Vow has made a vow to create alternatives to the food we eat! Many food startups out there have skewed toward meat alternatives using plant-based ingredients. At Vow, they’re focused on making actual meat using animal cells by using biotechnology research–making it much more sustainable for the environment. A cultivated meat company founded and operating in Sydney, Australia, Vow is composed of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, technologists, and designers working together in the pursuit of better food.
Ellen Dinsmoor, COO of Vow, describes her work as a medley of many different things. Her day-to-day work ranges from finance to all things BizOps, allowing her to dabble into a little bit of everything. Formerly the BizOps Lead at Lemonade, a digital insurance company based in New York, Dinsmoor found her way to working in the cultured meat industry after reading a couple of inspirational books on it.
In 2022, Vow saw success in attracting investors due to their approach of running as fast as they can. Instead of bringing their team along the specific journey of fundraising, they saw best results when they separated the process of looking for funds while allowing team members to focus on their own set of goals. “Everyone can really rally around that and it ends up being a huge part of the fundraising story,” Dinsmoor says.
What sets Vow apart from its competitors is its approach and product profitability, “Pretty much everyone else is trying to recreate a chicken nugget or a beef burger. They're competing against existing meat companies when it comes to cost and taste and all the things that you and I or anyone else who's had meat would know if you're biting into it.”
Dinsmoor continues, “When you play in that space, it's much more of a game around what's your path to profitability? How are you going to make money really quickly? Whereas we just have this fundamentally different strategy and vision, which is inherently also longer term. In that sense, we're not an investment that you make looking to make money in two years. There's this crop of investors, which is much more forward, long-term thinking that we were able to tap into.”
This opened the gates for Vow to take in more employees and grow their company.
In terms of how Cake helped Vow streamline and grow its system, improvements can be seen in its cap table. Dinsmoor says,
“The short and sweet of that is the cap table that we use in Cake is our source of truth. That's the tool that we use on a day-to-day basis to update it as we're adding new employees to Vow.”
Taking in more employees means giving them the opportunity to be an owner of the company. At Vow, every employee receives an option grant. Dinsmoor goes, “Because of that, we need a tool like Cake where you can dynamically update the vesting. At any point in time for the fundraising process, you're going to have an investor reach out and say, what's the cap table look like today? And what's the exact amount of shares that have been vested within your ESOP pool? So Cake becomes a very easy one-stop shop where we can go and because we have the day-to-day processes in place where that's updated, then we can very easily go and download what the cap table looks like.”
When it comes to requests where the cap table is needed by investors, time is of the essence. Cake makes reconciling quick and easy,
“We had an internal role that we would respond to any diligence request within 24 hours. So when that's the baseline for a turnaround time, being able to quickly download something versus refreshing, recalculating, and reconciling things that are off is huge.”
Another benefit since using Cake is the time needed to do certain tasks has been minimized. Dinsmoor says, “Where we have hit some bumps in the road is if we onboarded someone new or someone left or roles changed internally…there wasn't a clear process. Then even in two months, if you hire a couple of people, you get in this backlog where then it takes a lot of time to go in and update and reconcile and make sure that everything is up to date. And then you can't respond to those diligence requests that you get as quickly because you have to double-check the validity of where the cap table stands at a given point in time. So we're investing 10 to 20 minutes to say who owns this? Who owns what parts? If they're out of office, who steps in? How frequently do they need to update? It could just be once a fortnight, but having that level of process around it smooths out the entire experience so much more than waiting until it becomes on fire.”
Another hurdle that Vow managed to overcome is the strict regulatory requirements around granting ESOP in Australia. Dinsmoor explains, “Basically within a 12-month period, you are only allowed to grant a certain number of option kinds of grants to new employees. Those rules were put in place a while back with good intentions, but they do make it harder for a startup that's growing pretty quickly to grant those offers when people join. Using a tool like Cake, it becomes much easier for me to see how many grants did we make in the last six months? Are we getting close to a point where we have to report something? Do we need to go and get different regulatory compliance approvals for something? And so you can also just keep notes on that in a system like Cake, which is helpful. Especially for someone like myself who doesn't know all the ins and outs of Australian tax rules, having somewhere where you can keep notes and reminders on this and then use it to make sure you're ensuring compliance is also just a huge tool for having peace of mind.”
At Cake, we value the balance between life and work that equates to a healthy and happy employee. For Dinsmoor, she emphasizes two things that she believes in while working at Vow. The first is the monthly fireside chat their operations team holds. It’s all about checking in with their employees, whether inside or outside the work environment. She says, “I wanted to carve out space for this where we all step back as a team and each month we answer a similar list of questions…often focused around how are you feeling in terms of learning and development? How are you feeling in terms of workload and sustainability? How are you feeling about our team? And then we always end with what's one thing we should keep doing as a team and what's one thing we should do differently.” At the end of the day, it’s all about supporting people on a human level!
The second thing, which is more personal to Dinsmoor, is what she calls a Swiss cheese working style. She explains, “I'm not good at sitting still for that long. In general, I find that I try to have a level of self-awareness around whether or not I'm being productive and being efficient. And if I'm not, I'm not going to glue my butt to a seat and force it to happen. And so I try to encourage that with my team as well. I try to encourage people to have a degree of fluidity in their schedule that flexes around what allows them to do their best work.”