For those who are not familiar with you, what is your story?
My name is Navita Verma. I was born in India and grew up in Canada. I spent my prime years of high school in the U.S. in a very small town and then ended up moving back to Canada for my post-secondary education at Ryerson in business and law. My parents were small business owners; there’s been many generations of small business owners in my family. Based on my childhood experience, I’ve never wanted to be a business owner, so there was always resistance against that. My vision was to work in the corporate space from nine to five. I realized very quickly that my education and some of the roles I had had defined who I was. Being a “professional” in business intelligence and a project manager was who I had become, which was interesting to me because when you’re in the corporate space it’s really hard to walk away, and that’s what I ended up doing.
Around last year, I started working on the company, which is now called Nuleena Foods, and it came from something very simple for me. I was trying to make a purchase of a blend online which was impossible to find. The blends that were available online either had poor reviews or you could see it was a very poor quality product. That’s how the company had started. I’ve been actively working on the company for the last year. We’re trying to be providers of traditional tastes for modern chefs. I think a lot of millennials and Gen Z who want to live healthier lives are often burdened by the lack of food products that accommodate their desired lifestyle. We’re here to solve that by providing organic, non-GMO spices and blends so they can cook the meals they want and live healthier lives. At the moment, our retail offering is 20–40+ offerings and a subscription offering that works on delivering spices to their doors every month. As a company, we pride ourselves on being a culinary educator for our customers, providing educational content for products, and hosting interactive workshops and cooking classes for free. I think my story started with being an immigrant and moving to Canada, and being extremely resistant against ever owning my own business. But this is where I’ve ended up and this is where I am today.
Can you tell us a bit about your start-up business and any advice you have for others looking to begin a start-up?
I think the three big things for me have been passion, persistence and support. When someone says you need to be passionate about what you’re doing, in particular, when it’s your own business, it’s a big one because you’re doing it all the time for God knows how many years. You really have to be passionate about the idea or what you’re doing. Number two being persistence. There’s a lot more no’s than there are yeses. I think you need to be motivated throughout that. I always say, you can’t get discouraged. You celebrate your wins, and you need to celebrate your losses as a leader to keep yourself going. And the last one is support. When I had started working on the company, I was quite fortunate that my family knew about it and they were always there and supportive of the idea. I was lucky enough to also receive the support from my boyfriend. He stays up until 2am editing my pitch decks with me, and I think those tiny things matter so much. For me, that’s what has kept me going throughout this journey so far, even when it’s been a challenging one.
How do you stay resilient in these uncertain times? How are you adapting to this new norm?
I think in particular with COVID, it’s definitely a challenging time for all. I think something that’s been important for the company is accepting things that are out of our control. If you focus on things that you can’t control, you’re going to be left frustrated and exhausted. Focus on what you can and not on everything because there’s no way you can have control over everything. The second thing is to embrace change. There will always be change, and you need to accept that. I think that’s extremely crucial in the time of COVID and in the decade we’re living in. The third thing is to focus on the bigger picture. For us, for example, we actually have access to less resources because of COVID, but that should not impact our focus on the bigger picture as a whole. And lastly, staying positive and engaged, going outside or staying active. I think it’s important to keep that morale high and it’s important for people to be brainstorming those strategies to do so.
What is your advice to youth who have not found their passion yet?
When you’re in kindergarten, you get asked the question, “What are you going to do when you grow up?”. It’s quite a daunting question to ask a five-year-old kid and that same question gets continuously asked throughout our lifestyles. For me, growing up, I had no idea that I would end up here. I have a younger sister who’s around 11 and I tell her, “What’s the hurry, frankly?”. You don’t need to know right away. Let the idea come to you and let your passion come to you on its own. I think while you’re on this journey, finding out what your passion is, it’s important to be accepting and trying things along the way. For someone that’s in post-secondary education, get involved in school or get involved in volunteer opportunities such as INKspire. I think these play such a crucial role in changing who you are as a person that sometimes school cannot. School does mold you for who you are, but I think those additional things that you do truly change you as a person. There’s no hurry to find your passion. It’s important to accept and try a lot of things on your way.
If you could take anyone out for coffee, who would it be? And what would you talk about?
I think someone I would like to take for coffee is Sara Bakely. She’s the founder of Spandex, which is a multimillion-dollar garment company. She really started from the ground up with her idea and had received numerous rejections from investors, and obviously had gone through a great deal of hard work to get the company off the ground. At this point now, she’s sitting at a billion dollar net worth. We know all these great leaders and what their journeys have looked like, but we never really understand the small details of the journeys that they go through. That’s what I’m curious about and what I would ask her about, and something I would like to ask a lot of different leaders. I would love to know the tidbits of things that had changed her as a person and had evolved the company. Like they say, it is the little things in life which matter the most.