Each month we post conversations we have with cool people who live mindfully whether it’s living with less or being healthy without doing harm to others. This is not an interview series but more a down-to-earth catchup over a casual cup of tea.
We recently had the pleasure of having a tea with creative entrepreneur, blogger and vegan, Kathy Patalsky. Kathy is the founder of Finding Vegan, which is a crowd-sourced library of vegan recipes, and Happy Healthy Life, a personal blog about vegan recipes and healthy living.
Kathy has an unconventional career where she basically makes a living by posting things on the internet. She has always had an interest in technology and business so blogging seemed like a perfect fit. No one has to pay us to run The Minimalist Vegan, but admittedly, we’ve thought about how cool it would be to make a living spreading a message we’re so passionate about. So selfishly, we spent quite a bit of time asking Kathy about how she came to support herself through blogging and how she manages to stay on top of everything all by herself.
So let’s get into it!
We know that you have a few projects going on at the moment. When you meet someone for the first time and they ask you what you do for a living, how do you typically respond?
I’m a full-time food blogger and cookbook author. I have one main blog called Happy Healthy Life where I post all of my recipes, food photos and wellness tips.
I also started another website called Finding Vegan which showcases amazing vegan recipes from bloggers all over the world. It’s very popular and it’s been growing like crazy. And yeah, I do it full-time, that’s my job.
When did you decide to become vegan?
I grew up in Santa Cruise California, which I guess some people would call it a Hippie town. There’s lot’s of farmers markets and fresh markets. So I was surrounded by good food. But I’ve always loved animals so naturally, as a kid I became vegetarian on my own.
That evolved over the years and long story short, in college I switched over to becoming vegan because I started a job at an animal cruelty non-profit where everyone working there was vegan.
So one day my boss asked me, “you’re vegan right?” And I was like “oh yeah, I’m vegan.” I kinda of just said I was because I wanted to be, but I didn’t even know what it meant. So I just fell into calling myself a vegan. That was 13 years ago.
When did your entrepreneurial journey start?
I had just gotten married, moved to New York City and dropped out of grad school. It was 2006 and I didn’t have a job. Blogging was just getting momentum so I decided to try it out. I started by posting photos and recipes on the internet. I remember at the time that Twitter had just started. I grew this tiny little following and just kept at it because I loved it!
What inspired you to start a blog back then? It was 2006 so not many people would of being doing it. Did you know anyone who was? Were you technologically savvy?
I’ve always loved the internet even when Facebook and Myspace were getting started. So it came very naturally to me. It’s funny, even when I was a little kid, I used to write recipes down. So posting recipes on the internet was really just second nature and when it started to become “a thing”, it was just great!
What website did you start first?
I created a children’s brand called the Lunchbox Bunch. I studied nutritional sciences and art school when I was younger and I had a passion for art which had been put on the back burner. The first year I was in New York I randomly drew these fruit and vegetable characters and went on to publish two children’s books. I didn’t have a “real” job, so I had time to work on this project.
It was great – I would go to Whole Foods and read my books to children. I would interact with kids and try to get them to embrace fruits and vegetables and overall, be more healthy.
How did you make money?
All the income I was getting was from the blog. I had t-shirts and books available for sale, and I also had some income coming in from google advertising. My posts would go viral. However back then it didn’t take much! Looking back, my photos and content was ok, but it wasn’t great. It’s funny to see what went viral back then.
But yeah, after having the popular posts it all snowballed from there.
So how long did it take before you launched Finding Vegan?
My personal blog really bloomed in 2007–2008. I started Finding Vegan in the summer of 2011. I started it because at the time I was a food blogger, and I loved sites like Foodgawker which do the gallery style collection of recipes. And I thought there needs to be something like this but just for vegan recipes so people can see in one screen how many vegan recipes are out there.
My husband is a web developer so he helped me build the site from the ground up.
Let’s jump out of entrepreneurship for a second. You grew up as a vegetarian and later on became vegan. You’ve been posting things online since 2006. Socially, you would of been considered to be a weird kid. You were vegan and making money online. How did you deal with that?
Yeah definitely. I went through a really hard time when I first started. When I was in New York City, I had a couple odd jobs. I probably had enough college to have a PHD. I had so much schooling and was a intelligent person, so I should of been doing something amazing right? So what am I doing being a blogger?
It was really hard to explain to people, and to explain to myself. But it just felt right. I get a lot of happiness from being creative and dreaming up things in my head. So blogging made me happy and eventually it paid off. But yeah it was definitely tough initially.
So what were people saying when you were trying to figure this out?
My close friends and family were very supportive and would visit the blog and thought what I was doing was neat. A couple of my friends are very progressive and were working in PR at the time, or were vegan and totally got it. So they always thought that blogging was going to be huge for me. Those were the type of people who always encouraged me and saw the bigger picture of what was happening in the world and how this online space was really evolving.
So I just tried to tune into the positive stuff. I don’t even remember what the negative stuff was because I was just focusing on moving forward.
It seems like you were in a good location in terms of what people were doing. There are a lot of forward-thinkers in New York.
Yeah for sure. There was definitely a little cluster of people doing the whole online blogging thing. I would go on Craigslist or other random websites where bloggers would hold meet-ups and get together. Back then that was so weird but nowadays bloggers hang out at these events all the time. But I remember thinking, “wow there are other people out there like me!” But that’s New York City for you.
Was that a big reason why you moved to New York in the first place?
Totally. Before moving, we were living in Washington DC where there were tons of government workers and not as much entrepreneurialism as there was in New York. My husband had his own company as well so we were both in that mental space.
Back then, there was a stereotype of bloggers that just sat in a little room with a computer and didn’t talk to anyone else and was fully consumed in the virtual world. But it’s really important to have that outside support in person. So New York was great for that.
So are you still living in New York?
No, we’re in Los Angeles now.
There’s lot’s of vegan restaurants there right?
Oh yeah. LA is ridiculous when it comes to vegan food. It’s actually not good because I start to forget what it’s like to live in a normal city.
Obviously we’re vegan and very passionate about that, but we’re also into minimalism. We’re interested to know how you manage all of your different projects and how you find quiet time for yourself?
I have lot’s of quiet time as I work from home haha. Having said that I do juggle a lot, so it kinda feels like a chaotic quietness. It’s actually something I’ve gotten a lot better at as I’ve been doing this for five years. But yeah, I jump from project to project throughout the day depending on what I want to work on.
When I feel like I want to do something more basic, I will edit Finding Vegan submissions. If I want to do something really hands on and fun, I will jump in the kitchen and do some cooking. If I feel like getting creative, I will do some sort of an elaborate photoshoot or some writing. So I really have many different things I can do and shift my brain to whatever makes me feel happy.
So is it just you that does everything?
Yes. Well with Finding Vegan, my husband does all of the technical work. Some people offer to give me submission help, but I haven’t accepted it yet.
We’ve done the work from home thing before. We both found that working from home is not a glamorous as it sounds. I mean, it’s great to have that liberty and flexibility but it can also be challenging because you’re constantly having to refocus. Have you experienced any challenges around that?
Yes absolutely. I think it was a lot more challenging at the beginning. I love thriving off other people (to an extent) but you really have to make a concerted effort to get out of the house and schedule things in with your friends.
That was really weird to me in the beginning because I did used to work in a traditional office environment before starting my online business. So I had this daily social interactions at work. Then you don’t have that when you work online but I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve learnt how to adapt. I consider myself to be a strong self-starter so I definitely don’t have the same problems as what some other people might have when they start out.
What future plans do you have for your websites?
Well I really want to continue to ride the momentum for Finding Vegan. I love supporting other food bloggers and sending them traffic. The Facebook page his huge now and it’s becoming a powerful marketing channel. We also have an iPhone app which has been successful and we want to continue to develop it.
If someone looked at what you were doing and thought, “wow, that’s really cool!”, based on what you’ve seen, do you have any tips on how they could make it in blogging in 2015?
The one thing I’ve noticed, is that you have to be consistent and dedicated. You can’t just do this for a few months, have zero traffic and then give up. You can’t be discouraged by lack of retweets or shares. All that matters is that you create great content. When you have good content, eventually, somebody somewhere will notice. And if it’s users, great. But if it’s other bloggers in the community who are established that’s even better.
Just like you guys. The fact that you’re doing an interview with me or others who already have people who are following them in other places. Having that connection with people is kinda letting yourself inside a club. It sounds strange at first, but I might tweet you one day and some of my followers are my blogger friends and they might check you out. And because you have amazing content it’s easy to share.
So making those interactions with other people in that community is really important. Because once you’re in that group, we all promote each other. That’s what we do. Connect and help each other get by.
In the past we’ve considered the idea of quitting social media. Mainly because posting constantly can wear you down, it’s a lot of work. How do you manage that content cycle?
Definitely don’t quit social media! It’s hard work but the use of hashtags and posts is such a powerful way to get your message out there. I’m not overly happy with Facebook’s changes but it still works.
Sometimes I will spend a whole day on social media, editing Instagram posts or sending out multiple tweets. At times it does feel like, “what did I do today?” But over time you start to see the results and it’s definitely worth it.
How do you incorporate a healthy daily lifestyle into your routine?
My husband and I get away on road trips often. We don’t have to do anything fancy. Even if we just spend the day away from screens and phones and get some nice sunshine. That’s as simple as you need to get when you’re a tech-based entrepreneur. We also like playing tennis and going out in LA. There’s a really good social scene here.
When you hear the phrase, “less is more”, what comes to mind?
When I think of that phrase, I think of my life goal. Creative people tend to either be really really organised, like architects that draw. Or there’s painters that splash paint everywhere. I’ve always been the painter type. I’m a splasher. So it’s always been really hard for me to be simple as I’m constantly juggling a few balls at any given time. When I think of simple, I think of organised. So that’s what I’m working towards.
We move around quite a bit and every time we do, we see an opportunity to throw things out. We read sites like yours that suggest you just throw out anything that doesn’t bring you joy, and I find that so hard.
How can people support what your work?
Photos of Kathy by Sabrina Hill.