CEO/Co-founder of the unique Nepali dessert brand, Makkusé, Anushka Shrestha is an enthusiastic go-getter, with the drive to grab opportunities, and create opportunities when she doesn’t see one, her LinkedIn profile suggests. Everyone is familiar with her as the winner of Miss Nepal World 2019 who has represented our country Nepal in Miss World 2019. Apart from this, she is a commerce graduate with an Accounting major with experience in international education finance, advisory, and administration.
Let’s talk about her Makkusé entrepreneurial journey with Ms. Shrestha.
1. Firstly, how did the idea of Makkusé come about, and please can you tell us about the reason behind its name and implementation of business?
In 2019, at the end of December, when I was returning from Miss World, I had all these emotions in my mind of doing something to lead the Nepali identity. There were a lot of mixed emotions happening and I definitely wanted to channel it somewhere and that was the main idea. I wanted to do something on a professional basis along with moving forward with taking the Nepali identity making it the base. On the one hand, I was thinking of leading my Mom’s Nepali clothing brand business but I was willing to do something on my own.
While getting involved in the projects of Miss World, I got the opportunity to meet several people. They also suggested that I do something on my own and there popped up an idea of doing something with Gundpak and Pustakari. It was just an idea that was brought up. There was so much that could be done with the dessert. We found that there was so much to tap into these products. With support and encouragement from a sturdy team, investing came as a great idea. At that point, I hadn’t even tried Gundpak and Pustakari ever in my life. I tried it during my childhood but I wasn’t a fan.
I went ahead, bought some, and when I tasted it, I felt like Oh my God!. This makes sense. It almost seemed to click into everything that I was trying to do. I was willing to do something in Nepal, a unique work that fits. Not just the work that fits you but you fit the work as well. And it almost seemed to be the exact idea that I was looking for. That's how Makkusé started. It was not a Eureka moment or the overnight decision of doing something with Gundpak, Pustakari. We were thinking of formulating in the form of packaging food or bakery. It was a regular process of I would say around 10 months before Makkuse reached the shape that it is today.
Every day, we used to brainstorm on the packaging, naming of the product so that was the evolution of the idea. Initial suggestions of the name of the product were Himalayan Dessert, Himalayan Delight, something like that. We felt like the word Himalayan was a bit overdone. We were focussing on promoting the Nepali identity so branding was more important. When I talked with my Mom, she said the taste of Gundpak and Pustakari is Makkusé which simply means Scrumptious in the Newari language. As these recipes initially originated from the Newar community, there was no exact word in English or Nepali but the closest taste name would be Scrumptious which is our tagline as well. A taste that fills your mouth. It’s not just delicious but it’s beyond delicious.
The taste is like Umami, filling the heart with happiness so, the word sounds so perfect fit and this is how that naming was done. And I think that is the case with many ideas too right. Perhaps, it makes for a better story when there is like a Eureka moment. Mostly during the evolution of the ideas that happens when it’s not something that everything clicks perhaps at one moment but many events leading up to clicking.
2. Please tell us a little about your journey from a banker in a foreign country to Miss Nepal and now from Miss Nepal to an aspiring entrepreneur promoting local products.
If I look at the whole journey from my time of leaving Nepal to go to study abroad and all those jobs I did like in McDonald's then office cleaning and then university and accounting but even toward the last league of things from a banker to the pageant and now running a food business, it almost seemed like a very unusual, non-coherent and non-aligned path. This is almost jumping around but from what I feel, it is very much aligned.
Since my childhood, I was not somebody who had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and I was not happy about the fact that I didn’t have a very clear outlined passion. I like management but I always thought that to become a manager, at the banks, you have to be the best banker to be a manager, and maybe at a food factory, you just have to be the best at making this. In fact, it’s really based on technical knowledge. I guess I really never acknowledged resources management and management as getting things done as a scale in itself. And slowly, when I started working out in the banking field, pageant, and then this business, I realized it is so much about soft skills.
When the base becomes stronger in soft skills which is about resource management, making the most out of whatever you have whether managing people to get things done or to get goals achieved, that is what you do in a corporation. That is what I did in a pageant and that is what I believe I tried to do every day at Makkusé too. So that is why I see it as aligned. In my personal journey, I feel like I have definitely matured through the lines in terms of everything having its own organic timeline. So there is no need to panic. You need to learn most of it from that timeline and utilize it in your next stage of life.
I formed that thought while working in a bank and while I was leaving the biggest financial institution in Australia, my manager asked me about the reason and I replied about my participation in the pageant. He questioned me about What Ifs after winning or losing the pageant. I felt like whatever I had to learn from the bank, I was already learning and I need to use that knowledge in my next stage of life. So with that mindset, it seems very much aligned. Although it may seem odd, almost a non-aligned career graph from where I stand and what I see is very much aligned.
3. Do you describe yourself as an aspiring entrepreneur or a thriving businesswoman?
I am far away from a thriving businesswoman. I am definitely an aspiring entrepreneur because this is my first business. This is the first work that we have carried out. We did our research in 2020/2021 for 2 years and our sales have begun for almost 15 months including preparation too. So far from being a thriving entrepreneur, there are still a lot more things to achieve but finally, it feels like we started taking the steps in the right direction. We are just learning to formulate the idea into action, to work comfortably.
Previously, panicking about small problems was common but now it’s changing. Now knowing that problems come because they are meant to be solved, I am learning how to solve problems, how to delegate, and how to make things work. I think the day I would be able to call a thriving businesswoman is when this entire structure can run without me with the same or even better productivity.
I think that is the day that I would finally say that I have established a business. Now till I work, the work runs smoothly. It is very much like a sole proprietorship. It’s almost like running a job but when we are able to establish a system and the business runs even when I don’t go every day and I get involved in a strategic level making the system work for assuring quality, customer service with the substantial growth rather than the people, perhaps I will be able to say that yeah I have established a successful business.
4. What would you say are the most important skills to establish as a successful entrepreneur?
As I said earlier, I have not yet become a successful entrepreneur, it feels like finally taking steps in the right direction but what I feel are some of the important skills or rather say discover the characteristics. First, problem-solving skills are learned through doing, learning, or reaching out. I would say maybe managing people could be a very key skill along with understanding the basic finances of your business.
In terms of skills, I would say managing people and managing money would be the top skills that are required because the right persons should be placed at the right place and technical works should be done by oneself. It’s not about giving good pay, it’s about giving what the person needs. It could be incentives, motivation. So, it’s been the biggest learning curve for me. In terms of skills, characteristics, or rather traits, one should definitely have a resilient attitude and balance of patience and perseverance. Because if you don’t get the immediate result, at what point you need to let it go or time you want to continuously try or change, one should have that mindset.
Also, one should have a problem-solving attitude. If the problems don’t arise, how do we solve them, how do we grow, right? Accepting problems to be solved as hurdles to be overcome, this attitude is really necessary as an entrepreneur. You gotta be willing to put in the work and being willing to establish a system is very important to understand as well. Because it’s very exciting to work at first. You see the work happening and it very much excites you but one should be ready with the answer of “How will this business run if I am not there?” then the entrepreneurship can go to the successful business or a successful enterprise, I suppose.
Quite a lot of times, we get very excited and involved in the entrepreneurship stage but when life happens and we might not have the energy 0r as much time as to invest in the project, then what happens? Does the project die out? How do you build it into an enterprise from the start and how do you run that enterprise? So that vision is required considering these things.
5. What books have inspired you the most and what do you think is the importance of reading in someone's daily life?
Well, I formed the habit of reading excessively during the lockdown. It feels like doing something productive during those days when somebody asks what you did. It almost started like a FOMO scene but it has become one of my most treasured hobbies right now. From the entrepreneurship point of view, I have really found “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” helpful and I highly recommend it because it speaks about so many things that are so relevant and applicable such as Begin with the end in mind. These habits are really important when you are running a social enterprise. There is also a book named the 8th habit. There is also an interesting book named ‘Good to Great’ where I read about how some companies are good and then some companies become great. It’s not what we think about the company. It’s not once the star brand ambassador or that one event that actually makes the company great. It is actually the amalgamation of little things, the book says. It’s a very good read.
Besides that, I keep my reading list quite diverse including self-help books, spirituality, and some fictional books as well to keep my creativity going. I would say that reading is very helpful. I wouldn’t say reading is crucial because many people are getting their works done greatly by not reading books but for me, reading has really helped in learning so many things that you otherwise probably can’t. So listening to e-books and reading, I feel it is very helpful to get things done. Last year, I finished 18 books, and this year, I have the resolution of getting 20 done.
6. What entrepreneurial tricks do you have discovered so far in the Makkuse journey to be more focused and productive?
I don’t think there are many tricks as such that I have discovered as in. Rather than saying tricks, it is more about strategies about being willing to delegate HR functions. It is important because when you have the right people doing the right jobs and when you have the role carved out as well, it’s more of a lesson than a trick. Define the roles of what you want. If even one person who is managing everything in the organization walks away from the organization due to several reasons, there will be difficulty in the continuation of the same job role.
I think the biggest learning or trick that I have learned is to define the role of the people in any organization so that whatever may happen, it should always be ready to hand over that role to another person. There should be an exit plan. Due to the start of our business during the pandemic, I became the Person of Contact for any work. So in case of any unusual circumstances, the business should still run without any hamper and that system should always be ready. This is one of my major learnings.
7. What is the USP of Makkusé and how can Nepali products compete with foreign brands?
I believe it is the authenticity factor that it’s being presented as a luxury dessert as much. Also, there are many products like Lakhamari and other Pustakaris but I think they are not being viewed as premium products. So I believe that is the USP that Nepali dessert can also be quite luxurious and take up that space. Of course, it has very tough competition in terms of consistency and quality. We are handmade almost like a niche market, artisan brand. It is such a new market space on its own.
There have also been the brands of Gundpak and Pustakaris and they are also not the tough competitor with the established manufacturing units like Dairy Milk, Kitkat because they are niche products. We aspire to be common competitors, hopefully at least with other Asian desserts perhaps Barfi, Laddu, chocolates. We intend to be doing the competitions on gifting occasions such as Father’s Day. We may be competing with other gifting products, maybe Teddy and chocolates on Valentine's occasions.
If we look at it from a very traditional mindset then it’s just the chocos that are our competition but we have got a lot to do in terms of being able to supply at scale. We need to improvise our operations, manufacturing, and supply to reach the level of our competitors to co-exist in the market. And there’s a lot more to learn from them.
8. Why do you think local products are sort of expensive compared to others (which people say)?
They say that because it’s true. It is true that local products are more expensive and we have got to understand why they are more expensive and I don’t say this from the place of bitterness that they are expensive. We think that if it’s made locally, it should be available at a cheaper price. We need to understand if certain chocolate is inexpensive, why does it come at that price? It must be considered. If the rent of the chocolate factory is 10,000 and 1,00,000 pieces of chocolates are made, maybe the burden of the rent may be 5 paisa on a single piece of chocolate.
Practically speaking this is what happens if we were just producing. If we are producing 1 thousand units from a factory then all the overheads including staff salary get divided and the pressure comes under that product. Artisan Nepali products are mostly handmade, which means they aren’t scaled. If there are no machines per day, 10 pieces are produced or 10 pieces per month, and if you have overheads per Rs. 10,000 then how much the pressure on the product exists or the cost is 1000 Rs then to produce those 10 products for scaling, the pricing would be high. Then the question may arise why don’t Nepali products get machinery and produce more at scale? The problem may easily get solved and yes, absolutely this is the way to go.
But there is no guarantee of the sales of 10,000 units with the investment in machinery. At least I must get assurance of the sales guarantee of 1o lakhs and again the costing comes as the main point. So, it becomes almost like a vicious circle that costs need to be low to produce more and more needs to be produced for the cost to be low. So, how to break this cycle? How did China become China? So, how are the products that are being sold for a very reasonable price, selling the way that they do? And scaling up is the method. So as we are initiating from the niche market, I think the best way is to earn the customer’s confidence. If there is a guarantee of the sales of 100 Makkusé packets in a month, I can add the machinery that will reduce the cost and I can sell 100 packets at a more reasonable price than before. And if it gets better, I can earn the customers’ confidence with the guarantee of 1000 packets’ sales, I can enhance the expensive machines which ultimately reduce the cost and the products can be sold cheaper.
Most Nepali products are very much scaled-down. They are not scaled up so the plateau needs to be broken and if the products can be provided with consistency, we can produce them at a scale making them more inexpensive. We have living examples like Waiwai, Goldstar which are produced at higher quantities with high levels of sales ultimately resulting in Economies of scale coming to pick with the reduction of the costs. Hence, the producers can give them at a cheaper price.
9. Please share with us some of the most satisfying moments in your business.
One of the most satisfying moments has been perhaps the first sale. When we launched our product, people gave the reviews that they never thought Pustakaris could be sold this way and it was like the months of research and hard work had really made sense. When people say Makkusé’ Gundpak and Pustakari are much like the nostalgic desserts that were made in Kathmandu before. When a friend of mine was in a dilemma to give her foreign friend some gifts, she said Makkusé was the perfect gift and moments like those are the most satisfying moments.
10. How can a successful customer base be made for the promotion of local products?
There is a one-stop answer to this. There should be more focus on customer service. For example, there are many Nepali handicraft stores. The presentation of the products is very good. I guess it is business on their own to deliver excellent customer service so that they create a good base but hopefully in the future, markets such as the farmer’s market will perform really well with the production of more organic products as they become really good, environmental friendly for people to come in and if we can give regularity, it can more foster. Right now, many online markets are promoting Made in Nepal products. And this ecosystem should be pushed more and the producers create pleasant shopping experiences that will be a very good way to build a strong customer base.
11. What are your favorite aspects of being an aspiring entrepreneur?
My favorite aspect of being an aspiring entrepreneur is being able to run your own schedule. Having flexibility is very helpful along with effortful work. I also think that what has been the most satisfying element is being able to nurture talent. Along with learning, seeing a few people grow together especially raw and young talents, there definitely arises a growth mindset and providing that sort of work environment makes me feel really satisfying indeed and I think the biggest satisfaction of running this business has been the fact that we are preserving something that was running out.
Our whole packaging is done with Nepali paper and the products are made with the Khuwa that is produced in the villages. In this way, we are directly impacting lives and when we see the faces involved in this providing economic opportunities, that is truly truly satisfying.
12. If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what can it be?
My one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out would be to persist. We need to set a certain realistic timeline depending on the nature of our business. Set up a realistic timeline of what should be your return of Effort, Return on Investment. If you are willing to put in 12, 14 hours a day for a year, then you should know what it should be giving back to you and you should regularly check the results perhaps every quarter. What is the return of your effort and till the end, you should be able to persist?
If you are starting today and you say that in a 3 months timeline, you are not making profits or not even branding is going properly, you need to outline yourself neither late nor early. If you are not able to have those returns, you should close that business and move on. In some businesses, it might be right to expect the Return of Effort in 6 months’ time but if you don’t get it, you need to change your ways, Business Experts suggest this.
Because if you do tomorrow what you are doing today, there will be the same result. So have a timeline vision on your Return of Efforts and as difficult or as comfortable as it may be reflecting, look at where you can at least end of every month or if not, every quarter because if you do what you’re doing today, tomorrow you will be getting the same results as you are getting today.
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