Creating a business to solve difficult problems may be inspiring but it doesn't guarantee success. To succeed, you must prioritize the customers' wants and needs when designing every part of the business. These are some of the lessons from today's podcast with Dinesh Tadepalli, Co-Founder of IncredibleEats.com who shares with us some of his tips for thriving as an entrepreneur focused on sustainability.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
How products that prioritize user experience have the most authentic competitive advantage and unique selling proposition.
Finding the right partners for your business.
How experimentation can drive superior product development.
How tradeshows can be a springboard for phenomenal business success.
Dinesh Tadepalli's favorite business books and resources!
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
Visit IncredibleEats.com now to learn more about how their unique edible spoons are saving the planet and use promo code "harvestgrowth" to get 15% off if you buy now.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: Behavioral economics. I took a class in this topic that sounds boring in business school, but it changed the way that I think about marketing. Today's guest does a great job showing how he used similar principles to grow his business. One example is sustainability. So many products claim to save the planet, but people don't buy them because the usage experience is terrible. Think about paper straws. Instead, we discuss improving the usage experience in a new and unique way that happens to be sustainable. With that focus on behavior, this product really is meeting the founder's goal of saving the planet.
Speaker 1: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now here's the host of the Harvest Growth Podcast, Jon LeClare.
Jon: I'm excited to have on the show with us today Dinesh Tadepalli. He's the co-founder of IncrEDIBLE Eats. It's an edible spoon. It's really cool. I do say you have to go to the website and check this out. It's incredibleeats.com. As always, it's in the show notes. If you're driving, go check out the notes of the show. At the end of this, we're going to give you a promo code that's also in the show notes to save some money on this if you'd to buy some of these spoons, a phenomenal product. I'm going to let Dinesh really explain what the product is, how it works, et cetera. He'll do a much better job than me. Dinesh, welcome to the show.
Dinesh Tadepalli: Yes. Hi, Jon. Thanks for ringing in.
Jon: Absolutely, if you could tell us what are IncrEDIBLE Eats spoons?
Dinesh: Yes, sure. IncrEDIBLE Eats, we are planning to reinvent the way we eat our food by replacing single-use plastic utensils with edible utensils or edible cutlery. It's literally you eat the product or eat any of your product with your edible spoon and then eat the spoon right after, creating this true zero footprint experience.
Jon: Love it. You talk about utensils. Right now I believe it's just spoons. Is that correct?
Dinesh: We do have spoons and we also launched sporks starting this year. In a month, we'll be launching our edible straws and in a quarter we'll be launching our edible chopsticks.
Jon: Fantastic. That's the way to grow business. Start with success and keep adding on-the-line extensions as you go. Again, check out the website to see these products to hopefully purchase one too. They're fantastic. How did you originally come up with the idea?
Dinesh: Yes, it happened at the most unexpected places, at an ice cream shop. I was a young dad. I had my six-year-old, actually five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. We went to an ice cream shop, had ice cream, had fun with it. Then I was throwing the plastic spoon that I used along with the paper cup and by accident, I looked inside the dust bin and I saw thousands of plastic spoons there. As a lighting it stuck on my head and a question propped out as an educated person, as a person who is aware of plastic pollution through documentaries or through news articles or through whatever it is, why didn't I think twice before using a plastic spoon for 10 minutes, knowing that it's going to stay in the environment for thousands of years and it's going to hurt my kid's future?
The question suddenly hit my mind. I went home and I thought, "Okay, let me research a little more on plastic pollution and see what my recent action is actually causing hurt to the environment." One data point really scared me. Right now, humans are consuming about one credit card-sized microplastics every week. All the plastic that we dumped in the last century, nature is giving back to us in the form that we can't see. That scared me a lot because my worry was, if my kids once they grow up to be young adults or adults, they are going to consume more plastic than what we are already consuming.
The challenging part is doctors have no clue, the scientists and the doctors have no clue how plastic is adversely affecting us. Just because we don't know how it's not affecting us, doesn't mean that it's not a scary thing. Another learning that I had during my research was a lot of time the emphasis is laid on climate change. It's actually a pretty big threat to us in the future. Plastic is actually an equivalent, if not a much more a very valid threat we have, but people don't really care about it because we all heard about plastic pollution, but how many of our actions are actually changed? We got so biased.
We got so convenient using them without asking a question or without even thinking about why am I using this? My point was, okay, it's not just about selling a product, but how can I change the behavior of a person where he spends some time to think about what actions he's doing so that it doesn't adversely affect the planet? That's one of the reasons why we went into edible cutlery, because it gives you that fun and uniqueness quotient.
Imagine a time when cones were not there, ice cream cones were not there. People were okay with the plastic paper cups, but then the cones came. It took some time, but once they're in the market, it became a commodity and it reduced the use of cups in some way or the other. Similarly, I wanted to bring something at the store where as a person, I'm given an option to have something fun, unique, and also saving the planet product versus a typical convenience-based plastic product.
Jon: I love the story. You and I chatted briefly before this interview. I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to sustainability, environmentalism, et cetera, where I see all these people making a big deal about it in words, but not in actions. We all profess to want to do more, but the solutions are often worse. Straws, for example, if you want to give up straws, the paper straw experience is miserable. It changes the drink, et cetera.
What I love about what you've done is you've got this goal of sustainability. You're solving a problem, but you're doing it in a way, as you said so well, you're changing people's habits. That's not easy to do. We've been eating with spoons the same way. If it changes the taste in a negative way, for example, no one wants that. You've got this experience where not only does it leave-- It's actually good taste. This tastes great, but also it's fun, totally different. You get to eat it afterwards. There's a fun twist it's a great way to "save the environment" one spoon at a time. I love the approach you've taken with this.
Dinesh: To add onto what you said. Current data shows in the US we dispose of 100 million plastic cutlery per day, per day. That's how much we use. Now, let's say only 20% of the people are even aware of plastic pollution or even worried about it, let's say, by words or by thought process at least. What happens to the rest of the 80%? My focus is not just people who are hell-bent on doing something good for the planet and being truly sustainable. I really thank them for doing that, but also the other majority who is not even worried about it.
The only way I can make them act is try to give them something fun and different where even if they're not worried about plastic, they're using an edible spoon or a spork or straw and just for the fun sake of it or even for having after-meal snack or after ice cream snack sake of it they're going to use that and not contribute to more plastic. That's my point. It's not just about people who care about it, but also not people who don't care about it because they're also contributing to something which is going to hurt all of us in the future.
Jon: So creative. It's a fantastic way to really solve this problem. I love it. I did also learn that in order to make these spoons, you had to create the machine. This is something completely different that didn't exist before. Some products are easier to invent than others. In your case, you had to actually create the machine. You've got a patent pending on this machine. Tell us about, how did you do that? How did you go about creating this device?
Dinesh: I'm not a person from a food industry background or a sales background, nothing. I'm an engineer by background. I'm an electrical engineer by background. I did engineering for the last 15 years. Once I got this thought process of finding some alternative to single-use plastic, I was searching for alternatives. I saw compostable cutlery, which is mostly greenwashed because cities don't have the composting facilities. Even if they have them, you can't guarantee that everyone is sorting it correctly.
There are challenges there. Coming back to the paper straws, people don't like them because even I had this aftertaste when I drank with it and all that stuff. Then obviously the biggest challenge is how do I change a person's behavior at the store to push them towards not using a plastic spoon.
Then I realized edible cutlery is the only way. Then my next step was to find the manufacturer or at least understand if there is anyone who can manufacture this product. I went to Asia, I spent six weeks of my paternity leave to go around, try to find manufacturers, try to find places where they already had these people thinking about this. I realized there was one company in India who tried to do this six years ago, but they failed because they couldn't scale it up. These products, the edible spoons or edible sporks, you can make them at home, actually, if you have the right mold, but the problem is scale.
You can make them by hand, but that's not going to scale up and that's not going to reduce the cost. We realized that technology part was missing. Then I realized that maybe this is why I had my engineering degree. I met my co-founder Kruvil in India. He was also trying on trying to find the machinery. He's a mechanical engineer. Once I met him, I realized that we are on the same path and he also made some advancements in the technology that he was planning to add.
I went in and I said, "Hey, why don't we do this at large scale?" He was only thinking about really small scale and just a small machine which can make 10 spoons just for the local stuff and all. I said let's take this global, we can do that with the right investments and with the right efforts. I went in with my engineering and his engineering. We worked together. We spent almost one and a half to two years to find the right hardness. The challenge here is, it should be hard enough for you to use it first but not too hard for you to not bite it later.
Literally, I think we did about 80 trials to get the right thickness, shape, and feel. The second thing is what we learned, there are wooden spoons in the market but the wood has this creepy feeling on your tongue. When you try to eat something with your wooden spoon, you have this weird feeling in your mouth. It's not very nice to have the wooden spoon in your mouth as such. We realized that it should be soft, should feel really nice. All these things came into play, and we took some time and we finally figured out the right amount of pressure, the right amount of heat that needs to be applied to bake this product. It has to happen fast.
Literally, we have to bake at least 10,000 spoons within 20 minutes. It's not like okay, I can use the entire day at slow temperature baking. We can't do that because you have to scale. That's how we spent a lot of time and then we figure out the right numbers with respect to the pressure we apply, the temperature and the time we have to get this going. Then the biggest challenge after that was the ingredients, what ingredients work with the technology that we invented. Technology part was okay because it's more engineering stuff but now coming to the recipe side, what grain should we use? How will it come out with what different raw materials are we going to use?
That also took some time but, in the end, we were able to make our Version 0 of the spoons which I don't think it's available anymore. That we were able to finally make. By February of 2019, we could make 10 to 15 spoons a day through the small machine that we had. I came to the US and I'm like, okay, my next question was, how do I sell this? I have no food industry experience and all that. I heard about trade shows. It happens in every industry. I thought, "Okay, let me go to a food trade show and sign up for something and see how it goes." My first trade show was Catersource, it was in New Orleans. I signed up for it two weeks before the show. I had no clue how to go there.
I just went with a small suitcase. I had some products like 10 or 15 samples of the spoons and some paper printouts. I had no fancy boots, nothing, no decoration, nothing because I had no clue how to go there because it's my first time exhibiting. I would have gone to a technology trade show but I just walked. I didn't exhibit anything. I went there and I got my first order that I can tell you in detail later but coming back to the technology, that's how we invented and then we did a provisional patent back in 2020. Now the patent is pending because it converted to a regular patent application.
Jon: Fantastic. Congratulations. My understanding is that trade show well, obviously it was very early in your business but your first big success came from that as well. What happened at that trade show?
Dinesh: That was my biggest surprise. Before that, I had no idea how to sell. I didn't even sell anything to anyone at the time. For me, the trade show was more for me to understand how the industry works, meet people, ask them questions, ask them how to sell, what are these brokers? What is this distributor? What is this wholesaler? What are the margins? I wanted to learn first, that's why I signed up for it and not because I wanted to sell first. Anyways, on that trade show, in that event, I was on a table without any fancy stuff but I had the product in my hand though. Some people came by, looked at the product, they went away.
Finally, the last day, a caterer from Canada who visited us on the first day came back and he asked me only one question. I'm going to place a big order, can you give me your best cost? I was like, "Can you tell me what's the ballpark of the quantity you're looking at?" I was just thinking about small quantities. He surprised me with 150,000 spoons. My first question was how the hell am I going to fulfill this? Obviously, I couldn't really mention that because that shows as a negative thing that I'm not prepared for it. Then I told them yes, great. This is my first order. I'm really happy with your interest. I can give you at the cost of goods sold without any margins because this is my first breakthrough.
I'll give you whatever I am spending on this product, and I gave him a number. He said, "Okay, this is good. Let's do this." Then I asked him, "Can you please give me four to five months of time because I need to scale up my facility to meet this order demand?" He was very kind. He's like, "Okay, fine, I can wait but no more than six months." I can't wait more than six months. I was like, "Okay, fine, that's good enough." I came back home the next day. As soon as I stepped into my home, I asked my wife, "We have to sell this home." She was like, "What? What's going on with you? What do you mean you need to sell this home?" I had a home in California at the time.
There's no other way I can scale up the facility. I can't raise investment in two months. It's hard. I don't know anyone in the food industry, this is my first order to fulfill. Thankfully, she agreed, she understood my passion behind this. She's like, "Okay, fine, as you would say." We made some money in selling that home, and I used that entire proceeds along with my 10 years of savings of my job to scale up the facility in three months, and within six months we fulfilled the order. That's how my first sale started.
Jon: Fantastic. What a great story. I love that. A couple of things stand out to me, it comes down to passion and dedication. A couple of things. One is you talked about the rounds of perfection you went through to constantly improve your product, the feel, the density of it, et cetera, ED rounds. It takes time, it takes effort to get something just right. Then being willing to sell your home is a great example. There's so many of us where it's like, everyone thinks it's so easy to start a business but you got to take risks a lot of times, you got to jump in, and you're going to make mistakes along the way until you have that first success that gets you moving forward.
Then grow it from that point forward but that passion and dedication, I think is a great example to all of us.
Dinesh: Thank you. We didn't stop experimenting. Another thing I did really different from any other company is maybe because of my lack of experience in the food industry, I thought as an engineer when I design something on my job, we test it before we push it into the market. I felt that I should do that for this product as well for two reasons. One, I'm giving something in the market which no one experienced before, they don't know what to expect from eating a spoon. Should it taste good? Should it feel good? How does it feel? There are a lot of these questions that come into play.
The second thing is, I knew that I had a viral product in the sense if I spend some advertisement money, or if I spent some initial traction money, it can easily scale up very fast, make a lot of money but then I realized, from what I learned through I read a lot of books, by the way. That's one thing that helped me a lot. I'll explain a little more later. One thing I learned was a lot of these companies or products which become really famous in the span of two to three years, and then everyone forgets about them. They don't stick for a long time. For me, I came back, and I thought I want this product to be a commodity like a cone, how you experience in every shop that you go.
If I have to do that, I need to make sure I need to go through multiple revisions of this product before I even spend anything on ads or spend anything to make it big. It has both pros and cons in that action but I intentionally sold less in the first two years to get feedback. I revised this product, even after making that first product, this is the fourth version of the product that we have because I had to churn everything. Now, I know that at least 85% of the people like this product because through all the reviews that I get. I go through sampling programs. I make sure that it's really good. Only then I like to spend money. I'm also frugal in a traditional cultural sense.
I'm very afraid and another thing is I'm an Indian. Initially, at least I used to convert every dollar to 80 times because Indian rupee's like 80 rupees for $1. For me spending $100 is like $8,000 equal in spending that much. That helps me thinking, "Okay, I can't really spend $10,000 on ad, that's a lot of money." I'm like, "Let me spend $10 first then $100 then, you understand my point, right?
Dinesh: Sometimes it's both good and bad because a lot of times when I'm trying to raise investment, they're like, oh, why is your revenue so low? I'm like, I only spend $40 on social media ads in three years. That's what I'm trying to say there.
Jon: Great. Well said. Along the way, if we fast forward a little bit, you started with that big order but later on in your process, you actually appeared on Shark Tank, and you got onto the show in a fairly unique way. I've interviewed a few people that have been on Shark Tank and so often you're waiting in line for hours to get your first interaction with them hoping to get through and it's a process to make make it there and can take years. Yours is a little different. How did you get on the show?
Dinesh: Coming back to the frugal aspect of this. That's how it started I would say. I signed up for a few trade shows which are on the cheaper side. Literally, I was begging the trade show folks giving me a free booth or a half percent off because it saves the planet and all that stuff. One thing I learned was spending least amount of money and getting the most exposure. I realized that I have to participate in a lot of pitch competitions in these trade shows. This was back in 2019 before COVID hit. There were a lot of trade shows at the time, I didn't have issues to go there. Whenever I went, I made sure whatever opportunity that was available there to make sure the product can go and people can know about it, I took that. My only expenditure initially on marketing is just trade shows, but I made sure I got the best out of it.
I can't really judge which trade show that caught the eye of the Shark Tank producer, but most of these trade shows we won the best product in the trade show or the best company for sustainability. All these different awards we won. In fact, if you'll go into our awards section there are about 15 to 20 awards already there. In one of the trade shows, when we got, they have like a trade show paper they give every day, like a newspaper kind of thing, like a flyer. We were on the front page, half of the page talking about me and edible spoons and all that stuff. The next week I got an email from a Shark Tank producer saying, "Hey, do you want to come into the Tank?" I said, "Wow. Why not?"
Again, it's not without a challenge. I'm an immigrant. I had my visa at the time. I didn't have my green card. Shark Tank had this rule that only the US residents or green card holders have the opportunity to come to the Tank. I missed that opportunity in 2020. Actually, I was supposed to go into 2020, but then I told them I have to wait for my green card process to continue. I've been waiting for almost 15 years for that. They understood, they said they can't do anything about it and then they're like, "Okay, fine." I left it there, but in 2021, they approached me again asking what's my status and at that time I had my EAD card, which is almost the last step of the green card, then they invited me for 2021.
I still had the auctions to go through like in the sense, audition, sorry, not auction, auditions to go through, but I avoided the first standing in line and going and pitching in front of all the people, that I avoided. That's the only step I avoided. Oh my God, I didn't have to do it.
Jon: Got it. Love it. Great story. Over the years, what's been the biggest challenge or most difficult thing for your business?
Dinesh: Cost. Plastic is super cheap, unfortunately. Compared to a plastic spoon, our spoon was when I started, it was 30 times more expensive, like it was 35 cents each. With scale, we brought it down to 15 cents per spoon. At the food service site retail, it's a little higher because of the shipping and all that. We scaled. As I mentioned, we were at 10 spoons a day. Now we can make 30,000 spoons a day and we already started sporks and we slowly expanding to straws and chopsticks.
Still my biggest challenge is cost because see again, I want to make the largest impact and for me, the largest impact can be made by B2B, like making sure all these McDonald's or Wendy's or all these fast food chains, which use tons of plastic. Just to give an example, one famous yogurt company, which has 300 of 400 stores, I don't want to name them, but they use two million spoons per month. My focus is always on B2B, but, unfortunately, COVID came and then I had to pivot towards B2C because I needed that money for my burn rate, it was all bootstrapped. I only raised 200,000 in the last four years, that's it, nothing more than that. It was all bootstrapped.
My B2B was my major focus, but most of these big companies, I haven't met any good sustainability teams, which really love the product, but they're not able to convince the recruitment teams because their biggest challenge is cost. They're going to pay 15 times more than a plastic spoon. A plastic spoon is like a cent or two cents max. I had to switch pivot in my pitch in a way that, "Hey, don't consider this as an extra expense," but since this is edible and people are going to have a new experience with it, you can upcharge them. Like you go to an ice cream shop, when you ask for a cone, they ask you for a dollar or a 50 cents, same concept apply to a spoon.
Instead of using a plastic spoon, you can give them an edible spoon by default, include the cost in your product cost. It's very hard for a lot of the companies to do, or you can give it as a topping and say, "Hey, do you want an edible spoon for like 30 cents?" They will still make 15 cents per spoon. That's a lot like 2 million, 15 cents per spoon is almost like I would say $300,000 in profit per month.
Jon: Wow. That's a great way to put it. Very creative. Well, Dinesh, do you have any resources you recommend? You mention how you read a lot of books, are there any books that stand out that have been really helpful or impactful for your business?
Dinesh: Yes, sure. The story was, I wanted to do an MBA before even I started a business. I actually was an angel investor before the entrepreneurship that happened and I invested in a couple of software companies. I was a typical Silicon Valley mindset, I guess, but then I completely shifted my goals to saving the planet part rather than making the money part. Coming back to that, one thing I realized was MBA was too expensive, so I like, "Let me find some online courses," I'm like, "Is it a free or pay doesn't matter, if it's reasonable." One thing that really helped me was behavioral economics. I love that concept. How irrationally rationally changing the behavior of a person so they buy your product. That particular topic helped me a lot.
There are good books by like Dan Ariely from Duke. There were some courses online by him on Coursera that really helped me. Other than that, there's a book called Contagious and there's also Masterclass by Daniel Pink, how to persuade people. These are all some books that I think they helped me a lot on my sales pitch because I never pitched, or I never did any experience in sales before. One of the biggest book, I would definitely recommend everyone, I think most of the people who are listening would've already read it, is the How to influence People and Make Friends by Dale Carnegie. That has been my main book to overcome my fear or overcome that shyness to talk to someone who's completely random person in front of me and pitching a product to him or her. That's another book that I would recommend too.
Basically coming back to that. I have a passion. I think I have a plan how to implement the passion. It's just about now the hardest thing is to change the behavior of a person. It's easy to sell a product, but it's very hard to change a behavior from what I feel. For me, changing the behavior is more important than selling my product because I want this to be in the long term, rather than just trying it out and forgetting it.
Jon: Yes, love it. If they make this a part of their daily habit, for starting with ice cream maybe, and then taking it on everything else that they eat, then yes you can save the planet in a big way. I love that. [crosstalk] Dinesh-- Go ahead.
Dinesh: Sorry, Jon. One thing I actually think we went too much onto me and the product and business and all coming back to the product. Our product is vegan, they're made with non-GMO whole grains and best yet they come in multiple flavors, including sweet flavors like chocolate and vanilla and savory flavors like oregano chili, black pepper and they're good for both soups and ice cream. I keep talking about ice cream because that's been my biggest focus to easily get into the market. If you have a soup or even a mac and cheese, or even a salad, again, it can't really tear a steak or something very hard, the sporks and all that, but typical normal salad, you can eat with the spork. Again, savory and sweet flavors.
Another thing that I strongly believe in is VR, carbon, and plastic negative certified company. We offset two X what we make, because no matter what product we bring, there is always emissions because it travels from one place to the other place, there's packaging. Even though I avoided plastic in my packaging, but when the pallets go from one place to other, they're compulsory they have to be shrink wrapped. I calculate how much plastic we use there, and we compensate that twice what we use. Every step we make, I need to make sure that the planet is not hurt.
Jon: Love it. Well, Dinesh, this has been a lot of fun. Is there anything I didn't ask that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Dinesh: No. I think we covered most of it. It's just that again and as I mentioned for me, the passion is the most important thing. Sometimes my investors hate that because I don't really talk about money or numbers so much, but those things come later. By the way, I still do my job because I take care of my family through my job and I don't take any salary from my business. Two of us are there in the US and both of us pledged that we don't take any salary till we replace 100 million plastic cutlery, which is actually a day of consumption in the US.
Jon: Wow. That's remarkable. Great example to all of us. I do encourage the audience, please go check out Dinesh's product at incredibleeats.com. Again, the URL is in the show notes in case you're driving. He's been kind enough to offer a promo code of 15% off code if you use harvestgrowth, all one word, all lowercase on their website, you'll say 15%. Again, incredibleeats.com. Be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your own consumer product business, please subscribe to our show and be sure to leave us a review.
Dinesh, thank you so much.
Dinesh: Thank you so much for the opportunity, Jon. Sincerely appreciate it.
[00:30:18] [END OF AUDIO]