In Conversation with Krista Maas de Villiers of Nunona

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Describe your business in a few words?

Nunona is a whole food plant-based (evidence-based!) maternal and infant nutrition company helping to create healthier humans for a healthier planet.

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

After suffering burnout in business school I switched to a plant-based diet. I dug into the literature around the benefits that a plant-based diet offers and became convinced this was better for my body and better for the planet as well. When I became pregnant I quickly realized that the traditional solutions for Moms and Babies weren’t in line with my requirements and put my expertise to work creating whole food plant-based nutritional solutions for my pregnancy, breastfeeding journey and for my daughter when she went onto solids. I was so frustrated at the lack of support and education on the market for new moms and realised I needed to work to change this.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Prior to starting Nunona I was Global Head of Marketing and Innovation for a major Infant Formula company. I had spent 12 years in the industry helping to ensure infant formula is as close as possible to human breast milk. I worked with global key opinion leaders and had incredible exposure to the research in the field of maternal and infant nutrition. It wasn’t until I became the customer that I realized the industry needed to help support women, not just babies. In my desire to do the best for my daughter during my pregnancy I realized that the research I’d been exposed to wasn’t being translated into product solutions for women. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes! I’ve always had a vision of being an entrepreneur and I knew it would be something at the cross-sections of health and business – something that could make people healthier. I just had to figure out exactly what that would be. I spent my entire life preparing for my future business garnering restaurant experience, a dietetics degree, a marketing degree, 12 years in global nutritional and pharmaceutical businesses and eventually an MBA.

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?

I don’t think anything in 2020 has gone to plan! As individuals, businesses and society it’s been important to take stock, regroup and strategize how we can do better. The foundational pillars of our marketing strategy have remained, with pivots in how we executed. Our most important pillar is the ‘Word of Mom’. Which means that it’s our consumer who will tell people about our brand and our products. It’s our job to create compelling products worth sharing. The maternal nutrition market has been so terribly overlooked and undervalued historically, at Nunona, we aim to change that.

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?

By far the biggest challenge I’ve faced in founding Nunona, on the heels of becoming a mother, has been the isolation of being an entrepreneur. I craved an office and colleagues, I craved the identity of who I used to be. I also knew that I couldn’t go back to that life. No matter what, I had to build Nunona. I’ve learned to be patient, trust the process and power forward.

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

I’ve spent the first nearly 3 years of my daughters’ life with her as much as possible, balancing early morning meetings with overseas clients and mommy-daughter time. I don’t know why as women we feel we need to do it all, all the time.  I threw myself into her, and into her nutrition. I then justified it to the shadow of my former corporate self by calling it the most intense market research project I’ve ever conducted. 

Once my daughter was 8 months old I got some part-time help and started working on Nunona about 20 hours a week, eventually launching our company into beta when she was 2.5 and starting to scale it now that she is nearly 3. She is the reason and inspiration behind everything I’ve created. I don’t believe children are ‘accomplishments’ as they are individuals. But she will always be what makes me the proudest.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

There is no ‘go-to’ question, I like to put people on the spot and gauge how they can think on their feet. In a start-up, it’s a have to have!

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

The pandemic caused a delay in our launch and a pivot in our go to market plan. It was so important for me to understand the situation we were all in and ensure we are communicating with the market appropriately. My hope is that the pandemic can allow us all to understand how connected everything is and come out of it with a greater appreciation of health and our resources. Placing a premium on what we put in our bodies, and how it affects all of our futures.

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

I’ve created a product that will be the third option for breastfeeding women. Currently, we have breastfeeding or formula. Over the next few years from Nunona, you will see that we are expanding on that choice. I absolutely can’t wait to bring it to market!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

I’ve learned to pause, be patient and appreciate the little things.

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

It’s going to take a lot longer than you think it will! Stay the course.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

As a parent I’m not sure you have a choice. Workouts help, as does wine!

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

Work/life balance is a fallacy. It’s all life. Understand your priorities, and spend your time accordingly.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I lived abroad in South Africa for 10 years. I’m also a black belt in Taekwondo. 

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

I plan my goals for the week on Sunday evening. Daily things can come up that keep you from being able to complete your tasks, I find knowing what I need to accomplish in terms of weeks keeps me focused.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being an Entreprenista means solving problems and creating a better future!


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