UK Entrepreneur Gajan Umapathy & His Mother Started Rani Mix, A Company Selling Healthy Sri Lankan Sweets & Snacks

What made you start Rani’s mixture?

My mum makes amazing food. When we first came to the UK in the early 90s, she started making palagarams for our birthdays and for family and friends. Soon, a lot of people started asking my mum to make it for them and they started paying her even though she didn’t at first take any money. She was just doing it as a hobby and helping out family and friends. At the time my mum was doing tailoring, flower arrangements, bridal makeup to make money as she was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades since it was difficult to find people who can do this type of work those days. It was when people started to order the mixture not just for celebrations, but as a snack to eat at home as there wasn’t anything like it we started selling it to the shops and Rani Mix as a company was born.

How was the decision made to co-found the company with your mother, given it can be tricky to work with family in a business relationship?

Starting a business with siblings or relations could be a problem but it’s never a problem when it’s with your mum – after all, a mum does everything for her kids. My mum and I have great chemistry and work well as a team so it was a no brainer. 

What makes Rani’s mixture different from your competitors?

We make a unique style mixture which is fresh & hand cooked (not greasy) and tastes great. You can have Rani’s mixture by hand and you won’t need a tissue to wipe the grease off your hands. We believe food should be fresh so we always ensure we only give the shops small volumes and put a shorter “best before” date for the product. 

Did you have to do something else full-time (ie. 9-to-5 job) in the early days of the business as it was growing?  If you do, what was it and how did you transition over to doing this full-time?

I still have a full time job in IT and have not yet left that. For the business I manage the overall marketing, online order processing but the manufacturing, packaging and distribution is done by my mum and other employees of the company. The problem I have is that I love my IT job and I love the business so I haven’t yet made the step to leave my IT job and expand the business. 

I noticed that your product is currently available in Whole Foods.  That’s amazing! How did you get that opportunity?

The Whole Foods deal was done through a distributor. It looks great in terms of brand awareness as it gives you confidence and a sense of validation.  However, when you look at the margins that you pay the distributor and Whole Foods, it’s only worthwhile if you reduce costs with economies of scale and are big enough to leave the distributor to go direct to the big shops.

How have you been able to get customers?  Is it a combination of targeting individuals and businesses?

Our main customers have all been through word of mouth and people trying the products in the shops. The shops we’ve acquired by targeting individual businesses and we have some inbound leads who specifically ask for the product. When we launched the online website, the customers were obtained by social media marketing. Most of these customers become repeat customers so that’s always great to see and it shows we are doing something right. 

How did you think your childhood or your formative teenage years play a part in you becoming an entrepreneur?

I always wanted to become a business owner and to have something which I can run without being fully involved so it will continue to make money when I’m spending time with family and friends or traveling.  I know working a 9-5 will never get you there. However, I always had a passion for IT and my job in IT is also rewarding as I’m always learning new technologies and have a great team at work.

What’s been a failure (or “learning lesson”) you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years and what did you learn from it?

My passion to expand the business. I went to India, bought some machines to help with the production and spent a lot of money importing it to the UK. However, when it came to actually making the products, the products just didn’t taste the same and it was actually faster to do it without using the machines.  I learnt that with these machines you need to go there and simply try to make the product using the machines before buying it. It was the same story with some mixing machines and packing machines.  An important lesson is that you need to think very carefully before you start spending a lot of money on something for the business.  It’s okay to take some time before arriving at a decision.

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