After experiencing malnutrition as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, I turned to moringa to regain my strength. Moringa is a local superfood that helps with malnutrition, but few people benefit from it. I found that the women in my village saw no reason to grow moringa when there was no market demand. In the US there are millions of health - conscious people looking for all - natural ways to nourish their busy lifestyles, just as there are a billion people around the world just looking for nourishment to survive. Investing in agriculture is, hands down, the most effective method of reducing poverty, but investment in agriculture has been declining for the past two decades. Upon my return from the Peace Corps, I co-founded Kuli Kuli, a mission-driven business, to drive economic growth, women’s empowerment and sustainable agricultural development by utilizing moringa as a tool for nutritional security. Together with my childhood friends Jordan, Anne and Valerie, I launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise money to manufacture Moringa Superfood Bars. The crowdfunding campaign was the most popular food campaign Indiegogo had ever had, enabling Kuli Kuli to launch onto the market in 2014. Whole Foods Market was the first retailer to pick up Kuli Kuli’s Moringa Superfood Bars, starting in Northern California. Kuli Kuli then launched the Pure Organic Moringa Powder in 2015 and expanded to over 2,000 retail locations. In 2016, Kuli Kuli partnered with the Clinton Foundation, Whole Foods Market and a nonprofit in Haiti to help reforest Haiti with moringa trees and develop the Moringa Green Energy shots made with Haitian moringa. By creating partnerships with small farming cooperatives in Ghana and Haiti, private foundations like the Clinton Foundation and major retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Kuli Kuli has created a truly sustainable and philanthropic business model. In 2017, Kuli Kuli was one of the first Benefit Corporations to receive investment from a Fortune 500 company, Kellogg. Kuli Kuli now sells Moringa Superfood Bars, Pure Organic Moringa Powder, Moringa Green Energy shots and new Organic Green Smoothie Mixes in over 6,000 stores nationwide. To date, Kuli Kuli planted over 1 million moringa trees and partnered with over 1,000 farmers, providing more $1.5M in income to women - led farming cooperatives and family farms
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
Kuli Kuli partners with female moringa farmers whose moringa may not yet be up to exporting standards to get their farms on the fast track to meeting the requirements. Farmers like Pierrette, an incredible woman running a moringa farm in Benin, have inspired Kuli Kuli with their stories, and affirm the impact moringa can have on the lives of women worldwide.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Building a moringa supply chain from scratch has both been incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. Kuli Kuli quickly discovered that very few moringa suppliers were growing moringa to our specifications. We decided to devote a lot of time and effort -- including one person full-time of our 10 person team -- to helping moringa farmers hit US quality standards. We're still working hard every day to continue to grow our moringa supply but it is no longer a big challenge to our growth.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
I love the book Traction. It's the perfect book for entrepreneurs who have a company up and running and are now trying to streamline their meetings and goal-setting systems.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
My parents were initially skeptical - they didn't understand why I would quit a well-paying job that I loved to start selling a superfood that no one has ever heard of. But as soon as they understood that I was determined to do it, they've been incredibly supportive. Both my parents have spent countless hours passing out samples in stores to help introduce Kuli Kuli's moringa products to consumers.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Grit. My entrepreneurial journey has not been easy. I started this company out of the Peace Corps, with very little money and had to work side jobs for over a year in order to pay the bills before Kuli Kuli could pay me. Lots of people told me I was crazy, that building a supply chain from scratch and creating an entirely new market was impossible. But I had made a promise to the women I worked with in Peace Corps and I was determined to see it through. That grit and unwavering passion is what has drawn other people to Kuli Kuli and made us successful.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
I wish I'd known that fundraising really does get easier. It was so hard to raise $500k when we first started. Now we raise millions of dollars in just a few months.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
I encourage all entrepreneurs to figure out what their proof of concept is and how they can build a compelling sales story with less than $5,000. Starting scrappy will give you a long-term foundation for growth.