career, creating abillion. Vikas recommends revisiting your goals and your life’s work – you don’t need to stay in the same career, as what you chose in your teens. As an entrepreneur especially, you need to ensure that your work is connected to your personal values.
“Our logo, it shows 10 to the power of nine, which equals a billion. But it also indicates that it starts with a community or group of people as small as 10.” (15:34)
As a crowdsourced platform, in the early days, Vikas was emailing friends, family, anyone he could encourage to join abillion and were lucky if they had one post a day. Now, five years later, they have a post a minute. How did they grow it without spending tons of advertising, facebook ads, influencers etc? By forming strong partnerships – asking the animal sanctuaries and other charities to share with their following because by helping abillion, they were helping raise money for themselves.
“The first software developer that we hired was an entry-level developer that I hired out of coding boot camp.”
As Vikas had next to zero knowledge of coding, and didn’t know how to hire a software developer, the first thing he did upon quitting was join a coding boot camp. Going from being exceptional at his job to knowing nothing was quite an experience! But this allowed him not only to get the basics but also to hire the best developer to join his team. Even though the hire was entry level, he got both the smarts and the buy-in from the very beginning.
“Because they feel like they’re owners. And you should make them all owners in your company, which is what we have done.”
Hiring for a mission and values-led company is a double edged sword. On one hand, you are able to find people that are all in for the mission, and they are sure to be super dedicated. On the other hand, even if values align, it’s not necessary that skills and requirements are a fit. That’s why when you find the right people, you have to do everything to keep them, which includes making them part owners of the company!
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Chris Edwards (02:16)
Why don’t we start with – let’s start how did you get here? How did you get to starting abillion?
Vikas Garg (02:23)
It’s a long story, Chris, I don’t know how much time we have. Thank you very much for having me on your show. Thrilled to be here and be talking to you today. And yeah, for me, I’d say, this path has been really interesting. On one side, I spent my entire life and my career from the time that I was a teenager, kind of chasing, you know, chasing money and chasing financial return and spent my entire career working on Wall Street. You know, inside of investment banks, and hedge funds and pension funds. And that career kind of took me around the world. And was always something that I was really excited about.
And then, you know, when as I kind of thought about what I wanted to do next in my life, what I wanted to do in my 30s, thought about like, okay, the kind of business that I wanted to start and how I wanted to spend the next 40 years of my life. I just kept on reflecting on the idea that I had made this decision to kind of be in this industry, to be in this career when I was such a young person, when I was just a teenager. And just because at that stage of my life, the things that matter to me, you know, we’re having money because I didn’t have any money, you know, and that was really what was very important and paying off things like student loans and all of that stuff. And that was really a big, you know, reason for, you know, my desire to be in that industry. And as I kind of, you know, spent the next 15 years of my life, I realised, while that was a good decision, then it wasn’t necessarily something that I shouldn’t revisit.
So at the same time, I think that the things I think all of us have this to some degree, or at least I can, can say, in my case, one of the things that always kind of, I felt very peculiar to me was the things that I was very passionate about, in terms of talking to my friends about. Talking, you know, when you go out to dinner with friends, the things that would come up in conversation, the things that I would be most proud of in my life had very little to do with my career, my career always was very fulfilling, but it didn’t really connect back down to my values and my principles and the things that I really cared about the most in this world.
And that for me, you know, since I was a kid, a lot of the things that I’ve really cared about have been around my love for animals, and my passion and my love for the environment. A lot of the things that I’ve been involved with, since I was a kid have to do with activism, whether that activism is around education and helping, you know, underprivileged youth or minority children get access to education or helping animals and working in animal welfare. And, I’ve been vegetarian and then vegan my entire life. And so that’s always been really a fundamental grounding principle for me, you know, is sort of that value system that’s associated with the most basic things that we do every single day, which is food. So when I, when it came time, when it came around to time to sort of me starting my own thing, I felt a very strong pull to really bring these two different these two parts of my life, my work and my career, and sort of my value system and the things that I really felt very passionate about. I felt like if I could bring these things together, I would never, I wouldn’t really have a day where I, you know, I just wouldn’t have a lot of regrets. And I would really be following, I would be building something that then followed my values, which would help me in this very, very, very challenging thing, which is building a company. Right, building a startup, like coming up with an idea and then running with it. And if it was something that I really was very passionate and aligned with, that I would have a much higher greater degree of being able to see it through the difficult times and make it a success.
Yeah, and it’s more than five years in and I’m still figuring it out.
Chris Edwards (06:38)
It’s such a journey, isn’t it? Was there an awakening or an aha moment where you went – this just make sense.
Vikas Garg (06:45)
So, it’s really funny, I’m 41 years old. And, you know, I started my career in 2002. And I never used social media until I started abillion. I didn’t have a Facebook account or an Instagram account, I had never heard of TikTok.
You know, and the closest thing I had to social media back then was a LinkedIn account. And, you know, back then I’d say, you know, in 2017, LinkedIn was still wasn’t quite like what it is today in terms of, you know, the sort of social media for your career, that it is today.
And I just really didn’t like the idea of social media, I thought it was very narcissistic. You know, I thought that it conveyed this ideal, sort of, like, view of everyone’s life, this kind of very curated, unrealistic way of thinking. And, you know, again, just call me silly, old and old fashioned, right? But that was just kind of like what I thought and the big aha and awakening moment for me was the 2016 US election.
Prior to the 2016 US election, I had been seeing, you know, whether it was like people live streaming mass shootings. And, you know, seeing the effect of social media in you know, in inciting rebellions throughout the Middle East and North Africa, or, you know, the Rohingya genocide, we had kind of seen inklings of what was really going on, and how nefarious these platforms were becoming in terms of, you know, they built these amazing communities, where they built these amazing platforms that attracted lots of people around the world to connect with each other, tut they seem to kind of chuck all of their values at the door. These issues didn’t really bother me so much until the 2016 election, and I’m American. And I’m a New Yorker. So having grown up in New York, and kind of seeing, like the circus sideshow of the Trump family, I just was really taken aback that, wow, like, how did this happen?
And I think in the weeks and months, after the elections, we found out more and more about all of the election interference, we found out about companies that were basically using our personal and private data, that we’re buying that data from platforms like Facebook. And, and I really felt like, wow, this is crazy, like these platforms have not only become cesspools of, you know, misinformation. But that misinformation is now being used specifically to target us to interfere with our elections, to interfere with our political systems, our judicial systems, our way of life. And that’s something that’s just, that’s insane. And I didn’t see anybody really trying to figure that out or solve that problem. And I became obsessed with it. I just became obsessed. This is like now November, December of 2016. And then 2017. And I just became so obsessed with the issue that I went into my boss’s office after my birthday, in Jan, Feb of 2017. And I resigned. Because I said, I gotta do something about this. So that was kind of a big wake up call, aha moment for me.
Chris Edwards (10:21)
Wow. Yeah. And just for our listeners that aren’t familiar with abillion, can you give us a snapshot? What are these? And how do you explain one of these to people who aren’t aware?
Vikas Garg (10:32)
Yeah, thank you. We’re a social media platform that’s trying to drive social change and social benefit, effectively to drive social good. And the way that we do that is we help people you know, we help bring people together in a community. It’s a global community of people and around the world in 173 countries. But on our platform, the kind of content that you see really helps you become more sustainable, helps you connect with charities, helps you connect with social impact, helps you incorporate impact, and this sense of purpose back into your day to day life. And that’s everything from so we’re a platform of all user generated content. So it’s every few seconds someone that somewhere in the world is creating content on abillion but the content on abillion has to do with issues around sustainability and social good. We help people find the best, most sustainable food and you know, often vegan food at restaurants around the world. We help people identify products from around the world that they can, you know, that they can buy that are better products, cleaner products, more environmentally friendly products, we have over a half a million products that have been crowd sourced by our community from around the world. And we believe that one of the defining sort of areas or defining cornerstones for sustainability around the world doesn’t really have to do with governments and policymakers and corporations. It has to do with consumption. And it has to do with demand and sort of fixing demand. And if we can help people drive demand towards more sustainable products and options, we know people are going to shop, we know people are going to buy food every day, we know people are going to consume things, if we can help people make better decisions around that we can change demand. And through changing demand, we can really change supply. So we’re a platform for consumer advocacy and activism. We’re working to become the benchmark for sustainability around the world. And it’s all through becoming the voice of people. It’s not a billion sort of stamping anything or, you know, being an editorial resource. We’re really a platform and a voice for people around the world.
Yeah, it’s super impressive, and wildly ambitious. And, you know, I’ve done a bit of research and it seems like you’ve expanded to another 13 countries since the last article that’s been written about but you know, the numbers I’ve read is that a million members and you’ve donated $2 million, you’ve helped 60 nonprofit organizations, you fed over 41,000 hungry children and replaced 580,000 animal based meals. Like they’re amazing results in terms of impact. And I suppose even the name abillion, it is a wildly ambitious, kind of, I suppose company aspiration, you’ve you’ve baked into the name, which is super cool. So have you had any moments where you’ve doubted yourself and your vision? Like has it been a bit challenging because you put abillion right up there? Yeah. It’s very ambitious so yeah, I’m wondering, have you ever had moments where you’ve just gone whatever, what am I done?
Vikas Garg (12:21)
You know, the concept of jinxing it right? Like are we somehow jinxing it by stating our goal, so ambitiously, but that’s what it’s going to take? It’s going to take a billion people around the world, so not necessarily, it doesn’t mean like, Oh, hey, let’s like, yes, let’s grow a billion to a billion users, or a billion members. You know, it’s not so much about that. I mean, that would be phenomenal. Because ultimately, the impact that that community that is going to drive around the world is going to be, to be world changing. But it’s about how do we trigger it. How do we trigger this concept of consciousness, mindfulness, around consumption, around bettering society, around doing right for the environment, for animals, for people, for your community, this sense of trying to do something right every single day, right, to try to make us more connected with our environment with nature? How do we engender that in people? How do we engender that and just imagine, right, of course, it’s daunting, there’s so many risks, we might fail, right, you know, 99% of startups fail. We’ve now been at this for five and a half years.
13:38 And I think we’ve built something really great that a lot of the numbers that you mentioned, around the impact. Those numbers actually were, I believe, as of the end of 2021. So they were our 2021 Giving report, those numbers. And so we’ve now doubled most of those numbers in terms of impact in terms of things like children fed, you know, animals, save plant trees, planted, carbon emissions, things like that. So and that acceleration in terms of the donations we’ve now donated, I think this year, we’ve donated more than a million dollars to nonprofits around the world through the gamification that’s in our product, and that gamification actually rewards people when they choose sustainably, right, which is really exciting. So we’re trying to like a fitness app that’s trying to get you to come back and go to the gym every day or workout every day and go on the streaks. Right? Which is such a powerful thing, right? Like I put myself through these streaks all the time until I break them. Because I’ve got you know, three hours of calls beginning at five in the morning. But you know, so my gym, my workout streak just got broken this morning. Fortunately, oh no, I started up what started up again tomorrow unless I find some time today. But yeah, the mission, it is really important for us to have a Northstar as to what does this look like in the next 10, 20 years? But I just say – Just imagine a world where a billion people are living this way or thinking this way, or are living consciously and mindfully, Wouldn’t that just be an incredible world? Right. And so that’s really, that’s for us. But you know, I’d like to just show this, which is, this is our company logo. And it’s really, it’s 10 to the ninth, right, which 10 to the 9 10 to the power of nine equals a billion.
But it really starts with a community or group of people as small as 10. Right? And that’s really where we started, right was how do we attract our first 10? Members? And then how do we expand from there? How do you expand from there and grow it?
And that’s really where we have been focused on for the last few years is just really trying to build this and do it the right way. And, you know, build this and develop it organically. And it’s, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s incredibly challenging.
Chris Edwards (16:04)
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot there, I want to unpack but, you know, I think for a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs out there, I think the big question I have is, you know, how did you start? You know, you’ve explained he started with 10. But it’s5 the amount of content on the app is really impressive. You know, like, I don’t live in a big city. I’m, you know, in rural New South Wales, and the content on the app for my local area is really impressive.
So is that right? Yeah, really wondering, yeah, what’s your location? I’m going to check it out after our call.
Chris Edwards (16:45)
So it’s Byron Bay? And, yeah, like, I’ve lived here for five years now. And I know all the restaurants, but yeah, they’ve you’ve highlighted places there that I didn’t know offered vegetarian dishes. And yeah, it was really, I was really impressed. But I was like, how, how have you done this? Because, you know, user generated content is the dream for lots of it sounds too good to be true, you know, like not having to pay for editorial, content production. But how did you seed it? How did you start?
Vikas Garg (17:24)
We were just joking about the first review, because we went to a restaurant the other day, and, Ravi on our team said, hey, yeah, that’s the restaurant that we had the first review from, and I was like, I don’t think that that’s the restaurant that we had the first review from, I thought I posted the first review from this other restaurant, you know, back five years ago. And so look,we were in the beginning, we were lucky to have like, one post a day.
You know, and that was the beginning. And it was like me emailing people in my former industry, me emailing all my friends, and saying, hey, get on this. And you know, it would like, if you go on Facebook, and like, you post on Facebook, it takes like, boom, boom, boom, you just write something, you hit the post button, it’s there. And on our platform, like, you’ve got to, like search it in the beginning, especially, you know, there wasn’t, there were no listings, there was no content, etc. So like, you’ve got to fetch data, you’ve got to connect all these other things. And the process was really slow, it would take somebody like four or five minutes to upload a photo, right? Because, you know, photos on iPhones are so big, and like, we hadn’t figured out any of this stuff. Like, I’m not a programmer. I’ve never built a technology company prior to this.
And the first software developer that we hired, you know, he was an entry level developer that I hired out of coding boot camp, who, you know, I went to coding boot camp for three months, and sat in a room full of 30 other people learning to code, I was like, three days into the course I was three months behind. Already. It was awful. Imagine like, being the oldest person in a room full of people. That’s already intimidating. But then like being the worst at something after you were really good at your prior job. And you’re looking around and you’re like, Oh, my God, I hope I didn’t just make the biggest mistake of my life. And you do that every day. You ask yourself that question every single day for three months. But I was there because I wanted to, you know, hire an entry level coder, but I wanted to pick the best one. And I didn’t know the first thing about interviewing engineers, right? And so I knew that I needed some scrappy young people. And we got really lucky and we found sort of, you know, I was able to convince one of the best in just, you know, entry level engineers in the course, to come and work with me and build this.
His name is Jonathan and you know, and John then spent the next five years working with me building abillion. So the beginning is really, really hard. Because yeah, there was maybe one piece of content coming in every day. And we were asking people, and we would go doing all the things that I guess we had to do at that time, which was going to festivals, going to events, signing up people talking about the mission, having lots of conversations like this, with individuals, getting people brought in going to, you know, to joining animal rights groups and talking about telling people about this. And you know, most people would look at it, and they would be like, What the hell is this, and wow, it takes way too long to do anything.
It takes way, way too long to post anything. And you know, they would drop off really quickly. And then like a handful of people, like we get one person in Hong Kong, who would go and then post like, 500 reviews, because they eat out every day. And they really believed in what we were doing. And, you know, I’m guessing a few people like that signed up in Australia in the US. And so that’s kind of where it began. And then more people started finding out about us. And then
we, one of the big things that we did, ultimately to scale was start working with nonprofits. So back in 2018, we started reaching out to animal sanctuaries, and animal rights groups and saying, “Hey, like, you know, is this something like, can you please share this with your fans?” So we didn’t actually work with influencers, because guess what influencers? They wanted to get paid. And they weren’t actually our customers, they weren’t actually our users. And you know, they wouldn’t even really use our product. But then like, they would like post it, you know, they were like, hey, yeah, give me $1,000. And I’ll post an ad about you. And I was just like, that just feels very artificial. Because you’re not really, you don’t really care about my product, you don’t really care about what I’m trying to do. You’re just kind of like you’re not on there. So like, what’s the point? And so we found a lot more success with working with farm animal sanctuaries around the world. And trying to say, hey, like, look, you know, if we succeed, will become a tool to help animals. And so animal sanctuaries started telling their fans and supporters about us. And that’s kind of how we really drove our, what we call user acquisition for the first few years.
And, and really, by virtue of that we never really have spent much money on, you know, if you look at the amount of money that we’ve raised as a company, versus how much we’ve ever spent on things like traditional marketing, Facebook ads, any of that stuff, it’s a drop in the bucket. We’ve instead what we’ve done is created gamification in the platform that where when somebody eats, let’s say, vegan food, or buys a sustainable cosmetics product, they post about it on a billion, we reward them with a credit to donate to save, save lives, feed hungry children, plant trees, makes them feel really good and connected to that little consumption decision that they made. And it makes it easier. Like, as you said, when you open the app and Byron Bay, you’re now discovering all of these great plant based options. It makes it easier for people like you to then discover those things, try them and hopefully get kick started on your journey. It makes your journey a little bit easier and more interesting when you’re able to find great options. And that’s how we then create impact.
Yeah, I love that. I love the fact that you actually just found finding the right partners that have the same shared values is the best way to really launch and extend to find the audience through those right channels. It’s pretty powerful. So very clever. And what’s the revenue model? How are you? How do you make money? And how do you finance these donations that you’re making?
Yeah, so we, in terms of financing our business and our operations, we’re definitely a venture funded company. So we’re still like, as far as revenue and attraction and profitability. We’re still you know, pre- profitability as a business. And in 2022, after we raised our Series A, we really then started to turn on the levers around our revenue strategy. So where are we today? We’re a social media platform. We’re a user generated content platform. If you look at companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, it took them 5,6,7 years before they started monetizing. Right, and it’s sort of the same thing. The big difference for our platform versus something like a Facebook or an Instagram, is most people on Instagram are not posting content about businesses and products. They’re just posting general social content like hey, you know, I met up with my friend Chris today in Byron Bay, here’s a photo of us.
Right? You know, maybe they’ll tag a restaurant, if they’re sitting at a restaurant, or, you know, maybe they’ve, you know, influencers will like kind of get on there with products. But for the vast majority of people, it’s,, you know, it’s about their personal life or their social life, right. And that’s what moves people on those platforms. On our platform 99% of the content that’s created on our platform actually has to do with things people are buying, right? So it could be food at restaurants that people are buying, it could be a sustainable beauty product, or you know, a packaged food product that they buy at a store. So 99% of the content is about brands, products, businesses, etc. Right. So to give you a sense of what does that look like globally, we have 101,000 consumer products companies on our platform, and we have 105,000 restaurants around the world. So about 205-206,000 businesses globally, that are on our platform. We have a marketing product, a SaaS product. So it’s a software product that allows brands to then plug into our platform, and beautify their existence. Add things like product purchasing. So when somebody’s actually using our app somewhere in the world, or using our website, they can actually click through and purchase the item that they’re looking at.
There’s a component of, you know, boosting all of that content. And you know, that organic content that’s being created about them. We’re a completely ad free platform. But what we do is that we’ve created some ingenious ways to actually take all the content that customers. the brand’s customers are posting about them and really kind of amplify those voices. So we do that in a very organic way that feels very genuine and authentic. Continues to feel genuine and authentic for our members around the world. So brands can access all of those things through a subscription service. And we have 4700 plus, customers today have that software service, it’s called abillion for brands. So that was one big thing that we kind of turned on earlier this year. And the other big thing has been our peer to peer marketplace. So you’re sitting in Australia, if you look around and you have something you want to sell, or if you make something for instance, I make sourdough bread every weekend, and I sell it through the app here in Singapore. So I make two one kilo loaves and I sell them.
And we’re trying to really build a sort of the peer to peer marketplace for sustainability for people around the world. And that’s in-app right now.
And it’s going to be all on the web soon. But that’s really to help turn our community of people, our members around the world, into sellers, into buyers and sellers into small businesses into entrepreneurs. How do we create a platform much like what Etsy did or Kickstarter did, right, as Etsy really created this phenomenal community for people who are handcrafting things, we think, you know, we want to do the same thing for sustainability. We want to do the same thing for the vegan space, right is to really create this community and this, this marketplace where people can create things and sell things that are vegan or that are sustainable. So in the last few months, since we’ve launched our marketplace, we’ve been seeing transactions every single day.
And, and it’s amazing to see people posting handcrafted, beaded jewellery from Greece, and you know, food items that people are making around the world and artwork and plants, you know, like the plant that you have sitting behind you that people are propagating at home and you know, selling on the platform in places like Singapore.
So yeah, so we’re, you know, we’re working on expanding that and through that marketplace, just to go back to your question on how do we make money. There’s a fee for every transaction. We derive for listing an item but we charge a fee for when an item is sold.
Yeah, right. Right. I suppose it’s also I’m just thinking about a really interesting time for a social media platform that’s a competitor to Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. I mean, there’s so much happening in this space. And I’m sure you across the new platform BeReal like we are seeing a really big shift of people looking for, I suppose alternative ways to connect. And you know, I think it’s exciting because there is so much change and you know, just two weeks ago Meta had to let stuff go like it’s a big big shift in the trend that we’re seeing. So does this excite you or scare you, or both?
Well, so on the layoffs, I think that there was a huge surge in employment in many of these companies in 2020 And 2021. It’s, like, you know, especially if you look at the kind of companies that are more ecommerce, see, because people were sitting at home.
Meanwhile, people who have people sitting at home and buying lots of things, right. So, and people were sitting at home and streaming video all the time, 6,7,8 hours a day, and on social media apps all the time, right. So there was this huge new generation of social media apps that were kind of created platforms like clubhouse during that time, and some of those ideas were very good, some of those ideas kind of ended up staying part of the pandemic lifestyle, and then now that people are out of the pandemic lifestyle, some people are still using those products, some people are not, for platforms like Facebook and others, you know, I think,
yeah, they’ve grown a lot. And now we’re seeing, I think that what we’re seeing is people are wanting to strip out the noise. So we all are so busy in our lives. And many of us see, like, you know, many of us are passionate about our hobbies, for you, maybe that’s cycling or running. For me, it’s running, swimming and baking. And, you know, and outside of my work, you know, for me, it’s my work, it’s my family, it’s my four year old daughter, and my wife, and and then it’s my family, my extended family. And then, and besides that, and my work, I’ve just got to be able to take care of myself. So I wanted to do my best to be able to do that. And, you know, so for me, finding a community where I really feel connected, based back down to my values and the principles and values and my lifestyle, on a day in day out basis, is trying, basically going down that rabbit hole. And you know, and finding a like minded community is really important to me. And I think that we’re seeing that increasingly, across the board. So you know, people who are really into cycling, they’re finding that community on Strava. They’re not using Facebook and Facebook groups anymore to talk about cycling or running. Right. And we’re seeing this, you know, we’re seeing the rise of like, lots of sort of more niche platforms out there.
Where people can really dive in, you know, Discord is a great example of another platform. And I think that trend is going to continue. And for us, hopefully that, you know, put some wind in our sails in terms of creating sort of the go-to destination and platform to help people live more sustainably.
Chris Edwards (33:02)
Hmm, yeah, no, I think you’re definitely right. I think there is a massive movement for both those things, one for finding your tribe. And I feel like people are learning about the value of having a community and connection with like minded people with the same values. And then I also think, I think there’s been a massive shift to people understanding that we do need to be more conscious. So and, you know, I feel like that shift has happened in Australia, probably more so than in Asia, but you know, I can definitely see it’s coming. And it’s, it’s exciting, because it needs to come. So it definitely, yeah, it’s your I think you’re in a really exciting position. So I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. I mean, it’s such an inspiring journey that you’ve had. This business podcast is brought to you by Launchpad. It’s a community of entrepreneurs, and I know lots of them would love to know, you know, what do you wish that you knew before you started? Like, what was there any, anything that you can help other entrepreneurs just get? If there’s one thing that they could focus on or get right? What would it be?
Vikas Garg (34:28)
Man, so much, right. I mean, I’d say the pandemic, the pandemic has really forced us all to be much more agile not just the way that we kind of work. The way that we think about work is the way that we think about what we’ve learned in the last 10-20 years. You know, if you’re
Are young entrepreneur, you’ve basically, you know, if you’ve started your company or you’ve started working kind of in the last five years, then like, then you know, this is just part of your new normal, this is just part of your normal the last couple of years. but I think that the last couple of years has really tested everything that I know about leadership I have been, I have always been somebody that believes in teamwork, you know, together, people in a room together, I’ve always used the analogy, you can’t show up to a game, you can’t play a game sitting at home, you can’t show up to the field for practice without showing up to the field. Right. And, and, you know, that was robbed from us for two years during COVID. Especially, you know, here where I am in Singapore, where basically the country was offices were shut down for almost two years.
And, or in some sort of state of catharsis and so that really had led to us having to then be very agile.
And also, you know, then having to be really agile around things like leadership, right, and commitment and dedication and things that like, you know, I’ve just fundamentally kind of grown up around hard work and really hard determined work. And a startup is a grind. Everything we talked about this concept of zero to one, right? It’s like everything is zero to one all the time, right like, and it’s not just product market fit on one thing, but it’s like product market fit on your product, product market fit on your marketing product, like product market fit on your client base, like you know, product. For us, it’s like, every time we build new features, it almost feels like we’re trying to get product market fit again.
I would just say be really intentional about your leadership, be really intentional and forthright about the kind of company that you’re trying to build. If you’re trying to build a values based business, that’s wonderful, because it’s wonderful. And it’s also a double edged sword. It’s wonderful, because you’re going to attract people who are hopefully very mission aligned, and a lot of people will look at your company and be like, yeah, no, thank you. And that’s great. Right?
Because the more mission aligned people that you can get on board, that really believe in your product, really believe in what you’re doing and believe in that vision, they’re going to be the ones that are going to do the hard work. They’re gonna be the ones that feel they themselves walk in every day, very determined, because they feel like they’re owners, and you should make them all owners in your company, which is what we have done.
Unfortunately, it’s also a double edged sword, because, you know, it means that you may not be able to attract a lot of people based on where you are. there, you know, or, or just, you know, you there is some survivorship bias there, where maybe if the pool of people who are really interested in your company is smaller, just because they’re values oriented, doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the skills that you also need to, you know, to do the job. And so we’ve learned that lesson, you know, it’s very hard to recruit software engineers here in Singapore.
And, finding the right ones, we’re also then a mission fit, can be tricky. But you know, just being, I’d say being really intentional about all of these things, and also asking yourself, whether this is something you really want to do, because it is a very lonely journey, the whole sort of startup, CEO journey is incredibly lonely.
You know, in the beginning, I mean, you want everybody to be your friend, you want everybody to be able to like you, you want it to feel good. But you’ve got to be a leader, you’ve got to, you know, you’ve got to be fair to people, you’ve got to set up processes and frameworks. You’ve got to say no.
And, and you know, and unfortunately, I can say I’ve, even though I’ve spent my entire career operating in environments like that, and I’d say I’ve spent my entire career working in very high performing teams and leading very high performing teams. It’s just very different when you’re building something from the ground up.
And you end up making all of these mistakes as a part of it. The other advice is just don’t get, you know, don’t lose sight of what’s important and if you said something you really believe and stick with it.
Chris Edwards (39:46)
Oh, so much there. I love all of that advice. And yeah, so valuable. It is tough and lonely. And I also really resonate with struggling to say no, I’m a people pleaser. So I’m always like, maybe it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s a hard role to play.
So oh my gosh, I’ve got so many other questions I want to ask you, but I am conscious of your time. I suppose I’ve got one last question. I’ve got a few rapid fire questions. But one question I have for you is changing the only constant in business. And I’m wondering, what do you think we have our Eyes Wide Shut on right now?
What do you think that people are assuming is safe and stable, but it’s not not stable?
Vikas Garg (40:42)
Food you know, food security.
Most of us, right, most of the people who are going to be listening to this, listening to this or watching this probably are pretty food stable, right?
We have, we have a billion people around the world that are that, that that unfortunately, don’t have food security. And we have a billion people who you know, have too much of it.
And I think that the realities, and the shocks are going to sneak up on us. And they already are. We’re seeing food shortages, thanks to the war in the Ukraine, we’re seeing food shortages, wheat shortages all around the world, we’re seeing the price of a lot of things accelerate, like the price of chicken in Singapore has gone up 40-50% this year. Because, you know, countries like Malaysia, kind of stopped exporting, I don’t know where it is right now. But for time, you know, countries like Malaysia stopped exporting. India has been doing the same thing with some of its staple crops, is cutting down exports of things like rice, and other other grains and vegetables. And so we’re you know, we’re gonna see a lot of that.
And, I think that we have to, we have to be prepared for a world where the most basic things that we take for granted every single day, can easily be disrupted very, very, very quickly. Because of war, because of famine, because of climate change, because of climate refugees.
And, and, and I don’t think that most people are thinking about these things, or prepared for these things. And I’m not talking about stockpiling here. I’m not talking about creating a bunker. But what I’m talking about is how there’s time, there is time to change and reverse and mitigate some of these risks. And it all comes back down to the choices that we make as consumers every single day.
Chris Edwards (43:05)
Yeah, 100% agree. It’s amazing that we do have the power we’re just not awake to realising that the power is with us and our choices. Okay, so I’m gonna round out this interview with some rapid fire questions.
Firstly, what are your self care routines besides baking sourdough and playing with your four year old? How do you keep mentally sound when you’re driving such a large ambitious business?
What are your memories these days? Like my number one tip for myself is remembering to breathe. I find myself like I find myself holding my breath all the time. Wow. Wow. I think that’s like a leading indicator of stress.
Right. So this little sticky note on the computer to just breathe.
Vikas Garg (44:16)
Even when I’m running or working out. I’m conscious of my breathing and when I breathe a lot of that when I’m conscious about my breathing so much improves so quickly. Even on this call, just like just not, you know, like not breathing through your mouth. Like just being very intentional about your breathing. I find that that is very, very important for me.
Chris Edwards (44:33)
Hmm, that’s a really good tip. I like that. Now luck favours the open mind or fortune favours the bold?
Vikas Garg (44:45)
Luck favours the open mind or fortune favours the bold. That is such a good way of thinking about it. It’s a bit of both isn’t it? a lot of both.
Do I have to choose one? Now? Okay. All right, I think the you know, it is a perspective keeping an open mind and, and you know, just going back to the first question reading, reading, I’m a voracious reader. I love reading, I love reading books and newspapers and magazines. I’m still an old guy who still gets the newspaper delivered to me every day. And I try to read it for at least 15-20 minutes in the morning on my way to work. But it’s just that it’s perspectives, keeping an open mind. And the only part of keeping an open mind is, is allowing, having that place where you’re receiving information. And, and talking to people.
That’s why one of the keys, you know. One of the big things we do at abillion is making sure people come into the office, because, you know, otherwise, people are just sitting at their desk all day, and then they’ll dial in for meetings. But there isn’t that open conversation, that open and collaborative conversation that takes place otherwise, around the table, even around the lunch table. So yeah, it’s a bit of both.
Okay. And that leads into my next question, what is your favourite business book?
Vikas Garg (46:17)
Okay, there’s two.I guess these are supposed to be rapid fire questions, and I’m not answering them in rapid succession. Okay, there’s, there’s two that are two of the most recent sort of reads in the last two years, the top two books in the last two years that really stand out. And maybe there’s a third, which, you know, is probably five years I’ve read five years ago, but it’s still a good book. I’ll start with the first, the one that I read five years ago, that’s, I’d say, it’s still a really good book. It’s “the hard things about hard things”. And that’s by a guy named Ben Horowitz, who’s one of the co founders of Andreessen Horowitz, the big venture capital fund. But before that, he slugged it out building companies for many years, and it’s kind of all of the it has nothing to do with venture investing. It’s all about the struggles and failures of building companies and, you know, getting all the way to the 11th hour where everything is a disaster. And, you know, the concept of your while you’re building a company, you’re failing 95% of the time.
You’re like, constantly failing, and that sucks. Like it’s, it’s, it’s so demoralising. it can be so demoralising. And then that, you know, you’re working so hard and failing so long to get to that 5%, right. The second book is the story of bytedance, which is a book called “Attention factory”, written by a reporter in Beijing named Matthew Brennan. And Matthew wrote, I’d say one of the best books about social media and this whole new tech, like this whole new industry of tech, and social tech that has come up. And it’s really this phenomenal story of bytedance going back 12-13 years and how the whole company got started, how they built 2030 products, and eventually got to tiktok. How tiktok in the beginning, wasn’t exactly a slam dunk, it was a little bit of a failure, until they figured things out, and you know, became a huge success. And even on that path to success, to you know, what, what happened, etc. So it’s the inside story, and it’s fantastic. It’s such a phenomenal read.
So much interesting stuff in there. And the third book has to be probably my favourite of the three, which is Brad Stone’s 2013 book about Amazon and Bezos. It’s called “The Everything Store”. And I’d say it’s probably one of my favourite business books of all time. It’s the inside story, as told by the people who kind of were living through it day by day of Amazon from, you know, its early beginnings and like 1997-98 to 2013. And it is brilliant. Brilliant. Yeah. Wow. Okay, great.
Fourth book, classic, classic, by, you know, by Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, biggest retailer in the world, “Made in America ”. Of all of the four books, it’s the most feel good, authentic, you know, that Americans sort of feel good story about a guy on a farm, who builds something and does it you know, tries to be a really good person, you know, along that journey.
Yeah, yeah, made it. Oh, cool.
Chris Edwards (50:06)
I totally respect that I’m a business book junkie. And I just feel like you can just get so much out of these books and really helps shape you and yeah, really inspiring and really gives you the, the, you know, you need a lot of, I don’t know, what’s the word, a lot of passion to create your own business. So you definitely get a lot of passion and inspiration for business books. So I love that you’ve given me four. That’s awesome. And my last question for you is who do you think we should invite onto this?
Vikas Garg (50:44)
Who’s doing you know, who’s doing really interesting stuff. There’s a guy in the US named Sam Polk.
S-A-M, P-O-L-K, who started a company called Every Table. And basically, it started in Los Angeles, if I’m correct, I may be wrong, but I believe he started in Los Angeles, by building like, you know, you lived in Singapore. So you know, like SaladStop!, right? Or whatever the like, kind of, you know, sort of expensive medium range, high quality organic salad place would be in like a Sydney or somewhere right. Like, you know, like the kind of THE upmarket to go salad place. So he started that. Except he did it, you know, for like, so in America, the high end salad plays that everybody goes to in like, Manhattan would be sweet greens, where you’d go and spend $15 on a salad, 15 US dollars on the salad. He started the same thing. But he did it for $5. And he did it in the inner city, in communities like and down, you know, in Compton and like, historically minority communities to try to really improve access to fruits and vegetables and high quality meals and proteins. It’s not a vegan business. But it’s a business that’s trying to get people in the inner city to eat salad. Yeah, to do it at a price point, which is attractive enough, which is lower than what they would go and spend at McDonald’s or Burger King. Why? And I’m so happy to see that company succeeding.
Because it is so important. You can’t fix education without fixing food. You can, you know, you can’t ask people to make better decisions around food without an education. So many of these things go hand in hand you can’t lift people out of poverty without giving them nutrition. Right. And I just really admire people who are doing things like that.
Yeah, cool. Every table Sam Polk I will definitely look that up. That sounds like a very inspiring business. I really don’t want to end this interview. I’ve loved every minute, Vikas, thank you so much for your time. Before we got on the call, you were telling me how you’ve been in back to back meetings. And so I really appreciate your time. It’s a very inspiring story. And I’m definitely going to take a lot of notes of gold from this conversation. So thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
I appreciate your time, Chris. Thanks for inviting me onto your show. And I hope to meet you next time. You’re in Singapore. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I’d love that. Okay, thanks very much. Thank you.