Vow is a food and product organization using advanced biotechnology to drive their mission of making sustainable food irresistible and available to billions of people. With the success of their initial research and development, Vow raised an impressive US$6M seed round, which they are using to fuel their growth. The team has doubled in the last year, and as of early 2022, there are more than 40 “Vowzers” ranging from scientists and engineers, to operations, to food and product gurus.
Today, Vow is focused on entering the consumer market and launching their first cultured meat products to the world. With the help of Ellen Dinsmoor, Head of Operations, and Maddie Williams, Office Manager, the fast growing organization continues to scale their purchasing processes as quickly as they’ve been able to scale their innovation within their industry.
Head of Operations
Ellen Dinsmoor is the Head of Operations at Vow. Prior to joining the Vow team, she was one of the founding operations team members at Lemonade, a multi-billion dollar insurance startup. Ellen joined Vow because of her fascination with cultured foods, and along with her team, she is motivated by the idea of making meat production more sustainable.
Outside of work, you can find Ellen, her partner, and their dog, Eleanor Rigby, exploring their new home in Sydney.
Head of Operations
When Ellen Dinsmoor joined Vow, the team was in the midst of exponential growth, both in terms of team size and number of R&D activities in flight at any point in time. Dinsmoor knew that Vow’s operational processes needed to match the speed in which the R&D team was innovating. Having the equipment and supplies the scientists needed, and having them at their office (known as the “Vowse”) at the right time, was essential to the success of their experiments.
“One of the most important things for us is our rate of learning and the ability to test thousands of new experiments,” explained Ellen Dinsmoor. “We need the ability to track all of the items we need as inputs. If we can’t get those things quickly and stay on top of it, we can’t continuously learn faster and hit our goals.”
Vow’s original purchasing processes worked well when there were a handful of scientists, but the fast-growing team began to put pressure on Vow’s procurement methods. Scientists needed to look across multiple systems and reach out to the operations team to simply find out the status of their purchase requests.
“Suddenly the team doubled to ten, and then twenty. You could look at the systems we had over a couple of days and easily see that they were broken,” said Dinsmoor. “The old process was unreliable. Every time someone wanted to purchase something they would message our team directly for help. It created constant distractions throughout the day.”
Having requests, approvals, and purchase orders managed across different systems can create lag time between requesting and receiving critical items. “The experiments that our scientists and engineers are working on are constantly changing. They need new materials at the drop of a hat so that they can get started and get results as quickly as possible,” Williams explained. “We needed to be very agile in our purchasing and required a system that could run with us.”
When it came time to create a purchase order, collecting the critical information was a burden. Although the Office Manager was responsible for collecting requisitions, Dinsmoor was the only one with access to the accounting system where the purchase orders were generated.
“Responsibilities were delegated across different people and tools, and that’s really what slowed things down,” explained Dinsmoor.
Williams expanded: “The use of Ellen’s time to context switch out of what she was working on to stop and help create a purchase order from information in my head was not a good use of time. On top of that, we’d often have vendors come back to us and ask for small changes.”
Williams’ role as Office Manager consisted of building and maintaining relationships with Vow’s vendors. Without a central system to manage purchase requests, Williams found herself and the team spending extra time and money in areas that she knew they could cut down on.
“What we had was difficult to digest at a glance, so we would often place an order and then find an item that was missed, and we’d end up paying for shipping twice.”
Ensuring purchase orders are submitted accurately the first time was essential. “Because we’re in Australia, it’s more difficult to get a lot of R&D supplies here. Very few of them are produced domestically so a lot of our items come from across the world. Being able to move quickly is critical for us from a procurement perspective,” added Dinsmoor.
Vow was looking for a system that was trusted in the biotechnology industry and that could grow with their organization. After looking to their own internal team for feedback on tools they had used in the past, as well as reading reviews and comparing possible tools against Vow’s rubric, Dinsmoor chose Procurify.
“We knew we didn't want a massive ERP, and then there were a couple of systems that you could look at pretty quickly and just know they were too small and not scalable. Sure, they might work today, but they wouldn’t work a year from now."
With Procurify, Vow now has a central source of truth for all purchasing information. The operations team can quickly view necessary information before creating a purchase order by opening the original requisitions within the system.
Scientists, engineers, and even their “food inventors” are able to log into Procurify’s web or mobile application to easily see if their request has been approved, purchased, and received without having to access multiple systems or interrupt the operations team. They can also leave comments directly in the Procurify Platform if they have questions about their specific request, keeping purchasing information within one system.
“I was a big part of the implementation of Procurify,” explained Williams. “The immediate difference was that we stopped missing things because everything had a place to go. Every order goes through a systematic process and it is very clear to our team where their orders were sitting and when they could expect them to arrive.
It sounds simple, but having everything so clearly documented and usable for our team was such a valuable thing for us.”
In the past, it could take up to 24 hours to get a purchase order created after the item was approved. With Procurify, Vow’s operations team has managed to create purchase orders the same day the item is requested with an impressive request-to-purchase order creation time of just over three and a half hours.
“With Procurify, we’ve been able to put clearer rules in place. If somebody messages Maddie, we can just say ‘submit it in Procurify and we’ll take care of it’. It’s helped to segment purchasing into certain times throughout the week as opposed to constantly fighting fires,” said Dinsmoor.
Having requests managed within Procurify allows Williams to easily find the information she needs to create a purchase order, speeding up the purchasing process.
Williams adds, “We no longer have to spend time reassuring somebody the status of their order. [Procurify] has eliminated [unnecessary] steps for us. [In Procurify], the information is condensed, confined, and connected to a specific order the whole way through.”
Organizations focused on innovation need to balance speed without losing control. Managing external funding also adds a layer of control needed to ensure every dollar is accounted for.
“Procurify has given us a structure without limiting our speed. It’s given us more visibility into [our purchasing] so we can be thoughtful in our decisions while having controls in place.”
When the orders arrive at Vow's lab, Williams is able to notify the Scientists immediately using the Procurify Mobile App. After an order is received in Procurify, the initial requester receives a notification. “I rely on the mobile app for receiving because we’re always running around. We used to have to carry our laptops around the lab to receive stock so having the app has been great,” said Williams.
A major responsibility of a purchaser’s role is to build strong relationships with their organization’s vendors. In order to start this relationship, it’s important that purchasing and procurement professionals understand how and where they’re spending in real time.
With Procurify, Vow has been able to maintain an impressive purchasing metric, having 80 percent of their spend go through less than 10 percent of their vendors.
“We’ve been doing monthly purchasing syncs since we started using Procurify where we look at how money has been spent, interesting trends, and vendor data including time to supply,” Dinsmoor explained. “Having the data makes it much easier to see spikes and trends in our spending so that we can be more thoughtful.”
The ability to see your spend per vendor in real time allows purchasing professionals to negotiate better rates and discounts with their vendors.
“[In Procurify] I noticed that we were spending more money with Apple because we have more people joining,” Dinsmoor commented. “I could look at it really quickly and say ‘why aren’t we asking for a discount’, whereas, when you’re in the day-to-day of ‘let’s just get it done’, it’s harder to see that. With the data and visualization of our vendor reporting, we’re able to tap into that and see some of those trends.”
“Procurify has helped us validate some assumptions we already made around our vendor’s consistency in terms of pricing,” added Williams. “It also helps us be conscious of catching everything that needs to go into a purchase order across our different vendors.”
When organizations are scaling rapidly, it’s important that tools can adapt. Having a system and a team that supports rapid growth helps make spending decisions smart and simple.
“The people behind the system making the decisions and working with you are really important. From day one I really enjoyed my calls with Procurify and felt like the team wasn’t just trying to sell us a product, but that they were genuinely trying to see if it was valuable for us,” stated Dinsmoor. “The team has been very flexible and supportive. We’ve always been treated with a lot of respect and given very straightforward and honest answers to things which are hugely important in a partner, even beyond the software.”
The team at Vow has developed internal processes that allow them to quickly scale their team, maintain impressive purchasing metrics, and enter new markets without sacrificing speed or innovation. All of this has been achieved while simultaneously working to launch a consumer-facing line of cultured meat products.
The main factor behind their ability to scale so successfully has been their shared mission to make sustainable food available to billions of people.
“At the end of the day, what everyone at Vow rallies around is the idea of feeding billions of people with more sustainable food. If we don’t meet our goals, we can’t raise funding to continue to scale, and if we don’t scale, we can’t feed billions of people, and that’s why we’re doing this,” explained Dinsmoor. “We have to be smarter and quicker than anybody else out there to be able to overcome the challenges associated with our industry. If we get blocked, we can’t support this growth and learning.”
Procurify looks forward to the continued expansion of Vow’s team and their future in sustainable cultured meat products. Their work contributes to the protection of human health, the development of human and animal welfare, and the preservation of Planet Earth.
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