In Conversation with Evelyn Rusli of Yumi

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Describe Yumi in a few words?

Yumi makes it easier to feed your children fresh, delicious, nutrient-dense food. Recognizing the importance of nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, Yumi’s intelligently designed blends provide balanced meals to support babies’ neurological and physical development at every age and stage. To ensure maximum nutrition and flavor in every spoonful, Yumi has an in-house team of experts that includes holistic nutritionists, plant based chefs, doulas, doctors and more. Yumi offers signature blends and finger foods in over 80 flavors, delivered right to your doorstep.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I was truly inspired to take the leap after my dear friend and now, co-founder, Angela Sutherland, became pregnant with her first child and quickly realized the gap in the market for truly nutritious foods for babies and toddlers. Angela, an uber research nerd, shared with me a Dropbox folder of all the clinical studies related to nutrition in the first 1,000 days. It turns out this window, from in utero to roughly age 2, is the most important in a human’s life for nutrition and development. What you feed your child in the first 1,000 days will have a profound impact on their neural and physical development, metabolic health, even their taste preferences. 

At the same time, we were also astonished to learn that the grocery store was filled with options that were shelf-stable, highly processed, high in sugar and low in nutrition. We got angry and we got inspired and started building Yumi. We set out to build a service that would not only make it easy for parents to feed their children nutrient-dense meals and snacks, but would also help them connect the dots between nutrition and health outcomes. We designed Yumi to be a guided journey, so we can support families with relevant products and content every week from the first bites and beyond.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Before Yumi, I spent more than a decade as a journalist. I was previously on staff at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times covering startups and innovation and was also formerly an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Social Capital Partnership, a Palo Alto-based venture capital firm.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

No, but I think I was always drawn to the idea of creating meaningful impact at scale. One way to do this, of course, is through writing. Writers, through their stories, shine a light on important issues and help people make sense of the world by breaking down complex topics. Once Angela and I started geeking out on the 1,000 days and realized how broken the market was, it was hard to imagine a more important story to share. After years of covering startups and innovation, I also came to appreciate the power of startups to shift markets and drive change. 

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

We spent a lot of time at the grassroots level, building word of mouth. Parenting is very local in many ways, so we spent a lot of time building the community in our backyard of Los Angeles before moving into other markets. Being so close to our community and our families was immensely helpful in designing the service and figuring out the best way to communicate our service and our values. We could have started by blanketing the world with digital ads, but this more local approach helped us build the right foundation. Although we are more national now, a big part of our marketing strategy will always be part local.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Before Yumi, I was used to a more independent workstyle as a writer. In the beginning, I struggled to delegate and often took on too many tasks, leading to constant context-switching. Over time, I’ve learned to let go. We’ve been so lucky to attract such a deep bench of intelligent, skilled, mission-driven colleagues, we try to create a culture that encourages creativity and outside-the-box thinking and give people the room to build.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

The leap itself. There was skepticism when I abandoned a career I had been building for more than 10 years. I remember my parents advice at the time: “If you’re going to make a change, you could still go to Law School.” And yet, despite the skepticism, I never doubted the leap. I knew I would always regret not making the move, if I didn’t jump. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’re in uncharted times, as parents are trying their best to adjust to work from home life and the lack of access to daycares, schools, or even extra help they used to expect from their parents or extended family. As a result, we’ve seen more parents opt into the service from cities across the country. We feel lucky to be able to help parents during these unpredictable times, and at least take mealtime off their plate. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We have some exciting new products launching next year. I can’t quite share details yet, but be on the lookout for them in 2021! Aside from that, our customers can expect more fun and delicious chef collaborations! I’ve been obsessed with our latest banana bread bites in collaboration with chef Malcolm Livingston II, a former pastry chef of Noma, they are incredible and currently on high rotation in my household.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Patience and gratitude.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

Even if it feels like something stupid, ask the question, ask for help.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

I’ve managed to stay grounded with the help of my husband Daniel. He’s helped me pick up good habits around mindfulness, he is one of the few people I know who actually journals every morning. 

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

No, at least not for myself. I believe in leaning into whatever is giving you energy and inspiration. Sometimes that work, sometimes that’s family or working. You have to be brutally honest with yourself about what you need. But if you can do that, you’ll find a way to be the best version of yourself which benefits every facet of your life, whether work or personal. 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Keep a consistent schedule – wake up and go to sleep at around the same time each day. 
  • Lists. I make a million lists for everything, just the act of checking off items creates a quick dopamine hit and inspires me to be more productive.
  • Try to get outside every day for a breath of fresh air.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Building the world you want to see, versus simply living in the world. Living ambitiously.

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