Lisa Curtis is the Founder & CEO of Kuli Kuli, the leading brand pioneering the sustainably sourced superfood moringa. Moringa is a protein-rich leafy green, more nutritious than kale, with anti-inflammatory benefits rivaling turmeric. Kuli Kuli’s moringa powders, bars and wellness shots are sustainably sourced from African women and other small farmers around the world and sold in 11,000 U.S. stores. Lisa began working on Kuli Kuli while serving in the Peace Corps and has grown it into a multi-million dollar social enterprise. Prior to Kuli Kuli, Lisa served as the Communications Director at Mosaic where she managed a team of six to grow the company from zero to over $5M invested in solar through Mosaic’s online marketplace. Previously, Lisa wrote political briefings for President Obama in the White House, served as a United Nations Environment Programme Youth Advisor, and worked at an impact investment firm in India. Lisa was recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and Inc Magazine’s Top 100 Female Founders list. She has been featured in numerous outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Learn more at www.kulikulifoods.com and www.lisamariecurtis.com.
Where did the idea for Kuli Kuli come from?
As a vegetarian, I was feeling sluggish from a diet of mostly rice while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger. Women in the local community advised me to eat moringa leaves, showing me how to mix them into a local snack called kuli-kuli. After eating the nutritious kuli-kuli moringa snack, my energy returned. The leaves of the moringa tree are packed with protein, vitamins, and antioxidants, providing a powerful boost of nutrition and caffeine-free energy. I recognized the potential for moringa as a powerful tool for nutritional health. While moringa was recognized locally for its medicinal benefits, farmers saw no reason to grow it without market demand. I was inspired to find a market-based solution to realize moringa’s potential as a powerful tool for nutritional health and expand US market access to African women farmers. I returned home to the U.S. and built Kuli Kuli, a social enterprise that brings the nutritious moringa leaves to American consumers while partnering to create jobs and promote local consumption in the communities where moringa is grown.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts at 6am when my 1 year old wakes me up. I get her dressed and put her in a baby jogger for a morning run. We get home around 7:30am and my husband feeds her while I get dressed and ready for work. Before logging onto my email, I spend a few minutes thinking about what I want to accomplish and set three goals for the day. The rest of the day goes by quickly in a mix of meetings and work. I typically log off around 4:30pm and go on a walk with my husband and daughter. We get home, eat/make dinner and then he puts our daughter to bed while I clean up the kitchen. Often I’ll log back on and try to get through a few emails in the evening. I find that setting goals in the morning helps my day be much more productive, as does taking breaks at lunchtime and in the late afternoon.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m an idea person. I have tons of ideas, all the time. Typically I try my ideas out on a few other people on my team before taking them too seriously. If they think they’re a good idea, then we put together a plan to bring them to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really excited about the trend towards food as medicine. I’ve experienced for myself how powerful medicinal plants, commonly known as superfoods, can be. It’s great to see more Americans recognizing that what they eat directly impacts how they feel.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t watch TV, and I spend very little time on social media. I find that this allows me to work a lot while still spending lots of quality time with the people I love.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self to not take everything so personally. When I was starting Kuli Kuli I threw my whole self, and with it my conception of self-worth, into the business. It meant that when a person or retailer rejected our products I took it really personally. It took me a while to understand that you are not your company, and that having a separation between you and your company is key to long term self-sustainability.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I don’t believe that most emails require a same day response. I limit the amount of time I spend on email to make way for more productive work, and so sometimes it takes me a day or two to respond.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I highly recommend that everyone take a few minutes at the end of their day to write down 1-3 things that went well that day. I’ve been doing that every day for over a decade and it’s helped me build resilience and maintain a positive outlook even through the hardest days.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Hiring people who are smarter and better than me has been key to growing Kuli Kuli. I’m a big believer in knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and hiring people whose strengths match your weaknesses.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I fail all the time as an entrepreneur. Perhaps one of my greatest failures early on was believing that work was just about output, and not about people. As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve realized that building deep connections within my team and with our partners is key to success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think someone should start a business focused on curtains that provide the perfect amount of glow and not glare for all of us working from home sitting in front of windows. I find that natural lighting looks so much better than even a ring light, but during the middle of the day the sunlight gets too bright.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I purchased a milk frother for $12 and it has totally changed my tea drinking experience.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I love Momentum, which is a chrome plugin that shows a beautiful background with an inspiring quote and asks you what you’d like to accomplish today. I find opening my computer to that helps me focus on what I need to get done.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m obsessed with a book called Traction, which provides a really great framework for structuring team goals and meetings.
What is your favorite quote?
There’s no failure in life except for the failure to try
- Hire people who are smarter than you
- Build real connections with them and with external partners
- Start your day by reflecting on your goals
- Take risks, there is learning in failure
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.