When Katie and Jane realised they couldn’t find a 'fast food' fix for their meat-reducer, vegetarian mouth-watery appetite, they knew they had to create one.
Their creation, Not Dogs provides food lovers with a delicious, fun, quality menu to excite and amaze. Not Dogs is an all-veggie company that provides veggies, vegans and meat-eaters unique menu of Not Dogs, burgers, breakfasts, sides and fries.
Below is their story so far.
Hi ladies, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourselves?
Our background is in marketing, advertising and public relations which is where we met and dreamt up lots of exciting business ideas. We would have regular sessions where we’d talk about what kind of future we’d like, what industry we’d ideally like to be in and how to get there. We felt unfulfilled by the limited possibilities of the career path we were on which gave us the drive to take the leap to venture out on our own.
Thankfully our years in marketing meant our first business, social media training, got off to a great start as we had bags of experience. We took all money raised in that business to fund Not Dogs and our marketing background came in useful with building and executing the Not Dogs brand too. We know how important it is to build a brand that people are passionate about and that’s what we set out thinking about from the start with Not Dogs.
How did the idea for Not Dogs come about?
We started Not Dogs as somewhere that we would personally love to eat at - as a meat-eater and a vegetarian. Very quickly our driving power moved onto making customers happy. Once we handed out our first Not Dog, the reaction we got in person and on social media was beyond our imagination - to have built up a loyal following of passionate fans is what keeps us striving to improve and to grow.
Alongside that, changing fast food into something that can be better for people’s health, kinder to animals and make a difference to the environment is something we are so proud to be involved in. Welcoming thousands through the door each week we know that Not Dogs has the power and potential to drive this change forward across the globe.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
We didn’t have a background in food and certainly not in outside catering so we really had to learn ‘on-the-job’. Every day would be a new challenge to overcome... how to logistically get our food truck to various events, how to estimate volume requirements at each location... the list goes on!
Although learning all these new things was very tough (and still is) it was so rewarding to overcome the challenges and develop ourselves and the business.
What is Not Dogs? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Not Dogs is a place where everyone can eat together. We don’t like to use labels - we just provide delicious, unique, exciting food that happens to be meat-free. We know that people still want that naughty ‘fast food fix’ and with Not Dogs, our customers can get it just in a way that’s better for us, animals and the environment.
One of the most exciting things for us is when people comment on how ‘meaty’ our food is and that, as a meat-eater, they don’t miss the meat but do feel better about choosing Not Dogs over a traditional fast food restaurant.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Initially we ploughed all money raised from our previous business to create and brand our food truck and get out on the road to test the concept. After two festival seasons, when we saw the excitement around our brand, and knew the next step had to be a restaurant family gave us a small amount of funding to get our first premises in Birmingham open.
On day three of trading there we won our biggest investment so far with our current investors which have been a fantastic asset to have in our first year.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
They were quite honestly completely crazy. Nerves rather than excitement filled us and going from just the two of us to a staff force of ten to keep the food ‘fast’ and the restaurant open in an iconic shopping centre during Christmas was the biggest rip off of the band aid we have ever experience or likely to experience again. Nobody could have prepared us, and as we always say when we look back we are glad we were naive as we’re not sure we would have took on the challenge if we truly knew how big it was going to be.
Thankfully we were naive but crucially with a tested concept and that was the magic that kept us striving forward and gaining confidence and accepting the reality that we now had a restaurant and a Not Dogs Crew we were ultimately responsible for and customers that we have to ensure love their experience with us every single time!
How did you initially get traction?
We used what every start-up has to use, social media and our knowledge of how to align with bigger players in the industry to help spread the word. We have been so lucky to be loved by The Bullring and we regularly feed them ideas and new content to promote about us and their audience is huge. Other than that it has been repeated customers, some travelling all the way from the US to see us for a Sausage Selfie and our thousands of fans we built up while travelling around in our food truck.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Keep the menu evolving, see the potential in our Crew and elevate their responsibilities to help us improve Not Dogs and listen to customers.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journeys so far?
Most of the time we are so consumed by the business and being great business partners to each other, we don’t have the time to just be friends and go on adventures. Those little sparing moments we have had since 2012 are total highlights because then we can truly see how far we have come and laugh till we cry about all the near-miss moments, the weird things we’ve done in pursuit of being there best in our field and the time Katie fell over in horse sh*t while pushing our food truck into place
What should we be expecting from the Not Dogs team for 2018?
In 2018 we’re opening two more restaurants in the UK and are relaunching Not Dogs to the festival circuit which we are very excited about. We’re already thinking of next Christmas as we’d love to go back to the Christmas markets where we’ve been very popular in recent years.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. To be persistent - if you believe in your idea, don’t give up on it. We think that really is the key to having a successful business - don’t stop until it’s successful! It does take a lot of grit and determination but the rewards, those highs, are so worth it.
2. Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ - We often say this to ourselves. If an opportunity presents itself, we look at the worst case scenario and, if we’re still excited about it, we’ll just go for it! Potentially the regret of not trying something is the worst that can happen.
3. Stay Naive! You don’t have to have a good ‘head for business’ to start and build upon something you believe in, which will come in time. What would be the fun in knowing exactly what each challenge would put you through before you tried it?