How did you identify the opportunity to disrupt the baby food industry with Yumi?
Angela Sutherland: Yumi was inspired by my first daughter. During my pregnancy, like many mothers, I started to worry. I wondered how everything I did and everything I ate was impacting this new life. As I started to dive deep into research, I learned that the medical community has identified the first years of life—a period called the “First 1,000 Days” (spanning from in utero to age 2)—as the most important period in a person’s life for nutrition.
Evelyn Rusli: However, most packaged baby food is high in fruit sugar, low in nutrition, and often older than the babies eating them. Incredibly, baby food hasn’t really changed in a hundred years. There’s still a huge disconnect between what babies need and what the big food industry provides. With Yumi, we’re trying to give parents a better option and change the conversation around infant and child nutrition. Families should expect more from the brands they bring into their home; they deserve food that is fresh, organic, transparent and actually good for them.
After you came up with the idea, what were the next steps you took?
AS: As a new mom working long hours with a young baby at home, I felt like I had two bad options: 1) cook every meal from scratch or 2) purchase processed foods at the grocery store and feel like I’m compromising the health of my baby. I was fed up, so I discussed the idea with Evelyn, a good friend at the time. After only a matter of weeks, we both quit our jobs and started the company. It took a lot of research, planning, and a giant dose of faith, but we made it work. In the beginning, it’s easy to fall into a negative cycle of self-doubt, but we were lucky—there was such clarity around the mission since day one. We knew this had to exist.
It took a lot of research, planning, and a giant dose of faith, but we made it work.
What did each of you do in your previous careers and how did that prepare you for running Yumi?
ER: I was a journalist at The Wall Street Journal, and prior to that The New York Times, covering innovation and startups. In many ways, it was akin to a business school education minus the loans. But instead of case studies, I was able to interact with hundreds of startups of various sizes at various stages of success. I learned a lot from this front row seat, where I got a close view of both failure and glory. I find myself constantly thinking back to past stories and how the lessons of those companies could be applied today. That being said, I should be clear—nothing perfectly prepares you for entrepreneurship.
AS: I worked in private equity leading turnarounds, which equipped me with hands-on operational experience. It also fueled my love of entrepreneurship and a desire to build my own successful company, rather than fixing those started by others.
How did you decide you were the right match as co-founders?
ER: We were close friends for a few years before we decided to start the company together, so in the beginning we spent a lot of time getting to know each other again in the context of being co-founders. (Being friends does not prepare you to be co-founders. It’s a completely different paradigm). We had long conversations on our values, our weaknesses, and how we complement each other. We also took extensive personality tests, to help us have these frank conversations.
Angela and I are incredibly different people, I am the English major to her Math major, and yet we possess the same North Star values and ethics. So, in the areas where alignment really matters, we see eye to eye. We even call each other our work wives, and though that is somewhat a joke, as a co-founder your perspective should be that divorce isn’t an option. It starts with tremendous trust, mutual respect and shared values.
Why did you opt for a subscription model?
AS: We wanted to provide community and support to our busy parents. That meant making their lives as new parents as easy as possible. Since we are direct to consumer, we have a direct line to our customers, which enables us to really listen to their needs and build a deeper relationship. As their children grow, our customers don’t have to think about which foods come next, because we’ve done the research for them. A weekly subscription model makes the feeding process really seamless for a parent.
You raised $4.1 million before starting Yumi. What are 3 things entrepreneurs need to know about the fundraising process?
- Don’t just take any money. Align yourself with smart, values-driven investors. We’ve been fortunate to be able to partner with investors who possess the expertise and connections to help us win, but also give us the freedom to run our business how we see fit. Most importantly, they’re fully supportive of our mission.
- Tell a good story. Gone are the days when founders get funded off a napkin or a single slide. Put the time, research and practice into preparing a diligent, thoughtful pitch that offers a compelling story.
- Don’t conflate fundraising success with business success. Raising money means that investors have confidence in your ability to deliver. After you raise the funds, the real work of building a lasting, sustainable business begins!
In addition to food, Yumi provides informational content on nutrition, wellness, and health. Why did you decide to focus on this and what has your brand seen as a result?
ER: Feeding children can be such a tremendous source of stress, so we felt it was important not only to make mealtime more convenient but also to build a brand that would serve as a 360-degree support system for parents. From day one, our goal was to be a trusted authority in early childhood nutrition. We wanted to be a resource and source of community for parents. In addition, we also wanted to help parents understand the correlation between what they were feeding their child and their child’s development. Parents have more control than they realize. We wanted to empower them with information, whether they were using our product or not.
Your Instagram is growing quickly! What are 3 tactics you have found to be most effective in building your social media presence?
- Authenticity is key – keep the visual clean and the message concise.
- Add value. Be more than a collection of pretty images. Your feed should be a clear indicator of what you stand for as a brand.
- Hire the right team to help execute your vision – someone who embodies your company culture to the fullest and shares your brand voice. Our social media guru Alix Luntz has been the wizard behind our Instagram since day 1, and she lives and breathes our brand through social.
Tell us about the importance of storytelling for your brand.
ER: Too much of parenting comes down to guilt—guilt about nutrition, guilt about time spent away from kids—the list is endless and soul-crushing. We wanted Yumi to serve as a tool to remove that guilt—to be inclusive, positive, and community-driven, but also realistic and informative. We strive to strike that balance with our brand and have relied heavily on powerful storytelling to convey our messages and our mission. Storytelling is at the heart of movements. This is isn’t just about building a better baby food, it’s about sparking a movement to raise a healthier generation, for generations to come.
What are ways that you incorporate sustainability and social responsibility into your business?
AS: Our mantra is that every meal matters. Our food is organic and sustainably sourced. Our packaging is free of BPA, BPS and phthalates, our ice packs are reusable, our insulation is compostable, and all jars, boxes, and trays are recyclable. Finally, we donate all unused, perishable food to Impact LA, a non-profit that helps those in need. We want every touch point to feel really great from start to finish.
What’s next for Yumi?
We are excited to continue to grow and expand the brand into new markets nationwide, starting with our launch on the east coast this fall!
Who are the women that inspire each of you to #EmbraceAmbition?
AS: Definitely my mother. She was an immigrant who came to this country with less than $50 in her pocket, yet despite the myriad of challenges she faced, worked her way up to become an incredibly successful businesswoman. She was such an inspiration to me, and I think her persistence and strong work ethic are traits that were instilled in me from a very young age.
ER: My mentor Jane Perlez, who is still a writer at The New York Times, is a huge source of inspiration. She taught me that the world is full of stories bigger than the individual self and that it’s a privilege to be in a position to shed light on these stories.