Pranoti Nagarkar is a woman who wears many hats—founder, co-CEO, lead designer at Zimplistic, and a mother of two. With many responsibilities, she shares that she practices yoga to maintain mental calmness and keep the stress at bay.
Zimplistic is the company behind the Rotimatic, an automated kitchen appliance that makes fresh roti, a staple for South Asians, by mixing water, oil, and flour to make dough balls that are then pressed and roasted. Nagarkar and her husband, Rishi Israni, spent eight years bringing the product to market.
Now, after USD 60 million in sales and more than 50 million rotis have been made in 60,000 homes two years after the Rotimatic’s launch, Zimplistic is expected to announce a new fundraising round in the next few weeks. The company’s existing investors include NSI Ventures and Robert Bosch Venture Capital.
KrASIA recently sat down with Nagarkar to understand her drive, the initial challenges that she faced as an entrepreneur, and how she manages the stress of navigating motherhood and scaling up her startup.
KrASIA (Kr): How did you get the idea to create Rotimatic?
Pranoti Nagarkar (N): As entrepreneurs, you always have to save money as you don’t get paid [initially]. My husband and I wanted to be healthy, so we started to cook at home, but it’s hard to make good roti, and you realized that making roti every day is very tedious. That’s when the “problem” appeared and we discussed how and what the architecture and mechanics of the Rotimatic should look like.
The Rotimatic has a lot of moving parts, electronics and mechanical and also the software, artificial intelligence, and IoT in it. We collaborated to bring Rotimatic to the market.
Kr: How have sales been so far, and are there spin-offs?
N: It was a very far-fetched dream when we began our journey. Nobody has been able to successfully create a product like this, and inventing it is like the world’s first television because it has a lot of complexities to it. That’s why it took us eight years to built it.
We have successfully launched and sold the product to 60,000 homes in 20 countries via our website exclusively. It’s a big, bold problem that we have picked to solve and we have a hit product now that’s been accepted by people around the world.
We have also innovated the Rotimatic to make other types of flatbreads, including pizza bases and puri. We wanted to create a brand and bring the Rotimatic to millions of homes.
Kr: What’s your biggest market, and what does the future hold for Zimplistic?
N: Our biggest market is the US, which has a huge Indian expat population and currently contributes about 60–70% of our sales. Our other growth markets include Australia, the Middle East, Canada, and the United Kingdom. These are the markets that have many Indian expats.
India is a huge market and an obvious one for us because the Rotimatic will be seen as the “rice cooker’ for India, so we expect the product will be embraced easily there. But we are not there yet; for anyone to be successful, we need to get the distribution and after-sales right. We want to find the right partner and have the right team in place before we expand in India.
Kr: Will you be raising new capital, what will you be using it for?
N: We are planning to raise more funds and will be announcing something in the next few weeks.
We will use the capital to improve the unit economics of the Rotimatic, marketing, as well as sales and distribution. As the Rotimatic is a hardware product, we will keep on innovating and continue with R&D for the product.
Kr: What were the initial challenges that you faced?
N: When you are doing something for the first time, especially in an unproven market, you have to face a lot of questions, skepticism, and doubts about whether the product will work.
In the initial years, there were heavy technology risks. There were also questions on whether we would be able to manufacture the Rotimatic, which is such a complex product in large quantities, given that we needed the right quality control.
Kr: Was it difficult for you to juggle motherhood and running a startup?
N: When I had my first baby in 2013, it was challenging because, as a founder of a startup, I could never stop thinking about the company. At the same time, I was also working on getting the Rotimatic out to the market then. Things became a bit overwhelming with the experience of being a new mother and stress of work responsibilities and expectations.
My responsibilities were then to get the product ready for launch, from design to manufacturing. It was a heavy responsibility on my shoulder then. Now, after having my second baby, the experience is easier as the team is bigger now and the product is already out in the market.
Kr: How did you manage to overcome the stress then?
N: I think you just live one day at a time [laughs]. You just take it as it comes and hope for the best, and try to do your best, stay calm, accept the stressful situation and keep working hard. Sometimes, when you don’t have a choice, it’s better [laughs]. If you are stuck, you might as well just do it.
Kr: Looking back, what advice would you give your younger self?
N: Just work to know yourself better, then you can control the situation better. This has been such an important part of my life and in the last few years, I have been reading up on how the human body and mind work.
I have read the late B.K.S Iyengar’s books. He created a lot of awareness on yoga. It really helped me understand myself better, and how to better manage stress.
Yoga has become quite popular as a workout routine for physical fitness. But, more than that, the benefits of yoga are in mental fitness—the calm and balance that it brings. I would highly recommend yoga to women as they go through a lot of turmoil, especially in today’s high-stress environment.
Keep an open mind and try yoga. It takes a while for the benefits to kick in. All good things take time as long as you have the patience.
Kr: Does Zimplistic have a flexible workspace scheme for employees, especially new mothers?
N: Yes. We believe that we need to be open and allow our employees to be comfortable. A lot of our female employees who return after giving birth say that they want to work part-time or from home. There’s a lot of flexibility in the company and we don’t really care where our employees work from as long as the work is done. At the end of the day, you must enjoy what you are doing and the output will speak for itself.
Kr: What was the best decision you have made while running Zimplistic?
N: It was getting my husband Rishi to join Zimplistic after he sold off his mobile security startup, tenCube. I insisted that he join the company as we needed someone to develop the software side [artificial intelligence and IoT capabilities] of the Rotimatic, as roti-making is part-art, part-science. I wouldn’t have found anyone better than Rishi as he’s a software geek.
This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind Southeast Asia’s tech startups.