This article is sponsored by Stanford Ignite.
From starting as a concept in a classroom study programme, to being listed among India’s top food trucks by the Condé Nast Traveller, the transition for Nandita Shetty’s startup idea has been phenomenal. The neuro-imaging researcher-turned foodpreneur, and co-founder of Flavour Labs, recollects how it all happened.
Moving back to India from Boston, Nandita volunteered for a year at a non-profit in Uttar Pradesh. Following a brief stint at a biotech startup, she went on to co-found her maiden venture – Flavour Labs – one of the first startups in India to pioneer the concept of fun dining via food trucks.
When asked what sparked the entrepreneurial bug in her and gave the confidence to chase her other passion – food, she says, “In 2014, I chanced upon the Stanford Ignite programme and saw it as a great opportunity to hone my skills.”
Key milestones in her journey, from finding co-founders, learning the art of delivering a convincing pitch in under a minute that opened up new avenues for Flavour Labs, to actually starting up, are all linked to this particular programme.
Flavour Labs – the evolution of the concept
“The concept – we called it ‘Culinary Tales’ back then – took root even before the programme officially commenced,” she says. “A core part of Stanford Ignite is the conceptualisation of the venture idea. A week or two before the class met for the first time, all of us were asked to submit a venture idea (which could be completely new or at an early stage of execution), and the top 14 ideas were selected.”
The people with the shortlisted ideas then delivered a one-minute-pitch on the first day, following which the class voted for the top eight ideas. The participants were then divided into eight teams based on the idea they wanted to work on.
An interesting lesson that later played a pivotal role in the startup journey
Nandita was one of the eight idea generators. On the first day of the programme, just before she was to deliver her pitch, when faculty director Yossi Feinberg asked if she was ready. The entrepreneur says, “It was my first meeting with him. I told him that I was going to keep it spontaneous and that I hadn’t really thought of what exactly I was going to say. He said, ‘This will be the last time that you will not be prepared for a pitch.’”
Nandita says she is glad that he had communicated a very important lesson right at the very beginning, because sometimes all you get is a few seconds to get people to buy in to your idea. Being prepared, according to her, does not mean that one has to rehearse a pitch, but that one needs to be able to articulate the idea clearly in a matter of a minute or maybe even less. Nandita adds, “In my case, that moment came a little less than two years from that day. It was during an event hosted by Rajesh Sawhney and Bal DiGhent, co-founders of InnerChef, that I got a chance to talk to Rajesh. He was hurriedly stepping out to attend another meeting. The time I had to pitch my idea was the walk between the café and the elevator. The 40-second pitch was what eventually led to the acquisition of Flavour Labs in January 2016.”
Keeping your ideas real and grounded
The co-founder laughingly remembers, “The programme was a reality check. I remember, in the initial few classes, during group discussions and meetings, as a team we would come up with some thoughts and frameworks which we believed were really awesome. But, through interactions with the faculty members, we would realise how naïve we were. They kept us grounded and real. They helped us rationalise and think differently. Over time, we got better.”