“I am not a diversity quota,” says founder disrupting dessert category

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My mom is the most amazing cook I know. Whether she’s frying, grilling, stirring, flipping or baking, everything that comes out of her kitchen is incredible. So when my mom told me how obsessed she was with Dalci’s lemon-coconut blondie, I knew it had to be incredible. And as someone who is pre-diabetic and watches what she eats, my mom is very particular about reading what’s on the label and what she puts in her mouth.

Katelyn Perry

Najwa Khan, founder and CEO of Dalci

“During the pandemic, I found myself compromising my health by trying to eat convenient, on-the-go treats. I couldn’t find any clean desserts on the market,” said Najwa Khan, founder and CEO of Dalci “I had had enough of bars and ‘gut healthy’ snacks made with chemical alternatives, natural flavors, bad oils and sugar alcohols. Then I founded Dalci, to make brownies that are real, tasty and always clean.”

The idea of “clean food” is now common on social media, but it was originally popularized by Canadian fitness model Tosca Reno with her book The Eat-Clean Diet† With clean eating you focus on a natural form of food. Pure, fresh and unprocessed food; omitting artificial preservatives, colors and flavors and sweeteners and ingredient names that you can’t even pronounce. While many of us strive to eat healthier, it’s not always the easiest or most convenient option.

According to an recent NPR research, 75% of Americans say they eat healthy. But the statistics reveal otherwise: Many of us tend to overeat refined grains and sugars and have no control over our portion sizes. Before the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about 40% of Americans qualified as obese. According to a new study, 61% of adults experienced unwanted weight changes during the pandemic due to stress, not eating healthy and a less active lifestyle.

Enter Dalci. The bars are individually packed and portioned. You can heat them up in the microwave to get that gooey, freshly baked brownie experience. You can also freeze them and eat them later. They are easy to throw in your bag and have as a snack on the go. Flavors include dark chocolate brownie, almond butter dark chocolate blondie, and my mom’s favorite, lemon coconut blondie. They are gluten, dairy, grain, soy, refined sugar, sugar alcohol, lecithin, natural flavor and preservative free.

Image Credit: Birdhill Studios

“I believe Dalci is a separate category,” Khan says. “Our first product line, the brownies and blondies, are real desserts that disrupt the sweet category. Ultimately, we want our customers to say, ‘Yes, I can have a brownie whenever I want!’”

Here’s what novice Dalci Khan has learned.

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“I launched before everything was perfect.”

In her previous roles as a product manager, Khan learned how to test, test and try ideas and how to quickly switch when needed. She attributes those early years of her career to teaching her to be agile. “I allowed presales for Dalci even before I knew how the product would be manufactured and shipped to customers,” she says. “Some might think that’s crazy, but I was convinced I needed to test the viability of the business before trying to accelerate growth.”

Khan says her ability to launch before everything was perfect was critical to the brand’s success. It was the best way for her to learn how to improve Dalci’s recipes and messages. It also helped Khan continue to find and build relationships with her customer base and stay strategic about how she wanted to grow her product lines.

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“I can’t do this alone.”

Kahn launched Dalci during the pandemic. She didn’t work full-time and she found herself uninterested in jobs she found in the market. With only a trademark and an idea, she bought the domain dalci.com, built a cheap website, started an Instagram and decided to see if people wanted delicious, clean brownies. Khan’s husband helped her bake, pack and deliver orders in the evenings. “I went ahead and self-funded and skipped the steps most commonly taken by CPG brands,” Khan says. “I loved the grind. I learned so much early on about food science, manufacturing, supply chain issues and branding and marketing.”

Image Credit: Birdhill Studios

Despite her early success, Khan regrets not building a team from scratch. “One person alone cannot build a company. A team is so important,” she says. “I know I took the risk to start with Dalci, but I did it with crash barriers where I kept telling myself that 2020 was a ‘test’. That limiting belief kept me from building a team in the beginning.”

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“I’m not a diversity quota.”

The name Dalci is derived from: valley china, the word for cinnamon in Bengali. Khan spent countless hours cooking South Asian delicacies with her family on weekends growing up. Dalci is a reflection of her upbringing and represents home, love and the importance of pampering yourself.
Khan is proud to be a woman of color founder. And on her journey to build her business, some have said to her, “You have to use the fact that you’re a woman of color to get that investor check.” Khan’s answer is clear: I am not a diversity quota.

Image Credit: Katelyn Perry

“Raising money is difficult, as less than 3% of venture capital funding goes to founders of women of color,” Khan says. “That has to change. And I just want to be myself, Najwa. I want allies who sign up with me for the right reasons. Because ultimately they believe in me and Dalci and how we are on a mission to make a difference.”

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