We sat down this week with Poonam Vasantha Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder of Saavor, Inc, who will join us as a mentor during our upcoming panel, Pivot: Lessons in Changing Courses, taking place on November 12 at 5 p.m. ET. She talked with us about her own career path and the importance of having a strong team around you and having deep industry knowledge to help inform your business decisions.
Girls in Tech: Tell us a little bit about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Poonam Vasantha Kumar: I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, ever since I was a little kid and I understood the meaning of owning a business. I was tremendously inspired by my dad, he was a self made man. I did my undergrad in computer science engineering back in India, came to the US about 8.5 years ago for my MBA program. When I was in Texas doing my MBA, I saw an opportunity in the food industry and before I could venture out and take the bold step of starting something on my own, I wanted to get an experience in the corporate world. I worked in a company for a while as a lead engineer, after which I was able to raise funds and started working on Saavor full time. There has been no looking back !
GIT: Can you tell us more about what Saavor does?
PVK: Saavor provides a tech platform via its mobile applications that connects independent chefs and local vendors to consumers via it’s B2B partnerships and marketing outreach. We are an early stage startup company and have secured a contract with one of the universities in New York City where students are currently using our mobile app to place orders from their school’s kitchen. We are trying to partner up with as many schools and hospitals as possible. We support local vendors in more ways than one – for instance, in New Jersey, we’ll be selling meal boxes and groceries under our brand name at a very low price from local vendors . There are other projects in the pipeline but currently we are focused on these two revenue streams.
GIT: How do you approach cultivating the culture at Saavor through your work?
PVK: We are an early stage startup company, it’s a very small team at the moment, we’re trying to grow a culture where we support, and respect one another. Each team member wears different hats, as you see in the startup world, that’s very common. We try to be as transparent as possible with our partners who join us. We are trying to take it step by step to build a culture within our organization!
GIT: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you started out?
PVK: In the food industry, because of COVID, there have been a lot of changes legally. The landscape has completely changed Both in New York City and NJ. We are a very small team at the moment, most of our decisions are based on our capabilities to attain those resources and how big of a market it’s going to be. We always wanted to build a sellable business even though we might not sell it at the end of it all. In that direction, I had to think about numerous strategies to network with individuals in the industry. One thing I noticed is that networking has helped me a lot to gain those partnerships. The restaurant industry has completely changed due to COVID and at the moment, we are trying to see how best we can fill those gaps to address the requirements in the market. #Supportlocalvendors
GIT: Do you think COVID has impacted the way you’ve approached building out this product?
PVK: 100%. Initially, we just started out by connecting home chefs who wanted to sell food from home to customers in their neighborhood. Due to COVID, people were hesitant. There are a couple t of companies out there doing the same thing that we are doing but we had to pivot based on the requirements and needs of the market. We thought it would make more sense for us to go with a B2B approach, bring in more business partnerships that could help these independent chefs and also the local vendors to scale their business. We have pivoted quite a bit due to COVID.
GIT: What major moments in your journey come to mind when you think about pivoting or shifting gears.
PVK: Initially, it was very difficult to switch gears from being just an engineer with coding knowledge and an MBA degree to starting a company. I made a lot of mistakes which were really expensive but nonetheless I learned a lot from those mistakes. One thing I always stress is building a strong network, having a strong team within the company. If you lack something in experience and the other team member could bring into the company that’s a great plus. I have learnt my lessons throughout the years, made numerous mistakes but one thing we always did was think about strategies of how we can make this work and scale it to the next level as a team.
GIT: If you could go back to when you were just getting into the field, what advice would you give your younger self?
PVK: To partner up with the right team members else it can be really expensive in terms of time and money. I would tell myself to hold on, take everything on a manual level and then spend money on automating it. When it comes to the service industry, to build a business manually first, see if you have product-market fit, and then invest the money in building the actual product to automate it.
GIT: Why is pivoting more important now than ever before?
PVK: I believe that pivoting in a business has always been important, irrespective of the current situation as there is constant innovation and changes in customer’s requirements and needs. As an entrepreneur, you need to be very familiar with your industry’s requirements and always be ready to cater to those needs. One should build a business in terms of having the foresight, taking a look at the opportunities in the market and filling those gaps by being proactive towards them. Pivoting is absolutely required.
Poonam will share more in her breakout session during the event, along with other distinguished panelists. You can sign up here!