What Fortune 500 CEOs & Startup Entrepreneurs Can Teach Each Other

By Lisa Curtis-Kuli Kuli Foods

It isn’t everyday that you get to sit down with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the CEO asks you for advice. It’s happened to me twice in the past few months.

What makes this even more surprising is that I’m 29 years old and have less than 10 years of experience in business. But the experience I do have, the journey of taking a company from an idea to our first few million in revenue, has given me a uniquely scrappy business mindset that Fortune 500 CEOs are increasingly seeking to replicate.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek and four other millennial entrepreneurs. As Mr. Ersek wrote in following the event, “It’s invaluable for Western Union – a 166-year-old entrepreneurial-minded company – and these start-ups to learn from each other and explore how to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive as the operational needs of the business grow.”

The entrepreneurial spirit is a difficult mindset to qualify, but I think can best be described as a combination of creative thinking powered by a relentless drive to succeed. When you’re a small startup, you’re forced to be creative because you don’t have the resources to do things the same way that established, existing businesses do them.

One example of how this entrepreneurial mindset comes into play was when I was launching my food startup, Kuli Kuli, we conducted all of our consumer testing on our moringa products at a farmers market. Most food companies spend thousands of dollars convening focus groups before they launch new products. We found that conducting short interviews with potential customers at the farmers market gave us the insights we needed for a tenth of the cost.

At the same time, this entrepreneurial mindset can be taken too far. Uber’s culture of breaking the rules helped it grow fast but now is being cited as part of the reason for its current upheaval. Particularly in industries like financial transactions, where Western Union plays, and food, where Kuli Kuli plays, it’s important to follow government rules that protect consumers.

This is where it can be helpful for a startup to work with a more established company that has spent years successfully navigating the rules. For example, after Kuli Kuli received investment from Kellogg’s venture arm eighteen94 capital, we were able to get advice on the claims we could make on our packaging from true experts.

The nature of work changed tremendously with the rise of the internet. In this new era of digital disruption, it’s clear that the only thing we can count on is continued change. The best way for businesses to successfully navigate these changes is by cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset and forming new ways of collaborating across company sizes and industries.

 

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