May 5, 2022
Supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs is an important part of the Gopuff story. Our business was founded by two first-generation entrepreneurs, Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola, who started off with one small car and one big dream. That’s why we are so committed to leveraging our business model to help other small business owners reach even greater success.
We know that supporting local businesses isn’t just something that’s important to us, but to our customers as well. In fact, more than 88% of Gopuff customers say they prefer to purchase local products and goods. So as we’re helping these smaller brands reach even more customers through Gopuff’s platform and distribution network, we’re also offering our customers access to the local products they know and love, delivered in minutes.
In 2021, we added products from over 500 local brands located across the country and led by an incredibly diverse group of business owners, including from communities that are underrepresented in the business world.
We’re excited to highlight one of the great women small business owners on our platform, Najwa Khan. Najwa started her brand dalci after struggling with health issues and food fads. She came up with a variety of ready-made, gut-healthy brownies, including her Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Gut-Healthy Brownie and Lemon Coconut Gut-Healthy Brownie.
We recently asked Najwa about her entrepreneurial path and what advice she would give to younger women entrepreneurs.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
Najwa: I am a first-time founder; however, I spent the last decade working at startups taking on roles that have enabled me to be comfortable with building a product from scratch. This gave me the confidence to become an entrepreneur.
I started dalci in the midst of the pandemic in the summer of 2020. The day we launched dalci.com was when I also found out I was pregnant with my first child. Throughout the first year of the business, I self-produced, baked, packaged, fulfilled, and fundraised while also trying to navigate a high-risk pregnancy. This was an incredibly challenging time for me, but it pushed me to grow our production and facility team, to focus on direct-to-consumer sales, to perfect our brownies and packaging, and to receive feedback from our customers.
Now that both dalci and my baby are over a year old, I’m ready as an entrepreneur to expand dalci and bring our fresh, clean, and absolutely delicious brownies to more people.
What made you want to start your own business?
Najwa: I felt like a food ally was missing amongst the traditional and emerging food brands. As a consumer, I felt like I was constantly being told to eat a certain way, avoid certain foods to be “healthier,” or to live according to a fad diet. I missed having a brand I was emotionally connected to and that understood that food was about enjoyment, not living with restrictions.
When I searched the aisles for a dessert brand that was simply clean and also tasted good, I couldn’t find a single packaged snack, dessert, or bar that was honestly clean, honestly nutritious, and actually delicious.
I just wanted a fresh, clean, simple product that was tasty, satisfied my sweet tooth, and didn’t require me to be a baker. I wanted a brand that was my ally in eating well and deliciously. After complaining for years, I decided to stop talking and start taking action with my own business, dalci.
What inspired you to create dalci? Where does the name come from?
Najwa: I started dalci because I was over diet culture and negative food associations. After years of struggling with health issues, trying fad diet after fad diet, and dealing with poor gut health, I decided to take action, approach my food journey holistically, and live in a world where I could eat dessert.
As a public health professional, I care about the message we’re sending young children about food, their bodies, and their health. Did you know almost half of Americans are often worrying about their weight, and more than half of young girls believe they need to be thinner? As someone that’s dealt with body image issues and poor food associations my whole life, I understand the dangers of touting fads and elimination diets.
I was able to heal my gut and my perceptions of food by eating holistically, looking at food for its own natural nutritional benefits, and allowing myself to eat foods I loved. I believe we all deserve to live in a world where we can have our dessert and eat it too. That’s what inspired me to start dalci.
dalci is derived from the Bengali word for cinnamon, dalchini. Growing up in a South Asian and Moroccan household, spice was life. When I think of cinnamon I think of all the happy moments I spent in the kitchen cooking with my family and enjoying meals. I named my business dalci because I want dalci to be a brand that sparks happiness.
What are some challenges you faced when starting your business, and how did you overcome them?
Najwa: From the start, it was important for us to be a perishable product. Our brownies are real, so they spoil within a short period of time compared to most packaged foods. This was a massive challenge for us as we weren’t able to immediately go to a co-manufacturer and needed to self-produce. In order for dalci to be enjoyed at its peak, we have to store our brownies frozen or refrigerated. This meant we had to control production, fulfillment, and storage on our own without a 3rd party vendor.
Self-producing is very costly, especially for a business just starting out. Luckily we have customers that are very supportive, and partners, such as Gopuff, that appreciate what we’re doing with our brownies and are working with perishable treat brands. We’re currently at a larger facility that will enable us to expand our reach in 2022.
Where do you want to see your brand in 5 years?
Najwa: I want dalci to be available nationwide and known as America’s ally in fresh, clean, and indulgent eating. From a public health perspective, I hope we can shed light on the current issues with diet culture and provide resources for customers to better understand the climate of the food industry, have greater knowledge of ingredients, and easier access to scientific-based information. I hope our brownies and dessert treats allow people to enjoy food and feel happiness, instead of post-consumption guilt.
What advice do you have for young women entrepreneurs?
Najwa: It’s OK to not know everything, – you never will. Have confidence in yourself, your mission, and just start. Surround yourself with experts and get feedback. It’s OK to make mistakes along the way.