We had the good fortune of connecting with Maggie Ortlieb and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maggie, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I moved to Los Angeles almost seven years ago and quickly began taking advantage of all the amazing things to do here—discovering new restaurants, going to events, and exploring the city. Time Out and LA Weekly were my go-to resources but lacked vegan options. There would be a fun event happening with a $50 entrance fee, but that fee included all-you-can-eat meat tacos. The LA vegan community existed and was thriving, I just had to find it. So I began doing research—looking for the best vegan restaurants, festivals, and events in Los Angeles. It occurred to me that if I was having this much trouble finding options, other people probably were as well. At the time, there was no curated vegan guide to the city—I wanted to change that. Meanwhile, non-vegan friends and coworkers were asking me what I ate. I wanted to show them how easy it was (especially in LA) to be vegan, and that it didn’t mean having to give up their favorite foods—they could still enjoy burgers, pizza, tacos, ice cream, doughnuts, and more, but without animal products. So I started a little blog.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
VegOut is not just a company, it’s a mission-driven business. Everything we do—the reason we exist—is centered around helping people transition to a more plant-based lifestyle. On the outside, we’re a chatty, bubbly, media company. On the inside, we’re serious activists. We like to attract readers in a way that helps them understand that veganism benefits their health, the animals they’re sparing, and the environment as well. Our country’s food system needs to be reshaped, and we’re using our platform to make that happen. While I could have launched a nonprofit or initiated some form of grassroots activism, I leaned heavily on my education in creative advertising and marketing, along with my personal strengths and interests, to go with what I felt would be the strongest socially conscious impact—a mission-driven strategic business model. We’re building something pretty freaking cool here at VegOut, and I’m excited to be leading that movement.
I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life, even before that word was part of my vocabulary. However, just because you have an entrepreneurial mind doesn’t mean you have the tools to effectively carry out your ideas. You develop those skills along the way. I didn’t go to business school or take any formal training. I learned from the many challenges and failures I experienced as part of the journey. If you are considering starting a business, think about whether you are truly cut out for this work. The idea of running your own company seems glamorous with loads of perks, but while I wouldn’t trade it for the world, it’s definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. There’s no clear path, nobody telling you what to do. You’re on your own trying to figure it out. If you’re a woman running a business, you’re going to face additional challenges on top of that. Learning to hold firm in my confidence as the leader of a company and to stand up for myself and what’s best for VegOut took some time, but it’s proved critical to the success of my brand.
I’ve gained so much insight on this journey, the most important being that human resources is key. Everyone likes to discuss numbers and the “bottom line,” but without a strong team, your company isn’t going to succeed. The VegOut crew is incredible and was formed organically over time. I never once posted a job ad. Each person came to me serendipitously at the right time, and I built the team intuitively and intentionally from that. I’ve also learned that overnight or viral success is pretty rare. Sure, it happens, but the most successful people I know put in a crazy amount of hours and built consistently over time to make that success happen. It can take years to become profitable and grow a business. You shouldn’t start the journey unless you’re dedicated and passionate about your product, because you’re going to be spending the majority of your time on it for the rest of your life, or until you sell or exit the business.
At VegOut, we didn’t set out to be a small vegan publication that caters exclusively to a plant-based crowd. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to change the world. As such, my goal isn’t to convert every person to veganism. I’d love that, but I’m realistic. I know how most people eat—I grew up eating meat. My goal is to let everyone know that VegOut is here for them, no matter where they are on their journey. If you’re new to veganism and want to try Meatless Mondays, that’s a good way to start. We’re here for you. If you want to go all in, we’re here for that. And if you just want to reduce your consumption of dairy, that’s great. We’re here for you, too. Our goal, with the brand, is to appeal to the mainstream, to provide an inclusive space where everyone feels welcome.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oooh, you asked the right person! Lol. If I had a friend visiting town, here’s what I’d do:
Sunday – Walk around the Mar Vista Farmers Market and grab chocolate croissants from Ridiculous Baking Co. (they’re sooo good!). Later in the day, hike up the Culver City Stairs, then drive to the Eastside for some Cena Vegan.
Monday – Take a walk through Downtown Culver City, maybe grab Chipotle for lunch (because even though LA is one of the biggest foodie cities in the country, I’m sometimes a basic Midwesterner who loves large portions at small prices). Then stop in at Van Leeuwen for their Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam vegan ice cream (it’s the best flavor, just try it!).
Tuesday – Hit the road and head a couple of hours east to Joshua Tree, stopping at Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs on the way. Gotta get a desert photo shoot in for the ‘gram!
Wednesday – Spend a day in Echo Park hitting up all my favorite vegan spots! Yoga-urt (the best plant-based soft serve), Monty’s Good Burger (amazing vegan burgers and fries, just like In-N-Out), and Sage (must-try buffalo cauliflower). Then, rent a swan pedal boat and take a few laps around Echo Park Lake.
Thursday – We’d start the day with a hike near the coast, maybe Los Leones. Then we’d drive through Topanga Canyon and stop at Topanga Living Cafe for a purple-hued smoothie, because what’s a trip to LA without spending upwards of 10 bucks for superfood nutrition in a cup?
Friday – Take a stroll around the Fairfax and Beverly Grove neighborhoods to do a little people-watching, iced oat milk matcha latte from Alfred in one hand and a breakfast sandwich from VOWburger in the other. End the day with dinner at Crossroads Kitchen.
Saturday – Brunch at Nic’s On Beverly. Heck, we might even stay for dinner and order my favorite Detroit-style pizza. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents. My mom has been with me since day one of the business, and she’s now my managing editor. Actually, I’m not sure VegOut would have taken off if it weren’t for her. Before I could say no, she wrote up about 10 articles for the website and submitted them to me. She said, “We’re doing this.” She believed in VegOut—and me—from the beginning. My dad is pretty conservative when it comes to taking risks. He’s been at the same engineering firm for over 30 years, and being from the Midwest, he always assumed I’d get a good 9-5 job somewhere and work my way up as he did. However, when I launched VegOut, he was so supportive that he went as far as to offer financial assistance. My business definitely would not be where it is today without both of them.
Other: Personal Instagram: @maggieeortlieb
Feature photo of Maggie eating burger and bird’s-eye view of burgers and fries: Kimberly Tran