Chris Mittelstaedt on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch
In April 2008, FruitGuys founder and CEO Chris Mittelstaedt visited Donny Deutch’s influential talk show The Big Idea to share his small business success story. In this inspiring segment, Mittelstaedt recounts his days as a 27-year-old courier working for $9.50 an hour at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. His boss — a 19-year-old spoiled slacker with an appetite for partying — would come to work with a hangover and snap at him to deliver faxes around the hotel. Mittelstaedt knew that he needed to make a change in his life. He had hoped to find a job as a copywriter in the city, but things hadn’t panned out that way. When he found out his wife was pregnant, reality set in. Chris knew he could do much better than his menial hotel job, but first he needed an idea.
To start his new life as an entrepreneur, Mittelstaedt talked to people in the city who worked for dot-com startups. He asked them for feedback, and many told him that they were working in an office environment without proper nutrition. Surviving on vending machine food and caffeine, many of these downtown employees found themselves gaining weight because of this unhealthy lifestyle. In that moment, Mittelstaedt realized that he could start a business to deliver fresh fruit to offices. The FruitGuys was born!
However, it took time for the family-run operation to grow. Mittelstaedt began by visiting the Embarcadero Center buildings in San Francisco with a notepad, and writing down contact information for as many companies as he could. Of the first 500 contacts he gathered, about five became the first FruitGuys clients. Initially, the “FruitGuys” name was often seen as a joke, so people had a hard time taking the company seriously. To deal with this, “Head Banana” Mittelstaedt would don a banana suit at local events to draw attention to the FruitGuys and legitimize the company with humor. Besides being a good sport and wearing the fruit suit, Mittelstaedt initially handled all areas of his business. The young entrepreneur would wake up in the middle of the night to buy fruit, put it in boxes, and deliver it around the city. Then he’d return to his office and do the accounting and sales.
Over the years, the FruitGuys has had growing pains and setbacks, but because Mittelstaedt and his team hung in there, they are now a small business success. Even in the late-90s dot-com bust — where the company lost half of its accounts — they managed to avoid bankruptcy and bounced back. Today, the FruitGuys delivers fresh fruit to offices and homes around the country, and the family-run business continues to grow.