Diversity isn’t just nice to have, it’s a must have: Organizations are making great strides to be more diverse and inclusive in their hiring practices, but the key point that is missing is that it isn’t just a kind gesture to be inclusive, it’s very much a strategic business decision as well. Our society is very multicultural, and targeting only a segment of the whole is leaving money on the table so to speak. And to understand those markets, it’s great to have a mixed representation around the table to help guide those decisions. Also, we are now working in a global economy. When companies want to expand to foreign markets, what better way than having an insider view of the various markets. Diversity is definitely a strength- for all businesses, local, national or international.
So, men, include women in discussions, conservatives- speak to liberal’s, 50+, speak to the 30 and under.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nita Tandon. In 2010, Nita stepped away from her career as a pharmaceutical and biotech professional and walked into her new role of mother. The year prior, Health Canada banned the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles. In 2012, the US FDA followed in Canada’s footsteps, with a similar ban, but despite both countries declaring BPA a toxic substance to human health and the environment, neither Canada nor the US had yet extended the ban to food containers. Manufacturers voluntarily began creating BPA-free versions by substituting BPA with two other hormone-disrupting chemicals which studies show are no safer. Realizing the need for durable, easy-to-clean and chemical-free food containers, Nita launched DALCINI ® Stainless housewares in 2015; a safe, simple, sustainable solution, which garnered Nita the coveted Startup Award at the 2016 Mompreneur Awards. Nita has also earned a spot in the Top 25 Female owned Venture in Canada in 2018. Over the last 10 years Nita has been an outspoken advocate and trusted resource on topics of sustainability, health, toxic chemicals, microplastics, DIY home and wellness alternatives and has been featured on Turner Radio, CTV Ottawa, Newstalk1010, Post Media and The Balancing Act Podcast. Nita resides with her family in Ottawa. [email protected]
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in India and immigrated to Canada as a child with my family. We grew up with a constant blend of cultures mixing old world traditions with modern day amenities and the almost tangible feeling of immense opportunities. “The land of opportunity” wasn’t just an expression in our home; it was an expansive feeling that we could do anything or be anyone.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I was about to celebrate my 40th birthday, single and had just moved back in with my parents. That’s not exactly where I thought I’d be, but I was starting fresh. I wanted to let go of anything and everything toxic in my life — from relationships down to my household products! Everything up to that point in my life was disposable, and I needed to go back to a simple life. The experience was freeing and resurrecting; it set me on a new path toward providing chemical-free items for my daughter. The response to my product was validating enough to give me the confidence to turn this personal solution into something much bigger — and I’m so grateful for that.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I never set out to be an entrepreneur, I set out to solve a problem. My goal, somewhat selfish as I look back, was to make safe containers for my personal use for my immediate family. But no manufacturers would take me seriously as a “mom from Canada that wanted some containers made”, so I registered my company, still thinking it was just so that I could get the products that I wanted for my personal use. It wasn’t until my product started getting attention and praise that I realized I might actually be able to solve this problem for others, too.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
If you find yourself thinking about it daily, then it is more than a pastime; and if done right, you can turn just about any past time into a business. Whether that be yoga, singing, or in my case, living a healthy and sustainable life. Ask yourself, would this help others the way it’s helping me? If so, give it a shot!
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I heard a quote one time that has always stuck with me. When you look back at your work history, “do you have 20 years experience or just one year’s experience repeated 20 times.”
20 years of experience will keep it fresh and enjoyable. One year of experience done for 20 years, I’d dread it. So, for me, it’s important to let your business evolve, and continue to learn new aspects of your business (and industry) There’s always opportunity to keep it fresh!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I love the freedom and flexibility it provides — both in my schedule as well as the freedom to take the business in the direction that I want. The downside, however, is the loneliness. There are times where I have had more internal conversations than external, or, “out loud” discussions with others. And when I do have a conversation with others, it will often gravitate back to the business as that is the topic that is always top of mind. To overcome this, my husband has been excellent in implementing “no work” zones. We will have family weekends and day trips to change my mindset and physically and mentally remove myself from the business. I resisted at first, but saw the benefit right away; that it is not only a welcome break but that it makes me more productive when I return to work.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I honestly thought I would be able to put in 4–5 hours a day and be done, but the truth is, I put in more hours that I ever imagined. That said, it has been far more rewarding than I ever imagined, too — every minute of overtime is worth it.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Yes, I think every entrepreneur goes through that. The overwhelming emotion usually happens when I am exhausted, so I make sure to schedule a break with a friend, get my hair done or something that will physically remove me from the business and make me feel better.
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?
I was invited to attend a backstage event at the MTV awards in Beverly Hills. A huge honour for a start-up like mine. I flew down, set up my table beautifully and excitedly waited for the stars to arrive. The moment they walked into the room; the whole place was buzzing with energy. The problem was that I had no idea who they were. I don’t have cable and have never been much for TV or movies. Their publicists each approached me to quietly tell me who they were and what movies they’d been in and still nothing. When I finally met the stars, I couldn’t even fake it, so I spoke to them like regular folks, got some pictures had some real conversations with them and laughed it off. What happened afterwards was that many of them connected with me on social media. We’re friends! My big lesson from this was to be yourself. People are people regardless of status or career. When you make an authentic connection, people feel that. The ability to connect is far greater than the ability to remember every movie role they’ve had!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Ellen DeGeneres. I find her so authentic and comfortable in her skin, and I aspire to emulate her sincerity that shines through even in tough situations. She is strong and isn’t afraid to tackle big issues. I especially admire how she treats everyone the same; from the biggest stars to the average suburban mom, everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and I think that’s really important for a leader. As they saying goes, “leadership isn’t a position or a title, it is an action and example.”
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I pride myself and my company on offering access to high-grade, clean and safe products for their home and their families. Every time someone chooses a container like my products over a plastic one, the world gets a little bit better. I also advocate for “litter-less lunch” in every school, and even established a “Litter-less Lunch Day” on the third Thursday of September to encourage families to make simple changes that will have a lasting impact. I hope this trend continues to catch on!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Good Credit is more important than a business plan: Sure, a business plan is important but, in the end, it’s just a plan. Anyone can dream big and put a plan together. Good credit is a reflection of you and whether you are investable. It’s what got me my first loan. No business plan, good credit!
- There is more than one business model. There is this view that to be successful you need to conduct business as those before you have, but what if walking in those shoes feels unnatural? I agree with learning from others, but I also believe you need to carve out a path that feels authentic to you. For me it was the early days when I was seeking business advice on my start up. I stressed the importance of ensuring there was no child labor, that my child wouldn’t benefit on the backs of others. The response I got was, “but why do you care, business is about low cost and high profits”. I decided to create a business model that worked for me. Ethically made, and profitable.
- A clear vision is more important that the steps to get there: Sure, tactics and the execution of a plan is important but in those early days, things change so fast you have to act quickly and pivot on a dime to keep afloat. My advice to any new entrepreneur is to have a clear vision of where you want to be. Every opportunity that comes your way is either helping you get there, or you don’t do it. Every opportunity is not an opportunity for YOUR business.
- Work in every part of your business BEFORE you outsource: You’ve all heard the advice to hire help to work in the business, so you can work on the business. Essentially hire folks to do the stuff you don’t want to so you can work on growing the business. That’s good in theory but the reality is, to be an effective leader you should know every aspect of your business, even if it means applying yourself to learn aspects that you really dislike. For me, this was accounting. I would leave it to my bookkeeper to structure the financials and when she had a question, I just got glossy eyed and couldn’t help. Know YOUR business, ALL of it and outsource only once you have a good handle on it and are able to oversee it.
- Diversity isn’t just nice to have, it’s a must have: Organizations are making great strides to be more diverse and inclusive in their hiring practices, but the key point that is missing is that it isn’t just a kind gesture to be inclusive, it’s very much a strategic business decision as well. Our society is very multicultural, and targeting only a segment of the whole is leaving money on the table so to speak. And to understand those markets, it’s great to have a mixed representation around the table to help guide those decisions. Also, we are now working in a global economy. When companies want to expand to foreign markets, what better way than having an insider view of the various markets. Diversity is definitely a strength- for all businesses, local, national or international.
So, men, include women in discussions, conservatives- speak to liberal’s, 50+, speak to the 30 and under. LGBTQ, speak to straight, established Canadians, speak to new Canadians. When you seek the opinions of those that don’t think or look like you, your business will open to new markets to
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to continue to advocate for simple changes to move us all to healthier, more sustainable way of living. I would like to continue to encourage each person to incorporate small changes, encouraging less litter, less toxic chemicals particularly with our food. This includes less chemicals and waste with packed lunch and school/work, stored food at home. We need to push for Healthy AND Sustainable, not just one or the other, and encourage the use of safe, reusable containers like Dalcini Stainless that minimize the toxic chemicals and micro plastics being ingested unknowingly with our food and the devastation it’s having on our environment.
Incorporating simple changes that everyone can do every single day will make a massive difference for better health and a better world!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you want to see in the world“ ”— Mahatma Gandhi
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Michelle Obama. I just love her. Everything I have read about her, every time I hear her speak, I think how rational and positive she is. She was also involved in the Healthy Lunch Program for schools, which I’m obviously an advocate of. I think she would be a great person to continue that conversation with, about healthy food and healthy vessels that benefit kids and the planet.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.