The CEO of The FruitGuys, Chris Mittelstaedt, shares the fruits of his labor. For over 18 years, Mittelstaedt has helped improve the health of companies across America by providing boxes of fresh fruit. Mittelstaedt created the business out of desperation. He was 28 years old, making $9.50 an hour working as the “fax boy” at a Fairmont Hotel when his wife announced she was pregnant.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Mittelstaedt)
“I didn’t have the luxury of having any capital to start a business,” said Mittelstaedt, who had to figure out how to launch a business with no money. “This made me unbelievably strappy, efficient and focused on the end result of the customer. For me, the lack of funds created the necessity for the customer to drive our business — what we needed to do to keep those customers and make them happy.” Brainstorming with a friend, Mittelstaedt took his business education and created a niche business delivering fresh fruit to offices.
“I didn’t go into this business as an expert. In creating the business, I learned that you have to believe that you are not smart enough to know what the answer is, but inquisitive enough, because you don’t feel you know the answer, to go out and test your theories and figure out the answer. That process of discovering what model works for your business is ultimately the way you will sell your business. If you structure it right and listen to your customer, your business will be in alignment to what your customer wants,” said Mittelstaedt, who asked potential customers what their needs were and worked to fulfill them.
The FruitGuys grew, and Mittelstaedt purchased delivery trucks when one business folded. When the dot-com bust occurred, Mittelstaedt had to lay off half his staff, and found himself doing all the jobs that he had previously delegated. However, “When eBay went public, an eBay employee who had heard that we were struggled showed up with a check for $10,000. He didn’t want a partnership. He just wanted to help us because he liked what we were doing. This act helped foster a pay-it-forward ethic and started The FruitGuys Community Fund, which provides grants to small farms.”
“We still feel like a startup because the rest of the world is finally getting on board with healthy snacking,” said Mittelstaedt who has just launched a new product of packaged healthy snacks. Mittelstaedt weathered the storms in his business and believes that startups must be prepared for when dark clouds appear. He believes that growth is always a learning process.
This article was written by Robin D. Everson for Small Business Pulse