For adding just a little more activity to our days
In the year of remote work, many people's daily exercise consists of the walk between the kitchen, their couch, and perhaps to check the mail. But getting enough exercise was a problem pre-Covid as well, and it inspired Shivani Jain and two other University of Chicago business students, Arnav Dalmia and Ryota Sekine, to dream up Cubii, a small elliptical machine that fits under a desk that’d keep otherwise sedentary cubicle workers peddling while they worked.
The trio’s idea took off in 2014 when they raised around $300,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and the product’s fanbase grew not only among desk workers, but those with limited mobility or recovering from surgeries. In 2016, the company released an accompanying app that helps users keep track of calories burned and other fitness statistics, and last year, the company took in $26 million in revenue and landed at No. 300 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list.
Shivani attributes her company’s success in part on running any new idea past a value system for the company’s core customer. Says Shivani: “As a company, it’s very easy at times to see lots of growth and so much happening around you that you chase any and every opportunity and you forget to put your core customer first.” – Anna Meyer
For designing cookware that actually matches the way we live
For telling previously untold stories about the South Asian diaspora
Snigdha Sur, founder of The Juggernaut, says that when she started approaching investors in 2018, they asked: Why are you starting a media company now? But she was committed to her idea: to turn her free newsletter into a full-fledged, subscription-backed media brand, driven by original reporting and aimed at “South Asians and the South Asia-curious.”
A self-described Bollywood obsessive with a Harvard MBA, Sur saved up several months’ worth of runway while working at McKinsey, then quit her job and applied, successfully, to Y Combinator. Since launching in February 2019, The Juggernaut has raised $2 million, published stories by more than 100 freelance journalists, and grown its subscriber base more than fourfold, according to Sur. She attributes the enthusiasm to a longstanding lack of South Asian representation in mainstream media: “We're really, I think, pushing the boundaries and bringing perspectives that other people are just completely missing.” Next up: hiring more editors and engineers to bolster the company’s full-time staff. – Sophie Downes
For recognizing that, as community-supported agriculture can bring financial stability to farmers, community-supported fisheries can help fishing families
When Sonia Strobel, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, married into a fishing family, she saw first-hand how precarious their livelihoods could be. “Fishermen are paid pretty poorly for an incredible amount of risk and hard work,” she says. Some years her father-in-law would make money; others, he wouldn’t. Strobel’s husband grew up fishing with his father, and wanted to continue, but got out of it because it was too hard to make a living.
Part of the problem is the fishermen themselves get very little of the money consumers pay for fish, thanks in part to long supply chains and a complex system of licenses in quotas. Additionally the prices they are paid fluctuate wildly from week to week. This year has been particularly bad, Strobel says, because Covid has forced so many restaurants – typically big buyers of seafood – to close.
Strobel knew that community-supported agriculture, or CSAs, had made a dent in similar problems that beset farmers. Meanwhile, she knew that Canada—where she now lived--exported 90 percent of its fishing catch, but 80 percent of the seafood sold in groceries and restaurants is imported. Why not start a CSA for fishing families? In 2008 she did just that, starting Skipper Otto – named for her father-in-law – while on maternity leave. That first year 40 members joined, and the next year she had 400 members.
In 2014 Skipper Otto became Strobel’s full-time job, and has since grown to 5,000 members and ten full-time employees. Her growth comes not from venture capital – she’s had some debt financing and a line of credit, but otherwise has bootstrapped the whole thing – but from collaboration. “You don’t have to do everything yourself, and you shouldn’t,” she says. “Instead, get a real diversity of skills among a small team of people.” —Kimberly Weisul
Because ordering food for a meeting should be easy
Stefania Mallett thinks like an engineer--a legacy of her computer science graduate degree from MIT--so it's no surprise that when founding ezCater in 2007, she created "a system for everything." Customers visit the website and order a tasty spread from one of 80,000 restaurants and caterers, and ezCater coordinates fulfillment for any event in which a group of people want to nosh while they work.
Mallett credits her success to creating clever systems to entice the right talent to join her, and then nourishing their hearts and minds. "My purpose is to create jobs that people want to have," says Mallett. Job candidates complete mock exercises to get a feel for the work they'll be doing. One example: translating a printed menu into an appealing digital layout. "After an hour," Mallett says, "either they say, 'I hate this!' or 'This is kind of fun.' "
Her management mantras are "Respect the heck out of your employees" and "Give them so much authority they gasp"--two things that inspire her team to bring their full passion and creativity to work. That's doubly important as she pivots in the era of Covid. "I deeply believe," she says, "that if you can just give people the biggest opportunity, the most freedom to be their best selves, you will get that." –Burt Helm