Founders Interviews: André Santos of Nutrium

This month, we bring you an interview with André Santos, the Co-founder and CEO at Nutrium.

Nutrium is a nutrition software founded in 2015 to bridge the gap between conventional nutrition and what real-world nutrition professionals need. The company aims to make nutritional care by qualified professionals accessible for everyone while making the journey of gaining healthy lifestyle habits more human, personalized, and sustainable.

*This interview has been slightly edited for reading ease.

First of all, I’d like to start by knowing a bit about your professional background and the path that took you to Nutrium.

Firstly, I’ll say that Nutrium surfaced from my own personal experience with nutritionists. Imagine a computer scientist goes to see a nutritionist, used to tracking everything from my eating, exercise and water intake on my mobile app. When I arrive there, I realize that this information is not being used and everything is done on paper, including the final nutritional plan. This experience made it so that during university, throughout various initiatives, ideas began to arise in the direction of improving this experience. At the end of my time at university, in a curricular activity during my final year, we had the opportunity to launch the project, and during that semester develop the project. So, to answer your question, we launched Nutrium right out of university, meaning that we don’t have a lot of professional experience other than very brief experiences as computer scientists while we studied.

I believe you already kind of answered my second question which is how was Nutrium born?

Like I said, the first time that Nutrium emerges it’s an idea related to how we can take all of a nutritionist’s advice and transform it into a tool that helps us. We kept presenting the idea and taking on the feedback we received, until we submitted the idea during our last year of university, at the time with the name Nutriscription. We kept talking to nutritionists and began to realize that there was huge potential to side with the nutritionist, or better, to first solve the nutritionist’s problem. From this point onwards, which was indeed an important step, we kept developing our idea and vision further, always keeping in mind our main objective, which was to aid millions of people all across the world in developing healthier eating habits, with the help of the nutritionist. So first we were the tool for the nutritionist and now we are trying to go directly to people and companies so that the market can also grow, or better so that more people understand the importance of having a nutrition professional by their side.

Which was the most crucial moment, or the eureka moment, in Nutrium’s history?

It’s hard to identify a single moment, but I’d say there was a very important first moment which was the first contact we had with a client — the feedback they gave us and how they reacted to the idea, still a concept at the time, was super important to keep us motivated to continue. The moment you close your first client is a moment you remember forever because it is a validation of the initial journey you’ve had thus far. Someone was actually available to buy our service. I would say that other significant moments would be the investment rounds which also served as a validation but ended up being important steps for the company to continue on its path to dominate the market, which means becoming the point of reference in its segment. Investment rounds are key moments for this journey — closing the first, the second and the third rounds will always be accomplishments that we will remember forever.

Somewhat along those lines, I’d like to ask if you have any advice for someone trying to make a startup grow.

I’d say that the first step is being ambitious from the get-go. So, from the moment that you think about the problem you want to solve, ensure that your solution is scalable and that your ambition is there from the start to solve the problem across the world and in the best possible manner, rather than locally or with little impact. This is a very important point. Then, you should surround yourself with the right people, which are the founders, the team, and the investors, because all these people will have an enormous impact on your journey, and choosing the right ones really is a great challenge but one that can also make-or-break your success. It makes all the difference.

If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?

Firstly, if I knew what I know today, I’d certainly try to skip a few steps. But I’d say being bolder early on, or better, from the start look at the project with the ambition of really making a difference and slowly take one step at a time. Maybe now we’d try to take these same steps in a more efficient manner, which sometimes means bringing on more senior talent earlier on. That would probably be the main difference, take the steps we took until today, but try to take them faster, without being apprehensive.

Could you offer some marketing tips specifically for startups in their early stages?

Nutrium began working in a market where there was clearly an undervalued player, our client, the nutritionist. So, our attitude was always, since the first step, to defend our client to the best of our abilities and focus all our decision-making processes around the nutritionist. I would say that was one of the things that distinguished Nutrium: that our client, via this effort that we made, trusted us more, shared more feedback with us, and also trusted our brand to change their career or their way of working in general. I’d say that any successful strategy begins with an initial phase which is defining which are the guiding principles that we will follow along our journey, then that is what will guide us in our marketing and communications strategy. So, summing up, defending the client has always been very important to us as we grow. As we scaled and reached new markets, we maintained that attitude, showing that we are a partner of the nutritionist and that we can help make their career one of even greater success.

To conclude, I always ask, what were the best and worst parts, or the most difficult part, of launching a startup?

The best part is that you really feel that you are making a difference when it comes to a substantial problem, and so each step you take you feel like you are one step closer to having an enormous impact. Even though at some point it may have felt extremely distant, you can feel yourself getting closer to achieving that goal. The difficult part is that you know you will have to be resilient enough to deal with all that comes with it — the difficulties that will keep arising will be numerous and pertinent in every part of the business. You need to know how to overcome those difficulties and focus only on what is truly important, which is to have a real impact. So really you end up not valuing those negative parts and latching onto the positives, which although they will be outnumbered by the negatives, you will attribute much more value to. This is an exercise that is worth doing: if you focus on the negatives, you end up being absorbed by them and that is really not worth it. Focus only on what it is you want to achieve, and the rest will come.

*Interview by Matilde Castro, translation by Álvaro Furtado.

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Leading early stage VC based in Lisbon, Portugal

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