The founder and CEO of organic food scrap collection service Kooda sums up five key lessons she learned on a networking experience in San Francisco.
June 26, 2018
At Kooda we were dealing with certain problems surrounding our processes, like having to shut down due to too much food waste coming in, legal work involved with hiring new team members, interviewing new hires and looming patent deadlines. On top of that, the strain of living on almost zero dollars for 12 months, followed by zero for an extra four didn’t help.
After our failed crowdfunding campaign, we had offers for help and support for our company coming out of our ears. Businesses were wanting partnerships. Councils were interested in how to get our services – some were even from other countries. We had frustrate potential customers waiting for us to get to them. During all of this, we were still doing lunch time talks and selling tea-towels (let me know if you’re interested, by the way) to keep the lights on.
I went to San Francisco because Tim Brewer and my fellow Founder Institute graduates (those that had been through the muru–D program the year before) said it would be good for me. With so much work and life happening at home, my head was not ready for networking in another city.
Experiences change you, though it’s rare to be aware of this shift while it’s happening. Partial credit goes to the executive coaching gurus at Improv HQ for explaining that jarring change starting a business in the big world, and the importance of aspiring to be global from an early stage – as well as how hard one needs to work right from the start.
Have pride in your work
I learned very quickly in San Francisco to speak clearly about our global ambitions for Kooda – and unapologetically so. Tall Poppy Syndrome (that innate habit to discredit those we feel have earned any success) is not only embedded in Australian vernacular, but also feels hardwired into our brains. I now understood why I was sometime uncomfortable with my teammates’ frank willingness to toot the Kooda horn. Did I mention we got a wildcard award while in San Francisco?
Food waste being dealt with inappropriately via landfill or incineration is a global problem that needs to be solved. I own the global problem, and our vision has always been to service that need, but a part of me wanted to keep that ambition a secret. A trajectory needs to be set to fix this problem in my lifetime, or sooner (preferably the next 5–10 years) so we’re planning for that moonshot. To have a global vision without the right trajectory set from the start is cognitive dissonance.
Consider scalability past the physical
Over drinks and in numerous gatherings, we talked scalability and what that means other than the physical sense. Just how does a ‘compost as a service’ business scale in a way that money coming into the business doesn’t just break even to money going out, but in fact increasingly larger amounts of money come out. That increase can then be used as input to keep growing. The ultimate goal of any social enterprise, or any business that acknowledges that it has a social purpose, is to change the way that the world operates on a global scale.
Hire for the right trajectory
I changed the job descriptions for the roles I wanted to hire while I was away. Q&A panels and lunches with key people who have built really huge companies was so enlightening. I saw my role, and the team members I needed, in a new light.
Understand the global market
One conversation stuck out for me when I mentioned that we had recently been backed by a Telstra-led accelerator: “Who’s [Telstra]?” “Oh, Telstra is our national carrier.” “How much are they worth?” “37 billion.” “Oh, that’s cute.” Australia is a cute postscript in the world market.
Bring it back home
Australia is one of the worst when it comes to food wastage, and visiting the zero–waste capital of the world was really cool for us as a business. The composting eco–system is well developed. Compost bins sit in public toilets for waste paper. They don’t need our services in San Francisco, though they still feel guilty about not doing it, and don’t understand where the compost bins go.
As for Australia, there’s still a massive problem to solve, so having zoomed out to visualise our moonshot, we’re now delving back into solving the challenges back home – and launch something to get it off the ground with a little more self-awareness, and global perspective.