As a new mom, one of the most important (and sometimes confusing!) decisions can be which baby food to feed your little one. Thankfully, we’ve discovered Yumi, a nutrient-dense food with intelligently designed blends that provide balanced meals to support babies’ neurological and physical development. Founded by former private equity executive Angela Sutherland, and former Wall Street Journal reporter Evelyn Rusli, Yumi is made up of an in-house team of experts, including holistic nutritionists, plant based chefs, doulas, and doctors, to ensure maximum nutrition and flavor in every spoonful. We recently caught up with founders Angela and Evelyn to learn more about their brand, and how they created their dream job.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5 YEARS AGO, BEFORE YUMI?
AS: After graduating from Brown University with a degree in mathematics, I was instantly drawn to a career in finance. As I worked my way up as a private equity executive, I led company turnarounds for a wide array of companies — everything from international seafood distributors, to industrial brush makers. I was fascinated by the process of distilling complex problems into streamlined solutions. In retrospect, this hands-on operational experience served as great preparation for running my own business.
ER: I spent a decade as a journalist at publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal covering innovation and startups. I interviewed countless founders, from their highest highs and lowest lows, and learned about the inner workings of startups. There’s a lot to learn in both success and failure. As a business journalist, I didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur, but that front row seat certainly gave me a unique perspective and helped me psychologically prepare for this next chapter. I entered this with my eyes wide open, knowing how fulfilling this could be — and also how crazy hard this would be as well.
IS YUMI YOUR DREAM JOB?
AS: It really is. In private equity, I came to relish the challenge of helping struggling businesses thrive. I loved turning around distressed debt companies, but that thrill is nothing compared to the joy of building something meaningful from scratch. It’s fitting that our company was inspired by my first baby, because running it is like having a 3rd child! It’s hard to express just how special it feels leading a mission-based company that is changing the conversation about early childhood nutrition, while also helping parents fed their kids better, more nutritious meals.
ER: Absolutely. I often tell my friends that I’ve never been more energized — or exhausted — in my life. Creating a company is like jumping into a marathon that has no set end point. Every day is a grind. And yet at the same time, I feel insanely, count-my-lucky-stars lucky. Every morning, I get to work on something that I find immensely rewarding and challenging — with a team I helped build.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF YUMI?
AS: Before I had my my first child, I read a huge assortment of parenting books and learned about the critical importance of early nutrition. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to turn theory into practice. Once my daughter was ready for solids, feeding her healthy foods became a huge source of stress. The products available in the supermarket were high in sugar, low in nutrition, and had been sitting on a shelf for months, but making my own baby food as a busy working mom was insanely time-consuming at a period in my life when I had no time to spare. I felt so much guilt and stress because I wanted to provide healthy baby food, but I couldn’t find the time to do so. I knew that if I felt this way, other moms probably did too! I asked my friends what they were doing for baby food and found that they were all cooking it themselves but not happy about it. While cooking fresh meals for your baby is wonderful, these were busy career women who felt the need to cook all of their baby food because they didn’t feel comfortable with choices at the grocery store. When I mentioned the idea of starting a baby food company to Evelyn, she was shocked that such an important product didn’t already exist. We’ve been thrilled to create a company that helps busy parents do it all. They get to ditch the guilt because they’re feeding the freshest, most nutrient-dense food to their babies; plus they receive the most precious gift of all: more quality time with their families.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT?
AS: We came up with the concept when we realized there was a huge disconnect between babies’ nutritional needs during the first 1,000 days, and the products available to deliver them. Doctors and researchers have identified this period – from in utero to age 2 – as the most important time in a person’s life, nutritionally speaking. Yet somehow the only prepared baby foods available in the supermarket were very high in fructose and left a lot to be desired. As a busy working mom, it was frustrating to feel like I had to choose between two bad choices: I could either buy unhealthy products at the grocery store, or I could feel pressured to cook every meal for my baby. Evelyn and I wanted to build a brand that addressed this dissonance in the marketplace, and provide a solution to this very real, untapped need.
WHY IS NUTRITION IN THE FIRST 1,000 DAYS SO IMPORTANT FOR A BABY’S HEALTH?
AS: I grew up in the midwest and was always told that kids are resilient, and you can feed them anything and they’ll turn out just fine. But once I became a mom myself and did the research, it was clear from all the research that the exact opposite is true – what babies eat significantly impacts their development. This is particularly true for the first 1,000 days, which lasts from conception until babies are about 2 years old. Everything they are ingesting shapes their brain, physical development, metabolic rate and even their proclivity later in life for processed foods and sweets. It’s our mission at Yumi to raise awareness around the first 1,000 days and empower our community with knowledge so that they can make more informed decisions when it comes to feeding their families.
WHAT RESEARCH WAS INVOLVED IN CREATING THE PRODUCT?
AS: We worked with an array of experts, including pediatricians, nutritionists and chefs, to create a menu of over 50 flavors that not only provide babies with the exact nutrients they need to grow and thrive, but are also a combination of delicious ingredients to pack the most flavor into every bite. All of our meals are plant based, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and worry free—even the packaging, which is curbside recyclable and compostable, and also comes with reusable ice packs to ensure freshness. We really put a lot of thought into what the consumer experience would be from end to end.
HOW DID YOU FUND YUMI?
ER: We raised our seed investment from VC firms August Capital, Brand Foundry and NEA, as well as several angel investors, including early Dropbox investor Ali Partovi, WordPress’ Matt Mullenweg, and Philip Krim, co-founder of mattress company Casper. We have been incredibly lucky to have secured such amazing partners that are 100% supportive and committed to our mission and vision for the company.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS.
1) Quitting our jobs and getting started. The first leap is always the scariest. 2) Figuring out the nuances of raising money from complete strangers – it can often be a complicated song and dance. 3) Realizing how important – and difficult – it is to hire the right team. Not everyone can handle the intensity, unpredictability and chaos of a startup. We’ve gotten much better at selecting people who are aligned with our brand DNA, passionate about our mission and up for an entrepreneurial roller coaster.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
AS: Surround yourself with amazing people. If you have a co-founder, choose very, very carefully (as they often become your work spouse, you’ll probably spend more time with them than your real spouse), and hire a great team. Make sure your employees not only possess the right skill set for their positions, but that they are also a fit with your company culture and embody your mission and values. Also, if you are female, embrace being a woman! Now is such an exciting time to be a strong, ambitious and compassionate female entrepreneur. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek guidance from other people in your community; accepting help is not a weakness.
ER: Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s in those uncomfortable moments that you’re tested and grow in unexpected ways. Follow your gut — if you truly have the passion to build something that you think will challenge the status quo, just go for it! You’ll never feel quite ready (even if you are), so you may as well get started on your dream sooner rather than later. When it comes to success and happiness, the only definition that matters is your own. Life’s too short to be trapped by the expectations and aspirations of others, whether that’s your family, your friends, or younger versions of yourself. When I was 18, I thought I was going die at the NYTimes. Guess what, plans change and that’s OK.