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Arnav Dalmia & Shivani Jain: ” Build something you don’t want to sell”

…We believe in making wellness more accessible. In addition to designing products that are inclusive and convenient for users of all fitness levels, we partner with nonprofits through Cubii-thons. Cubii-thon participants raise donations for each mile they pedal on their Cubiis, and 100% of the proceeds go to the organizations we partner with. For example, […]

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…We believe in making wellness more accessible. In addition to designing products that are inclusive and convenient for users of all fitness levels, we partner with nonprofits through Cubii-thons. Cubii-thon participants raise donations for each mile they pedal on their Cubiis, and 100% of the proceeds go to the organizations we partner with. For example, we have previously partnered with Cradles to Crayons, and raised over 5,000 dollars to provide school supplies for children in need. We also allow every Cubii employee to donate two compact ellipticals per month to a person or an organization of their choice. We have donated Cubiis to school districts, senior living facilities, and families who otherwise would not be able to afford their own units. It is very powerful to be able to help people and groups of all backgrounds bring more activity into their lives.

I had the pleasure to interview Arnav Dalmia (CEO) and Shivani Jain (CMO). They are the cofounders of Cubii, a Chicago-based startup that designs and manufactures unique, innovative products that bring more movement into daily life. Cubii’s mission is to make wellness approachable for all ages, abilities, and lifestyles by creating beautiful products that seamlessly integrate into users’ everyday lives.


Thank you so much for joining us Arnav and Shivani. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Arnav Dalmia: My parents were entrepreneurs. They owned and operated a small tea company in India. They grew & processed the tea leaves, packaged the tea, and eventually, through hard work and perseverance, expanded to distribute it all over the world.

Venture capital was not an option in India back then, so from the beginning, my parents ran their business in the traditional way: you take sales minus expenses. And you support your family with what’s left.

I learned a lot about taking ownership and being scrappy from my parents, and Shivani and I run Cubii in a very similar way to how my parents run their tea company. We spend conservatively, and we’ve never taken VC money. We’ve been almost 100% bootstrapped from Day One, which has played a big role in building our work ethic and moving us forward as a company. Even though the startup climate is very different here from how it was when I was growing up in India, many of the parts of my job that I love most were discovered by watching my parents build their own business years ago.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Shivani Jain: The most interesting thing has been our users. When we started Cubii, we were targeting fitness enthusiasts. Our biggest goal was to help people keep moving even while they were sitting at work.

However, our customers started coming to us with incredible stories about how Cubii had changed their lives in unexpected ways. An elderly grandmother bought herself a Cubii as part of her mission to stay independent as she aged; a man recovering from back surgery finally discovered a way that he could exercise pain-free; a woman who was struggling with obesity was able to lose the required weight before undergoing knee surgery, without further damaging her knees.

It turned out that some of our biggest customer groups weren’t exercise junkies at all. They were the exact opposite, but still the accessibility that Cubii offers resonated with them. We had set out to make the professional workday healthier, and ended up creating a path to wellness for thousands of people who’d had no easy way to be active.

In this sense, the unique accessibility of our first product line has led to the most interesting adventure for Cubii so far. We made a product hoping that it could fit seamlessly into customers’ lives without requiring them to change anything else about their day, and our customers have latched onto that potential and made it work for them in more ways than we could have imagined.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Arnav: It wasn’t very funny at the time, but we made a bit of a miscalculation when we launched our Kickstarter campaign in 2014. The campaign ended up going viral: we got tons of press coverage, and ended up raising about 300,000 dollars, which was almost four times our goal. We were one of the most well-funded Kickstarter campaigns to ever come out of Chicago.

That was super exciting. But soon, reality kicked in. We’d promised to deliver our compact ellipticals (which were still theoretical at that point) to over 1,100 people in about six months’ time. We underestimated how long it would take to manufacture that many devices. In the end, it took about a year-and-a-half to manufacture and finally deliver them.

It was stressful, for sure, but it taught us a lot about how to streamline our manufacturing and distribution, as well as how to keep customers happy and loyal even when things aren’t going according to plan. Those lessons are invaluable.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Shivani: At Cubii, we believe in making wellness more accessible. In addition to designing products that are inclusive and convenient for users of all fitness levels, we partner with nonprofits through Cubii-thons. Cubii-thon participants raise donations for each mile they pedal on their Cubiis, and 100% of the proceeds go to the organizations we partner with. For example, we have previously partnered with Cradles to Crayons, and raised over 5,000 dollars to provide school supplies for children in need.

We also allow every Cubii employee to donate two compact ellipticals per month to a person or an organization of their choice. We have donated Cubiis to school districts, senior living facilities, and families who otherwise would not be able to afford their own units. It is very powerful to be able to help people and groups of all backgrounds bring more activity into their lives.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Arnav: A man from San Diego survived a traumatic car accident that changed his life. He lost his wife, and much of his physical mobility. Since then, he has undergone numerous surgeries, faced both physical injuries and short-term memory issues, and persevered with a strong spirit.

About a year ago, he discovered Cubii. He would call us at least once a month, and speak for hours about how our compact elliptical had changed his life. Before Cubii, he had energy, but his mobility issues left him with no good way to get that energy out. Now, he has created his own seated workout station in his home, and our compact elliptical has enabled him to lose over 40 pounds, burn through some of that extra energy — and walk down the road and make it up the steps to his house by himself. He put on so much muscle using our product that he shocked his doctors, and he has even written a song about what Cubii means to him.

Two of our team members went to visit him, and he explained that his wife had had more joy than almost anyone else in the world. When she was gone, he did not know how to share that joy again. He told us that for him, Cubii has brought pieces of joy back into his life. He invited us into his home to film his story, because he believes that he can keep his wife’s joy alive if he can help more people find what he has found through Cubii.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Shivani: We need to make wellness a priority. Many of the technologies that we benefit from the most simultaneously encourage us to become less active and, ultimately, less well. “Being healthy” shouldn’t just mean going to the gym for 45 minutes twice a week and sitting down for the rest of it. In the same way, “eating healthy” isn’t just about eating an extra vegetable here and there. Wellness is a lifestyle, and we need a mindset shift if we want to make that kind of lifestyle available to everyone.

We also need to promote activity, not just exercise. For decades, we’ve been taught that exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle. However, adding in little movements throughout the day has also been proven to have significant health benefits. Cubii has already shown that if you give people a convenient way to be more active, they will often take it. If we can extend this strategy to how we think about staying active as a whole, we can help more people.

Lastly, we need to bring wellness into the workplace. Since a sedentary lifestyle is one of the key indicators for many health issues, like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, we need to solve the problem where it starts: wherever people sit. And we sit most at work.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Arnav: Leadership is not just about being successful. It’s about having a soul. We want to succeed, sure, but we also want to be a good-hearted, generous company, where people can feel safe, can be vulnerable, and speak their mind freely. We treat our employees with respect. And we believe that attitude, ultimately, contributes to success as much as anything else we do.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Build something you don’t want to sell. With many companies these days, their goal is to get acquired. What we learned from our entrepreneurial parents and from our own experience is that it can be a better strategy to build a company that is so solid, you never want to sell it.

2. Take risks when you’re young. All of us quit stable, full-time jobs to grow Cubii. There was some stigma associated with that. People maybe thought it was a little foolish at the time. But we realized that, if you’re going to take a big risk, it can be easier to do that when you’re young, before you have big obligations, like taking care of kids and paying a mortgage.

3. Partner with retailers who will help raise awareness. As the saying goes, “It’s not hard to get your product on the shelf. It’s hard to get it off.” Lots of retailers will happily give you shelf space, but the product doesn’t sell itself. Ultimately, it’s your job to create awareness. On the other hand, we had a lot of success going on the TV shopping channel QVC, which really helped get the word out.

4. Being a hardware startup presents unique challenges. When you’re making a physical product, you need to carefully manage your inventory and cash flow. If we don’t forecast demand correctly — and meet that demand in a sustainable way — then we have nothing to sell. We have multiple supply chains now, which allows us to grow in a more fluid way, but it took a lot of time, effort and lessons learned to get to where we are now.

5. Don’t worry too much about getting to Inbox Zero. We all have a tendency to spend time on small, snackable tasks, like responding to emails until we have no unread messages in our inboxes. That’s satisfying to accomplish. But we tend to ignore larger, more time-consuming projects that are actually more mission-critical. That’s why, at Cubii, we make a list of what we want to accomplish at the beginning of every day before we open our computers. This helps us stay focused on what really matters for growing the business, above and beyond those little daily tasks that can distract you from what’s really important.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow us on Twitter @Cubii, on Instagram @Cubii and at Cubii on YouTube.

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