Sam Lillie of Vinder: “Establish who you are so you can endure anything with your head held high”
…constantly challenge yourself both physically and mentally. Overtime, you’ll be able to push beyond your boundaries and mental barriers while understanding who you are as an individual. Once you know who you are and are comfortable with that person. You can endure anything with your head held high.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Lillie, Co-founder and CEO of Vinder, an online neighbormadefarmers market app that connects home gardeners and small producers with their neighbors to buy/sell homegrown food. Sam is a small farm advocate, gardener, entrepreneur of the year of Jefferson county, WA, long-distance hiker, and lover of burritos.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I attended a town hall meeting in Port Townsend, WA where I learned that the biggest problem in the town was access to local produce. As I walked home from the meeting I saw apples growing in people front yards and though, “Why can’t we just buy from our neighbors?” So, I knocked on the door and introduced myself. I asked if they had ever thought about selling their apples and they responded, “What the heck are you doing in my yard?!”. I was startled but told them I worked behind the desk at a local gym and if I could get someone to buy their apples, could I sell them? They said yes. So I asked everyone that walked by the front desk if they wanted to buy some apples until someone said yes. Then for 3 months I knocked on my neighbors doors and hand delivered over 300 lbs of produce between my neighbors on my bicycle using a $6 Wix website.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Well, when I first started Vinder I was living in my mom’s basement working at a gym and doing everything Vinder related manually. I had never started a legitimate business nor had I worked in a corporate job before so everything was new and I didn’t have any mentors. I have accepting cash payments and carrying a deposit envelope during every delivery. I was delivering either on bicycle or by foot. I knocked on doors to find suppliers. I called each supplier every week to find out what was available. Once Istarted building a website I had to learn how to communicate with developers.
Each stage a business goes through has it’s own challenges and “hard times”. At one point I was living in my van in a Wal-Mart parking lot for four months in the winter making sure my team got paid while I raised capital.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
What keeps me going is seeing the faces of each person that gets an order. Hearing the children cheer when I delivered a box of veggies. Getting the emails from customers who had an incredible experience meeting their local producers and truly understanding how their food was grown and by whom. Our office walls are lined with framed pictures of our users — our “neighbors. We are constantly surrounded by our community and they are what keep me going.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great! We won the 2017 Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition. We were selected as one of the top 15 most innovative companies in the world in agricultural supply chain innovation by South by SouthWest’s Food+City, graduated the Mass Challenge accelerator and have been rapidly growing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes our company stand out is our users — our neighbors. We are a user owned and operated company. The first Hi-Tech food co-op that I am aware of.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Exercise regularly. This will help reduce stress, maintain dopamine and endorphin levels, and help you sleep. Create a structured schedule and do your best to follow it. This helps you prevent becoming overwhelmed because you have designated time and days for certain tasks. Force yourself to have a day off once a week. The mind needs time to recover from the mass decision making. This will help you focus and stay mentally strong.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I don’t have an individual person but a large group. If it wasn’t for my neighbors being willing to open their doors and hear me out when I pitched this idea to them on bicycle then we wouldn’t be where we are. If it wasn’t for the gym members willing to buy some apples or produce from the guy behind the desk (me) then we wouldn’t be where we are. The 371 users and investors that bought shares while we ran an equity crowdfund, who invested an average of $450 then we wouldn’t be where we are. We couldn’t do this without the community — our neighbors.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our platform helps communities gain access to the amazing, organic produce being grown by their neighbors. We can help food deserts become food forests by empowering the local home gardener or home baker. In Texas, under cottage food law, you can sell up to $50,000 out of your home kitchen. This is the future of our food system. A food system created by the people, owned by the people. Plus, it’s better than sitting in traffic driving for Uber.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
I don’t have 5 pieces of advice. The only piece of advice I have for developing Grit is to constantly challenge yourself both physically and mentally. Overtime, you’ll be able to push beyond your boundaries and mental barriers while understanding who you are as an individual. Once you know who you are and are comfortable with that person. You can endure anything with your head held high.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Local food movement ;)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
IG: @Vinder_app or @Veggiemansam
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!