A recent Georgetown University graduate, Nikhil Wagh decided to join his old high school friend in founding SaladPower, the “world’s first truly drinkable salad,” to provide a healthy and affordable juice option. However, Nikhil soon realized that he was lacking some fundamental business skills that would help him bring the company to the next level. Now, as COO, he’s helping SaladPower onboard retailers across the East Coast!
Keep up with SaladPower on Twitter @saladpower.
What were you doing before you came to GA?
A couple of months before GA, I had just joined my business partner and old high school buddy, Stephan, at SaladPower.
What motivated you to enroll in Business Fundamentals & Tactics?
I was very impressed by the BFT curriculum, but what truly resonated with me was the professional experience of the Instructors, and the fact that they were active business practitioners. This was in stark contrast to my professors in high school and college who, despite being incredibly intelligent, well-read, and excellent purveyors of knowledge, were not as exposed to the “real world” on a daily basis. I enrolled in BFT to glean as much working knowledge of the business world as I possibly could and having instructors who were also working professionals facilitated this comprehensively.
Tell us about SaladPower.
While Stephan and I were both in college (I was at Georgetown and he was at Duke), we were avid drinkers of Naked, Odwalla Juice ,and Bolthouse Farms and thought we were getting our daily source of fruits and vegetables in a bottle. However, after becoming more privy to the nuances of nutrition, we started to read the label and realized that these drinks were packed with sugar, calories, unpronounceable ingredients, and still left much to be desired when it came to vitamins and other crucial nutrients. When Stephan and I came back to NYC, we noticed the rise of the “premium” juice craze that emphasized nutrient dense veggies, low sugar, and low calories—but these drinks were priced upwards of $10 per bottle!
Stephan took the initiative, and convinced me (after some hesitation on my part) that we could create an equally premium but more reasonably priced vegetable-based juice that was low in sugar and calories, high in vitamins, and had simple ingredients. And thus, SaladPower was born!
You enrolled in BFT after you took on the COO role. Why was that the right time for you?
Despite the fact that we understood who we were as a company and what we wanted to achieve in the beverage industry, I personally acknowledged some gaps in my business acumen as a COO and thus decided to join BFT. It is crucial to acknowledge your weaknesses in your skillset as well as the gaps in your knowledge so that you can strive towards turning them into strengths.
How did you and Stephan decide how you’d divide roles/responsibilities?
We analyzed many different consumer package goods companies along with our own personal skill sets to see where our attributes could be best implemented for the long-term success of SaladPower. We wanted to avoid ambiguity in responsibility, as that can be a critical factor in prematurely ruining a company. It became clear that Stephan would make a great CEO of SaladPower as he had the initial vision to start the company and he has the skills to be the leader who “reiterates our vision” as all good CEOs ought to do. Moreover, he is excellent at creating and maintaining high-level executive relationships with everyone on the supply and demand side of our business.
On the other hand, we agreed that I would make a great COO as I am able to understand our high-level vision and implement it in the low-level operations of our business on a day-to-day basis. I am more focused on thoroughly understanding the specific details, data, feedback loops and daily operations of the beverage industry and how to best utilize that knowledge to carry out the long-term goals of SaladPower.
Jeff Zurofsky, COO of ‘wichcraft, was a guest speaker for your class. What was the value of Jeff’s talk for you?
I’ll never forget Jeff’s talk. I was struck by his energy, intelligence, and unquenchable thirst for knowledge and improvement. He spoke fast (like me) and seemed to have a curiosity for all aspects of his business. His manner of thinking was very thorough, scientific, and rational—something that the whole SaladPower team really values. I remember him explaining how he intricately planned the layout of each restaurant at ‘wichcraft down to the millimeter – nothing went unnoticed from the distance a customer had to walk to how many different options of pickles he/she could choose from.
Jeff mentioned how great ideas would come from some of the lowest ranking members of his team—a busboy recommended a Cuban-style sandwich to him and it became one of the best-selling sandwiches at ‘wichcraft. The concept that “the best idea wins,” no matter who comes up with it, is a value that’s important to SaladPower and what makes me enjoy my work so much. This concept is very scientific at heart, and is appropriately summed up by a quote from my favorite scientist, Richard Feynman:
“For any truly successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature can not be fooled.”
How did your instructors model who a business development/operations executive should be?
All of the BFT instructors influenced my understanding of what makes a great COO, but it was Jeff Zurofsky’s talk that really crystallized the idea for me. I was really impressed by how intricate his working knowledge of his business was along with his methodological his thought process. He internalized ‘wichcraft’s vision and was so detail oriented that he understood what it took to implement that vision every day. My role at SaladPower is no different.
What are the next steps for SaladPower?
We are activating retailers throughout the east coast as we speak! We just got our first customer, a vegan snack home delivery subscription service with national distribution called Vegan Cuts! They have about 5,000 monthly customers and they fit in very nicely with our target demographic so we’re very excited to have started a relationship with them. We’re announcing exciting stuff every week on our social media.
How has GA been a resource to you since you’ve graduated?
I’ve had some very fruitful follow ups with my instructors since I’ve graduated. They’ve helped me with everything from day-to-day advice to connecting me with anyone in their Rolodex. Our current finance lawyer was recommended to us by one of my instructors and we couldn’t be happier with her work.
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