Fork Farms Brand VP Lalu Beré on transitioning from high-profile brand management to startup brand building
From time to time, we'll be passing the proverbial pen to our entrepreneurs, network connections, and industry experts, to share their personal perspectives on a variety of conversation-worthy topics. We'd like to thank Fork Farms Brand VP Lalu Beré for her many contributions to our TitletownTech community, including this story.
I never saw myself working for a startup. My early career was spent in corporate institutions: Wells Fargo, Kimberly-Clark, United Way, and an MBA program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. While the roles I held were varied, I consistently gravitated towards established organizations that had plentiful resources, strong brand recognition, and clear pathways for advancement. There was comfort in imagining a five-year plan, maybe even a ten-year plan, at these companies. Coming of age professionally during the Great Recession and graduating with debt forced me to be practical while exploring the possibilities ahead of me.
With that backdrop, I had a lot of fear when I was considering a role with Fork Farms, an agriculture-tech startup accelerating local access to fresh food. In addition to concerns about stability, I couldn’t imagine leading brand and marketing for a startup. Most of my marketing experience was with Kimberly-Clark, working in brand management on global consumer products like U by Kotex and Depend. How would I do the same work without my big budget and cadre of agencies? I remember telling our founder Alex in one early conversation, “Just so you know, I have no idea how to update a website.” His response was, “Well, are you willing to learn?” I said yes and shortly thereafter took the leap.
Working for a startup has proven to be an exercise in flexibility. I've reviewed social media strategy, built new product launch plans, coordinated media appearances, and trained new team members all in a day. Rooted in these projects is the constant responsibility of decision-making. With our small team, there isn’t a hierarchy of managers to help guide outcomes. I get to be the decision maker, whether I like it or not. While it’s exhausting at times, I’ve realized my many years of corporate experience have conditioned me to stay focused on strategy and implement process. As a result, I can navigate the many shifts and decisions with greater clarity.
Being in a smaller organization also means having a sense of ownership over my work that I’ve never had. We recently relaunched the Fork Farms brand with a new visual identity and brand position. We were fortunate to work closely with TitletownTech Entrepreneur in Residence Aaron Kennedy through the process, one of the many benefits of being a TitletownTech portfolio company. Instead of bringing someone else’s vision to life, my team and I worked with Aaron to architect our authentic vision steeped in the history and future potential of Fork Farms. I feel so much pride remembering time spent choosing the perfect words, tweaking every curve in the logo, and crafting a visual library that represents who we are and the partners we serve.
Even with our team’s passion and commitment to the brand, we still face the uphill battle of generating awareness for Fork Farms with new customers. In our industry, our partners often have never heard of hydroponics, let alone Fork Farms, so we’re required to do a lot of educating. As a marketer, this means I have to deeply understand our customer’s journey and tailor messages and tactics with that education in mind. From the beginning, Fork Farms relied on word of mouth as our marketing engine. As we’ve grown, we’ve experimented with replicating that engine through targeted digital marketing that emphasizes storytelling and testimonials, allowing us to scale our successful, relationship-driven partnership model.
No startup is immune to some fear of stability, but I’ve learned to take that energy and channel it into motivation. While we may not have the balance sheet of a Fortune 500 corporation, we have an incredibly dedicated team committed to inspiring and empowering all people to grow fresh food, nourish their communities, and heal the planet. That shared goal is the foundation of our work, and it connects us to our partners, investors, and neighbors. It’s what fuels me to drive every day to ensure access to fresh food becomes a human right. And I know it’s what will keep our business on this trajectory for years to come.
This first year in the startup world dispelled many of the misconceptions I brought with me when I joined the Fork Farms team. We are small, but we are already creating scalable impact. We manage through volatility using the same principles as a large business. And ultimately, just like the corporations I’ve worked for, solid strategy and great people are what move us forward. The one thing about startup life that turned out to be true? We do have a Skee-Ball machine and beer taps in the office…those I’ll happily keep.