Interview with a career change mum – Vini Aujila

Ruth Kudzi19

Today I am really excited interview Vini Aujila who started up Vini & Bals as a result of her and her husband, Bal's  huge passion for home cooked food. 

Their cook in sauces are prepared using a tasty blend of REAL ingredients, they are naturally gluten free, and all inspired her mother’s traditional home recipes So here we are – ‘Vini and Bal's Rustic Indian' made with a little magic and lots of love. I mean, what could be better than having an authentic homemade sauce at your fingertips?

1.     What gave you the idea to start the business?

I had a very successful career in London working in the private investment sector which I enjoyed, although I had thought about setting up a business with my husband Bal for many years. The idea surfaced again when the first of our three children were born (currently aged 8, 6 and 9 months), but it was my mum being diagnosed with late stage coeliac disease which developed into endometrial cancer, that spurred me into action. 

2.     What did you do to prepare your business?

My early childhood centred around constant activity in the kitchen, and I loved helping to grind fresh spices while watching my mother and grandmother cook traditional Punjabi recipes. It was impossible to find authentic and fresh Punjabi home cooking in restaurants or shops, so I began cooking batches of my favourite family recipes to share with friends and colleagues, and they had an absolutely phenomenal response. We decided that the summer of 2011 was the right time to quit our jobs and use the savings we had to start making products that we truly believed in. Both of us have a background in science so this really helped with sourcing the right materials for the packaging as well as the nutritional side of things.

3.     Which aspects of your business did you need help with and where did you get that help?

We definitely needed help to prepare a professional business plan as it wasn’t something we’d ever done before. We already had a great accountant on board, so he helped us to prepare the financial side of things at the start of the business.

A few years later in 2014, we had the chance to appear on Dragons’ Den and share our products with potential investors. After a three-hour pitch, we become the first British Asian couple to secure an investment on the show, and our ‘Dragon’ Piers Linney provided £50,000 for a 30% share in the business.

4.     Describe what your business does and who is your ideal customer?

I wanted to honour my mum’s skills in the kitchen and make her proud, as well as introduce a range of foods into the convenience sector that are made from completely natural ingredients. We took her favourite traditional Punjabi recipes and created five different, authentic Indian sauces using only store cupboard ingredients.

We tweaked the recipes to give them a healthier twist which makes them perfect for anyone who loves curry and enjoys a balanced lifestyle. There’s no added sugar, artificial flavours or preservatives and three of the vegan dairy-free sauces – Jeera, Tharka and Fiery Mirchi – contain less than 300 calories per pack. All of the sauces are also gluten-free and nut-free, so we cover most dietary requirements. One packet with added meat, fish or veg gives two people the tastiest 10-minute curry in a hurry!  

5.     What is the most rewarding thing about having your own business?

Although I work longer hours than when I was in London, the work/life balance is much healthier. I really enjoy being my own boss and this kind of flexibility also means I can watch my boys at their school sports day or taking part in their favourite activities outside of school, so we get to share plenty of fun times together as they grow older.

6. What has been the biggest challenge?

Maintaining cash flow is a challenge, especially when it comes to meeting retail expectations. We are a small brand but are still expected to compete with big brands on price, even when our quality is much higher and our exposure lower.

The competitors in our sector are well established big names, so getting noticed by customers who are used to picking up their usual jar can be a challenge. However, once people try our sauces and realise the big difference in taste and quality of ingredients, they become our new advocates and pass the message onto their family and friends. Word of mouth is always the best marketing to have, and our loyal followers don’t let us down.  

7.     If you could go back and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

In order to be innovative, we need have a steady income or a cash injection – I would definitely advise myself to be prepared to raise capital sooner rather than later.

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