Jazz Shaper: Deepak Ravindran

Posted on 02 April 2022

Deepak Ravindran is one of the founders and chief customer officers at Oddbox.  Oddbox is a sustainable fruit and veg subscription box, whose mission is to tackle food waste at farms by distributing the “imperfect” produce which can’t be sent to stores.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the shapers of the business world together with the musicians shaping Jazz, Soul and Blues.   My guest today is Deepak Ravindran, Co-Founder of Oddbox, a sustainable fruit and veg box tackling food waste.  Having grown up in India where he met his wife and soon to be Co-Founder, Emilie, Deepak moved to London aged 30, taking up a job in the finance sector but dissatisfaction with the banking culture drove Deepak to leave with a plan simply to work on something with purpose.  He established Fitwear, a personal training company for the Indian community but it was while browsing imperfect and delicious tomatoes, as they say, in a Portuguese market that Emilie and Deepak realised something needed to change in the UK, where up to 40% of farm produce is wasted because it doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing.  As Deepak says, “Food waste exists because of our perceptions of perfection, so we had to change mindsets.”  Oddbox was launched in 2015, initially packing wonky veg at Balham Community Church and hand delivering to customers.  They’ve now helped to save over 24,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have been wasted – and that by the way is the yearly food intake of over 53,000 people – and avoided over 26,000 tonnes of carbon emissions which is enough energy to power over 6,000 houses for a year.  Hello Deepak, it’s lovely to have you here in the virtual world of Jazz Shapers, I should say, thank you for coming onto the programme.  Oddbox, tell me about the name firstly, how did you come up with Oddbox back in 2015, what happened?

Deepak Ravindran

Well firstly, thank you for having me, Elliot, really it’s a pleasure and honour to be here.  So, funnily enough, when we launched in 2015, we used to be called Tasty Misfits, it’s an accident of creativity to be fair in the early days and then when we went to trademark the name, we came across the fact that Mars confectionary company had a dogfood brand called Misfits and they essentially had trademarked the word against all categories, including fresh produce so, we were forced to change our name and Gavin, who is our Head of Operations now and was an intern then, he essentially came up with the name Oddbox, odd things in a box, and we did this kind of market survey in the co-working space where we used to work then, and so we went through a number of names, Oddelicious being another and at that time when we were about to change the name, we thought long and hard about, ah, I mean, we just started a business, we’ll change the name now, what would our 60-odd customers think about it, which was kind of really, you know, I think it was quite naïve of us in terms of the impact that we were having but yes, in hindsight it was one of the best decisions we did because I think the name resonates with a lot of people now.

Elliot Moss

It’s a great name, it’s really simple and I can’t imagine if you’d have been Tasty Misfits, I don’t think that’s half as good.  Lucky that they trademarked all those things.  But it’s a kind of funny, you know it says to me immediately that you, you and Emilie and the team at that point, were full of common sense because you just took a practical view, you didn’t overthink it and you have cracked on.  Has that been the mantra since the beginning do you think?  Is that why we’re chatting here seven years later, you’re a heavily funded, well-funded business with proper backers, people have heard of you, you are advertising and I think the reason we got in contact with you was because I saw these fabulous little bus adverts and I thought, Oddbox, I like them, that’s fab… oh we should go and talk to them.  But has it come from that sense of just keeping it simple right from the beginning?

Deepak Ravindran

I think so and I think for me and Emilie, we never had the grand vision of building something big or being in 70 countries across the globe or anything like that.  For us it was we had to do something different from our corporate careers or for Emilie from charity, kind of salaried job if you will, and focus on something with purpose and for us, we saw the problem of food waste at the farm level and was coming up with an easy, quick solution without thinking too much about it and both of us are finance professionals and for us it was running a business with strong financial, essentially, viability rather than just, you know, growing for the sake of it and that’s why we for the first two years, we bootstrapped the business, our first logo was £30, our first boxes were the cheapest cardboard boxes you could find and the first pictures on the website were us going to the local park and shooting you know, pictures of the box on the ground and so, it was pretty kind of bootstrap if you will but mainly so that we could understand the business and just build it, like you, a bit of common sense more than anything else. 

Elliot Moss

When you were in the finance world, what was it you didn’t like about it, Deepak?  What pushed you to go looking for ideas?  I mentioned earlier that you had this fitness idea and now here we are actually and you’ve landed this one but what forced you to go, do you know what, there’s more to life than this?

Deepak Ravindran

I think it was not a particular moment as such, it was almost like a culmination of many, many moments.  Predominantly, it was you know just the alpha culture that you find in Western banks, where a lot of smart people clearly have to prove that they are smarter than the other person across the table and I still have, you know, I have friends in Western banking and like great, great guys but I think overall the fact that you are working on a… essentially a manmade financial problem, along with the whole kind of alpha culture that goes along within investment banking, made me think that I’m spending 8 to 10 hours of my life, waking hours, just here only for the money, nothing else, I’m not learning and I think at that point I was just standing outside the City, smoking a cigarette dare I say, I’ve quit now by the way.

Elliot Moss

I’m just watching.  It’s okay if you smoke.  I think it’s alright.  Do you know what, the cancer culture thing goes so far but you are allowed to smoke if you want to, even if you have a secret one occasionally, Deepak, as I know many of my friends do.  But carry on.

Deepak Ravindran

And I was just standing out looking at all these tourists in the City, in Bank, and I was going, ah, you know what, it’s such a nice privilege just to be, you know like tourists walking outside, there’s so much to life beyond just work and the financial bubble that we live in, in the City and I thought that clearly there’s more to life than just working in a bank so I decided to just quit.  I didn’t have an idea then.  I had some guiding principles, it was either fitness or food related but something with purpose, not commercially focussed because I knew you could have money, that doesn’t give you happiness so, how do I do something else that could be more purposeful, so that was the kind of driving factor. 

Elliot Moss

In terms of if you were to say the positive side of what you did, I mean, you know, I know and have met a fair few analysts from the financial world and there’s a really deep skillset there, there’s an ability to look at numbers left, right, inside out, upside down and ability to challenge the assumptions that people are making about the business through the lens of finance and so on.  Surely some of that is fabulously useful for your business now because, as you said, you needed a business to be financially viable not just because it sounded like a fun idea.  But now as you look at your own numbers, are you able to be objective and that analyst of your own business and make tough decisions?  Is that still something you’ve maintained?

Deepak Ravindran

Absolutely, so I think there was a lot that I learned from the corporate world.  How to be structured, how to be organised, how to present and articulate your ideas, which otherwise, you know, it was just me, raw me, it would just be a lot of you know, just gobbledegook right?  So, I think it’s essentially how do I use that and I’ve used a lot of the, you know the business process, mapping, how do you set processes to optimise the way we work, how do we place a financial lens on every decision we take and so on and I think all that has helped a lot with the knowledge I’ve gained in the corporate world. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more from my guest today, it’s Deepak Ravindran, previously in the world of finance, now making lovely odd-looking bits of vegetables and fruits work for you in a box.  They call it Oddbox and he’ll be back in a couple of minutes.  Right now, we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Victoria Pigott and Dr Rebecca Newton, Organisational Psychologist and CEO of Coach Adviser, discuss the impact of women in positions of leadership and on boards. 

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have got a smart speaker, just ask it play Jazz Shapers and you should be rewarded with a smorgasbord of our recent shows.  But back to today, it’s Deepak Ravindran, Co-Founder of Oddbox, a sustainable fruit and veg box tackling food waste.  You talked about the, I’m going to call it the left brain, the Western world of finance, although of course, you know, you and I both know that maths began in India and the study of maths and the best mathematicians in the world ever, emanated from there but the other side of Indian culture and your heritage, and you sort of touched on you know the East and happiness and things, how much of your own upbringing has informed the way that you view the world?  You’ve mentioned purpose and it’s an oft used and maybe overused word now but for you as an Indian man coming from the south of India, ending up in the UK aged 30, what did you hold onto and what do you still hold onto?  What do you still refer to that was very much the way that you were brought up?

Deepak Ravindran

I think it’s funny in terms of the values that were imbibed in me, you know, in a kind of small town in South India, just to kind of look at that objectively, are quite similar to the values my wife, Emilie, has living in a small village, growing up in a small village in France, so I think there’s some similarities there in terms of being you know, resourceful and about the way we think about things, being financially savvy, not having debt for instance, which is kind of imbibed in me at very young age so I don’t have, I have credit cards but I never use them for instance, and I think again, living a life that helps other people as well is something, another value that I learned at a young age, where a mum would always tell me, right okay, you know you’ve got to give, you know help you know the poor people, whenever you can, if not with money, with food for instance because they have less access to the stuff that we would have growing up.  And I think I suppose I was distracted I would say, working in the world of investment banking where you would just go, you just focus on the destination I suppose, right, and I think in India there is a tale of two worlds where on one hand, you have purpose driven, you know people wanting to help other people and so on, on the other hand it’s a, you know, it’s just a middleclass, people just seeing, getting access now to money and wealth and there’s also this kind of thing of buy a house, buy a car and accumulate assets, which is quite different from the Western world now, you know the Western world is going down the curve of that in a capitalistic kind of way of thinking and I think I’ve seen both worlds now and I think, I essentially came to the UK thinking ah, you know, here’s a great place, quality of life is great, much better than in India, clearly the work-life balance is good as well, which is great, but I think you know there is also the sense of a, you know life is much easier here but having seen both worlds and I’ve gone through a state of right, I know there’s another world of balance where you don’t have to be completely capitalistic, you don’t have to be completely the other way around, you could be balanced in the way of thinking.  I think the values that were imbibed in me have kept me, I suppose, brought me back down to earth in a way, in a good way, so that now I’m a bit more balanced in my way of thinking and thinking, why do we need to accumulate assets?  Could we just repair that jacket rather than buying a new jacket, just because it’s cheap, it doesn’t mean you have to go and buy a new jacket?  So things like that I think have helped a lot. 

Elliot Moss

You mentioned your wife, Emilie, who is the partner in the business, French, and the fact that you were both from small villages.  As your business gets bigger and scale is a thing, and it’s a thing now for you already, I mean you know you’re selling a lot more than you were selling a few years ago, it’s a serious business, you are invested in and so and so forth, how are you going to maintain within your own team that sense of being in a small village with good values, with community, with looking out for each other?  How will all that happen as you really get much, much bigger than you are now?

Deepak Ravindran

Yeah, it’s a great question and I think it’s, especially when you have investors on board, you get pulled in different directions and that’s just the nature of the beast really and I think it’s our role to have an open line of communication between me and Emilie first to say, right okay, our we clear on the why, let’s not lose sight of the why, why we started Oddbox, and clearly we are both ambitious so we want to, you know, have impact at scale and there’s nothing wrong about that, there’s nothing and sometimes you have to kind of bring people on that journey to say, it’s okay to be ambitious and be purpose led, you don’t have to do one or the other, I think some people get confused by that.  But I think it’s constantly a) having that open line of communication, b) making sure that when we have, we have four values in the business – transparency, inclusivity, you know mindfulness and entrepreneurship – how do we essentially move beyond four words on a wall on a kind of a frame somewhere to how do we display those behaviours on a day-to-day basis?  And we have like team sessions every now and then to essentially say, look okay, tell us how you display those behaviours, we’ve built it into our kind of goals and objectives so that each person on the team has to talk about a scenario where they have displayed those behaviours and I think as long as me and Emilie are still grounded and we bring it back to the why and we are able to also convince all the stakeholders, not just you know the investors, the team, you know the wider community or the customers as well, we don’t want to be seen as selling out, if you know what I mean, I think that would be detrimental to what we started.  I think it’s just one of those things where we have to have a conscious eye on at all given points in time and balance growth with the mission and purpose. 

Elliot Moss

And in there, just the perfection thing and obviously you, you know your whole business is predicated on the imperfect.  How do you ensure that whilst, you know all those plans are up there, the objectives and your financial measures and you’ve got your investors and you’ve got your people and you’ve got systems?  How do you ensure you keep the imperfect protected because the imperfect is kind of fun, it’s where interesting things happen, it’s where the unexpected happens?  How do you ensure that is retained in the spirit of your business?

Deepak Ravindran

I mean it’s built into our brand and our mission and our, for instance our sourcing which is the biggest, that’s the gig if you know what I mean, the sourcing team works with the growers and so there’s this constant re-evaluation of are we sourcing the right produce?  Let’s talk about those stories, let’s bring those stories to life, let’s talk about the provenance to our community and I think as long as that’s locked in in the mission and in how we do things, then it’s more a question of how do we add structure to that to maintain?  You know, not touch the core and that’s the core of what we do.  Being grower led is what we say is the all different shading factor, it's totally different to being supply led which is the other kind of, the demand led kind of way of thinking about produce or food for that matter.  How do we protect that grower led way of thinking, eating and educate people as well because people aren’t used to that, people are used to going to supermarkets and buying what they like, what they are used to and moving away from that way of thinking and I think it’s just being conscious of saying that’s mission locked, that’s non-negotiable, let’s add structure on top of it almost like a layer cake to ensure we meet our goals and objectives, which is important as well, I mean we have to take care of our investors as much as we have to take care of our customers and our team. 

Elliot Moss

We’ll have our final chat with my guest today, Deepak Ravindran, and we’ve got some Esperanza Spalding for you too.  That’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

Deepak Ravindran is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes.  You’ve mentioned Emilie, I’ve mentioned Emilie, she’s your wife, you work together.  Sometimes I have husband and wife teams in with me, she’s not with you so, she can’t protect, she can’t defend herself but how do you ensure that you protect your relationship as husband and wife, as well as partners in a business?  What goes on practically for you as leaders?  And then as partners?  And I mean partners in a personal sense rather than a business sense.

Deepak Ravindran

I think there’s a couple of things, we were work colleagues before, that’s where we met, that’s how we met in India, which helps.  So, we’re used to a way of working.  Second is, I think we are quite different at work, although we have similar values, Emilie is probably quite solution driven, execution focussed, I’m a bit more waffly, you know, big ideas, vision, all that jazz, you know so, actually, it works really well, as what we think that kind of the yin and yang kind of a way of working.  For us, it works really well because I will really challenge her constructively without ego and she’s able to kind of you know do the same and I don’t have like, I’m not thinking ah Emilie, how dare she ask me that question, I’m thinking yeah, you know what, I respect her, clearly she’s smarter than I am and it’s a valid question and so, I think there’s mutual respect there, there’s this sense of I think we are, I think bringing it back to the mission so, I think we are working on something which is much larger than we are and as long as that problem is still out there, our job is not done here, I think that keeps us grounded as well and wakes us up on a Monday morning.  And I think overall, I think it’s just a sense of kind of you know, did I already mention respect?

Elliot Moss

Respect, but I think you make the point and I think when people talk about respect, again it’s sometimes easy to say but harder to give but it sounds like that’s exactly what is the underpin of the relationship.  The problem you allude to of hunger or food waste and then the other side of that, of hunger, recently I heard David Beasley who is the Head of World Food Programme, talking about the fact that over the coming months, a number of people globally that will need feeding, who are going to go hungry, will go from 150 million in the world, which is a horrific number, it’s impossible to even imagine that number of people, to over 250 million.  You, yourselves, as Oddbox applied for UN membership status for the newly founded country named Wasteland.  That is the biggest of the biggest of the biggest kind of objectives if you like.  How do you not lose hope that you will, in your own small way, help to deliver against that problem?

Deepak Ravindran

I think it’s again, it’s going back to being a bit naïve, it’s only the early days, we don’t know, we don’t have, we have a vision how to build the business and now a bit more that actually than maybe two years ago but I think in terms of the problem itself, I would say we are still naïve about the outcomes, which keeps us a bit more curious as well, I mean about what we could do, what we couldn’t be doing and I think that’s I feel a good place to be in because that keeps us engaged, that keeps us coming back to okay, let’s just solve the problem, the lots to be done here, it’s not that it’s done and dusted because in a good way, if you think about it, if we solve the problem, Oddbox doesn’t exist anymore so, we are essentially running ourselves out of business but that’s a good thing, you know, I mean we’ll look back at it and go, you know what, that’s great, you know, if we are able to solve this big problem then let’s go and do something else, it’s not a big, you know it sounds like the end of the world.  I don’t want to go back to banking by the way but it's a… go find something, go find something else to do but you know and that’s why there’s a lot of hope because there’s this big problem, we keep hearing research reports or research reports from WWF, Project Throwdown, WRAP and so on about food waste still being there as a problem at a farm level and so, for us, the problem is still there, we haven’t found the perfect solution, there’s loads more to be done and I think that’s a great place to be in I think mentally for us. 

Elliot Moss

Deepak, it’s been great talking to you, thank you for your time today and good luck with Oddbox, I think it’s brilliant and I look forward to sampling the wares, the odd-looking vegetables and the odd-looking bits of fruit very, very shortly.  Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Deepak Ravindran

So, song choice is Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock and the reason why I chose that was, a) clearly, it goes along with the Oddbox kind of the ethos, being a fruit and all that but I think jazz is now a big thing in India, at least when I was growing up and I remember my dad was more into kind of Queen and Michael Jackson and all that but he had this one record of Herbie Hancock and I remember kind of growing up listening to these songs and so, yeah, that’s the kind of background.

Elliot Moss

Herbie Hancock with Cantaloupe Island, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Deepak Ravindran.  He talked about looking for balance and finding that balance between work and play and also the sense of purpose as well as money.  He said don’t lose sight of the why, it’s something that keeps that business and Ravindran and his wife, Emilie, on the straight and narrow.  Mission locked, he talked about in terms of some of those really important things and finally, naivety keeps you curious and I think that’s a really nice thought about sometimes going into the unknown and it’s better not to know.  It keeps you alive and it keeps you thinking about what’s possible.  Great stuff.   That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

Deepak started his career in investment banking, before starting Oddbox with his wife Emilie in 2016, after the founders came across a very ugly tomato on a trip to Portugal. Oddbox rescues delicious fresh fruit and veg which is deemed “too big”, “too ugly”, or the “wrong’ colour” from farms, and delivers them to customers in the form of a customisable subscription box. The company now works with over 150 growers across the country and EU, and delivers boxes to over 50,000 homes in the UK.

Highlights

We had to do something different from our corporate careers or salaried job, and focus on something with purpose and for us.

Our first logo was £30, our first boxes were the cheapest cardboard boxes you could find, and the first pictures on the website were us going to the local park.

Money doesn’t give you happiness. The driving factor was to do something more purposeful.

There was a lot that I learned from the corporate world. How to be structured, how to be organised, how to present and articulate your ideas.

We want to have an impact at scale and there’s nothing wrong about that. It’s okay to be both ambitious and be purpose led, you don’t have to do one or the other.

We have four values in the business – transparency, inclusivity, mindfulness and entrepreneurship.

We have to have a conscious eye on all points in time and balance growth with mission and purpose.

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