In just two years, we had assembled a dream team. My food startup went from me and a laptop in my apartment to working with the most prestigious companies, foundations, celebrities and chefs in the world. Now that the Haiti Moringa Project has gone public, I’m constantly asked how a company as small as Kuli Kuli managed to work with the Clinton Foundation, Whole Foods Market, Timberland and Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.

If you’re solving a real problem for the world, it’s more likely that foundations and larger companies will see a benefit in working with you. Tweet This Quote

Through this collaboration, Kuli Kuli and the Haitian Smallholder Farmer’s Alliance managed to do the impossible—create a new moringa product that benefits small Haitian moringa farmers, empowers women and plants more trees in one of the most deforested countries in the world. These Moringa Green Energy shots are now launching nationwide with Whole Foods Market. This dream team of partners didn’t happen by itself. Here are a few key things to take into account when your startup is looking to play in the big leagues.

1. Stand for more than profit.

Business as usual has changed. Only 6% of consumers believe the singular purpose of business is to make money for shareholders. Consumers want companies to take the lead on creating social and environmental change—not just through their charitable arms, but also as a part of their core businesses. If your startup is solving a real problem for the world, it’s much more likely that foundations and larger companies will see a benefit in working with you.

Startups are inherently more nimble than their large company counterparts—use this to your advantage. Tweet This Quote

2. Use your size to your advantage.

Most food companies take years to develop new products. We ideated, formulated and launched a new product nationwide in seven months. Startups are inherently more nimble and faster to move than their large company counterparts. Use this nimbleness to your advantage by rapidly prototyping new ideas (see Tom Chi’s TEDx talk) and developing new products that play into a broader, shared purpose that other organizations are likely to get behind.

3. Make time for face time.

Despite Kuli Kuli’s virtually non-existent travel budget, I flew out to New York City for a thirty minute meeting with the Clinton Foundation without knowing if anything would come of it. It was a risk, but one that paid off. We were able to pitch our idea in person to help reforest Haiti with moringa trees, ultimately securing a large grant to make the project happen. Despite all the amenities of our virtual world, there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting to make something happen.

Despite the amenities of our virtual world, there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting to make something happen. Tweet This Quote

4. Create a credible online presence.

I spend about 20% of my time working with the media, whether it’s pitching to reporters or writing op-eds like this one. This might sound like a lot of time for a startup CEO, but it has paid off. Kuli Kuli has been featured in NPR, Fast Company and hundreds of other publications. This makes large organizations feel more comfortable in working with us because we’ve already been vetted by the media. Additionally, we also invest quite a bit of time in building up our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts to further boost our company’s credibility.

Once you prove you can play in the big leagues, it’s easier for other large organizations to want to work with you. Tweet This Quote

The great thing about forming partnerships with large, well-known organizations is that it feeds off of itself. Once you prove that you’re able to play in the big league, it makes it even easier for other large organizations to want to work with you. Then, before you know it, you won’t be a startup anymore.

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About the author

Lisa Curtis

Lisa Curtis

Lisa Curtis is founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli, a mission-driven food startup selling delicious products made with moringa. Lisa founded Kuli Kuli after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa. She was the Communications Director at Mosaic, wrote political briefings for President Obama in the White House, and worked at an impact investment firm in India.

  • Jessica

    I really enjoyed this article! For one, I think it’s great to see a woman out there making things happen, especially when there’s still a biased that we, as women, can’t do that! I know we can, and it’s great to see Lisa doing it! Also, it gives great hope to believe that much more that I am able to start my own business should I choose one day. I have a passion for photography, and there are so many AMAZING photographers in this world, but knowing that I can make an impact somehow and be just as successful, makes it seem more attainable. At my job, we have a client who is a startup business and they have been a startup business for over a year now. This company has a great product and wonderful, innovative thoughts, but they are very money driven. It might be interesting to share your article with them so that they can potentially have the opportunity to refocus their direction! Thank you! 🙂

  • Tommy Moore

    This article provides advice about not only running a successful startup business, but a business in general. I feel that all of these points can be applied to both startups and larger businesses. Some of the advice here are things I never even considered when thinking about how to run a business. I knew that having a big media presence is very important in today’s day and age, especially for smaller companies, but the other 3 points I never really thought about. The first point, about standing for more than profit, is a great example. When thinking about business, I tend to have the mentality that profit is the main goal, however, I understand that a business whose mission is to make a difference either socially or environmentally can lead to success. If you are looking to make a change, more people will support your business. The point about using size to your advantage I also never considered, the smaller the company, the faster it can move in regards to testing and releasing products. The point about going face to face with potential investors seems pretty obvious, but this article shows how much risk can be involved.

  • Gregory Clemmons

    This is a great article and I especially liked point #1. I think that the advice to stand for something more than profit is an incredible way to create a simple business that attracts customers through a common goal (usually philanthropic). Many companies have already done this successfully such as Toms, and I think that this is a great strategy when starting or trying to grow a business.

  • McKenna Solomon

    I’m honestly surprised that as a CEO of a startup, only 20% of time is spent on media outreach. Assuming the size of the staff is rather small and the budget doesn’t cover a public relations expert I actually think that 20% is very small particularly when I consider the serious need startups have for credibility (which is often more easily established online). It’s much more cost efficient to communicate your brand to the masses via social media platforms and media outreach, but these are activities that PR professionals devote entire careers to. Communication is time intensive, so the fact that she spends a modest 20% of her time doing media outreach likely hints toward a more established brand. Startups in the earlier stages should expect to spend more time developing social media and media outreach strategies than more established startups would.

  • Taylor Lonsdale

    I really think point 3 is something that we forget about in today’s world. It’s such a different experience to meet someone face to face than through a computer screen. However, it’s also something that is very challenging especially when working on a global scale. I like that this article is focusing on ways a small business can remain competitive. It can be overwhelming to attempt to break into a market, especially something like health foods since it seems to be a trend that a lot of businesses are working towards due to consumer demand.

  • Alessandra Orlandini

    I loved this post because I am always in favor for the underdog, and reading something that maps out how the underdog can be successful is always a plus! I think that first of all the product itself is something that should be praised because because the Kuli Kuli company not only benefits small Haitian farmers, but it also empowers women, and pants tress in the most deforested countries in the world. The 4 tips they give to be successful are 1. Stand for more than just profit. 2. Use size to your advantage. 3. Make time for face to face interaction. 4. Create credible online presence. I think these are all very important and valuable steps that must be taken in order for the “small guy” to play with the big boys. I do believe that media outreach should be given more attention to because media is what is happening right now and what will continue to be our future.

  • Kade Hanson

    I agree with what you have to say McKenna. To me it seems startups are all about getting your name and image out there and there is no better way to do this than social media outlook. The amount of money spent on marketing can be cut down because most social media is free. On the other hand this article represent a smaller size group and that could help to its advertising. Using their size to their advantage may be a key reason that they are able to market less. In the end I still agree with everything that you said and believe that this article has a strong representation of start up mind sets. It was insightful and a worth while read.

  • danlorusso

    As someone who knows a bit about poverty in Haiti it is awesome to see a company that is helping Haitian farmers. This company sets the bar for companies looking to create social change. Their product provides a great economic opportunity for farmers in Haiti whose lives have been destroyed by poverty. Prior to reading this I always thought small startups have a disadvantage but apparently it can be used as an advantage. I think one important aspect of this article is how it talks about creating a credible online presence. Social media is such a beneficial tool that can allow startups to connect with the public and build a target market.

  • Taylor Lonsdale

    I purchased some of the Mooring Powder Packets and am excited to try them. I’ve been trying lately to make healthier choices and this seems like a good way to do that. I’m glad to be able to contribute to a small organization that gives so much back to a community in need. I think that organizations like this have great potential because I think consumers have an easier time spending money when they receive a good or service in return. As nice as it is to donate money, consumers also have wants and needs. I’m excited to try the powder and place another order for different products.

  • Nicholas Carter

    I fully agree with this article, but more importantly I believe that start-up companies and large fortune 500’s alike need to focus their attention on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and giving back to the community. Consumers looks for companies that are making a social difference and by doing so, it helps them stand out from their profit hungry competitors that aren’t doing anything to benefit their community or to address social issues.

  • Rachel Rodriguez

    From this article number 3 really stood out to me because I feel like our society today is so fast paced we forget how important a face to face conversation can be. I think that comes mostly from the amount of technology we have today because now we can Face-Time a person and its like being with then even though they could be on the other side of the world. I think this technology has helped us grow faster, but I also think we need to remember how important a face-to-face meeting can be and the impact it can have. I think that in todays society its worth it to take the extra time to go have these types f meeting because it gives a person a larger advantage to stand out from the rest and/or develop a personal/emotional connection that could potentially turn into bigger things in the future.

  • Thanks for your (brilliant!) and kind comment Jessica! Please do share with the startup you mentioned as exists to drive entrepreneur-centric resources and inspiration to today’s startups (especially those tackling big problems or with the potential to like the startup you refer to =) Thanks again for sharing your compelling comment !

  • Thanks for this comment Taylor! I completely agree with you on the win-win scenario of companies like Kuli Kuli that are socially impactful and for-profit that provide a service that customers want/need as well as drive positive impact on the world. I think innovations like crowdfunding are unlocking a whole new potential for these types of organizations because they enable access to funds right away while providing a good/service for customers (with just a delayed delivery timeline). I love this part of your comment ” As nice as it is to donate money, consumers also have wants and needs.” (I’m going to tweet it on @Unreasonable ‘s Twitter =) Couldn’t agree more and ultimately, I think that by providing a service that’s satisfying a consumer need (while impacting the world), it will lead to great impact and sustainable solutions to our biggest problems. Thanks again!

  • Nicholas Carter

    My Call to Action:
    I chose this article because it talks about the cultural shift between generation and how Corporate Social Responsibility is important to maintain your company’s clientele. As I mentioned in my previous post, companies are seeing a social change between modern day millennials and previous generations. Our generation believes in making environmentally conscious decisions and making social differences in the world. We’re seeing companies making adaptations to focusing on Corporate Social Responsibilities to help grow their market base and maintain customer loyalty.

    My call to action was to support a small business called KuliKuli Foods. This business is based in Haiti and revolves around making social changes within the Haitian communities along with focusing on consumer health trends. KuliKuli primarily focus on repopulating the Haitian forests with Moringa trees. These trees help to repopulate the deforestation in Haiti along with provide jobs to Haitian women. The company sells their product worldwide and primarily ships from their warehouses in Haiti. I choose to support this company because of their excellent Corporate Social Responsibility and their goal to benefit their consumers. In doing so, I ordered the morning Moringa powder packets to take on a daily basis.

  • Agree and agree! Even though I completely agree on the benefit of social media as an asset for business, I was surprised this was on Lisa’s list as startups so often to not prioritize digital media during this stage of growth. Your comment and this post though makes me realize the potential power of social media and why young companies should not blow it off. Also, this is one of the best ted talks I’ve ever seen and talks about the huge power of social media in our generation in a really innovative way. Highly recommend you watch! //
    // thanks again for your comment!

  • Kevin Marshall

    It’s always fun to read about the success of small startup companies making a name for themselves and running with the big dogs. I really think steps 3 and 4 are so essential in having a successful business. The face to face time is so much appreciate by others, being employees and customers and potentials investors or companies looking to join or whatever the case may be. And number 4 is the new way to market that takes your message and brand to a whole new level that is reachable by nearly everyone in the world. Trends on twitter can be astronomical when hit by the right crowd at the right time.

  • Jessica

    Thank you Cat! The company is called Cholaca. They have created a coffee drink with natural cocoa that they receive fair trade from Ecuador! They’re a wonderful business based out of Boulder/Broomfield, Colorado! I think that with a little extra boost from the right place, they could continue to grow and do even great(er) things than they already have! 🙂

  • Logan Coffman

    Thanks for your thoughts Nicholas! I couldn’t agree more with you that the millenials (my generation) would much rather see there dollars go towards some sort of social benefit. At the end of the day if the product is just as good in quality as whatever else is out there who wouldn’t want to directly benefit reforestation or poverty alleviation?

  • Danielle Devereux

    I think this article is really great for those smaller companies looking to work with larger ones. One tip I think was beneficial was meeting face to face. Impressing people is very difficult when you are pitching an idea, let alone not doing it in person. I think large businesses or corporations want to see you take initiative and show them that your idea means a lot to you, and that you were willing to take a risk by flying out there to meet with them.

  • James Robertson

    Usually when a company is small you never hear use your small size to your advantage. I liked how this article proved that you don’t have to be large to make a difference or be powerful. I feel as an entrepreneur this makes taking the leap towards going for it less stressful. it also made sense to me that when your starting out the internet and media can be a huge tool because it can get a large amount of peoples eyes on your company and quickly.

  • Matt Goodman

    I like points 1 and 3 specifically. Nowadays there is a more negative connotation towards profit seeking corporations. A corporation that isn’t just trying to maximize profit but is also providing civil services can make it easier to separate consumers from their money. Additionally as stated in point 3; finding time for meeting in person is a great way to make things happen, the digital age we live in is extremely useful but can often obstruct progress. Both of these fall under the umbrella of making your startup’s image that of a few hardworking people rather than that of a personality void corporation.

  • Emily Butler

    The power behind this article is pretty apparent on it’s own. Every company starts small and it’s how you carry yourself at the start that will make it easy for you to grow. All 4 of the points are so important. It’s important to have a focus on something other than profit or you’re going to have a hard time finding genuine success. It’s important to have a good online presence because the internet is something that has some form of presence in every persons life nowadays. Understanding you’re a small company and using that to your advantage is so helpful to grow. And I think the most important is to create time for face time. Whether that’s with employees or your customers it’s going to create a more personable company and create more loyalty within and outside of the company.

  • Victor Ribakare

    I agree with everything Rachel stated. There is nothing that can replace an in person interview or conversation. In this case, it displayed that Lisa had a lot of drive and determination to launch something special with her startup. It would’ve been easy, probably even cheaper, for her to make a virtual meeting, but that was not the case. Even though this society is making great strides toward more technological methods of communicating, people still need to understand the heads of the big foundations and corporations that are potential partners, are some rather older folks. These people love the traditional in-person interview where you shake their hand and show that you have both a passion, as well as a plan for what you are doing. These are all great tips for competing with the big guys because sometimes it is easy for startups to get caught up in catching up to the big companies by acting like a larger when things are working well with their initial size. Always stick with what gets you to the top,

  • Noah Green

    It takes a lot to play with the big boys. People start off with some random idea and if they have the motivation to move forward they might succeed. Usually ideas and startups succeed when there is a product or idea that is completely out of the norm. For example take Chipotle. Nobody really had a healthy “fast food” Mexican chain and they were able to take their idea and become one of the top companies. They started off as a simple burrito shop in Denver and now they have almost 2000 stores world-wide. When they started they wanted to bring something good for the people and not just bring in a lot of money. They were tired of processed foods. Its amazing how one idea, product or leader can completely change the path of a company. In order to play with the big boys, you have to act like one.

  • Danielle Flynn

    I enjoy how this article is organized and appreciate the first-hand experience from the author. As a college student leading a healthy life can be difficult at all times, but I would be up to purchasing Mooring Powder, or looking into it further. Along with the product being focused in this article, I like the content. I think that the points made in this article about how to be a small company, yet big presence in the world, is very valuable; especially for someone my age that is still trying to figure out what to do in this world. Starting a small company seems to have a lot of benefits, especially with these tactics that are used above.

  • Kunal Patel

    I love the overall message this article poses. Sure enough bigger companies aren’t just going to stumble upon your company if you are a bit smaller, but one who focuses on more than just profits and actually values their business would have a greater chance of being recognized. Not sure how they started, but Patagonia is a good example of a growing clothing company with high end products at a high end price although they add a twist of eco-friendliness in all of their products and share their opinions about pollution and where we will be in 50 years.

  • Charlee Riggio

    This article brings up so many strong points. I think that this idea of large and small business living in competition is something to think about. I took an Entrepreneurship Stories class and we talked a lot about coexistence between small business and large business. The interesting thing was that they both really thrive off each other as long as both businesses understand THEIR business and how to make themselves successful. We would not have the economy that we have without small business and I think that it will be articles like these to give the little guys hope when trying to compete with the larger businesses.

    I also wanted to touch on the very first point about having more of a purpose than just profit. I think this is so crucial to our world the more that we can emphasis this as a model for business the better off that we will be.

    Thanks for the good read! Good luck in your business, Ill look out for Kuli Kuli at Whole Foods!

  • Charlee Riggio

    I chose to use this article for my Call to Action, however I did not use the one provided. I tried two different marketing ideas. The first was to send the article to my business professor whos class discussion revolves a lot around the relationships between big business and small business. My hope was that she would take interest in this article and assign it for her students to read. This would allow for a great deal of exposure. Unfortunately, my professor did not email me back regarding this article, and I am not sure if she will be using it for her class.

    My second idea was to post the link and a short blurb about this article on my linked in page. Because this is a business article I thought that there would be people in my Linked In network who might find more interest in reading this article rather than my friends on Facebook. Unfortunately, I realized that after 24 days on my page the post was private and none was able to see it. I think that a good lesson for myself is to use media outlets I am familiar with as a form of marketing in order to avoid silly mistakes such as these.