Rajiv Chandra: “Correct people’s mistakes fast”

Just do it. Large companies spend way too much time in fine-tuning their strategy. I believe there is much more to be gained by actually doing things and bringing products to market. With experience, it is unlikely that we will get everything wrong so try and build it as close to being perfect and launch. […]

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Just do it. Large companies spend way too much time in fine-tuning their strategy. I believe there is much more to be gained by actually doing things and bringing products to market. With experience, it is unlikely that we will get everything wrong so try and build it as close to being perfect and launch. Learn and change.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajiv Chandra, CEO and Founder of Mum & You.

Rajiv has spent the last 25 years living and traveling across the world while working at the helm of one of the world’s largest consumer businesses. Throughout this time Rajiv has witnessed the hugely positive impact made to children when their Mothers are supported by society, given an opportunity, hope and chance. He has seen these children flourish — living healthy, stronger lives, filled with potential not compromise. And he has realized that to help children, you need to support Mothers. Mum & You has grown from this single guiding principle, which remains at the heart of every decision we make. He, together with his wife Anu, are parents to two ever more independent children.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in college I wanted to make films. That seemed rather a farfetched idea (for everyone around me). I ended doing the next best thing, which was to train with an advertising agency. After several meetings and TV ad productions on the agency side, I realized perhaps my career would be best served by being on the client side!

Thereafter for the next few decades, my career grew in CPG companies both in marketing and sales, up until I started as General Manager for my company. The beauty of such a career is that I got to work across several countries in the world. I would like to think that working and living in different cultures makes one much more adaptable, aware and empathetic.

Wherever I lived (whether it was a rich country or a poor one) I saw kids fall through the cracks. Many children, I found, just didn’t live to meet their full potential. Just in the UK alone, over 30% of children entering school do not have basic vocabulary and communication skills. Many of these children who are not ‘school ready’ lag behind through school and beyond.

This became a huge driver for me to leave the relative comfort of the corporate world and start a company that could help enable moms and children. All the years of running companies, understanding diverse cultures and understanding that it was my time to give back to the world drove me to found ‘Mum & You’ and to become an entrepreneur.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

I had been running businesses independently for over a decade before becoming a CEO. What was a huge challenge moving away from the familiar structure of an established company was starting everything from scratch. Everything had to be ‘reinvented’ and when you looked around you realized (for the most part) it had to be done by you. One had to become the ‘doer’ and the ‘buck stopper’ at the same time!

There were two big lessons for me at the start — both of them come to the same conclusion: you can’t do it alone. Even a start-up needs to focus on the right people. You don’t need the numbers, but you do need a small group of people who ‘get it’ and are capable of multitasking. This is invaluable because no matter how good you are, you don’t know everything in a business.

The other lesson was that you have to go out and meet a bunch of diverse people. Large companies are fairly inward-looking and start-up CEOs need to be outward-looking. I have learned more from meeting and listening to people/industry partners etc. I won’t call it ‘networking’ it’s just about being open-minded to an ecosystem and people who are out there that can really help and are willing to.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Success is a long way away I think!

  • Purpose. The biggest driver of our company is what we stand for: ‘Enabling Moms to Enable Children.’ If one has a reason or purpose to exist (other than profits) and the team knows that clearly, it can be the single most motivating thing to focus around. It also attracts external partners and investors.
  • Partnerships. The other factor has been looking at external partners as partners for the long run. Our relationships are not usually transactional or short term. That goes for our suppliers, agencies and bankers. We look for likeminded partners with whom we can work with and build businesses with for the long term, and it has worked most of the time. Over time they become internal/external and know your business as well as you do.
  • Building a community. We have built a large community of moms who use our products and some who don’t use but give feedback! We have learned more from listening about our shortcomings from our community than we have through any form of research. They are quick to react and sometimes say things that are uncomfortable. An example — our successful ‘biodegradable baby wipes’ had packaging that couldn’t be recycled. Our community loved our product, but not the packaging and they made it clear in their feedback on social media. We changed and will probably be one of the first in the industry to get into ‘100% recyclable’ wipes packaging which is launching imminently. That is way ahead of many of the ‘Goliath’ CPG companies in this space.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO?” Please share a story or example for each.

  • Set the agenda. Everyone is busy, but you need to set the agenda. Make clear what the priorities are and what you expect from people. If you don’t then the agenda for your company sets itself based on the pulls and pushes of the moment.
  • Just do it. Large companies spend way too much time in fine-tuning their strategy. I believe there is much more to be gained by actually doing things and bringing products to market. With experience, it is unlikely that we will get everything wrong so try and build it as close to being perfect and launch. Learn and change.
  • Correct people’s mistakes fast. Everyone talks about getting the right people and teams. I have realized that mostly we drag on with people’s mistakes. If you sense that something isn’t working with a team or a partner you probably are right. Give yourself a finite amount of time and be sure to confront the issue.
  • Cash flows are critical. This is something large CPG companies never have to think about (mostly). However, every penny counts when you are a small company. The learn and change cycle I spoke about above has to be very frequent as its easy to waste money and then find yourself in a situation where innovation and customer acquisition start suffering as a result of ‘cutbacks.’
  • Agility is the most important asset. It is a mindset and has to be company-wide. I have learned that agility is the ability to sense an opportunity and go for it. It is the ability to sense failure and correct it. It is the moment when you know you have to change course and do so with speed — all the time.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out?”

I see the ‘balance’ in work-life balance as the biggest cause of burnout. Constantly trying to seek balance is what leads to imbalance. To try and see life as a continuum is much better. Life is what happens at work and outside of it and it intertwines. Work for companies that allow you the maximum flexibility to work at your pace and timings. At Mum & You it’s quite common to have Moms leave to pick up kids from school and then start the work again in the evening from home. I am a strong believer in moving away from conventional working hours.

The other learning is to build great relationships at work and at home with whom you can share feelings and what you are going through. Talking to people and sharing is half the battle won. Bottling everything inside will lead to a blow out sooner or later.

The final thing about burn out is setting your expectations about yourself. Keep them at a level where they are not constantly disappointing you. It’s easy to look around and compare with others, but what is more important is to set your goals so that you can constantly achieve them (with a bit of stretch). If you are constantly falling behind where you think you want to be in life, it means you need to recalibrate!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been very fortunate to have people through my career who have helped make me the way I am. When I reflect back, one of the luckiest things that has happened to me is how much my bosses have helped me grow. Almost without exception, people I worked for have invested their time and effort to teach and guide me. However, I have learned a lot from people who have either worked for me or have been my peers.

I try and find time to guide people and give time to them, even mentor them. My time isn’t just reserved for people who work with me. I almost never refuse to meet young people who might want career advice.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

My personal and professional goals are interlinked. The professional goal is to create a unique consumer brand globally that drives products and services for moms.

The personal goal is to grow the brand in such a manner that it becomes a catalyst (financially and its products) for parents to engage more with their kids. We all know that the more parents engage with their kids, especially in the early years, the higher the chances of the kids growing up to meet their full potential.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

The vision would be — what we have started becomes a movement that helps parents and enables children to meet their full potential. Every child deserves to live healthy, live strong and live to meet their full potential.

If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

I truly hope we have started a movement to ‘Enable Moms to Enable Children.’ The reason for this movement to be focused on moms, even though it is inclusive and for any career, is that data shows that in the first few years of the child’s life (the brain grows the most in the first 1000 days) it interacts most with the mom. So, if we can support moms then there is a rather good chance that the kids will land on their feet. Let’s start the movement to enable parents to chat, play, sing, and read to their kids!

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Thank you so much for all of these great insights!

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