How did Fretch get started?
Fretch was really a personal journey for me. When I moved to Manhattan from India, I realized the basic groceries I counted on were hard to find. Cooking became a big chore -- I would have to go to Jackson Heights or travel great distances to get the spices, condiments, and other ingredients I knew and loved from home. It was a big personal pain point and I found that many of my friends and family had the same problem.
What was your life like before Fretch?
Before Fretch I was with Citigroup and before that, many other big companies working primarily on data architecture and analytics. I knew from day one that corporate life was not for me. I actually originally started at Deloitte right after college. I hated that job with such a passion that at the end of two years I quit, not by calling or sending a letter, but I just completely stopped going one day.
Although I hated it, I found it hard to get off the career path I thought I was supposed to be on. I went to IIT Bombay, which is one of the best schools in India, and it was so easy to get pushed in the direction of that corporate job, and then once you were there, getting used to the cycle of a regular salary, benefits, and other life comforts. It’s really hard to get out of that.
How do you make the jump from corporate life to startup?
Even while I was working in my full-time job, I always had other ideas or side hustles to keep me busy, or even distracted. I must have had about 10 failed ideas and startups, and I was constantly taking notes and writing down new ideas that came to me.
In the mid-00s, I was working on a startup in India that involved bio-metrics and smart identification. I think it was called Ostrich Technologies or something, and we wanted to tie together access, payments, and identity. It was quite ahead of it’s times really. But when my girlfriend at the time moved to America, I decided to move with her and I had to stop pursuing that venture. That girlfriend, by the way, is now my wife and we have two awesome kids together!
I learned that it can be hard to be an immigrant and an entrepreneur in America. If you immigrate after college or graduate school, you have to go back to your experience and what you know for work. You go back to that cycle, but this time, it’s not just about the salary, it’s about your visa and green card. You need the work and stability, and that can be extra hard to get out of. I finally reached a point where I couldn’t do it anymore -- I knew I did not want that life. I had the idea for Fretch and I thought if not now, when?
How have you dealt with failure?
I actually think failure is essential. It’s also absolutely normal to have failures. No one is born with all of the expertise, knowledge, and network to be successful.
With every one one of my failures, I wrote down notes about what I learned and what I should do differently. For instance, I learned not to mix business with friendships, or you’ll ruin both. Another was to not be afraid to pickup the phone and call a vendor, a customer, an investor, or anyone else. My biggest learning from all of this actually transformed into a promise I made to myself when I started Fretch: to simply never quit, no matter what happens. I knew getting an idea off the ground wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. There are a hundred different things that could go wrong, and I could just blame any one of them to justify why I failed. I knew those were excuses my brain would give me to quit. But I had to be honest with myself. I knew there would be hurdles, obstacles, and that it wasn’t going to be fun or easy, but I have learned to put my head down and keep moving forward.
What were the 3 hardest things you’ve done as you’ve launched your business?
Being persistent for such a long time. I’ve been working on Fretch for about five years and I’m not sure I’ve made it yet. I know we have a big customer base and that we are providing value to a lot of people, our customers and our employees on a daily basis. This helps me feel successful, but it takes a lot of persistence.
When I started, it was actually a one man show. I was doing everything, from the website to marketing to promotions to orders to even delivering groceries from my personal car. You have to start somewhere.
The expectations -- and not just my personal expectations about what this would take (such as how long and how tough it would be), but my family’s expectations. This in a way, was a big bet. I have a wife, kids, New York City rent to pay. I’m so grateful to my wife for sticking with me. I know this wasn’t what we both expected and running the company has also tested what my family wants to achieve and do with life.
The sacrifices with my personal time. I realize there are plenty of things I could have done if I had stuck with a corporate job. Like family vacations, buying assets etc.
Have you ever faced a really challenging moment or low while building Fretch?
We realized two years ago our business model wasn’t set up to be profitable, so we had to refocus our processes to get profitable (which we now are). We had scaled pretty quickly, but we realized that even with scale, we were never going to go anywhere or make profit. We had to pivot. That was one of my lowest points. I actually talked to my kids and explained that I’ve been swimming for two years thinking that I was coming to the end, but I was still swimming and now getting tired. I asked them if I should stop or keep going, even if it would take me another 1-2 years. They told me to keep swimming.
What this meant was completely revamping our model. We were ordering products directly from retailers, which Instacart and other services were doing. By doing this, we were paying retail prices on groceries and the only way we could make profit is with a significant markup. So we changed that, and set up our own warehouse where we buy products directly from wholesalers. At the time, we had no idea how to go about that - we had to learn all of the things to do to set up and operate a food warehouse. It took us about a year to figure it out properly.
Have you learned anything unexpected about yourself by launching this business?
I’m learning about myself everyday. I write a lot of notes and observations, both about myself and the world. These reflections have helped me realize what I’m made of and that I am really resilient. I’ve seen many competitors come up around the same time and perish because of mistakes they’ve made. I’ve been able to survive and learn from that.
What is your superpower?
Thoughtfulness, which I believe drives your resilience and informs you about what you have to do. Resilience is the action of thoughtfulness. This applies to every aspect of the business. From product selection to packaging to responding to customers, I am thoughtful about everything.
What’s your kryptonite?
I’m learning now that I find it hard to ask for help. I’m not sure if it’s pride or ego, but i don’t feel quite comfortable asking for help. With fundraising, for example, I know I have to ask for money, but I’m learning that it’s not just uncomfortable for me, it’s against my nature and identity to ask for help.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
I don’t have a big network. I’m hoping Republic can introduce us to more outside investors. I also want to leverage this opportunity to tap into our customer base, which is mostly Southeast Asian families in New York. Many are fairly well to do and have disposable incomes. They understand our business and the value that we bring and I thought it would be perfect to engage our existing customers in our campaign and ask them to support the business. This was actually an idea I had before I found Republic. Now, with Republic, we can accomplish both goals.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m doing 100 things in a day, which is why it’s a good thingI have my operations partner Yogesh Lal, or Yogi as we call him. He handle operations on a daily basis so I can remove myself from those details and focus on other things. The way we see it: my job is the future, he is the present. He lets me go out and do what I need to do for the future. He makes sure today’s operations are handled without incident.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do?
I spend a lot of time my kids -- I have an 11 year old boy and an 8 year old girl. Sometimes I play poker. I try to stay away from TV, Netflix, video games, etc. I have an addictive personality and I know if I start something, I’ll spend the next month devouring that show or game.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
I would go back in time and tell myself that it might take longer than I expect it to take.
I would also go back and tell myself to keep my network. I went to college with some of the brightest minds in India and at the time, it was almost like we saw each other as competitors. For some reason, that mentality can stick outside of college. Looking back now, I think I would have approached this with more of a cooperation v competition mindset. Many of my peers have also gone on to establish companies. We could have been helpful to one another in our respective journeys.
Any advice you’d give aspiring founders?
I know some people who are on the edge and trying to break out of the cycle of “working for the man.” I would encourage them to go for it. Keep going, don’t quit. It’s hard to walk away from a cushy job and I know the risk is high, but it’s all about aspirations and what you value most at the end of the day. I would advise them to think about their happiness with their job and if they would have any regrets. It all comes down to aspirations.