BA Business Management. Class of 2012. Co-Founder of Wales’ First Vegan Factory, Saveg.
When Maria Marling and her partner were struggling to find convenient plant-based food in supermarkets, they decided to take matters into their own hands. The result, SAVEG; a plant-based and sustainable food company that has enhanced the humble pie into an award-winning product.
What made you decide to study at Swansea?
The School of Management had a great reputation, which was important to me, as I wanted to study Business Management. The tight-knit campus was also wonderful, and everyone was super friendly. To top it off, the beach was at your doorstep and the nightlife was fantastic!
Did you always want to run your own business?
I have always been entrepreneurial. From a young age, I had a hunger for making my own funds, and as a child, I would wash cars and carol sing for money. Whilst at Swansea, I aimed to graduate with a 2:1, get a good job, become financially stable and use that time wisely to seek out an opportunity that I could capitalise on.
"Before we knew it, we were at farmers' markets, selling hundreds of pies every week!"
How did the idea for SAVEG come about?
My partner Marysia and I were trying to eat a plant-based diet, but we always struggled to find comforting and convenient dinner options in supermarkets. We were brainstorming ideas and hit upon pies; after all, there's nothing more comforting than a pie and chips!
We soon began experimenting with recipes in our home kitchen in Cardiff. We wanted to create pies with bold and adventurous flavours that you would never traditionally get in a pie but would taste bangin’. Before we knew it, we were at farmers' markets, selling hundreds of pies every week!
Since setting up SAVEG, has anything surprised you in the world of business? Any challenges you've met and had to overcome?
Whatever you think you will make in sales, reduce it by 70%. It is so easy to throw on your rose-tinted glasses and get carried away by turnover. You may have a fantastic interest in your product from buyers, but until the order is on the back of the lorry, don’t assume it has been won.
The strain on your mental health is particularly difficult, as you have no job security. If you’re receiving income, at first it will probably be the lowest you’ve ever received, and you are quite likely to be in debt; a rejection from buyers on top of all that can be emotionally draining. You have to constantly submerge yourself in positivity and surround yourself with good people.
A quote that helps me when times are hard is by entrepreneur Ben Horrowitz. Ben wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things, where he says, "focus on the road, not the wall". He compares entrepreneurship to being a racecar driver. If the driver focuses on the road, he will continue on his path and finish the course; if he focuses on the wall, it will come to an abrupt end.
"I aspire to be like that; able to provide a good life for my family, while also being respected as a strong businesswoman."
Who has inspired you throughout your career journey?
That’s a difficult question, as there have been many people who have inspired me.
My first job after university was at Molson Coors Beverage Company (2012-2015), where I met Helen Grzonka, Head of the National Contact Centre. When Helen walked into the office, everyone was on their best behaviour; we all respected her and wanted to impress her. She was professional, knowledgeable and personable. She also seemed to juggle work effortlessly, as she was also a mother of three. I aspire to be like that; able to provide a good life for my family, while also being respected as a strong businesswoman.
As an entrepreneur, what advice do you have for our current students that are thinking about starting their own business?
Ensure you have a product that consumers need, not just what you think is a good idea. Test and prove that idea before you seek funding, and also, it's important to learn from others. Join any free entrepreneurial hub scheme and speak to as many people as you can, in your industry or not; you never know who they know and can introduce you to.
As Wales’ first Vegan factory, what are your plans and hopes for the industry?
To become the number one choice for plant-based convenience comfort food.
We are currently living through a pandemic, which has affected many businesses. How are you and the SAVEG team coping during this difficult time?
We have had support from Barclays Bank through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Welsh Government with the Economic Resilience Fund Grant and the Job Retention Scheme. We have seen a 95% decrease in sales and so have furloughed all staff. The aim is to survive in 2020, ready to fight in 2021. This means new 3-year forecasts and a new business plan. Some doors will close, but others will open and we need to be prepared to adapt.