Ivey grads turn off 'The Streets' into new venture
By Paul Mayne
March 28, 2013
Alex Hyssen and Andrew Lenjosek gave up their careers on ‘The Streets’ – Bay and Wall – to pursue a shared vision of a healthier world. It’s a bold move for the Richard Ivey School of Business graduates, both HBA’11, and one that didn’t come without a little hesitation.
“In terms of leaving our jobs, it was really tough,” Lenjosek said. “I had signed an offer to join a hedge fund, and while investment banking is a great career and I liked what I was doing, in my opinion, these sort of jobs are going to be around forever.
“When Alex told me what he wanted to do, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I felt it would be a mistake to pass it up. That’s how I justified it, but I will say I was scared.”
As frequent vitamin store patrons, the pair began discussing common problems they had seen, in particular the issue of high prices and an over-saturated and confusing marketplace. From this banter came the creation of Køge Vitamins, an online vitamin marketplace which they founded on a “desire to offer simple, premium quality vitamins at prices that make sense for everyone.”
While traveling Europe, the two discovered Køge, a small town on Denmark’s coast. As the heart of that country’s transportation system, it is responsible for supplying the entire country with its vital resources – which the pair wants their company to do with vitamins.
“When Alex and I looked at that market, there was no one else there right now who is really focused on this customized aspect and using technology to completely change an industry that has been brick and mortar for so long,” said the 23-year-old Lenjosek. “And I loved the idea.”
The two had been working on their business venture for almost a year before launching the company this past month.
The company pitches that by selling direct, it can cut costs up to five times for the customer.
Køge Vitamins has also partnered with Vitamin Angel, a non-profit organization, to reduce child mortality rates across the globe by increasing access to micronutrients, particularly vitamin A, for newborns, infants and children. Much like the model used by TOMS Shoes, Køge Vitamins pledges to donate vitamins to Vitamin Angel for distribution in Africa for every vitamin purchased on its site.
“When you jump into it, you jump into it with both feet,” Hyssen said, adding Ivey has been a fantastic support network for them during this time. “You think it’s a smart decision and it’s easy, but reality kicks you in the butt and it’s like ‘Wow, this is actually happening.’”
But Internet consumerism is flooded with everything from clothing to Tupperware – and surely others are selling vitamins. So how do two 23-year-olds navigate the murky water of online sales? Just make it simple.
Their team of doctors and nutritionists have put together multi-product vitamin packages designed to ensure individual benefits, avoiding having to sort through hundreds of single-product options when trying to find what’s best.
“It’s a credibility issue. It’s dealing with a top manufacturer in North America, and then actually committing ourselves to giving the best customer service out there,” Hyssen added. “The comment about everyone can do it, ya they can, but your success is only reflective of what you put into the business.”
And if early projections are correct, these two are sure putting in their 110 per cent. They now expect their one-year sales expectations to be met in just three months.
With 14-hour days, seven days a week, you have got to be sure you like what you’re doing or failure will surely follow. But ask either one, and they’ll tell you, they made the right decision.
“We both loved our jobs and were very fortunate to have them, but before I would go in the office every day, and it’s not that I disliked it, but you have the grind, you get your work done, then you go and have fun,” said Lenjosek. “With Alex and I, when you come in the office there are so many exciting things going on and we love our team. We’re best friends and that’s kind of how we run the business.”
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