If you have ever taken a trip to the Silicon Valley and stomped around the Facebook or Google campuses you probably tapped into their free food service as you rode the funky Google bicycles. Free food is awesome and the perception seems to be that only the tech giants get to provide such a service to their highly valued employees – that’s false. More companies are starting to realize the longterm benefits of such an investment and Vancouver entrepreneur, Cody Irwin, has started to capitalize on the trend and cater it to the Vancouver crowd. With Natural Source Vending, you get locally sourced, all-natural food, snacks, and beverages delivered right to your office door.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and what inspired you to create it.
I am a McGill Engineering graduate that spent the latter half of youth exercising and studying nutrition to battle my childhood obesity. Utilizing my knowledge from the early days, as well as a diverse skill set and a good friend’s insight, I embarked on an adventure to revolutionize corporate food service.
Offering locally sourced, all-natural food in eco-friendly vending machines was just the beginning. Inspired by Google and Facebook’s free-to-staff food programs, we provide custom, in-office, snack and beverage stations to enhance the health and wellness in our clients’ offices, and ultimately support their bottom line.
2. What kinds of testimonials or stories have company’s reported to you after subscribing with your service?
Mostly I hear, “I love what you do!” and we get plenty of “thanks” from our clients’ staff. But the best one so far has to be from Jeff Bohnen, the office manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op, who wrote “You’ve been responsive to our needs from day one, so thank you for making me look like a freakin’ hero!”. I have also had several elevator conversations with people who have visited Plenty Of Fish’s office and been amazed by how well their staff are treated. Yes, Marcus Frind absolutely treats his team extremely well, but what people don’t realize is that an in-house food service is actually a perk that most offices can afford. It just takes a progressive shift in thinking to see how the inherent benefits and future financial savings, far outweigh the cost.
3. How has Vancouver’s rising startup community played a role in the development of Natural Source Vending?
I have met and read about countless brilliant Vancouver entrepreneurs, and it is truly inspiring to be surrounded by so many people with an obsession to advance and change the world. Initially I was haunted by the inevitability of failure that most start-ups succumb to, but that just drove me to work harder and smarter. Cultivating relationships and being surrounded by numerous intelligent minds that share similar healthy/eco goals, as well as braving the gauntlet of building a start up, has actually been a great support tool and induced many friendly collaboratives.
4. What kind of challenges has your team had to face and how have you mitigated them?
I guess the biggest challenge is trying to quantify the benefits of offering a fully or partially subsidized food program. Most companies have a tight predetermined budget for the year, and to implement a program that can cost $0.30 to $2.00 per employee per day would seem like a deal breaker. However, by using empirical data collected over the years, as well as taking into account variables determined from an office’s characteristics, we are able to calculate a cost saving analysis that shows how their investment is financially sound. The corporate culture benefits are still hard to measure, so we rely on common sense when explaining how readily accessible, nutritious food will facilitate office health and wellness, and the resulting productivity increases.
5. What core problem are you specifically solving for Vancouverites?
Our quality of life enriching food solutions promote happier, healthier, more energised staff, which in turn, yields increased productivity, talent attraction/retention and many avenues of cost savings and financial gain. Progressive industry leaders understand that investing in office culture is an extremely effective tool for propelling their success.
6. What entrepreneur has inspired you the most for running your business and what makes them so special?
I have always admired Boston Pizza’s Jim Treliving as we have a couple key items in common. We both believe that success and luck is a product of hard work…and kids from farms in Manitoba can make it!
7. What Vancouver celebrity would you most be excited to have as a member of the team and why?
Mayor Gregor Robertson of course!! I love how he has progressed our city to reflect the green, forward thinking principles of the people. Plus, we already offer delicious Happy Planet smoothies, and who better to promote such a wonderful local product than the prestigious creator!
8. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
If you are looking for ideas, look at undeveloped and emerging industries, or areas that have recently undergone a shift from new technology. Find the holes and fill them. But most of all, figure out what you’re passionate about, because if you don’t believe in it, you can’t succeed!
*End of interview*
The trend of delivering groceries or food to offices and homes has been around since the dotcom bubble however, some companies simply couldn’t execute it well. In the present day, there seems to be more demand and most importantly, the technology, logistics, and consumer behaviour seem to be more in sync to make this a successful business opportunity. One of our past interviewees, Food.ee, is also capitalizing on the trend with their office delivery lunch service and recently launched Snack Box. Natural Source Vending seems to be gaining some momentum by already working with some big brands. If they can continue to execute well, maintain strong supplier relationships and build their product offering and clientele, you’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the near future.
*Vancouver Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs and startups that are making a local and even a global impact. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send an email to [email protected] to explain why you’re a fit*