Tim Burrows, 33, founder of Auckland-based food start-up Wise Boys, talks about starting his business with his brother, and how putting your health before profits is the key to success.
What does your business do?
Wise Boys is a vegan food business, specialising in American-style vegan fast food and burgers. We started off as a food truck, and everything we have done since we started in 2016 has been plant-based. We have two restaurants; Grey Lynn and Commercial Bay, and our range of sauces, which came about as when we started because we couldn't find any vegan aoili and had to make our own. People really liked it and kept asking about it to take home so we thought why not? The sauces came about during a pandemic moment as well; when we got shut down in the lockdown we couldn't do anything so thought of a way to diversify and be more resilient through the pandemic.
What was your motivation for starting it?
My brother Luke and I had wanted to run a business together for ages, we talked about it and decided if we wanted to do a business it had to be something that contributes good into the world; not just business for the sake of creating a business and making money, and so we wanted to do something positive. I don't know how we got into hospitality because neither of us had any experience in that; I was a mechanical engineer and Luke was a lawyer. but I guess we figured that burgers is something that anyone can cook up - you don't have to be a chef - and so that is why we went for burgers and decided to go fully plant-based and try and be as zero-waste as possible.
How was your business funded?
I moved in with my parents for six months and put in all of my savings which was about $12,000 and we built the food truck to a very low standard, just to get it on the road. I spent three months building and Luke would come home after work and help me build it. Within two months of launching it we got accepted into the Good Food Boost programme run by the Sustainable Business Network, and we got some mentoring through that, and one of the guys Mike Murphy, he helped us out a lot and looked at our food truck and said; 'If you want to take this seriously you guys really need to step it up, buy some proper equipment and get it properly kitted out. We had just bought cheap equipment, and so that was when we did a crowdfunding campaign with PledgeMe.
We raised $15,000 through crowdfunding in July 2016 and we also got a bank loan so we spent $30,000 after that, which we used to kit out the food truck properly and meant we could really start to ramp up sales and do it properly.
What's your business journey looked like until now?
In 2016, 2017 and 2018 we just did the food truck and we first launched our aoili into Farro at the end of 2017. We had three years of just the food truck and then in early 2019 we opened our first restaurant in Grey Lynn - that was the big jump for us, going from being a small food truck employing one or two people to employing five or six full-time equivalent staff. Within that same year we got offered the chance to open in the Commercial Bay development, and so we opened that in June 2020 after we got out of the first lockdown. It has been a terrible time to open a business in the CBD, but that's how it happened, and then over the course of 2021 was when we launched a full range of sauces into supermarkets. We started with just aoili, mayo and siracha mayo, and then expanded it into a range of six sauces. We're now selling in all of the Countdowns since October last year.
What's your focus right now?
We're pushing hard on both the restaurant and grocery fronts of the business. We are actively looking for new restaurant sites at the moment - looking for another one, maybe two in Auckland, and then in Wellington and Christchurch and see how we go. We are preparing for expansion, we have confidence now that our Commercial Bay store is picking up; people aren't so spooked and people are coming back to offices and I think that has been helpful. The fact that we have survived, and done pretty good for ourselves, over the past two years gives us confidence that we have a good model for more growth. We have a separate kitchen where we make all of our sauces for the supermarkets and that satellite kitchen is perfect for supplying multiple stores. Looking to expand both arms of the business, but I'd say there's more emphasis on the restaurant side of the business.
Where do you see the business in five years' time?
In five years' time I think we will have another four or five restaurants operational, and we are working on some new products as well so hopefully they are available in supermarkets.
What's the biggest challenge you've had to work through?
The pandemic has been the biggest challenge so far, especially opening a store in Auckland CBD in the middle of pandemic - our Grey Lynn store has really carried that second store a lot. Cash flow has been very tight because of that. But I think if we have been able to survive this it gives us confidence for the future. When things get tough you are forced to innovate to bring costs down and it has forced us to run as lean as possible, and now we have this really lean model that if we do expand is much more efficient than maybe it would have been.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
On a personal note, I've had some quite bad health issues and I think that stems alot from exhaustion and working too hard, so I would say caring for your health and wellbeing is so important - don't sacrifice that just to try to make some money or be successful, because it is kind of meaningless if you don't feel good.