Nov. 23, 2021

19. Deepak Ravindran


Hear from Deepak Ravindran, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Oddbox, a fruit and vegetable service that fights food waste and champions sustainability. In this episode, we learn the contrast between working as a banker in the city and starting a sustainable initiative, and how this was shaped by Deepak’s life. Be sure to listen to the very end for bonus material.

You can find out more about Deepak and Oddbox here:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dravindran/
Website: https://www.oddbox.co.uk 

You can also find out more about Escape the City that Deepak credits for helping him find his purpose: https://www.escapethecity.org/ 

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

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Transcript

Deepak:

I would go to these networking events and people talk about tech businesses and they've got this much funding and it felt so far removed from where I was at that point in time, because I just didn't have any previous exposure to any of that.

Danny:

Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. The Sondership podcast is all about hearing, inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Deepak ah- Ravindran, I'm going to keep all this in. Deepak is the co-founder and chief customer officer of one of my favorite companies in this country. Odd Box, a purpose driven business that fights food waste on farms and fosters conscious consumerism. If you don't know, Odd Box, get on the website and order a box. Cause they're absolutely brilliant. Prior to Odd Box, Deepak worked for several multi-national companies like 3m with his wife, Emily, they both, co-founded this purpose driven business called Odd Box. They tackle food waste at a farm level. And we're going to hear a little bit more about that soon. Odd Box now works with over a hundred growers and has over 85 employees. In his spare time, Deepak mentors aspiring entrepreneurs along with taking care of his two and a half year old daughter. Deepak. Welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Deepak:

Well, thank you so much, Danny. It's really grateful to be here. Thank you for having me.

Danny:

As you hopefully now know, the Sondership podcast is built around those moments of Sonder. So we listened to stories from people with purpose and it's built around those Sonder moments. Sonder being that realization that every passer-by has got a story as rich and complex as your own. What I'd like to start with is to just hear about your earliest or most memorable Sonder moment.

Deepak:

It's a fascinating, uh, word and, concept that Danny. So I'd look it up as most of your other guests have. So it's, it's really fascinating and it's, it's quite profound in the sense that I'm not a naturally introspective person, but then I had a think about it. And the most memorable moment was, when I was, working in investment banking, I was, standing outside, watching tourists go by. And what I used to do in investment banking is I used to go out for walks during lunch and I would go and buy these things. Like I would go buy a suit or I would go buy a, new pair of shoes. never realized why that was I used to watch these tourists go by it was really kind of light bulb moment for me when I started thinking, is this where I should be working for all of my life. And I've, worked, probably 10, 12 hour days. I was thinking should I be spending half of my day, working in a job, but I like the job, but I don't like the whole environment. I don't like the whole alpha culture that happens in some times in banking. And the, and the fact that I'm solving this financial essentially manmade problem called derivatives, which essentially caused the, the 2008 crisis. Without, then the only sole purpose was, earning money. And all I was doing with that money was buying, new suits and new shoes, just to fill a gap, fill the hole, which will never get really, kind of full because I was continually buying these things, thinking, oh, you know what, that's true happiness. That's true happiness. It would give me a bit of happiness, but actually it would never, really kind of fill that hole fully. And if you can imagine I'm originally from India, it's always been ingrained in my head work, either be an engineer or a doctor, or work in a bank, right where there's a lot of money involved. You buy a house, you buy a car, you follow a formulaic life, in other words, and essentially when that penny drop moment hit me in the city where I could, I could be somewhere else, you know, you know, the sunshine and not working in this place where, I'm just here for the money. There has to be a higher calling, a higher purpose, where I can utilize my skills. I came across this program called escape the city, which is all about, essentially escaping the city and doing something with purpose and either working for a purpose led business or starting one, a community led business and along that kind of discovered, that progress, so I quit my job. I had a mortgage. I did not have any startup idea as such. All I knew was I wanted to be helping people, either in terms of fitness or food. And the reason I say that is because I've always been passionate about, my fitness, I've always been passionate about good food and had to be kind of doing something you know, do what you love, love, what you do. Kind of a, principal there. So I did the escape, the city program, and essentially three months, it's just an eyeopening, kind of moment for me, where I just had this alternate universe of people willing to help each other, collaborating with eachother. Cause all I'd seen in investment banking was survival, right? It's all about surviving. It's all about reaching that next stage and you just get there no matter how many people you trample over. And so it was quite nice to come across this kind of community powered, concept to escape the city, essentially it's a startup incubator. And at the end of it, I decided to become a personal trainer. So I thought I could help the Indian community become more fit, and healthy. And rather than it being a general personal trainer, it could be an online community, led business focused on the Indian community. Cause I knew that I could tell them, give them fitness plans, but nutrition couldn't have been smoked salmon and cheese. Right. So, in terms of, good proteins and fats, so it had to be something in the Indian diet. So I kind of started that, but at the same time, Emily, my wife, we went on holiday to Portugal and we came across this ugly tomato, perfectly, perfectly ugly, things that we would never find back home, tasted delicious. It kind of triggered a thought in our heads in terms of why was it that in the UK, we were not coming across tomatoes like that, in the supermarkets. Its aisles upon aisles of perfect looking vegetables in plastic packaging and started doing a bit of research, just out of curiosity, had a lot of spare time on my hands clearly after leaving my job without a, clear path. And Emily and I came across the problem of food waste that happens at the farm level. It's about, at that point in time there were 30% of food that is produced for human consumption, does not even leave the farm gates. And that's because of restrictions that supermarkets put on the size, shape or color, or just because it's surplus to requirements and the surplus happens because of weather predictions and so on and forecasts and so on. And we thought here's a great example of inefficient utilization of the supply chain. So the supply chain is not working so it's inefficient. And there's a great opportunity to fight food waste, but at the same time, use this model of delivering fresh food and veg in a box to people as a medium to educate customers about what was happening behind the scenes. And that was so powerful in the sense that they would grow with stories. And then we would, meet growers in every single. And I'll come across these unbelievable stories about how weather affects, the fruit, and they have to leave food on the farm. They have to leave produce, unharvested, in the field. And we thought it's a great idea, we should do it. We should just start it. And so that's, that's how Odd Box, used to be called tasty misfits before, uh, year, year one, that's just, a small tidbit for you. we didn't have much money, so we bootstrapped it for the first two years. And that's what, that was my kind of sonder moment where we thought here's an opportunity to actually, not just, do something that's good for the planet, but also change behaviors. And if I think about it, if I think about the threads in my head, fitness results again about changing behaviors. If I think about Odd Box, it's again, about changing behaviors. And I think that for me was it was a big kind of mindset shift from taking care of myself in investment banking to now on this grander purpose of changing behavior.

Danny:

That's really interesting, Deepak. Thank you for so much for sharing that, that kind of origin story of Odd Box and your moment there's loads of stuff to unpick here. So when did tasty misfits happen.

Deepak:

Tasty Misfits happened, and the idea was born in 2015, when we went to Portugal,

Danny:

Okay. not that long ago. really? Such a young company. And how, how did Emily feel when you quit your job how did that go?

Deepak:

Great question. I think Emily was really supportive of my decision, but I think there was this, kind of practical moment where we had to think about what would happen to our mortgage, what would happen to our way of living. and what, you know, the savings that we had, how long would that take us? without me, and it was just on one income cause Emily was still working. and then I had a lot of pushback as well from my friends and family, as, you know, Indian families, my mom was like, are you sure? Why are you doing this? What's wrong with your job, right. Then it's this, uh, this, uh, this kind of guilt trip. asking me do I have an idea of a startup or am I just quitting, to do nothing. And that the question.

Danny:

I used to have a team in Mumbai and, when I was visiting them, I remember reading the paper and of course you don't see the kind of poverty in the UK that you see, so clearly that's not to say that there isn't poverty in the UK, by any stretch of the imagination, it's just really well hidden. Isn't it? And I remember being in Mumbai, reading the newspaper and reading that 50% of Indians live in slums and 70% of I'm going to mispronounce this, Maharashtrians, the district that Mumbai is in. 70% live in slums. And so it was that for me was a real interesting moment because I had known lots of people, of first-generation UK, but their parents from India. And it was you've got to be a doctor, you've got to be a lawyer and it really is, fight for survival. it's a real serious thing that you've got to just keep going and keep going, keep going. And, and it changed, you know, the job market was very different in india and the UK, recruiting and technology. I can really understand that. So for you to break away, having grown up in that culture, must've been quite difficult. Especially given that you enjoyed your job, but you're just kind of questioning. Yeah, but I'm making money for no reason for no purpose. And I'm just buying stuff, which isn't really making me that happy. Do you, do you and Emily live a relatively minimalist life?

Deepak:

I mean, we, we, we don't buy a lot of stuff. I mean, I think we are getting into this phase now where there are, a lot of, options out there to buy secondhand goods, for instance. So we've been not completely minimalistic, but we don't accumulate a lot of stuff. And it's a conscious decision to think about how much we accumulate as a generation and how much we can buy, because things are cheap. And therefore, it just feels like Amazon, just click a button, you get what you want next day, or maybe the next few hours, so we are consciously trying to steer away from that. Emily is much better at that than I am, but I'm trying to kind of do my best to keep up. We still have our Spotify subscription, a subscription and a Netflix subscription. So it's not completely, that bad

Danny:

It's really great to hear though, you know, ex-banker, city. Now co-founder your, wife's the CEO at Odd Box and you're the CCO, and just bringing that together rather than just consuming and growing, you know, that, just that different approach. You mentioned fitness and food. Those are my two things as well. So, for a number of years, I was a, plant-based triathlete. The two most important things to me, were fitness and food and being plant-based it's also then society, animals, the environment, and all the things that come off of that. So it's that conscious consumerism. And that's why, to me, Odd Box is just such a brilliant thing because you not only have the less plastic packaging and the really simplistic delivery schedule that isn't just, I need it now. I need it in 20 minutes, it's done as efficiently as possible. It's done overnight. but also you're fighting food waste. Right. So here I am eating my ugly tomato and they're not all ugly, but I'm fighting food waste in the same process. And it just, you talked about it, making it easy changing behavior is actually is what you said. So the behavior is the hardest part. Well, if you can substitute out, kind of normal behavior and just tweak it a little bit so that you end up in the situation where you are having a direct impact on reducing food waste. There's a lot of food out there. It's just a lot of it gets wasted and helping British farmers and European farmers as well, because they're the ones who take the heat. The supermarkets are fine, right? When they say we don't like the look of your tomatoes, they don't get paid for it at all. So I think it's really incredible what you're doing. Tell me a little bit about your childhood in India, and when you came over to the UK, what age was that when you came to the UK?

Deepak:

So I came about 12 years ago now and I'm 42. So that was when I was thirty. And childhood in India is really normal. Middle-class Indian family. my parents did their best, within their means to kind of ensure we had a good education. We kind of got what we needed. I think there was a constant friction I remember with education. And there was a constant thread where there's this consistent pressure to, from my parents and rightfully so. Right. I think, I think they come from a, from a mindset, as you were mentioning, there's a lot of competition for few places, whether that's, you know, a big kind of MBA university or for jobs or for anything that, you know, you need to do to survive, and live a reasonable life. And so education is kind of the bedrock of success in India, so to speak. And I remember my early childhood was, it was a lot of he's got potential, but he doesn't live up, kind of conversations, between my parents and, you know, parents and myself to kind of constantly keep pushing myself. And I think that led to me, rebelling a bit in my teens to say, well, you know, what, if I don't feel education is the only kind of, I kinda get the, I get the concept and I get that education opens, a lot of doors. It's not the only kind of route to success and therefore I was always never good at maths. It's not my favorite subject, and I, I, I'm just going to rebel and essentially I, that led to me bunking classes, and not kinda focusing on studies enough. And so there was this constant friction that used to happen between me and my parents. Other than that, it was just a normal, normal, childhood.

Danny:

How are things changed for you and for Emily? You, you talked about consumerism and conscious consumerism, but since you, turned this corner you're one of the UK pioneer B Corp businesses, I'm a huge fan of, B Corp and what they're doing and how they, support profit with purpose and business models. And it's more than just the ecological element. It's how you treat your people. What was that like starting to set up a B Corp and how has that changed your outlook on the world and your behaviors?

Deepak:

So we didn't start thinking about a B Corp, there was a lot of things that we did out of necessity more than let's be, let's take that sustainable box for instance, or overnight delivery started because Emily was working Monday to Friday nine to five, and the only time we could pack and we were packing the boxes or sales in the early days was after her job. And so we have to deliver overnight in order to kind of do the, do the packing ourselves. And it kind of started out of necessity. And eventually it came to a point where we could get drivers, that we could keep the costs low. And we could see because drivers could deliver twice as much as they could do during the day. And it was, reducing air pollution and not adding to the kind of the traffic situation in London. So it was kind of a, win-win win, in, in many ways, rather than just let's just do it for the sake of doing it similarly. We donate our surplus. So we didn't generate surplus ourselves because we're still not that good at forecasting our ourselves and from the early days we used to partner with, charities like the city harvest, the Felix project, and now, you know, fare share, who redistribute our surplus to soup kitchens and the light. And we didn't start this thinking, oh, you know, we should partner with them because it ticks the box and we can sell more. We partnered with them because, we had two options. One was, throw the food before they collect it and pay for that, or use amazing partners like Felix project and city harvest to, to collect it and redistribut it, would seem much more practical. So again, it was born out of necessity and the practical need rather than ticking a box. And I think this is where for us, sustainability is all about being resourceful, is making the best use of what we already have and not trying to do something, going the extra mile to do something over and above what you can already do. So for us, if it's not resourceful, it doesn't fit within the business model. Then we question that a lot in terms of why should we do that? And should we be just, donating money to do it to a charity, or should we actually be spending time in the charity? Should we get all staff to spend time? for instance, we have a volunteering hours they allow staff to spend time. For us that seems a much more purposeful, use of our staff's time, rather than us giving say, cash to a charity. to answer your question, long story short is I think a lot of it comes back down to the impact we have and trying to make sure that that aligns with us being sustainable for the longer term

Danny:

Yeah.

Deepak:

and not doing things just for the short term, just to tick a box.

Danny:

I really appreciate your honesty about that. So I probably discovered Odd Box maybe two years ago, and for me, it was a complete package. By that point, these guys have thought of anything they do overnight deliveries and they, donate their surplus waste. but actually. it was A, a means to survival really, and B I liked the way you articulate. I think often people hear the word sustainability and they think environment. But it just means that we leave things, how we found them. It means that we leave something for our children. Like we inherited it and that they can leave something to their children. that's all it means. even the way you work, you know, hopefully your work in a sustainable way that you leave enough of yourself to be able to come in the next day and the next day and keep doing this, year after year after year, if you burn yourself out, then that's not sustainable. So it's a, it's a kind of really important word. and it just shows your tenacity and your resourcefulness, in being able to get this business off the ground.

Deepak:

I think that journey from being a banker in a very closed environment, and meeting the same people again and again, to Thursday night drinks, right. And spending Friday morning hungover, which is the typical, banking, week, from that to, the fact that I can step out of my comfort zone, do a lot of networking events where I felt like an imposter, because I didn't have an idea. I didn't have any network even I didn't study in this country. I didn't have those contacts. So everything I had to do was going to these networking events, essentially being vulnerable and putting myself out there and, speaking to people and people would ask me, so what do you do? And I would always say, I used to be an ex Deutsche Bank employee, and now I'm exploring this. So for me, my old, kind of, reliance was always in the fact that I was always going to go back to my, the company that I used to work for. Almost like a way of, not showing vulnerability, whether, you know what I'm saying, I didn't have an idea. I did not have a plan. I feel like an imposter coming to these networking events, but clearly there are really smart entrepreneurs there, and I'm not- just a, want to be entrepreneur. I have no idea. I'm just here to learn absorb, listen and see what I could be working on. Because I think at that point in time, when I was attending these networking events, Tasty Misfits, as it was the first six months, we had 60 customers, which was, you know, it was so small. We were doing a lot of the work ourselves. So I didn't really feel like an entrepreneur. I just felt like a packer and a driver, which is great, but it's just, when you go to these events, you come across a lot of, sometimes, a lot of good salespeople. Right, you know, it's a dozen good salespeople who can say are working in this amazing idea.

Danny:

the world of entrepreneurial-ism right.

Deepak:

Exactly,

Danny:

I've got an idea. Give me money.

Deepak:

Exactly that exactly that And it was a great learning experience and terms of networking and just speaking to people and being vulnerable, and accepting that I'm not smart. I'm not here pretending to be someone, I'm working on this business. It's got purpose at the heart of it, but, it's, I don't, we don't have funding. We've got, 60 customers, we don't have, lots of money in the bank. I just want to listen and learn and make connections, and I think it was a, it was an amazing moment because we met a lot of people that, I'm still in touch with tools, networking events, weekends, me and Emily would go do market fairs in local areas. And our first angel investor came from one of those fairs where we would just, again, 60 customers, box of fruit and veg, starting in the goal as I think it was Dulwich, market fair. There was an investor who became a customer and then became our lead investor in our first conceived round. And, and these kind of serendipitous encounters, we didn't plan for it. It was just, just get out there. I think putting ourselves out there, it took a lot of, courage, a lot of fear to be pushed to one side putting ourselves out there banishing of fears to a large degree helped us make those connections and this network and helped us kind of get to where we are. I'm going to share this as well. So today I don't mind going and speaking to 200 people because I don't mind making a fool of myself in front of those people. Because I've been there done that I've stood outside tube stations, distributing flyers. I call that my most embarrassing moment, by the way, because when early morning, you've taken, know you take the tube, right? And I used to take the tube every day, to the city and you're standing outside the same tube station and the fellow commuters are just swatting you away at 6, 7:00 AM in the morning, just saying, just get out of my face. And you're distributing this really tatty looking flyer. You probably can, uh, the cheapest possible paper because you're bootstrapping, and it's quite vulnerable where people don't want to speak to you or don't want to take a look at what you're doing. That kind of really sinks in and you go, what am I doing here?

Danny:

It must have taken a lot of emotional energy. You had this well-educated MBA, banker identity. Right. So you're a businessman. You're in the city. You, have an identity, you know who you are and now suddenly you're just starting from the ground up. Right? You're going to network events. It just, that vulnerability and making yourself vulnerable to put yourself out there to then have an angel investor find you and say, I'm going to get involved. I want to help you guys, I believe in your business model. So it must have been, and that impostor, I'm not going to say syndrome, that's a bad word. So my, my friend, Dr. Marc Ried will tell me off, cause he's just written the book on the imposter phenomenon, and even that isn't a good word. They're imposter moments, right? They're just moments that this is how we all feel. And I think it's so important for our listeners to hear about your experience and how you go from, successful banker to successful entrepreneur. This is the middle bit, this is the important bit, this is the bit that didn't just happen by magic. It required a huge amount of emotional resilience and belief in yourself and I suppose, belief in each other with Emily, and those around you supporting you. I mean, if you had everyone saying it's not going to work, it's not going to work. That makes it a lot harder. Doesn't it?

Deepak:

I think those moments as well, it was great to have, feedback from our customers. It would really boost the energy. So we would deliver the boxes to people's doors. We sometimes were able to have a chat with the customers and just that shared feedback to say, love what you're doing. This is great. I kind of really believe in the mission. You could do this, you could do that and I just, from, from customers, it really kept us going in the, early days. and I'm one for pat on the back, that's what keeps me going and like you were saying the strength that I derive from Emily and she does the same, it keeps us, hopeful that what we are working on this is something important. and what, the, uh, people need the, the planet needs.

Danny:

Brilliant. Thank you, Deepak, and Emily for creating such an incredible business. Successful full-stop. But you know, that people will start to copy your model, which is this true sign of success that when it spreads and people don't even think twice about the fact that they used to waste food on farms. That's crazy. Really? That was a thing, so thank you for shining a spotlight on that. How can people find out more about you find out about Odd Box?

Deepak:

Sure. So Odd Box is oddbox.co.uk, and I can be found on LinkedIn.

Danny:

Fantastic. Deepak, Thank you very much for being guest on the Sondership podcast.

Deepak:

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Danny.

Danny:

So this, conversation is about Deepak. It's about people listening to it, going, hold on. You know, I work in a high-powered job, but I'm not fulfilled. What's this escape, the city thing. I need to go and look this up. What can I do with my resourcefulness and my experience? So it's meant to inspire people to think about their purpose and what they can do to meet their purpose.

Deepak Ravindran

Chief Customer Officer & Co-founder

Deepak is co-founder and Chief customer officer at Oddbox. He is responsible for the technology, marketing and customer happiness functions as well as shaping the vision, strategy and culture.

Prior to Oddbox, he worked in Investment banking and has nearly 20 years' business strategy and project management experience in Fortune 500 companies.