For these two innovators who were inches away from the top of the corporate ladder - pregnancy changed everything, but for the ‘batter!'
Their careers were advancing at a blinding pace, when motherhood stood at the threshold.
But, contrary to the challenges pregnancy tends to bring about in demanding jobs like theirs, for these two top-gun corporate leaders, the break became a mere “pregnant pause.” It provided them the opportunity to stop, introspect and notice other areas their skillset could be used for, only to come back even stronger!
Here is the story of when Farah met Shreya, and the innovation these two mums brought about creating a space conspicuous in its absence in India – healthy and yummy snacks for babies!
In 2016, Farah Nathani Menzies quit her job and decided to become an entrepreneur. At the same time, she was also introduced to her would-be “work-wife” Shreya Lamba at a party.
Armed with a business plan, she explained the unshakeable gap she experienced while raising her little girls, which instantly resonated with Shreya.
Their vision and mission was clear – creating an entire range of daily and weekly snack boxes for children – ‘Melties’, ‘Crunchies,’ the works - which were healthy, wholesome, and yummy.
Shreya obtained undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at LSE and eventually, went to B-school at INSEAD. She returned to India in 2004 to work at the A.T. Kearney office in New Delhi.
Farah, on the other hand, grew up in Mumbai and after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, made her mark in the corporate space as a management consultant at Bain & Co across London, New York, Madrid and Delhi offices, before getting back to the classroom to procure her MBA from Harvard Business School.
After her daughter’s birth in 2014, Shreya transitioned to a part-time role at A.T. Kearney for two years. During this time, she also co-founded The Mommy Network (2014) with Kiran Amlani and Tejal Bajla – a community and a passion project that is still active and gives her a great deal of personal satisfaction.
When Farah got pregnant, she decided to return to India to be closer to her family. Godrej gave her a lucrative part-time opportunity in Strategy & HR while her two daughters were growing up. “I was fortunate enough to have a flexible work environment and a domestic support system (grandparents) that helped me continue work even while being a new mother,” she says.
At the party that changed everything, and the conversation that reassured them that change is good - Farah explained to Shreya what had been keeping her up at night – and her babies up in the day.
“When I became a mother, I noticed two things – one, that kids snack a lot! And two, the options for ready-to-eat, natural, preservative-free snacks in India where non-existent, and what one finds on shelves currently are empty, sugar-laden calories or fried potato snacks,” she recounts.
Options were aplenty abroad, and delicious no less, but somehow, the “healthy snacks for kids” category in India was yet to be charted. So, she had been cracking on the blueprint ever since her older one was 18 months old, and her introduction to Shreya, a fellow highly-qualified and equally passionate mum who also understood the struggle proved to be the missing piece.
“While talking to her and joining as an interested adviser I eventually found myself emotionally invested in the business,” recounts Shreya.
By December 2016, Shreya quit her role at A.T. Kearney too, to come aboard The Mumum Company as a full-time partner.
“We want our products to speak for themselves – by being transparent about our ingredients, and ensuring that what one see on the bag, is what they get inside,” says Farah.
The first bite-sized innovation from their kitchen was “Cool Crunchies” - multi-grain puffs of jowar, ragi and corn tossed with real fruit powder, rich in fiber, calcium, protein and minerals. Second came their “Mighty Melties,” which are like smoothies in a bag! 100 percent natural fruit blends like strawberry and banana (which has become their best-seller).
“Since the process of creating Melties doesn’t require high levels of heat, it actually preserves the nutrients of a fruit really well,” Shreya explains.
Taking on the large FMCG behemoths is not an easy task – and working with them, they learnt, is just as difficult, and at many levels, at that. While on their product development journey, however, they cold-called many established food companies and manufacturing units, only to be greeted by condescension from presumptuous executives, which even extended to their travels to remote locations to seek out partners and ingredients.
“It surprises me that even in 2018 we get strange looks from people as we travel alone. And it was shocking how often we got told “oh so you’re spending your husband’s hard-earned money on this?” by these established industry folks. Neither our credentials nor our job experiences mattered, we were immediately sized up as women who couldn’t stand alone without their husband’s financial backing. But we make sure we wear and bear our genders proudly, to break stereotypes and defy expectations,” she says.
One community, however, that has never failed them – and which they have now vowed to never let down in return – is women. “We have a little army of tasters who have been trying early versions of our products right from the onset. Once we get the green light from a large number of kids at play dates, swim classes, birthday parties, we knew we were onto something,” says Farah.
They even leveraged Shreya’s The Mommy Network, and many of the mothers on that group became their ambassadors and eyes and ears on the ground. “They tell us about stock outs, share ideas and spread the word in general. They opened up their black books and shared contacts and advice so readily. We weren’t shy about asking for help or introductions and it paid off. The power of determined women coming together is changing the world and we are fortunate to see that all around us!” says Shreya.
By December 2016, their focus groups threw up myriad product ideas and lots of data points on how best to develop products with a clean label. And on September 23, 2017 – The Mumum Company launched at The Mommy Network Pop Up in Mumbai, as well as on Amazon and across all Nature’s Basket Outlets in Maharashtra simultaneously.
Today, they have consolidated their presence across 75 modern trade stores like Nature’s Basket stores across Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore; select Apollo Chemist stores across Mumbai and Bangalore; Foodhall; Dorabjees etc., a wide range of online platforms including Amazon, FirstCry, PayTM and niche platforms like BabyChakra, not to mention across 30 neighborhood stores in Mumbai.
They have moved over 80,000 bags of Mumum Co. snacks in the seven months since they have been in circulation, and are now armed with invaluable insights and vigour for Phase 2 – for which, they are also looking for institutional investors – even as they tussle with the one persistent challenge that undoubtedly plagues startups across phases – hiring talent.
Farah and Shreya are building a team with diversity and consciously tapping into the expertise of women – while promoting mothers returning to the workforce. Self-funded for the first year-and-a-half, they have just raised a Friends and Family round. By Q3 this year, they aim to be present across over ten cities.
“Our current portfolio of snacks will be further deepened through new variants as well as entirely new product lines both of which are in the pipeline at present,” Farah reveals, in conclusion.