Kristin Lajeunesse, Will Travel For Vegan Food
We asked Kristin to tell us about Will Travel For Vegan Food, a project that took her across the U.S. eating at vegan restaurants. During her journey she garnered insight to further her marketing efforts for others and herself.
You initially used Kickstarter to get started. How has Kickstarter worked out for you?
My experience with Kickstarter was better than I could have imagined. I hadn’t yet spent time building up the WTFVF brand before launching the fundraiser so, aside from personal contacts, I was flying blind when I launched. Thankfully, the Kickstarter community is strong and through the help of wonderful friends—who were able to blog about my journey—along with some early media coverage, I reached my goal by the end of the second week. Kickstarter was also a great place for me to build a following from. As it turns out, there are some very generous people who scout Kickstarter for projects to donate to. I ended up meeting many new people via the Kickstarter campaign, some of which have become very good friends of mine since.
You make being a nomadic entrepreneur look effortless. Is it in your DNA or did you do a lot of homework?
Haha! If by effortless you mean that I have yet to make a dime! ;) I’ve yet to call myself a true entrepreneur as I’ve been living off of donations for the past, nearly two years now. But the nomadic part seems to come easily to me, I suppose. I took to living on the road very well, though I did do quite a bit of reading about nomadic living/lifestyle design prior to the road trip (learn about her resources). Even though it’s nice to have a place to veg out every so often, vandwelling was absolutely awesome. I suppose it’s partly my resolve to complete this mission, coupled with my newfound go-with-the-flow attitude that made it an overall positive and (from the outside) easy experience. In terms of the work side of things, I’ve spent countless hours reading, learning, partaking in courses, and meeting monthly with other entrepreneurs, to dive into entrepreneurialism full force, in an effort to be successful at it. I’m confident this year will be a game changer for me, both career-wise and financially.
Are there any “mistakes” or learning experiences you can offer to help others avoid the same pitfalls as a nomad and/or veganpreneur?
Plan as much as you can but start before you’re ready. You’ll never feel completely ready. Mistakes are unavoidable but necessary for growth, so embrace them. Your experience will be different than everyone else who has done something similar, so don’t always listen to the advice that’s given. You’ve got to learn as you go, and you’ll be stronger for it.
What do you think is the number one marketing mistake vegan restaurants make?
One of the most common areas that could be improved upon is overall online presence. I know that running a restaurant is insanely stressful and keeps everyone involved running on all cylinders constantly, but like with any business, as an owner and/or manager you must be open to change and willing to adjust as the industry and society does.
Social media marketing is hands-down, one of the most important things that any business owner can use right now, in order to grow their business. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s the absolute best way to communicate with potential and existing customers. Therefore, you must make this a priority, along with cleaning the floors and paying your employees. Use social media effectively by infusing your personality into your business, by becoming transparent, wowing your customers with unexpected treats/offers/thank-yous, and you’ll see a whole new side of your business blossom before your eyes.
What are your next steps for your WTF brand?
Right now it feels like the options are endless. When I first started to plan this journey I saw it nothing more than weekly blog posts and sharing photos on Facebook. But as I continue to learn more about business, marketing, and monetization I come up with new ideas for how to grow the WTFVF brand. Beyond the blog I’ve got some merchandise on the website, which includes t-shirts, bumper stickers, keychains, and postcards and am working on a couple more WTFVF-branded items to add to the store.
I was recently signed to Vegan Publishers, a brand new vegan book publishing company, and will be writing a memoir about this journey (I still can’t believe it!). I also plan to create an ebook for restaurants, specific to mastering their online presence, which I’m optimistic will lead into some consulting work.
More recently I’m toying around with the idea of working with the contacts I’ve made, during my travels, to create a digital coupon booklet for fellow vegan travelers—something that would give them discounts on restaurants, retailers, and area-specific touristy things. In addition, I’ve been working with a number of other vegan business owners on joint ventures related to raising money for non-profits. You can look for some of those launching this summer.
James the bear is one of the inspirations for her non-profit endeavors. He holds a very special place in her heart. Read about their story.
What is/was the best marketing tactic/strategy to date that has propelled WTF?
The most effective “strategy” that I’ve used to help create awareness for WTFVF is teaming up with other vegan businesses/bloggers who have a bigger audience that I do—but an audience that would be interested in my trip. Not only that but also working with people who were much bigger than me in areas that complimented what I do, and that got their content out in different ways.
For example, very early on my then travel partner and I appeared on Jonathan Mann’s YouTube channel, singing a WTFVF theme song that Jonathan wrote. A few weeks later we filmed a food-prep cooking show with Honey LaBronx, The Vegan Drag queen. Both Jonathan and Honey LaBronx were much more well known on YouTube than WTFVF was. But with a few guest spots on other channels, the awareness grew.
In addition to YouTube I reached out to a handful of bloggers who had established subscribers and asked them if they’d want to either write about my trip, or allow me to write a guest post on their blog. Eventually, those who were “all over the interwebs” started seeing WTFVF pop up in more than one or two places. They would “like” or follow or subscribe, which would then lead to them telling their friends, who would tell their friends, and so on. Every day I’m still learning about new ways to connect with new groups of people and other like-minded business owners. The opportunities are endless and it’s just so exhilarating!
What life lesson has come to light after traveling solo for a year?
It’s extremely difficult to put this into words. And even harder to choose just one. To keep it short and sweet I’ll say this—the biggest takeaway I’ve learned from every angle of this journey, is that most people are good people.
How vital to your success and continued traveling has meeting new people and making connections been?
I think I would have been able to get by if I didn’t make connections or take up offers from friends of friends. But honestly, I wouldn’t have learned so much about myself and about how amazing, generous, and kind people are. I also wouldn’t have had as many couches to sleep on or free meals to enjoy. The community that was built by the people who I met and connected with along the way is the primary reason that you’re reading this right now. It’s become the lifeblood of WTFVF.
From the WTF Vegan Food blog—Kristin’s All-time U.S. Faves
- City: Portland, Oregon
- Restaurant:Vedge, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Ice Cream:Café 118° Winter Park, Florida
- Pizza:Peace O’ Pie, Allston, Massachusetts (out of business)
- Raw:Omar’s Rawtopia, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Southern: Detroit Vegan Soul, Detroit, Michigan
Thank you Kristin! We’re so inspired by your trip and can’t wait to see what you do next. Check out her blog at http://wtfveganfood.com