Searching for vegan or vegetarian options can mean going the extra mile to find a restaurant which goes beyond catering to crafting plant-based dishes that are tasty and innovative. Based in Singapore, abillionveg is a tech start-up aiming to ease that process by providing a one-stop-shop for exploring plant-based restaurants all over the world. Both a review platform and social enterprise, abillionveg was born out of Founder Vikas Garg’s own search for more diverse vegan options. Compare Retreats chats with Vikas about growing up in New York, personalised nutrition and how abillionveg’s ambitious plans to help a billion people transition to a plant-based lifestyle.
What was your life like before starting abillionveg? I’m from India but I spent most of my childhood in New York City. I started work in the finance world when I was a teenager, and worked in the industry for fifteen years. Even though I felt like I had gotten to where I’d always dreamt I wanted to be, I couldn’t shake the idea that the things I was proudest of had nothing to do with my career: my work with animals, people and activism, working on grassroots projects like education programmes for at-risk youth. I learnt how valuable education was, and I was felt there was an opportunity to take these things and build an amazing platform that connects people, makes it easier for them to choose better, and helps create a movement around the world. Over the years I developed a burning desire to create positive impact and so I left the industry at the peak of my career in 2017 to start abillionveg.
How has growing up vegetarian (and vegan later in life) lent itself to your work in abillionveg? I have my mom to thank for my life-long passion for life in all its form. In New York City, I’ve seen how disconnected most people are from nature, which is something I wanted to change in creating abillionveg.
abillionveg is aiming to help one billion people transition to plant-based living by 2030. Why is this important and what difference will it make to climate change if successful? A billion plant-based people would be an estimated 11% of the global population by 2030. Whereas today it’s estimated that roughly 4% of people are vegetarian or vegan. There are numerous tangible benefits including massive improvements in the consumption of water and land, greenhouse gas reduction, nutrient availability, reduction in waste, and more equitable distribution of food globally. We kill 100 billion land-based animals and 2.5 trillion fish every year. A meaningful reduction in that will also help restore the earth’s biodiversity.
What are some of the obstacles that have to be overcome to achieve this goal? A lot of people say being vegan is an endeavour for the rich, yet it’s the one thing we can all do to improve our consumption and reduce both short-term and long-term costs, both as individuals and as a part of the broader ecosystem we live in. There are countless social, economic and cultural reasons against it, but like all things, technology will generally tip the scales in its favour.
Where is the abillionveg app currently available? We have more than 40,000 member reviews in nearly 90 countries. We have the largest database of plant-based dishes and products in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, and our top markets also include the US, Canada, UK, Spain, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia & Indonesia.
What advice do you have for anyone doubtful about going plant-based? Well, I’d look at it this way. Many of the world’s largest and fastest animals get their protein from plants. Their bodies might function differently than ours, but it’s just as possible for us to live on a plant-based diet. Humans are opportunistic carnivores. We don’t need meat to thrive. The plant-based meat products will continue to get better and provide great alternatives for people to enjoy meat in a more sustainable way.
How does activism and promoting sustainability tie into the business aspect of abillionveg? Technology has the ability to take door-to-door activism and scale it with businesses on a global scale. Our goal with the donations is to inspire people to choose vegan choices and review them, which builds our community, helps others discover those options, and connects that choice with the life that it most impacts, that of the animal. That’s why we partner with animal sanctuaries on the frontline of the movement and try to meaningfully support them every time a review is made on the app.
As a tech start-up, abillionveg has digitalised plant-based living. What’s your biggest takeaway working in the tech industry? None of us were tech people by background. I’ve stayed off social media all my life and didn’t know how to use Facebook or Instagram. We got here today by our passion for problem-solving and building something with purpose. Technology and software engineering is a lot like math. There are numerous paths you can take in solving a problem but usually one stands out better than the rest.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs entering the startup space? Be a little scared if you lack experience but don’t let it stop you from trying. Just be sure to try harder than you ever have before.