ENTREPRENEUR | 22 DECEMBER 2021 | As one of the homegrown brands that graduated from the Spinneys Local Business Incubator program in the UAE in 2020, gourmet meal kit provider Naksha Collections has probably had a more accelerated path to market than most other food brands. In fact, Nisha Ramisetty, who co-founded the business with Sam Williams, says that the concept turned from being a rough idea the duo scribbled between themselves to an actual product on supermarket shelves in just three months. "It was a rapid journey by any standards, let us alone Sam and I, who are first time entrepreneurs and had no experience in the F&B sector," Ramisetty says. "Following this intense initial phase, 2021 has given us the opportunity to extend our roots, strengthen our processes, and explore ways to diversify, innovate, and expand the Naksha business model."
Naksha's gourmet meal kits pay homage to cuisines from different parts of the world, with each of them containing both the specialist ingredients and instructions a customer would need to prepare that particular dish. Naksha currently offers 12 different meal kits as part of its portfolio, with the past year seeing the introduction of a Caribbean-inspired collection, as well as a Middle East-inspired baking line. "This story shows a few things," Ramisetty says. "First, that we are eager and ambitious, despite being small; second, that the product concept we have pioneered has real potential and is gradually attracting more and more users; and third, that we have been able to learn, adapt, and make the changes necessary (to our products, our operations, our marketing, etc.) to grow the businesses relatively quickly."
The past year has also seen Ramisetty and Williams work on building a direct connection between themselves and their customers. "In 2021, we have worked hard to get to know customers, solicit feedback, explain how the concept works, and take note of what they want to see in future products," Ramisetty explains. "Markets have been a big part of this, and Dubai's vibrant market scene has given us the chance to engage directly with customers in an informal environment, i.e. without having to resort to tedious surveys, etc. We have recently started selling our gourmet meal/baking kits directly to customers online, and this will also fortify our relationships and help us tailor our products even more closely to customer preferences."
It's this foundation that the co-founders have put in place for Naksha that they believe will help propel the business even further in 2022, with the pipeline including more than just new offerings in its portfolio. "We are currently exploring various very exciting opportunities to take Naksha's gourmet meal and baking kits to new markets," Ramisetty reveals. "We have been approached by interested parties in other countries who, having seen our product on shelves in Spinneys and Waitrose in the UAE, are keen to bring them home, confident that our concept of hassle-free exotic home-cooked food will find a hungry consumer market. We agree- statistics show that since the beginning of 2021, the number of people cooking at home and demand for "world food' has increased substantially in North America, Europe, and many parts of Asia, and there is no reason why something that has worked well in the UAE can't be transferred to other markets."
Naksha's expansion into new markets is something that Ramisetty and Williams are clearly very excited about, as they knew, from day one, that their business wouldn't be restricted to within the borders of the UAE. "The UAE is a fantastic place in which to start a business, because it is a country of entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurship is ingrained quite deeply into culture," Ramisetty notes. "However, Naksha is ambitious, and even when we started, we didn't see ourselves being limited to a single country. Taking our products to new markets will be a challenge, of course, and a lot of hard work will need to be invested. But we believe it will, in the long term, make Naksha's operations more efficient, forcing us to tighten our supply chain, sharpen our distribution mechanisms, turbo-charge our marketing, and maintain a laser focus on our core brand identity."
Ramisetty is thus hoping that Naksha will soon serve as an example of a UAE-founded startup that is thriving on the international stage. "There is no reason why the UAE shouldn't be a leader when it comes to exporting cutting-edge F&B products and ideas, given how dynamic the local market is," she declares. "As we take our concept to new places, we want Naksha to be a testament to the dynamism of the UAE, and to inspire consumers around the world to recognize UAE brands for their creativity and innovation."
Reflections 2021: Nisha Ramisetty, Co-founder, Naksha Collections
Be clear in your intentions from the start. "Starting and running a business is not something you do in solitude. You share the journey with an ensemble cast of buyers, suppliers, collaborators, business partners, investors, and customers, all of whom are critical to the story in different ways. To succeed over the long term, it is essential to be honest, transparent, and inspiring from the outset, so that your whole value chain understands and buys into the vision of your brand, and the big picture you are working towards. Even if you're just a baby brand today, you can show them where you expect to go in the next five years, and if the vision is persuasive, you will be able to count on them as long-term partners, rather than just ships in the night."
Keep things simple. "We started Naksha, because we, ourselves, wanted to use the product. This was the "a-ha' moment at the origin of our journey. We realized that the product was useful, easy-to-understand, and different to anything else available on the market. However, because no one else had thought of it, we had an opportunity to make it ourselves. So, we did! In 2021, we have had several opportunities to branch out in unrelated directions, and we considered all of them, but we made the wise decision to keep our eyes focused on the fact that we have an extraordinarily powerful core idea, and that our goal should be to develop that, rather than succumb to distractions. If you start up a successful business, there will always be opportunities to do whacky new things later, but our advice in the first couple of years is to keep it simple, focus on what you do best, and to follow your instincts."
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