A startup has limited resources, and your time is the most important resource.
Trista Li is the Founder and CEO of KitcheNet, where she and her team bring happy fruits to offices while eradicating food deserts. Trista believes that healthy snacking in the office should not equal to eating the miserable apple that’s been sitting out for days. She works with a team of fruit “gurus” to help offices rediscover fresh fruits through memorable taste, exotic variety, and curated experience.
Named as the “Most Valuable Person on the Planet”, Trista is a female founder, a social entrepreneur, and a leader in sustainable local foods, CSR, and food justice. Her “Do Good by Eating Well” model not only boost American workers’ wellness but also alleviate food deserts. With subsidization from each corporate client, KitcheNet covers the local produce distribution cost in low-income neighborhoods. They work with local urban farms, non-profits, and corner stores to set up retail pop-up markets accessible to the working families, saving up to 40% price and 4-5 hours of shopping time.
Her love for the work originated through her experience launching Kiva.org’s microfinance market in Chicago. A Shanghainese native, a globalist at heart, and a taco enthusiast, Trista has collected a portfolio of experiences in Management Consulting, International Supply Chain and Healthcare Marketing, and has served as an advisor to the Mexico Government. Trista earned her bachelors in Psychology and Economics from Case Western Reserve University. She also has an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and an MPP from Harris School of Public Policy.
Where did the idea for KitcheNet come from?
When I was in business school, I was running a CSA style meal kit service in the underserved communities. Each week, we deliver bags of produce and fruits with cooking instructions at community hubs(schools, offices, and senior centers) while providing demos at the pickup hours. The experience provided me with 3 major insights that lead me to build KitcheNet.
Insight 1: People like fruits – About 6 months into the program, I heard a handful of customers complain about the lack of fruits in their bags. They got angry with me because they thought we were messing with their orders. After some investigation, I found out that their kids were the one who ate all the fruits before the bags got home. Sometimes, the clients themselves left a couple of fruits in the office to snack on and forgot they did that.
Insight 2: Good fruits bring joy: I remember one summer day, I was doing an educational demonstration at a senior home. When I handed over a cut mango to a resident, she tasted it and then she asked:” Is this a peach? It is so tasty!” I told her it was a mango that I carefully ripened in the trunk of my car for 2 days, and she took another bite and she started crying…”I’ve never tasted a ripen mango before!”
Insight 3: How little we know: Fast forward a couple of months later, we launched a fruit only box, and I was demonstrating the fruits at my own office. A couple of my friends asked me what were they eating, (I remember it was the pluots and the plums). I was surprised that even people of my age know little about fruits beyond the apples, oranges, and bananas. After that tasting event, each time they saw me, they would rave about the plums they had. At that time, I knew I was onto something.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts at 7:00 AM. On the days we have operations, I am at the warehouse to check on the product before they get out. So I get to taste all the fruits we purchased that day! I usually get to the office around 8:30 AM, I spent my mornings on operational related issues, while afternoons are focused on business development. On the days we do not have operations, I start my day with analytical tasks, and work my way towards things that I enjoy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
How to generate ideas: I practice parallel thinking, I get goofy, I turn off my “judgemental” self.
How do I validate any ideas: I find an ACTIVE customer. One is enough, $1 transaction is enough, one active user is enough, but you need one to start.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Millennials consumers are consuming more fruits and vegetables than the generations before. According to a 2017 Nielsen study, snackable produce is a $1B category that is growing at 10% CAGR. With other produce delivery brands on the rise, it is possible that we could provide experience driven produce brands just as how Starbucks interrupted the commodity coffee market. The overall healthy eating trend is very exciting.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
It is easy to mistake being busy as being productive. I try to make my day more productive by avoiding unnecessary meetings.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Your intuition requires sharpening as much as your analytical skills. So when you know, you should trust your gut and tell your analytical mind to shut up.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think we focus too much on how to reduce food waste, but truly we should focus on how to prevent food waste from happening. The former sounds attractive to businesses, media, and investors because you can calculate how much wasted food was redistributed. But the latter is more friendly to the environment but it is very hard to calculate how much food waste prevented from wasting.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
A lot of people think of the life of a startup founder as chaotic. That shouldn’t be the standard you live for if you were a founder. Just like Marie Kondo brings joy to your life by teaching you the magic of tidying your house, you need to do regular housekeeping for your business too.
How to Kon Marie your startup/business:
1) Detect when chaos is happening.
2)Ask yourself could you prevent this from happening again?
– If yes, create a process to prevent chaotic situations from happening
– If no, structure time/troubleshooting process to solve them.
3) Spark Joy!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
You need to understand the driver of your growth. If we are talking about a sales goal, it is important to understand which channels are most useful, what is the conversion rate for each channel, how much does it cost you to get to these channels.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A startup has limited resources, and your time is the most important resource. When I first started the business I was training all the interns. I learned that it is more important to bring on experienced talents to add to the business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Vegetables and Fruits indoor landscape for wedding receptions. It is more economical, you don’t need to throw away any flowers, and your guests could do their grocery shopping right after the wedding is over.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I like to look presentable, but I don’t like spending time on makeup or new cloth. So I spend it on a great haircut. Usually, it lasts for 3-4 months, so it’s like $1/day to looking great.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We build our menu algorithms using Google spreadsheet. It is easy to use, and prevent me from building too intricate of a model that no one else could understand.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of The Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. I recommend this book not only because it is a great book on pressing issues in the world, but also the approach these two researchers adopted to discover the contextual issues that could not be translated only by data. I think as entrepreneurs, we could adopt these lenses to look beyond the surface.
What is your favorite quote?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
- You are here because of your unique path, don’t feel weird, stay weird.
- Don’t get ready, get started.
- Fine tune and tweak your Entrepreneurial Discipline to create a process
- Listen to your customers
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.