We are disrupting home food! Until now, we did not see cooking as a problem when in fact, it was a problem waiting to be solved. The reason we don’t make healthy food choices, especially families with children, is the sheer impracticality of cooking healthy food every single time. For families, the most convenient choice is not always a healthy one. We are set out to change that. By making sure healthy, home-cooked meals are always effortlessly possible, we wish to bust the myth that healthy food is expensive and takes a lot of time and effort. We wish to give you the “Freedom from Cooking!”
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Goutham Gandhi Nadendla the founder of Hyderabad-based start-up Futuristic Labs. He and his team have built the world’s first automatic rice and curry-maker, Riku. Riku lets anyone cook more than 500 recipes from around the world in just three easy steps. Riku, was born out of his struggle of cooking Indian food daily and is definitely a path-breaking innovation in food technology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Doing things our way is a privilege that very few of us in this world can achieve or dare to achieve. Growing up, however, I always knew I wanted to do things my way. So, starting a business was something that I had been mentally preparing for all my life.
Traditionally, I am an instrumentation engineering graduate from Andhra University, India, post which I pursued a Master’s in electrical engineering from Drexel University in the US. My specialization was in control systems, robotics, and intelligent systems, which laid the foundation for design thinking and automation in me. After completing my education, I worked at a research lab at the University of Pennsylvania, first as an analyst and then as an application developer. I strongly feel that my education and professional experience eventually culminated in the idea and the business that I am building today.
If I were to track the seeds of my idea, I was first inspired by automated cooking as a kid, watching the automatic cooking machine in ‘The Jetsons’. I would see my parents who are both working spend long hours in the kitchen preparing meals for us twice a day. The work pressure combined with cooking would leave them tired and exhausted by the end of the day. Moments like these made me think of how different life at home would have been if cooking was automated. During my time in the US, studying and then working, I encountered the same problem. Cooking the same dishes, every day was frustrating, effort-heavy, and time-consuming. I think my education in robotics and my formative professional years spent in a research lab, made me recognize that there could be a solution to cooking. It was in 2015 that I started thinking about how I could automate the cooking process. After 2 years of research, I, along with my team, was finally able to create the world’s first automatic rice and curry maker, Riku. And now, here I am!
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Over the last few decades, we have witnessed a significant change in kitchen technology and the food industry. Automation is knocking on kitchen doors with smart microwave ovens, dishwashers, and other smart appliances. What hasn’t changed, however, is the long hours that we spend in the kitchen cooking the perfect meal. To dodge this problem of spending time, we then resort to packaged and instant food that has adverse effects on our health in the long run. Building Riku is the answer to all these problems. We have seen machines that drive us around, now it’s time to see machines become our chefs. This gap needed to be addressed!
So, to put it simply, we are disrupting home food! Until now, we did not see cooking as a problem when in fact, it was a problem waiting to be solved. The reason we don’t make healthy food choices, especially families with children, is the sheer impracticality of cooking healthy food every single time. For families, the most convenient choice is not always a healthy one. We are set out to change that. By making sure healthy, home-cooked meals are always effortlessly possible, we wish to bust the myth that healthy food is expensive and takes a lot of time and effort. We wish to give you the “Freedom from Cooking!”
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
You are right on that! As of now, we are focusing on making Riku even better. Our immediate updates for Riku will be software updates that will help deliver the best results to its users and simplify their cooking experience further. We also have plans to partner with meal kit delivery services so that Riku takes care of everything from groceries for the meal you want to prepare, right up to cooking it for you. We aim to break into the top 5 consumer brands in the USA for kitchen technology in the next 5 years. We want to solve the entire home cooking process right from planning to your plate. I was serious about the Freedom from Cooking bit!
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
I think Facebook and email have worked the best for us. The product is quite novel, so it’s been relatively easier for us to market it using Facebook. We have generated most of our interest through this channel. Additionally, I feel building up customer engagement and driving sales has been possible through our email campaigns. Since Riku is not an impulse buy, it needs repeat impressions to drive sales and hence Facebook retargeting and emails have helped us. We have also started publishing blogs on Medium on topics related to health, nutrition, and automation. We are targeting most sales for Riku to take place through our crowdfunding campaign that will be launched in October 2020.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Zero to One by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters. If you are starting up, read this. I not only had enough motivation and insights to start a business but also a crash course on the economic perspective of things.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I like personalities more than people. I believe in finding mentors in everyone I meet — could be a friend, colleague, or family. Everyone has something that you can pick up from, you just have to look for it. I have picked up several small things from various people and considered them my micro-mentors. Like Picasso said, “Good artists copy, Great artists steal”. I do both, repeatedly, to adopt habits and mindsets that push me further on my journey. And as a solo founder, believe me, you always need that push!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well” — Disney Sr. These words have been in my mind ever since I first read them. They made me think of all the things I did but could have done better. So now, they are kind of a mantra for me before I begin my day. Be it my workout routine or a critical component of Riku, these words let me give only my best effort and push me to ensure that every feature we work on is done to be the best in its category.
“If you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return — this is Supply and Demand 101.” — Newport, Cal. So Good They Can’t Ignore You. This saying resonates with me on many levels. Essentially it is the effort/work we put in for the desired result/outcome we want. I remember the hours I put in training to collect my medal at the 82nd Philadelphia 26.2-mile full marathon. It applies to business as well; you need to bring in and foster the best minds to deliver something truly unique to your users.
“To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master.” Zen proverb. With the amount of information available to us, we can no longer say “I didn’t know”. I follow, learn, and try to emulate the thinking of the best people in every field such as design, marketing, software, and so on.
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?
The funniest mistake I made repeatedly during the start was “not asking for help”. I was trying to do everything myself. It took me a good year to realize the power of reaching out for help and directly asking for the help I needed. I was surprised at how people were willing to share information, contacts, and even their resources when I simply asked. I was always one to share information on my domain to a junior or a colleague who reached out to me but never realized I should do the same. The lesson learned was to be more open and share your concerns and ask for what you need. Do not try and reinvent the wheel every time.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
We are living in the age of change. Everything around us is constantly changing, updating, or getting replaced. Honestly, disruption, though a positive adjective in the industry, it fundamentally means the interruption of the status quo. So, I do not think it is always good. At the same time, companies and startups are forced to be disruptors, to avoid being disrupted. In essence, disruption acts as a catalyst for change. We can even say a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’ when they changed to embrace the new disruption in the industry. In my opinion, disruption in an industry is positive when it stands to benefit all the stakeholders in that industry, be it through new technology or a new business model. The worldwide web leveled the playing field for generations of companies to come. On the other end of the spectrum, disruption is ‘not so positive’ when only a select few stand to benefit.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them”. This is a quote I picked from “This is Marketing” by Seth Godin which I apply to all areas of my life. Whether it’s onboarding team members, selling my product or handling relationships in my life, I think more than what I can offer in each aspect, it’s more about what value it adds in those areas to those people. Value added is in the end the only worth that you are evaluated on. This approach also then makes me want to understand what the other side wants or expects from me. I constantly try to decipher the underlying needs to add value. It’s immensely satisfying to approach things in a way that assures you that you are making a positive difference. So I have made it my mantra to add observable value in every interaction, every team member, relationship, and product.
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
If I had to ask everyone to do just one thing, I would say, “Be selfish about your happiness”. A lot of us spend our lives living for others. But I say be selfish. Work hard but celebrate yourself, celebrate your wins, spend time on you, your growth, and your happiness. It’s the only way you make your life worth your while. On a lesser serious side note though, I would love to inspire the idea of a Corporate Republic governed on a blockchain! *winks*.
How can our readers follow you online?
LinkedIn — Goutham Gandhi Nadendla https://www.linkedin.com/in/gouthamgandhi/
You can contact me on [email protected]ftlabs.io
Riku Webpage: http://getriku.com
Riku Instagram: @LetRikuCook
Riku Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/getRiku/
Riku Twitter: @LetRikuCook