This story was originally published on startsmallthinkbig.org in December 2019.
Everything about Diaspora Co exudes passion. From the company’s growing line of consciously sourced and sustainably grown spices and its vibrant digital media channels to several creative product partnerships.
This energy is evident in the company’s founder and owner, Sana Javeri Kadri, too. Sana started Diaspora Co in 2017. Barely two years in, she’s already making a positive difference in an industry that has existed, essentially unchanged, for hundreds of years.
A native of India, Sana came to the U.S. in 2013. She studied the food industry and visual arts and soon began working in marketing and branding, media and photography.
“I’ve worked in the food industry in some capacity since I moved to the United States. I’ve worked on organic farms, in bakeries, as front-of-house staff in restaurants and, most extensively, in food marketing and branding.” Sana says.
Changing the paradigm
Through her personal and professional experiences, she also became more aware of how new companies were disrupting the coffee and cacao industries. These are trades that, like the spice industry, were deeply rooted in colonial-era inequities. Similarly, too, these ancient trades shared histories of degrading farmers and workers, decimating natural resources and creating deep cycles of poverty.
Sana knew that she could do better. Today, she focuses her experience, talents, and energy on the aspects that are dearest to her. These are the heirloom spices of India and the people who grow and gather them.
“I founded the business in August 2017, as a fledgling operation with neither business experience nor big expectations,” she explains. “The business absolutely exploded with nationwide demand that I truly wasn’t anticipating. I quickly realized that the legal help that I needed was far too expensive for me at that stage.”
“I’d learned about Start Small Think Big through a friend who was familiar with it,” she continues, enthusiastically. “I jumped onto the website within minutes and was accepted into Start Small Think Big in June 2018.”
A big learning curve
Sana was asked about the challenges her new business faced when she joined Start Small Think Big. She candidly replied, “To be honest, I didn’t really know what we needed, other than legal help with creating contracts to use with our vendors and partners. Everything from the introductory meeting to my first round of working with the partnering lawyers were huge learning curves. I learned so much about the things we needed to be legitimate from the start and to have the documents to support us as we grew.”
With a mission-driven company, Sana had leaned toward establishing Diaspora Co as a public-benefit, or B-Corp, business. These are businesses that are certified to follow particular practices. From hiring and sourcing to marketing and sales that comply with or otherwise support humane, environmentally sensitive, and economically fair business practices.
Diaspora Co was a single-member LLC when I started it but I was interested in changing to a B-Corp. Thanks to Start Small Think Big’s legal guidance, I learned that we’d have been saddled with fees and taxes and administrative requirements that would have been too much to handle well at this early stage.
“We decided to stay an LLC for as long as possible. Legal counsel was imperative to this decision, because I had no idea what we could have been getting the business into. It’s still something we’ll explore,” she continues, “but not until we have the operational bandwidth to handle the additional administrative and financial demands that come with it.”
To date, Sana has yet to seek funding for Diaspora Co.
“We didn’t and don’t yet have funding, though I’ll be raising a ‘friends and family’ round in the spring of 2020. Although we need the funding to grow, we first needed to get a handle on financial management,” she says. “To that end, Start Small Think Big’s financial counseling sessions helped us fine-tune aspects like costing goods. We understand our cash flow position so much better now. I’ve learned so much about management, it’s been incredibly valuable and serves me well to this day.”
Asked where she sees Diaspora Co in the future, she responds, “We’ve grown three-hundred percent year-over-year and we’re hoping to continue that trajectory over the next three years!”
Looking towards growth
Diaspora Co primarily reaches customers online. Sana’s marketing, design and photography skills are evident in her company’s digital channels. These include her website and online store, which are vital to growth.
“Diaspora Co’s sales are about seventy-five percent direct-to-consumer via our online store,” she says. “The rest are primarily in grocery stores, cafes and restaurants. We love being a direct-to-consumer business, because it means that we’re constantly in conversation with our community and that we’re growing intentionally for their desires, needs and cooking styles!”
Still, she admits, “We have some growing pains! We’re growing so quickly that managing inventory, paying for bigger and bigger production runs, especially as a bootstrapped business, is all incredibly challenging.” She continues, “Navigating federal regulations is another challenge. It’s not easy to learn all the ins-and-outs of exporting and importing food, and there’s no clear way to know exactly what you need to do, before you need to do it. I’m doing my best to learn as I go. I’ll keep asking questions and aiming for the right answers.”
For other entrepreneurs, she advises, “Create a strong roadmap of what you want your business to be in five years. Break it down further into what you’re hoping to achieve every year until then, and then break that down into what you’re hoping to achieve every month. Then, put your head down and do the work. I guarantee that in a year, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve gotten. No distractions, all hustle!”