“One of the advice I got from several investors, is not to ask for investment too early. They have told me: ‘Push out on asking for investment as long as you can.’ “
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Today on Silicon Valley Show I am joined by Fauzia Lala – CEO of Falala Innovation. Fauzia is currently running two startup projects – the primary one named QuenchBot — an innovative, automated smoothie vending machine, and another project involving production of customized contact lens cases. In the interview I am focusing on QuenchBot, as it is a very interesting approach to healthy nutrition in fast-paced, modern times. Enjoy!
“So imagine a vending machine, a big size vending machine that will have all the fresh fruits in it. Customers can walk up to it, choose their drink, customize it and the machine will make a smoothie for you and wash the blender out.
(…) The idea came about when I was still working with Microsoft. I was a developer there and I realized a lot of people, not just people who work for Fortune 500 companies, struggle with keeping up with their daily tasks – they’re working a lot, they have other hobbies outside of work and there’s so much going on, that regular, day-to-day tasks, like eating or just doing your chores become very difficult. I wanted to bring more automation to people’s lives, so they can spend more time enjoying doing what they do. When I decided that I’m going to work in the automation space, I said ‘Well, what’s the first thing I can pick, what’s the most important thing that needs to be automated today?’- and nutrition came to my mind first.” – Fauzia explains.
“I was born and raised in Dubai. I moved to the US 10 years ago. Dubai is a great city to go to and work in, because there are not a lot of taxes. But you cannot settle down in Dubai – there is no concept of retirement or owning a home. Even though I was born there, I don’t have the nationality, so I had to move out at some point. I knew I could not retire, nor have any investment there.
She recognized, that people are having hard time eating healthy, because it requires a lot of time, which they do not have in their busy careers. She took a known and popular concept of smoothies, very healthy and rich in nutrition — fruit- or veggie-based drinks, and gave a thought on how to provide the tasty beverage to everyone on a more accessible and easy basis. Fauzia noticed that there already are competitors with orange juice vending machines and some other machines on the market producing other types of fruit drinks, but none of them provide the level of customization and the vast number of flavors to your drink that she aims to achieve. She is also willing to reach customers that, for various reasons, do not usually have time or will to go to a regular smoothie or juice bar as her machines can be easily used 24/7.
“I started about a year ago and I spent a couple months just working on the sketches, the designs, ideas, looking at the market, the competition, how much it would cost and how I can make profit — so I spent half the time just on paper.”
Fauzia is planning to set up the shares and formal input levels to the company as it is still very early right now. She decided to continue bootstrapping until she presents her first prototype and acquires first pre-orders. She will look for investors to provide at least over $200,000 when the main concept is ready and operational. As Fauzia understands, the investors usually do not want to contribute too early, so it is best to push on your own as long as you can before asking for funds. All this time can also be used to strengthen the idea, the company and get better image of the amount of funds that would actually be needed to turn the project successful.
“Before Falala Innovation I was working in Microsoft as a software engineer for 5 years. I went to school for computer science, I got my bachelor’s in computer science and right out of college I got a job at Microsoft. I did two internships while I was still in college and I got an offer to come back as soon as I graduate. It just happened.”
Fauzia dropped her comfort zone at Microsoft to pursue her idea full-time and she is very happy with the decision. Working at such a renowned company taught her a lot and she utilizes this knowledge while working on the QuenchBot. She applies the agile programming workflow from Microsoft to work on small chunks of the project and tests them thoroughly before putting them together into a bigger piece. She accounts for all the things that can go wrong and plans thoroughly to keep the cost of mistakes at bay.
“A manufacturer in Seattle helps me build the prototype. Once we put everything together, we can move the machine to other places if we want to. And for mass production, after the prototypes are done, you go to big manufacturers who do vending machines on a daily basis, so they can produce a vending machine for you on a more cost-effective basis. They will build them in bulk so you get a wholesale price basically.”
Fauzia has been to Silicon Valley several times before, but this is her first business trip. Comparing it to the Seattle area, she realizes that Silicon Valley has many more startup tech events for entrepreneurs. However, given the amount of the events, fewer people attend each of them, while in Seattle the meetings are much bigger and on a larger scale. She is here to attend networking gatherings, experience the lifestyle and meet a number of startup founders and investors.
“Women struggle with starting their businesses a lot more than men do, so I think we need to have more events or just more awareness, so that women can feel empowered to start their own business and take it forward. Men have a lot more courage and support from the community, women on the other hand tend to fall into social roles.”
As a female founder, Fauzia is greatly supporting the entrepreneurship of women. She is very independent and even though she was looking into cooperating with startup accelerators, she chose to push the idea forward on her own until she is ready to present it for additional support and allow the other entities to take it from there. She also finds time to pursue other passions despite the full commitment to the project.
“Now, that I have delegated a lot of work, I have some time to pursue other things. I do teach martial arts on the side and that also brings in some residual income. I’ve been doing martial arts for eight years, I have two black belts in two different martial arts and it is just a natural process, that once you reach that stage, you are eligible to become a teacher. I love teaching, I love being in that space so I decided to pick it up.”
Being very active on social media, Fauzia is giving a lot of advice to her followers. According to her, the biggest rule to learn in the startup industry is to delegate work and have partners who can help out with parts of the project. Startup founders do not have all the expertise about all the necessary things, so it is best to find people to fill the gaps. However, at same time it’s crucial to remember not to give away trust too easily, and separate friendship from business. Here lies the second piece of advice telling that you should always keep things formal in form of NDA agreements, cooperation regulations or other defensive documentation which may come in handy if things go wrong. If you can, patent your ideas long before you start working on them, because the process can take quite a while and having a patent just brings additional safety for the best of ideas.
Fauzia Lala – a startup founder, a visionary, an experienced software engineer and a successful martial arts teacher. An amazing mix for a great person. I was very happy having Fauzia for an interview on my show. Watch the full interview and check out my other amazing guests on Valley Talks! See you soon!
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