Turning a passion into a full-time job is something many people dream of, but very few manage.
Often, this so-called ‘failure’ isn’t down to a deficiency in one’s vision or work ethic, rather, it tends to be caused by something far simpler – a lack of belief.
Let’s face it. It isn’t easy to get out of your comfort zone and create your own work, especially considering the sheer volatility of the job market in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic; but fact is, COVID or not, there will always be a risk of failure.
So, whilst being scared of setting off on a new venture is natural and unavoidable, overcoming that fear and pursuing your dreams in spite of the circumstances are your first two steps to success.
Before Andrew Johnson founded FoodBlog Malta, he was comfortably working in the catering and digital marketing industries. Despite the stark differences of said spheres, these experiences nurtured within Andrew a love for food and marketing, all whilst equipping him with the necessary tools for his present venture.
In his last job before becoming his own boss, Andrew was working as a Digital Marketing Executive at Deloitte, and it was there that he “noticed a gap in the Maltese market.”
“People did not have a reliable source to refer to when researching where to eat out. With Foodblog I wanted to give people a platform that showcased Maltese restaurants as well as local and international brands in the Maltese islands,” Andrew tells MaltaCEOs.mt.
“The instant recognition from local restaurateurs and appreciation from followers and friends has been my driving force ever since,” he says.
At the moment, Foodblog is doing exactly what its name suggests – putting out written and visual content about local and international foods, cuisines, and restaurants – but Andrew’s ambitions are much larger than that.
“On a local scale, I wish for FoodBlog Malta to grow into Malta’s largest food platform for all things food – from cooking shows to recipes and restaurant recommendations,” he says.
“On a global scale, I hope to work with international companies and for them to recognise FoodBlog Malta as one of the leading platforms for them to market their brands in Malta and across Europe,” he continues.
Shifting our focus back to the present, in its relatively short run Foodblog has already managed to gain considerable recognition amongst local audiences, and this anecdote from Andrew is testament to that:
“I was recently standing in line to order at a Vietnamese food truck, and I saw that the two customers in front of me had the Foodblog Instagram page open to reference when placing their order,” Andrew recalls.
“My hope is that our audience will continue to trust our content and recommendations and that our following will grow with us,” he continues.
But the milestones don’t end there – in the past two years, Foodblog has amassed “35,000 social media followers, launched [its] own website, and put up its first two cooking shows with renowned chefs Marvin Gauci and Stephen La Rosa.”
What Andrew considers his company’s biggest achievement however would be “support[ing] many local brands during COVID-19 in Foodblog’s second year.”
“We did our best to support as many businesses as we could through collaborations and creative marketing campaigns for free or at a low cost,” Andrew recalls.
“We were extremely proud to receive feedback that our efforts helped restaurants and food vendors survive during their hardest times,” he continues.
However, Andrew didn’t reach these milestones without overcoming his fair share of hardships.
Like many other start-ups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it was initially challenging for Foodblog to generate revenue – a problem that inspired Andrew to move away from an influencer model and instead start producing web content, thus leading to the launch of the www.foodbloog.mt website.
Other issues however were unfortunately spurred by the industry’s willingness to take advantage of and distrust young entrepreneurs.
“Even before the pandemic, I had the challenge of acquiring clients with a completely new venture run by a 21-year-old. Some clients were hesitant when working with Foodblog at first because it was so new and different. However, in nearly all those cases, clients had nothing but good things to say about their experiences as every brand deals with situations in different ways,” Andrew highlights.
“In rare cases, I was contacted by brands for a collaboration but undermined or expected to work for free due to my age and the fact that Foodblog started as a social media company,” he continues.
It was in such moments that Andrew learnt to practice his autonomy as an independent business owner and “decide whether to walk away from the project or not.”
One particular instance when Andrews decisiveness was tested involved a Foodblog event “with 100 guests at a local establishment.”
“We were let down by the management who seemed to think we would not notice that the food we had approved for the event and the food that was served at the event were different. In addition to the food, the service was less than desirable and we were humiliated in front of our guests,” Andrew recounts.
“I was not about to let the reputation of the company I had worked so hard to build shatter in front of guests who were there to celebrate and support us,” he continues.
To prevent this from happening, the Foodblog Founder ensured that the restaurant apologised via email, refused to charge the company’s guests, and compensated everyone with vouchers.
In light of the obstacles he’s managed to overcome, Andrew wishes he could tell his past self “not to undervalue [the] skills and services that [he] provide[s] to clients.”
“At the start of FoodBlog Malta, I did a lot of work for free with the hope that it would pay off in the future,” Andrew recalls.
“However, undervaluing myself gave clients the opportunity to take advantage of my willingness and led to me working extra without being compensated,” he highlights.
With Foodblog’s first years of operations being anything but predictable, Andrew’s philosophy for the company’s future is to “embrace disruption and adapt with the times.”
And with the tech industry undergoing significant changes on a quasi-day-to-day basis, Andrew and his team will have no choice but to improvise, adapt, and overcome – but that is not to say that the young CEO doesn’t have his dreams for the company…
“If I had unlimited resources, I’d invest in growing the company. I would hire a content team, invest in building a video production house, and create international campaigns to put Malta on the global food map,” Andrew says.
“I’d also use the Foodblog platform to give opportunities to local talent and I’d start an NGO that helps provide food to people and animals in need,” he concludes.
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