An interesting Q/A with Manjula Misha, Owner & Director - Simply Lentils
When and why did you start thinking of getting into business?
I returned from my India trip last year on 22nd March after completing an intensive Yoga teacher training course, to be welcomed by quarantine, lockdown and a series of restrictions. I had plans of starting my own Yoga classes in Canberra, but the universe had something else planned for me.
It had been two years since I arrived in Canberra from Melbourne, and I was on a career break. I was trying to figure out my life or should I call it mid-life crisis!! It took me two years to explore myself by trying different things (I became Zumba instructor, enrolled in nutrition course, became an aged care volunteer, trained as yoga teacher) and understand what really the purpose of my life is. Amidst all this one of my very good friends kept motivating me and asking me to get back to business once again. I had a successful cake business back in Melbourne before I moved to Canberra.
I was a bit skeptical in the beginning as I knew what it meant to run a business. But she kept persisting, in fact she already had an idea, and she knew that I was the one who could bring that idea into reality. After a few weeks of hesitation, I finally decided to give one more shot at the business thing!!! So, my friend and I together we brainstormed on the idea and then I went straight on product development. My experience as a chef and knowledge of Nutrition played a key role in product development. This was in September 2020, and within three months I developed three products and Simply Lentils was launched in Nov 2020.
How has been your journey so far?
My journey with setting up and establishing Simply Lentils has just been amazing. It has not been easy at all, but it has been very rewarding and very challenging at the same time. My knowledge and my experience in last one year have grown exponentially. I have learnt the formalities of setting up a company, product development, ins and outs of a food business and at the same time polished my networking, marketing and sales skills. So far it has been the most exhilarating and challenging journey of my life. I have pushed my boundaries at so many levels only to see myself grow and explore possibilities that I never ever thought could have existed. Being on a journey of establishing a start-up is like giving birth and nurturing a child. It is a wholehearted experience, and you must put everything you got to make it grow and flourish. My family has supported me in every high and low of the journey. They have been there with me encouraging me when things didn’t work out as per plan and celebrating every success with me. There have been times when you question yourself, but when I found myself in that situation I always looked back and saw how far I have come, all the fears that I have overcome and all the battles I had won…and that gave me courage to move forward.
What and who helped you along your journey
I have been very thankful to be in contact with Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) and SRBEC since the idea stage of the business. Both CBRIN and SRBEC have helped us with invaluable workshops and webinars, most of which were free to attend.
We had support of business advisors and digital advisors through SRBEC to help with business planning and designing digital solutions as well. I have been a regular member of Canberra Business Chambers which has helped me make some very valuable connections and pave the path forwards for the business. We have been supported by The Mill House Ventures to explore the possibilities of becoming a social enterprise as we strongly believe in it. We are a member of Canberra Women in Business which helps me connect with other women in business and learn from their experiences. I am also a part of Regional Development Authority, food in the capital program to explore possibilities of creating CBR region as a self-sustainable food capital. Being a member of a local Facebook group -Vegan Healthy Living (Canberra) has helped me to connect with vegan customers and seek their feedback.
I have been blessed with finding some amazing people on my journey who have given their time and guided us with a motto of pay it forward. I am lucky to have @Anton Pemmer as our business advisor who has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. I have been mentored by Sunita and Sanjay of Daana and @Alan Tse & Christina of Altina Drinks who have helped me by sharing their experience and guiding us. We were very lucky to get some media exposure early on in our journey. Our story was first covered by RJ Manish on Radio Manpasand (CBR based Indian community radio). Maddalena Easterbrook, (who I met at a training session with Mill house ventures) recommended ABC weekend breakfast show to cover our story. The ABC interview was a breakthrough for us. It was later featured by ABC national news and our story was spread across Australia and we went national through our website sales. This truly shows the power of people and networking.
We had the support of local retail businesses -Bharat International, Pop Canberra, Chifley Grocers, Ainslie IGA & Brew bar café who trusted us very early on and gave us an opportunity to showcase our products on their shelves.
And last but not the least, all our customers who participated in the surveys, taste trials and helped during the product development stage with their valuable feedback.
What were the roadblocks if any?
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”
A journey without roadblocks becomes boring and monotonous. I enjoy the challenge of moving boulders to make my own path. Being a home-based business has been a big roadblock to scaling up. Even though you have the potential and passion people don’t take you seriously enough and think you are just a mum from kitchen business. Not being able to get the right information was the biggest roadblock when we started out. Bootstrapping for growth has made our progress slower. I have donned the hat of every role of the business at the moment and it becomes very exhausting and consuming a lot of times.
How has Canberra Business Chamber helped you along your journey?
Joining the Chamber was a great decision. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner!! The monthly networking session is so valuable and refreshing at the same time. With the help of Chambers now I have connections right from legal experts, media & PR, diplomats, export advisory service to business advisory service. I would strongly urge anyone starting a business to join Canberra Business Chambers even before you start working on your dream project!!
Someone has rightly said - “Your Network is your Net worth”, so start building your net worth by being a part of the CBC community.
What advice would you like to give to upcoming ACT businesses?
If you think you can set up a successful business all by yourself sitting within 4 walls of your home or garage or workshop you are making a BIG mistake.
Business starts by first putting yourself out in the open, then your idea and finally your product or service. Learn to be your authentic self and connect to people at human level. Ask for help, no one is a mind reader. If you don’t ask no one will ever know you need something. There are heaps of resources available through govt programs for free, make use of it. Don’t cut short anyone in the race of being successful, you never know when you will cross paths again. And last but not the least decide from the start what kind of business you want.
- business by accident - it’s like a job/ getting paid
- lifestyle business - supports a lifestyle that you want to build.
- strategy business - generate multi million in revenue and be the CEO running your company
- an asset - generate revenue without working in the company
- exit business- build a business to sell it off
- NFI business - No F***ing Idea business. (Source - Entourage workshop)
No matter what type please don’t do an NFI business !!!
Co-founder & Director