Making Your Business a Force for Good with The FruitGuys Founder Chris Mittelstaedt

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How “necessity being the mother of invention” guided The FruitGuys into the B2B space and the subscription model
  • How to think about growth or look for opportunity even in times of crisis
  • Why you should think about the meaning you want to have in the world all the time and how you drive business to align with that meaning

My guest this week on the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast is Chris Mittelstaedt, founder, CEO and Chief Banana of The FruitGuys, America’s No. 1 and original office fruit provider.  He tells me about starting a biz in San Francisco during the heyday of the first dot-com wave and weathering the bust as a business owner, his learning experiences for how and when to expand business operations and how making a difference and being a force for good is at The FruitGuys’ core.

Necessity: Mother of Invention

It was a reality-driven strategy, and to be honest I often think those are the best strategies anyway.

— Chris Mittelstaedt

Although Chris moved to San Francisco in the 1990s because he wanted to be a poet, he was working in the business services department of the Fairmont Hotel as a temp in 1997 when he first contemplated the idea of delivering fruit to offices. He and his wife were expecting their first baby, and Chris needed to determine what he wanted to do with his life very quickly. He had a friend who had a coffee cart and mentioned that office workers would really like something healthy to eat. So, the idea of The FruitGuys was born. They opened in 1998, an incredible time in San Francisco, as a bootstrapped company among a venture capital, dot-com world.

Chris shares that although this B2B business was the only option at the time and some of his earliest business decisions such as to focus on the B2B space and to create a subscription model of business were born out of necessity, he grew to really understand the B2B space and over the 20 years in business so far they have developed a core competency for the higher service levels required for B2B work.

Grow Smart in Times of Crisis

Risk aversion is actually something I think about all the time. I NEVER want to be a deer in the headlights and do nothing. I always want to be in fight or flight.

— Chris Mittelstaedt

After an early learning experience of expanding that left the business with a significant loan to pay off during a downturn in the economy, all of The FruitGuys’ subsequent expansion has been variable cost expansion not fixed cost expansion. That’s allowed them to think about growth and about how they expand or look for opportunities in times of crisis in a really creative way so they don’t put themselves in more debt or more at risk.

A Force for Good

Business owners need to be empowered to talk about the positive value of business, what it gives back rather than something that can potentially harm.

— Chris Mittelstaedt

From day one, The FruitGuys has been an organization that has always thought about its impact on the community and the world. Even in their earliest days, when they had leftover fruit, they would go around and hand it out to people on the street. Today, they operate The FruitGuys GoodWorks Program, that supports the small sustainable farms that grow their food and aims to reduce food waste and give excess fruit to those who are hungry. In every way, Chris wants his business to be a positive influence.

There’s much more to learn and be inspired by in the full episode, including more details about growing a business in San Francisco among tech giants, a specific example of how The FruitGuys expanded in a safe, variable-cost way and you certainly don’t want to miss out on hearing about Chris’ passion project to write Harry Potter meets the anti-Ayn Rand.

Every week, I speak with inspiring entrepreneurs about how they started and grew their businesses. Please join us and subscribe on iTunes today!