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Love for HappyCow and founder, Eric Brent.

Two decades ago, Eric Brent decided to do something to make the world more friendly for people like him. He was an avid traveler and a vegan. Sometimes those two things didn’t mix very well. The inconvenience of not knowing what or where to eat on his travels was the beginning of what we many of us know as HappyCow. It was basically Eric scratching his own itch.

Many of us know HappyCow, but not so many of us have heard of Eric. He has never been much of an attention seeker and was perfectly happy to be operating HappyCow behind the scenes. He didn’t even consider HappyCow a business until some years ago when he wanted to grow the project faster since for-profit copycats began springing up. Though he noted, they also often disappeared after a year or so since it requires more love, passion, and devotion than others are willing to commit to without getting paid. Indeed, that grassroots, community-centric approach just might be what makes HappyCow viable. You see, HappyCow is able to maintain listings all around the world because of the content HappyCow users voluntarily upload when they visit restaurants. Those photos, reviews, and corrections help others who come after them, a kind of pay-it-forward concept. Especially passionate people may also volunteer to become ambassadors and help to build community, reach out to restaurants and encourage users to upload.

With HappyCow, we have got a really good thing going. If Eric had listened to his friends over the years and given up his passion project, we would all be a lot more confused and there would probably be a lot fewer vegetarians. But twenty years is a long time. The scale of information Eric deals with on a day-to-day basis means that if he doesn’t check his email for even just a day or two, his inbox is loaded with thousands of emails. He has a team to manage and vegan festivals all over the world to attend. Remember, Eric never wanted to be a business person. The success of HappyCow depends on the willingness of the community to rally around it, and whether Eric can find business experts with aligned values to step up and help develop HappyCow as a sustainable business for the future.

I had the pleasure of meeting Eric when he came to Seoul last week and, as Seoul Ambassador, I arranged an impromptu meet-up for the community to come out and hear his story. We had a good turnout and enjoyed some of Southside Parlor’s famous vegan tacos. Thanks so much to everyone who attended, to the Southside Parlor team for the good hospitality and to Eric Brent for his enormous contribution to our community. To get info on next month’s HappyCow meetup, consider joining the Seoul Veggie Club on Facebook.

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