Lisa Sohanpal gets up at 3 a.m. every morning to work on her business. Working remotely from her home in Toronto, Canada, she’s managing the meteoric rise of her UK-based world food brand, Nom Noms World Food.
Nom Noms produces authentically-crafted ready meals suitable for the whole family. Every meal purchased feeds a hungry child in India. Lisa’s helped serve over 350,000 meals to kids in schools in India so far.
Lisa wants to introduce healthy, international cuisines, and revolutionize the ready meals market worldwide. In August 2015, she test-launched her products in Selfridges and British online supermarket Ocado. She sold out her entire stock within 10 hours.
Now, she’s ready to relaunch. Nom Noms products will be sold on Ocado, Amazon Fresh, and in Virgin Active gyms and trains in the UK from February, and in around 800 stores in France, including Carrefour, in March this year.
Previously, Lisa worked in the medical devices field in Australia and the UK before opting for an Executive MBA at London’s Cass Business School in 2006. Within two years, she tripled her salary and landed a leadership role at Fortune 500 medical devices firm St. Jude Medical.
A mother of three young children, she took the leap into entrepreneurship and co-founded Nom Noms World Food with her husband in 2013. Since its conception, Nom Noms has won 18 internationally-recognized awards including Best New Children’s Food and Best New Food Concept at the World Food Innovation Awards in 2015.
Lisa was named Great British Entrepreneur of the year and British Asian awards entrepreneur of the year for 2016. She couldn’t have done it without the Cass Executive MBA.
How did the idea to start Nom Noms World Food come about?
When you do an EMBA, you get very inspired about business as a whole. I always thought that I just needed that one cracking idea to get into entrepreneurship. I never had that idea until I became a mum.
My husband and I became parents of three children within three years. At the time, I was working and travelling around the world experiencing different cuisines. I really wanted my children to grow up with a diverse pallet. I also found that having to cook from scratch everyday was very time-consuming and challenging.
I found that there was a gap in the ready meal market. There wasn’t anything available that was truly authentic, world flavor-focused, and that catered for kids, but that was also tasty enough for grownups so that the whole family could eat the same food together.
What do you hope to achieve?
The mission of the company has definitely changed. When I first started, I was happy to produce a product that I could get into one supermarket and be done with it.
In August last year, we did a soft launch with Ocado and Selfridges to test the appetite for the concept. We didn’t spend anything on marketing. We sold out within 10 hours of going live. Now, the mission is to become a global healthy world food brand, and go for world domination. Why not?!
How have you found juggling family and your own business?
It can be done, but you need the support of your partner for sure. We drained all our funds getting the business launched. My husband worked for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, which doesn’t pay enough to launch a new business and support a family. He got a great opportunity in Canada. It made sense to move over here so we could still fund the business.
Here, I start work at 3 a.m. so I can work UK hours. When the kids come home, half of the UK are in bed already and I can focus on being a mum. I am pretty much a walking zombie by 9 p.m.!
I travel back to the UK for one week, every three weeks. During that week, my husband does shorter hours at work, organizes the kids’ drop off and pick up from school, organizes dinner, puts the kids to bed, reads them books; the whole shebang! If I didn’t have that support, it would be very difficult.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
You need to be persistent and patient. You’ve got to have that fire in the belly; that passion to make it happen and not give up.
We’ve had many unbelievable and uncontrollable challenges that we’ve had to navigate through to get to this stage. We were actually set to launch in January. Then, six weeks beforehand our producer decided to pull out of the market and sell all of their equipment. That was a huge challenge, and I’m anticipating more.
Why did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA at Cass?
My goal at the time was to triple my salary and move into a more managerial, leadership role. By the time I finished my EMBA, I’d succeeded in doing both.
Cass was a really interesting program. I wanted to broaden my international business knowledge. And the two overseas consultancy trips – I went to Buenos Aires and Shanghai - were really appealing. Cass also had a very good personal development program which added the soft skills aspect of leadership that you need when you go into more senior roles.
How have you profited from your EMBA experience?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Cass EMBA. Although I was in a leadership position in business, when the money’s coming out of your own pocket and you’re having to manage your cash flows every single day, it’s very different. The EMBA trains you. It gives you a mindset and a skill set, so that when you’re talking with other entrepreneurs and CEOs, you feel confident that you know what you’re doing.