Vinod Kumar, Founder, Naturally Yours

Founded by Vinod Kumar, Naturally Yours is a healthy noodle and pasta brand that aims to make healthy eating fun, tasty and nutritious. The company has come up with healthy noodles that are 100 per cent made of whole grains. “We believe that eating healthy does not necessarily mean boring, time-consuming and expensive. During the time of Covid-19, it is really important to eat healthy for a healthy immune system. Avoiding maida and consuming whole grains by itself is a small but significant step to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” says Vinod Kumar. In a conversation with CXO Outlook, Vinod Kumar discusses the challenges he faced during COVID-19, the founding story of Naturally Yours, the mistakes he made as an entrepreneur and much more.

 

Challenges for ‘Naturally Yours’ during the pandemic

One of the major challenges we faced at the start of the pandemic was a disruption to the supply chain, fortunately for us, we had diversified our supply chain and stocked up well in advance. Hence the impact was not severe, and we could supply throughout the lockdown. I would say a big part of we being able to achieve this was because of my co-founder Ms Priya Prakash. It was due to her experience of over 10 years in supply chain management and industry connects that helped us secure uninterrupted supply throughout.

The founding story of the Naturally Yours

Naturally Yours began with a simple idea of providing Indians with options to eat healthy. It all started when I came back from the UK after my MBA from Cardiff business school. I was exposed to organic and health food products in the UK, and I used to consume them regularly. But when I came back, there was almost no concept of health food, let alone organic. Also, the stores that carried had almost a negligible range. Hence, I and my wife, both being passionate about healthy food, began with a mission to solve this problem of availability of healthy food products in India.

Over the last 10+ years in the health food business, we have had some very hard times and near-death experience of our companies. Every time we pivoted and have moved on to become a better version of the last business model.

One thing that helped us throughout was our singular obsession of making healthy food available to our customers no matter what. This is the one thing I strongly believe helped us survive and move ahead all these years.

The products we offer today

Naturally Yours today is singularly focused on changing the most favoured cuisine of Indians, Chinese & Italian. Today almost everyone in India loves to eat Noodles and Pasta, especially kids. But unfortunately, it is filled with “JUNK” especially in the form of MAIDA (all-purpose flour). We took on this challenge and have developed a range of Noodles & Gluten Free Pasta which is 100% free of MAIDA & 100% made of WHOLEGRAINS.

Mistake I made

I can confidently say that we would not be here today without our mistakes. Each mistake brought us to what we are today. One of the biggest learning’s through the years has been “Cash in Hand” and “Positive Unit Economics” these 2 metrics are the most important ones, and without this, there is no and can be not future for any business small or big. The earlier you can figure this out, the better the future of your company.

The milestones we Achieved

The biggest milestone for us was when we recently pivoted our entire business to be a “Healthy Noodles & Gluten Free Pasta brand” we were very sceptical about this, and the timing was right before the lockdown. But we were confident as we had spoken to many of our customers and they had said that this was our best range, and we should build more products around this. We grew this category by 3x from pre-covid (pre-lockdown) levels in spite of having a severe constraint in supply, manpower & cash. This, I feel, is the most significant milestone in our journey.

My education and life as a student

I am an Engineer, MBA (finance).

As a kid, I loved telling stories and was good at chess, something that helps immensely to build a strategy in business. Summers I used to love to visit my Uncles grocery store and handle the “galla”/Checkout for which I would get one chocolate a day. I didn’t mind it, selling a product thrilled me, and I think that experience stuck with me.

I learnt the most during my MBA stint as student t Cardiff Business School. Right from personal financial discipline to be able to articulate yourself in a foreign land.

Post that I joined a very small firm called Global Innov, which was into staffing and manpower services. Even though it had nothing to do with what I had studied (finance & strategy), I still joined them giving up an offer at an investment bank. The reason was simple, I was being given an opportunity to strategize and build a business ground up. This was music to my 25-year self.

I learnt tons during my stint at Global Innov, right from learning how to sell services to building the first catalogue, writing the branch operations manual, I did everything I could. I became the youngest National Sales Head the company ever had at the age of 26, with people over 10+ years of experience from the industry reporting to me. The learning curve was huge, and I have to thank my CEO Mr.Shishir Gorle to be able to see that in me and give the opportunities to a young kid with almost no experience in building a business.  We grew the business from 5cr to 500 cr as a team. My 3.5 years in Global Innov set me up to run a business, and I have to thank them and my colleagues there for this.

People who influenced me professionally

There are multiple influences on me professionally.

First my ex-boss Mr Shishir Gorle, he taught a lot of things to me professionally. But one advise of this stayed with me he told me, “Vinod, in business you can hire people to do a whole lot of stuff, but one thing you cannot outsource is, thinking about your business that you have to do it yourself.” What he meant was that you have people for sales, ops, accounts etc. but strategy and way forward has come from the founders.

Second is my Mentor, Mr Sanjay Mehta, he is an ace investor and someone who has had huge success in his business and now as an Angel investor. One thing Sanjay that I have learnt from Sanjay is “Keep your business profitable and don’t be afraid to take BOLD decisions, always think of the time when you started how bold you kept that DAY 1 attitude.”

My advice budding entrepreneurs in India

Today entrepreneurship is very fashionable, and everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, which actually is very good for a country like ours where we need more job creators than seekers. But my advice to everyone starting up is this; when your startup doesn’t just look at how much money you are going to make that gets boring really fast, think of how passionate you are about the problem? Are you ready to give a lifetime to solve it? If yes, then go ahead, no one can stop you.

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