Origin Story Interview W/ Alex Felipelli, Veggly

Origin Story Interview W/ Alex Felipelli, Veggly

Brighter Future

 / 

Sep 14, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #VeganLifestyle #GlobalConnections #veganism #app #VeganCommunity #VeganSuccess

Brighter Future

Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Alex Felipelli, the founder and CEO of Veggly, the number one dating app for vegetarians and vegans!

Hi, Alex! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Veggly is such an interesting concept, so we’re excited to learn more about you and how the idea came about. Let’s jump in with the basics. Who are you, and where do you come from?  

Hello! I’m originally from a small city of 300,000 people in the countryside of Brazil. My hometown, like many, has a very strong meat-eating culture, so it took me a while to even be exposed to the idea of veganism. When I moved to Sao Paulo, I began to meet new people with different ideas and ways of living. I learned a lot about veganism during that time and made it part of my life, but it’s still a little confusing to some of my friends and especially my family. I’ve been vegan for seven years now, though. That’s how it started!  

Awesome! So, you adopted a vegan lifestyle seven years ago. How did you get from that point to starting Veggly? What happened in those years in between that lead you to where you are today?

Great question! So, I was working in sales for a big company, which was a great job in terms of money and learning opportunities. But I just wasn’t all that happy with it. Also, from 2017 to 2018, I was single due to a divorce and suddenly found myself back in the dating pool. This was pre-pandemic, so I was going out regularly and using dating apps, but it was very tiring and challenging. Most of the people I met were fine, but some were just rude or hard to have a conversation with.

The whole experience was complicated, challenging and exhausting.That’s when I had the idea for Veggly. I knew I could create a better way for single vegans and vegetarians to connect and date. Simultaneously, I would be creating something that was good for myself and solved my own problem with traditional dating apps.

I did a little research and talked to some people to get their opinions on my idea. I quickly realised that there were a few similar apps in other countries, but they were struggling. My thought process was that if I created something really good, people would use it. So, I decided to take the leap. I quit my job and went for it.

Brave! You mentioned solving your own dating problem as one of the reasons why you started Veggly. What other motivations pushed you towards taking that big leap into entrepreneurship?  

Knowing that there were many other people, just like me, who were feeling the same pain and experiencing the same issues and difficulties was a huge motivating factor. I knew there were other vegans and vegetarians who were looking for friendship or dates with like-minded people, but they just couldn’t get connected. That was the initial motivator.

Today, our motivation comes from the very happy stories we receive from people who have met on the app. Some have gotten married and some have had children together! We take a lot of encouragement from that. There are also lots of people who meet and become great friends, and that’s very important. When people go vegan, they’re often the only one in their family or friendship group to do so. It’s natural to want to meet new people locally who are living the same way, even if it’s not a romantic thing. In fact, I’ve gone on friend dates and met some of my best friends virtually. That’s part of the motivation as well. Fun fact: Although I created this app in part to solve my own problem, I never actually used it to find a partner. By the time it launched, I had met someone at a vegan event. We’re now engaged!

That’s fantastic. Congratulations! Speaking of going vegan, there’s so many different reasons why people choose to do so. Some do it for their health, some are more focused on the animal cruelty aspect of the food chain, and for others, the environmental aspect is what drives them. If you don’t mind sharing, do you have a particular element that you connect most with?

Yes! For me, it was definitely the animals. Of course, scientific research has proven that vegan living helps the environment and it’s good for your health—it’s even great for food security. But at the root of this movement is animal welfare. And that’s at the root of my decision to go vegan, too. In particular, I’ve always loved pets. When I first started to think about veganism, I watched all of the documentaries available about animal farming and similar topics. I watched Cowspiracy and that one kind of sealed the deal for me.

Awesome. Thanks for sharing! We’d be interested in also hearing a little bit about how you think about climate change. Is that something you actively incorporate into Veggly’s messaging?

Yeah, a little bit. In our messaging and all of our communications, we always strive to reinforce that being vegan is good for the planet and the environment. We highlight and applaud how our users are helping to reduce carbon emissions and so on. Then, on Earth Day, we sometimes do promotions, social media posts, and even blog posts where we talk about that aspect of being vegan. We also work with some organisations, although mostly animal rights organisations, but we do help plant trees and offer other environment-related assistance where we can.

That’s great! I guess the people using your app are already informed and educated on these topics, so it’s just a matter of celebrating that and expanding their knowledge. When you decided to start Veggly and become an entrepreneur, what do you think gave you the confidence to take that leap? How did you know you could start something on your own and make it a success?  

Good question! I think my diverse career history was a big help. I’m a computer engineer, so I had worked in software development for quite along time at the beginning of my career. Although it wasn’t apps at the time. It was older stuff. Then I shifted more into sales and marketing, which also gave me a good understanding of the business side of things. I knew that businesses have to provide value, so in the case of an app, I knew there had to be enough there to entice people to download it, pay, subscribe, use it, and continue using it. All of that experience was a huge help when starting Veggly.

Also, I brought on people to help me. Today, I have a business partner and a great team. My partner is in charge of marketing, so he brings a lot more knowledge and ideas for that side. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand that even if you trust yourself and believe you can do everything yourself, you’ll always need good people to help you. Maybe it’s fine to do it yourself at the start, but it’s hard to get very far when you’re completely alone.

That’s very true. There’s an age-old saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Veggly is three years old now. Along the way, have you encountered any instances where you or the business has taken a different direction than originally planned?  

Absolutely! My plan was to launch the app for a single country, so I started with the UK. The plan was then to move on to other countries. That’s because, generally, people want to date others nearby, not on the other side of the globe. That strategy worked for a while, but on social media, people complained that the app wasn’t available in their countries. They could see that it was working elsewhere and were saying, “Oh, how come you’re not in the US or HongKong or Brazil” and so on.

Rather than just go country by country, we looked at the effort and cost of paid marketing to take it further and decided to launch the app globally. There are still a few countries we’re not active in, but in general, the app is global. Lucky for us, it worked out well. We have now had success stories from far and wide. For example, there’s a guy from the UK and a lady from the Netherlands who met through the app, and that was only made possible because we decided to make it available everywhere. Once we got enough people in each country using the app, it worked great.

And because of that deviation from the original plan, we created a popular feature in the app called “teleportation”. You can basically use the app as if you are, for example, in London or in New York or even a different city in your own country. We find that Veggly’s users are more open to dating someone who isn’t necessarily in their hometown. It’s worth expanding those horizons to meet someone who is very much like you. It’s kind of a quality versus quantity scenario. We know that vegans place a much higher value on a vegan match, so it’s worth going the extra mile, so to speak.

That’s a very interesting observation! Getting an app off the ground is no easy feat. When you think about how far you’ve come with Veggly, what hurdles did you have to overcome? Did you experience any failures along the way?

Starting out by yourself, as I did, presents a lot of challenges because you have to do everything yourself. For example, at one point, I made an error and accidentally wiped out our database. Luckily, I had a backup, but it was a week old. In that missing week, we had actually had a huge influx of users from Germany, so I lost all of those users. I think most of them came back and created new accounts, but it was definitely something I would consider a bit of a failure on my part. I learned from it, though. I improved the backup system and now it’s safely online, so the risk of “losing the Germans” again is pretty low. The first versions of the app were pretty buggy, so that was another challenge to overcome.

Ultimately, I think it was good to start small like that because there wasn’t any pressure from investors, etc., but you also have fewer resources to invest and wonder if you’re doing things right or fast enough. In the end, I did bring on others to help.

I’m sure it was very stressful at the time, but it’s great that you can look back now and kind of laugh at those early mistakes. Many entrepreneurs report experiencing an “A-ha!” moment at some point in their journey—a moment where everything just clicks into place. Have you ever experienced this with Veggly?  

Yes! I have experienced that in some sense. My “a-ha!” moment was realising how difficult dating apps are to use. You could meet the people who matched with you, and maybe the conversation would go well at first, but things just don’t really evolve into anything, right? It’s hard to find that real connection that comes from shared values and similar lifestyles. That’s when I realised that there was a gap in the market for an app that connects people who have the shared experience of being (or transitioning into being) vegan or vegetarian.

For every entrepreneur, there are sacrifices—large or small—that are made, especially in the early days of a startup. What kinds of sacrifices did you have to make when you decided to make Veggly your career?  

Firstly, I quit my job, so there was a financial sacrifice. I had some savings I could live on for a while, but it was still a bit scary becauseI was used to having a regular salary and I was investing in something with no guarantee it was going to work. Even in the beginning, the paid marketing came from my own money.

It was also a sacrifice to leave a good company and a good job and suddenly have to worry about everything related to this company. When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. In a traditional job, things like customer feedback or ratings or complaints don’t affect you personally, but with your own company, it’s all on you. So, those are the two main sacrifices I made with Veggly: financial security and, I guess, the mental freedom to not care too much about work or the company.

Thanks for sharing that. It’s very common for entrepreneurs to feel that kind of pressure. Mental health is typically hugely overlooked. Did you find it hard to manage all of those aspects of having a startup?

I think I was okay, but I did suffer a lot. You suffer when you see the complaints. Like I said, I had worked in sales before starting Veggly, so I was a little more receptive to complaints and aware that people will complain about anything and everything. However, it was kind of surprising and difficult. People can be pretty harsh. The problem is that the people who love your product will rarely praise it. They just continue to use it. So, most of your interaction with users is when they’ve got complaints. It’s easy to feel like that’s the only thing happening. But there’s also tons of success stories, people making lifelong friends, meeting the love of their life, getting married and having kids. After a while, I started to see that side, too, which makes it easier to handle the negatives. You can’t make everyone happy, right?

You’re absolutely right about that! As a planet and as a people, we’re currently undergoing a period of great change. You’re changing people’s lives with your app. With that in mind, we’d love to know how you personally envision the future?

With so much happening in the world right now, the thing that really concerns me is what and who to trust, right? There is a lot of fake news and misinformation that is spread. People just believe in things because they’ve read about them online. That’s a big problem.

On the other hand, I think we will have to become more sustainable in every aspect of our lives. As a business, there’s pressure to do so from all sides. You have consumer pressure, you have investors, people will invest only if the company is sustainable. Policy makers, environmentalists, and the general population know that there’s a limit to how much the planet can take. If we don't act now, the next generations are going to suffer a lot. That’s our kids or grandkids and so on. There needs to be a greater push.

I also see a world with less and less meat consumption—both for the animal rights reason and for the environmental impact. Eating less animal products (and thus reducing animal farming) is one of the best ways to make the world more sustainable.

You mentioned the next generation—our kids and grandkids—and the world they’re going to inherit. We’d like to give you a chance to speak directly to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out and are possibly shaping the future through their businesses. What advice do you have for them?

The first thing I would say is: get help! It makes everything so much easier. Whether that’s financial help, help with certain technical skills, help with marketing or sales, it will help you to create a much better product or service.

At the beginning, I would also say, test your ideas. Test what you want to create. With Veggly, for example, I created the app, I launched it, and I knew it wasn’t perfect. But I wanted to put it out there and get feedback. Some of the feedback was good and some of it was bad—some was even delivered in a very impolite way—but it all helped me to improve the app. I think that’s one thing that you absolutely have to do. You can plan, but at some point, you have to start doing it. You have to test it, see if it works and improve.

Excellent advice! When future generations look back on your life and what you have achieved, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?  

I hope they’ll see a company that helped create meaningful relationships for other people—that helped connect people to someone they can really spend the rest of their lives with. It’s a very heartwarming thought. And it’s amazing to see these couples become our most loyal supporters and promoters. They talk about us on their social media accounts and to their friends and family. They often say, “Yeah, we would never have met if it wasn’t for the app.” That’s how I would like to be remembered. I don’t think people will remember me, but they will remember the company and the very real impact it has had on people’s lives.

Veggly is all about connecting and meeting other people. Was the company impacted at all when COVID hit and there were restrictions in place?

We didn’t see huge shifts one way or the other. We continued to grow month by month, regardless. In fact, at the beginning, we did a promotion telling people to stay home and giving them coins (for the app) so they could meet people online. In many ways, it worked for the company because with most places closed, there were no other ways to meet people. It was all happening online.

At first, it was fine, but, of course, once it began to drag on, people wanted to meet in person. Thankfully, by that point, things were beginning to gradually open. Ultimately, purely from a business perspective, it was positive in some ways and negative in others.  

It was great to have the opportunity to speak to you today, Alex. We’ve got one final question for you: If there was one lasting message you could share with the world, what would it be?

Go vegan?! I truly believe that If you want to make a difference for the planet, for your health, for your wellbeing and for the wellbeing of animals, that’s the single best thing you can do as an individual.

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A huge thank you to our wonderful guest Alex Felipelli for participating in this interview and sharing his experience. If you would like to find out more about Alex and the work he is doing at Veggly (or if you want to create a Veggly account and find true love for yourself), you can find him at: www.veggly.net

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing people like Alex, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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