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How being in community grew SheEO Venture Dalcini during COVID

“When I didn’t see what I liked, I thought OK, well let me create it. I either had to accept what was available and if that wasn’t an option, then go create something new.” – Nita Tandon, Founder & CEO of Dalcini Stainless

Overview of podcast

When Founders have a deep connection to the problems they are solving, innovation occurs. This happened with Nita Tandon. As the Founder and CEO of Dalcini Stainless, an award-winning company dedicated to healthy, sustainable housewares without the use of plastic or hormone-disrupting chemicals.

In this episode

Vicki Saunders chats with Nita about her innovative thinking that led to safe, simple, sustainable housewares. 

They also touch on:

  • Why stainless steel is infinitely recyclable.
  • Poor vs rich people’s way of thinking that impacts the environment.
  • The importance of asking all the questions of your suppliers.
  • The potential of organic growth.
  • The power of the Ask within your tribe.
  • The struggle with logistical issues and supply chains during COVID.
  • Rewiring our brains to stop believing that we need to do everything on our own.
  • Asking for help, but knowing when not to accept it.
  • Why women are always asked to prove.
  • How business as a woman is built on relationships 

We invite you to become a SheEO Activator or apply to be a Venture at SheEO.World. https://sheeo.world/

Take action & engage Dalcini Stainless:

Check out Dalcini’s website https://www.dalcinistainless.ca/.

Engage with Dalcini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Podcast Transcription:

Nita Tandon  0:00  

It was never about the money it was about there’s got to be a better way. And if you wanted something different if you didn’t see it and take a step and make that difference, and for me it was Be the change. When I didn’t see what I liked. I thought, Okay, well then let me create it. I either have to accept what was available. And if that wasn’t an option, then go create something new.

Vicki Saunders  0:20  

Welcome to SheEO dot world, a podcast about redesigning the world. I’m your host, Vicki Saunders. In each episode, you’ll hear from SheEO Venture Founders, women who are working on the World’s To-Do list. These innovative business leaders are solving some of the major challenges of our time. Please sit back and be prepared to be inspired.

Nita Tandon  0:44  

I am Nita Tandon. I’m the founder and CEO of Dalcini Stainless and we make chemical free and sustainable housewares.

Vicki Saunders  0:52  

First of all, who are you Nita?

Nita Tandon  0:56  

Who am I? That’s such a big question. I’m truly in discovery more and more and more about myself as I do this journey, but I am someone who grew up here in Ottawa and I am originally from India. So if I had to define who I was, I am a cross culture person who loves where I came from and loves where I grew up and loved to start a company that really blended the two. 

Vicki Saunders  1:20  

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur or start a company? Is that a thing that was brewing as a young one? 

You know, it was and I always knew there was a better way to do things. I mean, my dad still remembers the day that I had to sell chocolate bars, and you know, go door to door and I just thought this is going to take forever for me to sell these chocolate bars. I decided that the quickest way to do that sell all of them would be to go to the police station and sell them to the police officers.

Awesome.

So I went and I sold my entire stock in one shot and my dad said you are going to be an entrepreneur. 

Oh my gosh, 

Nita Tandon  1:55  

And I think I was probably in grade school and the cops even said, “Oh my god, this is brilliant. We’ll take your entire stock.” And they all lined up. I went home got more and they bought all of them. 

Vicki Saunders  2:07  

I love it that you’re so after my own heart. I’m like, all about the least amount of energy for the greatest amount of impact, is in my thing forever, too.

I mean, for so long, I was always considered lazy. And I thought, well, lazy, but I’ll do the hard work, but I just want an easier way and not be so labor intensive all the time.

Ah, genius. So innovative thinking is obviously one of your masteries I would think so. So tell us a bit about Dalcini

Unknown Speaker  2:33  

So Dalcini started because I was in the pharmaceutical industry. And I was reading so much about the amount of chemicals that are on products, especially around the food thing. So the microplastics that we’re ingesting the BPA the hormone disrupting chemicals that were in our food containers, and Canada was the first country worldwide to ban BPA, but they only banned it and baby bottles and I thought if it’s that toxic, why are we ingesting it? Why is it still in baby toys and food containers and food wraps and all of that. Glasses is a great option as well the problem with glasses, it’s not suitable for kids. And the other side of things is glass when it’s heat treated is not recyclable. So all of our like Pyrex, that sort of thing. Yes, they don’t have the chemicals on it, but it’s not a sustainable option. So I wanted something that was chemical free. So that’s the safe part. I wanted something that was very simple that was going to work with my lifestyle. So I wanted dishwasher safe, durable all that but I also wanted the least impact on the environment, something that was going to be a good quality but when it really was time to dispose of it. That 100% of it is recycled to make another product and it’s infinitely recyclable. Unlike paper or paper plastic there’s there’s a timeline on it. There’s only so many recycles you can get before it’s not usable. Stainless steel is not like that, it’s infinitely recyclable. So that for me was my starting point.

Vicki Saunders  4:04  

That’s really cool. And so does this tie into as you were looking for those solutions. One of the things that I’ve been paying attention to for a long time is the wisdom from the ages, our ancestors before us had it all kind of figured out and we’ve forgotten everything on the way to efficiency. And here we are circling back does this tie into your story a little bit?

Nita Tandon  4:23  

100%. You know, when you look at cast iron pots, that was my other starting point, I looked at cast iron pots, there was a pride in cooking with it. There was a pride in sharing it to the next generation. So when you had grandma’s pot that worked, you took it with pride and you said, Oh, now I’m going to make something with this. And we got to a point in our society where everything is disposable. There’s no more pride in the things that we have. That’s what’s our clothes that’s with our quick grab and go and toss. I wanted to go back to that feeling of I want to preserve this. I want to keep this and I want to feel proud about the things that I have. In my home, and stainless steel was that for me. In India, when you first get married, you are given that set of dishes that are stainless steel. And it’s given because it’s very, very durable. This was the set of dishes that you’re going to use for your family, for a lifetime. But I think for so many people they look at that as that’s what the poor people do. And I don’t like that there’s this view that poor people do it one way and rich people do it another way. I think there’s wisdom all the way across. I don’t think because you’re poor, you lack wisdom. And I would love to see more knowledge of poorer countries because how did they do it? How did they sustain for so long? How do they not have the impact on the environment the way North American culture is? That’s really my I wanted to tie the two sides together.

Vicki Saunders  5:50  

Awesome. The Tiffin is the original term right is that correct?

Nita Tandon  5:54  

So the Tiffin is the stackable, so Tiffin is when you have the layered and that is very traditional in India where they clamped down, but not just India, in Vietnam and Thailand in a lot of the Asian countries.

Vicki Saunders  6:06  

Did the name come from something specific? Like, is there something behind that?

Nita Tandon  6:10  

So Dalcini, most people think of it as an Italian name, but it’s actually an East Indian word for an Indian spice. When you translate it, it’s cinnamon. So most people don’t think of cinnamon as being an ethnic space. They just know it’s, it’s in most homes. And for me, I wanted stainless steel to be in people’s homes the same way that cinnamon is in every home, but not to be thought of as an ethnic product.

Vicki Saunders  6:37  

That’s cool.

Nita Tandon  6:38  

And then for both sides, it was my husband’s Italian and I’m Indian. And that meant something to both sides. And that was how we chose it. 

Vicki Saunders  6:46  

Now. That’s really cool. And so when did you start? 

Nita Tandon  6:48  

I incorporated in 2015 and February, but I started selling in October 2015.

Vicki Saunders  6:55  

Can you tell us a little bit about the journey? How’s it been, like how did you start out?

Nita Tandon  6:59  

Well, I started because it was a very selfish start it was I wanted something clean for my family. I wanted stainless steel the way I grew up with it. I had a cup and I looked at it and I said, I’ve had this one for 40 years, why can’t all my other things last that long? So I flipped it over looked at who made it. And that was my start. I said, I’m going to call this company. And when I called the company, I thought they’re not going to speak to me. I’m a mom living in the suburbs and Ottawa. How do I start this? So I thought, let me just register a company just so I can get them to make me some containers. And then when I registered, I thought, Okay, well, that’s not so difficult. Let me go a little bit further. And then it started. And I ended up going through all the different manufacturers. And when I started calling around, I realized there was a big roadblock. I was female, working in a culture that was really doing business with men. And so I would get a lot of questions like Oh, is this your daddy’s company? And can I speak to the owner, you know, that type of thing. So I would just move to the next one. And I kept going down the line, the other questions I had was, I didn’t want any child labor. And that was a very specific question for me. I thought I want to benefit my child and my kids, but not on the backs of your kids. So if people didn’t answer that question, I just moved on to the next. So when I finally found one, and he just was very open to all of my questions, and we spoke for almost a year, because I wanted to know about the raw material, where are you getting it from? How are you doing it? Were you doing it the traditional method? Were you dipping it in chemical to get the shine or hand buffing it? So when I asked all the questions, he felt that there was a pride that he wanted to show his stainless steel because he was doing all of the traditional methods and his grandfather’s company and so he’s fourth generation with his wares essentially.

Vicki Saunders  8:49  

That’s amazing. Yeah, I mean, this is something that we see across almost all of our SheEO Ventures is just this purity of supply chain, how absolutely important it is to have practices that look all the way down, for those who are doing products. So that’s amazing. So you built a relationship with this person, and really made sure your values were aligned before you actually even really got started. 

Nita Tandon  9:08  

That’s right. And then I started with two products. And my first two products were just a sandwich container because I thought that would be something North Americans can relate to. So it was a sandwich container and a set of three round containers. Because I thought, again, those two things people can relate to, and it’ll be my start. So we went from two products to seven products to now 21 products, and it happened pretty quickly. We started with an online business. Then we got into retail stores, picked up with a distributor in Canada and moved into the US. So it’s grown very organically. I almost didn’t even have time to plan it. I just started filling orders with people that were interested. And the thing that I find amazing is this really was a selfish start. It was done because I wanted it for my family. But I soon realized that if people were given an opportunity to have a safe per container a cleaner, more sustainable option. They gravitate to that very quickly, too. It’s just if we’re not given the option, we pick plastic. 

Vicki Saunders  10:08  

Yeah, absolutely. There just must be a sea of people looking for alternatives right now. And I love I like the background of how you explained how you got to this and where it started with you. I mean, so many of my favorite entrepreneurs had this issue themselves, right? They are deeply connected into whatever the thing is that they’re solving. There’s some original founder story, it’s not like they’re looking for some kind of market opportunity to go create money. That’s not where this most of the good stuff comes from. Right?

Nita Tandon  10:33  

Yeah, that’s true. For me. It was never about the money it was about, there’s got to be a better way. And my dad’s a big person with all these quotes and stuff like that. And Gandhi was a big one in our home and, you know, if you wanted something different if you didn’t see it and take a step and make that difference, and for me, it was ‘Be the Change’. When I didn’t see what I liked. I thought, okay, well then let me create it. I either had to accept what was available. And if that wasn’t an option, then go create something new.

Vicki Saunders  10:58  

I know that you’ve struggled, like I have around doing things yourself, by yourself with your head down without asking for help. And then the magical transformation that occurs with all of us when we start asking for help. So can you talk a little bit about that journey for you?

Unknown Speaker  11:13  

So I’m in Ottawa, and I didn’t really ever feel racism. And so I will say that growing up, I kind of felt like everyone else, you know. I went to a school, I went to university, I didn’t feel excluded all of these different things. But when I started working, was when I started to feel the haves and have nots started happening. After asking a few times for assistance and being told no, or you’re thinking wrong, or this isn’t possible, you start to stop asking. And I just sort of dug my head in deeper and sort of caved in a little bit more every time until I met the group of SheEO Activators. And for me it was I got so frustrated with closed doors and when I finally met some of the Activators their heart was just different than everyone else I’ve met. And I had gone to networking events and I had gone to all sorts of groups where you think that you will meet someone who is thinking like you. And I just didn’t. And I will remember there was one person and she probably has no idea that she’s had this impact on me, but it was Anne. And it was because I shared my story. And she just validated me this was before Black Lives Matter. This is before any of that stuff really surfaced in the way it is now. Even though she couldn’t experience the same what I had experienced, she believed that I experienced it. And her automatic was, ‘How can I help you?’ You know, I didn’t know what her background was. I didn’t know anything about her other than her willingness to help. And her acknowledgement of, wow, that must be really tough what you’re facing, and it started with, oh my goodness, there’s a group of people here that get it because there’s so many places that I gone to when I tried to tell that story. They say it’s in your head. It’s not like that. You have every opportunity no one even knows you don’t even look Indian and I thought that alone is obnoxious.

Vicki Saunders  13:05  

A bit obnoxious. Oh my god. Yeah.

Nita Tandon  13:08  

So for me it was just meeting a group of women that automatically said, ‘How can I help?’ And so I started with like my Facebook page, can you like my Instagram page and really small asks, and they all happened. And so the next ask was, okay, now COVID happens and I’m really struggling. I just lost 90% of my business. I do need help here. What can I do? And so I sat down and I said, what are all the things that would get me out of this whole quickly? And so rather than say, I need a Facebook Like I said, I need a big partner. And I was looking for very specific retailers. And so I had my list. And Indigo was always on my radar. I had asked earlier in the year and my business plan last year was that I would be in Indigo this year. So sure enough, I asked the group of SheEO Activators and someone responded back and said, I actually have a contact, let me put you in contact with them. And that’s when the magic happens. It was a conversation that was so quick. It basically just put me in that conversation with Indigo right away, as opposed to having to go through so many layers. 

Vicki Saunders  14:20  

Yeah, this is one of the things like, first of all, you had a desired outcome, you had something up on your board, which is like, this is where I want to go. So I think that’s also part of it. Right? Putting the intention out there is one piece and then of course, when you’re ready for it, it shows up right in front of you with ease. This is one of the things that you can try and try and try and work through things and when the time is not right, things are so hard. When the timing is right. it’s right. It’s that’s cool. So you got an intro to Indigo and now?

Nita Tandon  14:45  

Yeah, so now I am in an Indigo stores all across Canada! 

Vicki Saunders  14:49  

Yay!

Nita Tandon  14:50  

That all happened so quickly! That yes, it was my goal. Yes, I planned it. But I really thought COVID was going to take this huge turn and take Me in a different way that I needed to struggle for every dollar. And and I’m not gonna lie, it’s still a struggle, because my expenses have gone up, because now I have to have bigger inventories. And right now supply chain trying to get my product from India here when COVID rates in India are skyrocketing. So there’s a lot of logistical issues that are still happening, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Vicki Saunders  15:21  

Amazing. Well, I’m so glad that the community can help with this. If there’s one thing I wish I learned a lot earlier, it would have been this kind of thing, like get into a community and find the others, it was very hard to find the others for me because I was always doing such different kinds of things. And then this whole conditioning that we have to do things on our own, oh, I have to figure that out myself. It’s just… what a lie. We like to just get that all out of our bodies, that it’s just so much easier when you’re in the community.

Nita Tandon  15:49  

And the other part I found too, was that I would ask for help. But I did find that when I asked help from men, they had a very different perspective. And so there’s also this ask for help but know when not  to accept it too. It’s finding your tribe, but really knowing in your gut when you found your tribe, I found my tribe.

Vicki Saunders  16:07  

Yeah. And if there’s like a values alignment, right, like that’s important too, it can’t just be someone has the answer, but it’s not on the terms that you want. So this like your own terms thing is really huge. What’s next for you? Where are things going?

Finding another buyer like that?

Okay, who’s on the list? How can we help?

Nita Tandon  16:22  

So I’d really like to move into the US but I do realize the US you know, has some issues right now, the other is I was looking at packaging and I had a very simple design and so now it’s getting my packaging done in India. So the products are completely ready to come here. I think my next step is finding how to drop ship products from my supplier to the US or worldwide once it’s already packaged and ready to go. I had done that once before where I did a drop ship. The only problem was the end user ended up getting all of my cost pricing and I I need the paperwork to remain mine and just get the product So I need to figure out the drop shipping model much better before I go worldwide with that. I’ve also had a lot of requests from Australia and New Zealand to have my product there and also in Europe. So those countries for me, they already get it. It’s a conversation they’ve already had. I feel like Canada is a little bit especially Ottawa is a little bit new to the sustainability conversation. Here, I better spend more time with education, and then move into the business plan. I feel like in the US the business plan, it’s they’e ready. I just have to figure out logistics to get there.

Vicki Saunders  17:31  

Okay, well, that’s next. Were on it. That’s really, really good. Final question around the journey that you’ve been on as you sort of step back. So you already embodied as a young person, like the desire to set your own rules and create your own conditions for this, what’s really the biggest challenge that you’ve faced, of activating this,

Nita Tandon  17:53  

People believing me, when I started the company, first there was this view that I didn’t have any business sense. You are a mother, so anything you did previous, they didn’t even ask where you came from. They didn’t even ask if you’ve done business before. In 19, what year was it now? 1995 I moved down to New York City, and I was on the team to start up the first nursing home for AIDS patients. And that was in Brooklyn, New York. Well, no one asked me about my startup there. No one asked me that. What did I do? Right before I started this, I was a business consultant. My knowledge of business is up there but still, they wanted me to get all sorts of direction from this. These males that have done business, but they just done it so different than I have. So it’s this. Hear me, listen to me. I have value. This been the toughest part. 

Vicki Saunders  18:41  

I think, yeah, that’s so interesting. What proof do you have that you can do this? We were always asked as women to prove versus hiring people or investing based on potential. 

Nita Tandon  18:52  

I ended up going to my bank just because at the very beginning, this was like 2015 I just incorporated the first thing I want to do is separate all of my business from my personal. And so I just went to my personal bank and I said, Yeah, I’d like to start this account and this is what I’m doing. And the business, I guess, the business loan person at the bank, she was asking all the questions, and she said, so what is your business? I didn’t come in with a business plan. She said, tell me about your business. I talked to her like a friend. I told her, she said, well, did you want a cash injection to start your business? I said, Oh, my gosh, yes. I said, you know, but I probably won’t be making product for a little while. She goes, no, no, she goes, you really know what you want to do. She said, we have a track record of you being with the bank for 20 years. We’re happy to give you an investment. And that’s how it started. And I thought this is completely the opposite of whatever I’ve been told. And I think that was one of my first turning points to say what I’ve been told maybe wrong. And I think business as a woman is based on relationships. As soon as I have these connections to certain people, business just grew quickly. Even If I look at with Indigo, what’s happened there? The contract I’ll say is about 250 pages. It’s huge. And I felt like at first, I didn’t really have any kind of negotiation power. But I thought, let me start somewhere, I was able to negotiate there. Because when you build a relationship, you feel like, there’s going to be a win win. I know what you’re looking for, but I know what I need. And we get to where we need to get. It’s not a you have more power, you’re bigger. So you were goes, and business just changed for me but those couple of relationships.

Vicki Saunders  20:33  

It’s incredibly critical to do that, though, because it’s the power dynamic. When it’s imbalanced. You’re not going to get to the outcome you want unless you’ve said like, this is what I need, this is what you need. That’s amazing. And that banking story is delicious, because it’s not what we have heard in the past. I absolutely love that the person to person obviously that it was about their relationship with the person, right. She got what you were talking about. She potentially resonated with it. That’s amazing. So yay, to that banker. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, first starting that off. Again, when you’re in relationship, almost anything’s possible. And I’m very grateful for you for showing us the way Dalcini and we’re thrilled to support you as she venture.

Nita Tandon  21:10  

It’s been fantastic. I love being at SheEO and I’m excited to even tell other people about it because it really is doing business differently. It’s a whole new paradigm that I’ve never seen before.

Vicki Saunders  21:20  

Thank you Nita for your time and good luck with your growth and your increase in what you’re doing in the world. Thank you. 

Thank you for listening to the SheEO dot world podcast. If this conversation resonated with you, please share it with a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcast player. If you’d like more information about SheEO, please visit us at SheEO dot world.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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