The Idea

Isla: ‘We're both vegan and I had always wanted to work within the plant-based sector. I was working in a school at the time and Matt was doing graphic design. We were in an airport and couldn't eat anything because nothing in the vending machines was plant-based. Matt suddenly went, “Why don't we just do a vegan vending machine?”’

Matt: ‘It was almost like a eureka moment – I was looking at people feeding all their cash into these machines. When you think about vending machines, they're always hidden in dark corners; they're horrible-looking things. In the UK, I hadn't seen anything exciting, engaging or attractive. We sat on the plane on the way back and started immediately jotting down ideas of how we could try to bring the idea to life.’


Isla: ‘The first thing we had to check was that no one else was doing what we wanted to do. We wanted to make sure we weren't just thinking we had some cool idea that someone had already done.’

Matt: ‘The research was pretty much driven by the internet – it took about three weeks. I went online looking for manufacturers – we needed to find something local to us. That part was the most daunting. We actually narrowed it down to a manufacturer based in Woolwich, in south London. This idea of smart vending started to crop up more and more. It was then just a series of conversations of how we can really bring this to life.’ 


Matt: ‘Entry-level vending machines aren't too expensive – a couple grand. But at the higher-end, smart vending side of things, you're looking at £10k a machine. We knew we had to raise investment. So we proposed the idea to two angel investors who were interested in the concept. As soon as we presented the initial concept of the brand, they came on board. It was pre-prototype, pre-anything. All we had were rough ideas of how we wanted it to look and what we wanted the identity to be.’

Business model

Matt: ‘In the beginning, it was a free on-loan model because we had to prove the concept. We just take all the revenue and provide end-to-end service so [the venue] don't have to worry about anything. But, moving forward, we're going to be looking again at that for other spaces where we want to protect our bottom line, and cover all the overheads that come with running a vending machine company.’ 

The prototype

Matt: ‘We went for an off-the-shelf model of the chassis; at this very early stage, we didn't know if it was going to work. Luckily, I had the time to be on site to see how the process worked. Concept one was really just an unwrapped machine, which was pretty boring and bland – just a white silver box with a big touchscreen on it. We went through two concept wraps of the machine with the Vinny branding. With the third skin, everything fell into place. Then it was a case of: now we need something visual on the screen to engage people. That's where we got some animators and illustrators involved to really help bring this character to life.’


Matt: ‘Part of the process was to identify our competitors in the smart vending space and decide what would separate us. I started to create some rough visuals and we worked on some mood-boarding together. We got stuck on the messaging phase and got an agency involved – it presented us with a rough identity, a name and a marketing strategy. We wanted to create this character: something that was family-friendly and colorful. We always wanted it to be illustrative. We also didn't want to preach too much about the vegan side of it because we wanted it to be completely inclusive.’ 


Isla: ‘I'm part of the vegan community, so I was clued up on the brands I liked that other people might not know. We also did a lot of research. We laid everything out on the table and thought: how do we want this to look in the machine? We wanted to make sure that this machine wasn't overpriced and people didn't feel that they were being ripped off, because so many vending machines are expensive.’

Matt: ‘I headed up finding the right suppliers, and working with specialist wholesalers who are showcasing emerging challenger brands. From day one we wanted the brands to stand for something.’


Matt: ‘This was probably the most difficult part of the process. We put together some pitch decks and looked at places where we felt that our brand would fit the demographic. We narrowed it down from the travel sector (which was pretty much wiped out and had a lot of red tape) and started to think about offices. That's when the co-working thing started to really hit home for us. We pitched to probably 50 to 60 different co-working spaces in London. Co-working network Huckletree really liked the idea. It shared the vision of sustainability.’

All images courtesy of Vinny's

This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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