Vegan food and products are in high demand. Sharon Lu understands that and knows how frustrating it can be to find high-quality vegan commodities. So, in 2014, along with three of their closest friends, Sharon co-founded Vegan Distribution—a compassionate wholesaler and distributor of vegan and eco-friendly products.
Starting their career as an engineer, Sharon quickly learned that they desired a more fulfilling career in an industry they believed in. After working in various roles, Sharon turned to veganism and entrepreneurship. Today, Vegan Distribution has transformed from an idea between four friends to a fast-growing operation on a mission to build a kinder world.
Being a savvy business owner, Sharon reached out to SCORE in the business's early stages. It was essential for them and their partners to have a third-party, unbiased opinion when making critical decisions—and mentor, Mitchell Grunat, filled that missing piece.
Together they've built something solid and lasting. Vegan Distribution has grown 60% annually, and there's no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Sharon's story teaches us to keep trying, learn from failure, and always make business about people first.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
Sharon: "I have an engineering degree and have always had a goal to start a business. When I was little, I would draw out a business plan for department stores. It's funny to think about now. After graduating college, I just didn't find work in the engineering field fulfilling—I wanted something where I could use my skills and knowledge and that I believed in and found meaningful."
You have business partners, and you're all passionate about what you do. How did you meet?
Sharon: "We're all friends from different backgrounds that had separate businesses. In 2014, we decided we wanted to be in the vegan food business together—because, as vegans, we understood how difficult it was to find high-quality vegan food and products. Our mission is to make these products accessible to anyone wishing to give a vegan diet a try."
What inspired you and your friends to become vegan?
Sharon: "Mostly, animal compassion. I believe that we shouldn't have to sacrifice another life for our own appetite. I don't think there is a need to eat animal protein while many other options are available to feed more people and be more environmentally friendly."
What issues or challenges were you facing in vegan distribution? How did that lead you to SCORE?
Sharon: "I used SCORE in previous businesses and was a SCORE mentor at the San Francisco location, so that's one reason I was led to SCORE! Also, my managing partners and I come from different backgrounds, and we think very differently, so I wanted to have third-party, unbiased advice and opinions. That's why I reached out to SCORE for mentoring, and it was an incredibly valuable experience."
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs and startups?
Sharon: "I feel like everything is a lesson we can learn from. You have to really look at why something doesn't work and keep trying. If method A doesn't work, try method B. It's okay to fail and learn what doesn't work. It's better to try and find out what does or doesn't work rather than not try at all. Even if it may not seem like the best idea, give it a try and learn from it."
How has your team grown since the beginning?
Sharon: "When the pandemic hit in 2020, we were so busy, but it wasn't the right time to move yet. We've since moved into a warehouse three times bigger than the original. Our team made this happen in three months and within budget—we worked very hard, and I'm proud of what we've accomplished so far. We've grown organically and added new staff and are making plans to steadily grow regionally and continue serving local businesses."
How did COVID-19 and the pandemic impact your business?
Sharon: "We took a hit at first but landed quite a few new accounts that year. It's encouraging to know there's such a strong demand for vegan products. We feel very fortunate and grateful for that."
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Sharon: "I've learned in this business that every business is about the people—it's all about relationships. We really love our customers. We eat at their restaurants, and we know them on a first-name basis. The human connection makes the work fulfilling. It makes me feel like I'm doing what I'm meant to do. It's all about being kind and considerate to each other in every moment."
As veganism gains in popularity globally, companies like Vegan Distribution will continue to increase their revenue—while making a positive and lasting impact on the world. Whether starting or growing your business, a SCORE mentor can help you reach your goal.
Reach out and connect with your new mentor today.