A Startup Is Born: 5 Questions with Yumi Co-Founder Evelyn Rusli

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Yumi cofounders Evelyn Rusli and Angela Sutherland

For as long as there have been babies, parents have been making their own baby food. And for about 20 years, parents who make baby food—mostly mothers—have been turning their ideas for fresh, pure, natural and unprocessed nourishment for their infants into startup companies.

Evelyn Rusli (above right) and Angela Sutherland are rolling out a new brand, Yumi, that seeks to take this concept in a slightly different direction: offering tasty and wholesome baby foods on a subscription basis. And they’ve raised $4.1 million from some high-profile investors to support their plans.

The Los Angeles-based Yumi (which was called Caer in its beta phase) is the brainchild of Sutherland, a private-equity executive and mother, and Rusli, a journalist-turned-entrepreneur who looks forward to becoming a mom.

The friends, who were introduced by Rusli’s fiancé, decided that even after Happy Baby, Plum Organics and several other baby food ventures started by parents were starting to transform a baby food segment that once was simply Gerber, Beech-Nut and a few also-rans, there is still significant pioneering yet to be done in the space to meet the needs of millennial parents.

Yumi baby food

The subscription concept—making it easy to get healthful baby food into the home—is one. Another differentiator for Yumi is creating baby food that doesn’t rely on natural sugar-laden fruit purees. And its goal is to go beyond nutrition to truly become a parent’s friend for the “first 1,000 days” of a child’s life, the period that some scientists argue are the most crucial phase in human development.

“We see ourselves as a brand that’s developing, not just displacing, a certain category of baby food,” Rusli, a former Wall Street Journaland New York Times tech reporter, told brandchannel.

“We want to become experts and find ways to support parents throughout those first 1,000 days and beyond. We can create a good business with this focus because it makes the brand more powerful.”

brandchannel talked with Rusli about launching Yumi and plans to grow the brand now that it’s out of beta.

bc: Why does America need another baby food startup?

Evelyn Rusli - YumiEvelyn Rusli (right): Those women [behind Happy Family and Plum] have done incredible jobs in building out and scaling their businesses. But there’s more and more science around the importance of the first 1,000 days. There used to be the perception that kids are resilient. But researchers are centering on the first thousand days as being more important than the rest of your life when it comes to nutrition and its physical impact. Maybe I’m an endless optimist. but I think that products can continue to evolve and get better.

Happy Family and Plum have done a great job but you can continue to nerd out and really try to improve the product in terms of nutrition and fructose in these products. One thing we found that was so interesting was a meta analysis on the nutrition side which found that 50 percent or more of their calories are derived from fruit. There is a place for fruit and we do have it. But the more puree you have, the less place you have for other nutrients.

We tried to create products we really love as parents and parents to be. Angela has two kids and I’m a woman in my 30s who just got engaged, and [motherhood] is definitely on the horizon for me. We’re not saying [existing baby food brands] don’t offer nutrition, but the way millennials are shopping now, they want fresh. The reason pico de gallo companies are getting sold for multiples of their earnings isn’t just about organic. They want things that feel fresh and more nutritious.

bc: Why choose a subscription model?

Rusli: Our food is fresh and every week you get a new delivery. It’s all color-coded. There’s a pink week then a blue week. That makes it hard to go into retail. We wanted to be fresh and go direct to the consumer. There’s a lot of power in having such a close relationship and literally going into their homes with the box.

Plus other decisions we made aren’t associated with a typical food company. We created a children’s book that comes in your delivery, a counting primer that uses fruits and vegetables. It’s a signal we also wanted to send that we do things differently than the typical food company. We even customize our ice packs, with a beautiful print of a watermelon on them. These things can add more surprise and delight to customers, so every little touchpoint matters.

bc: Yumi is all-organic, and delivered for a starting price point of $50. Is the service completely curated or can parents pick and choose menu items?

Rusli: We do kind of pick for you because we actually try to  balance the entire delivery set—meals in concert with other meals, as opposed to not giving you six meals of raspberry chia or similar nutritional profiles. We will give you as much diversity as possible for flavor and nutrition. But we know parents want control, or love a particular meal coming in a  certain set, so we want to be flexible, and you can change your order on the dashboard. Or you can go cruise control if you want and leave it in our hands. We satisfy parents who want a lot of control and those who want us to just take it off their plates.

bc: Your investors include Philip Krim, co-founder of the Casper mattress brand, early Dropbox investor Ali Partovi and Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, in addition to some big VC firms. What excites them about Yumi?

Rusli: There are some fundamental trends happening here as we see this large and increasing gap between the legacy food companies and where millennials are shopping and what they want out of the food they eat. And because this chasm is so large, investors will continue to experiment and invest in this space and find what is that next generation of food companies. We were really lucky in this process, able to choose the ones we love and who felt mission-driven. We found investors who not only understood consumer trends and how this could be a big business, but who also wanted this to exist in the world and liked why we were doing it.

bc: You’re starting with deliveries in California, Nevada and Arizona. What’s your plan to scale the brand?

Rusli: This is something we want to take national (across the US) via a hub-and-spoke structure like Blue Apron. With overnight shipping we can have coverage across the 48 states. And we’re quickly developing our product line. We already have 40 SKUs, and we can scale as we grow. So we may tackle formula. We really want to focus on early childhood development and nutrition so we could also go backward, with products for moms who are prenatal or postnatal.


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