Entrepreneurship

Executive Coaching: From Self-Doubt to Self-Awareness

Taking over his family business led this African entrepreneur to seek out a coach for strategic and emotional support.

April 25, 2023

Entrepreneurs aren’t meant to solve all their business problems alone, but all too often, they try. Kunaal Rach, CEO of Healthy U, was no exception… until he met Laurie Fuller, a certified business coach, who helped transform his leadership — and his business. Hear from both coach and coachee on how coaching can help provide the strategic, moral, and emotional support every entrepreneur needs.

Kunaal Rach left Kenya at the age of 13 to attend boarding school in England and says he really had no intention of returning. But one emotional call from his mother — the founder of Healthy U — changed everything. He quit his job in finance the next day and returned to Kenya in 2014 to help her run the family business, a retail and distribution chain for health and wellness.

Fast forward to 2019, when Rach became the CEO, with big new plans to grow and scale the business. Looking for a quick fix, he turned to a coach to provide the structure he felt was lacking in the organization. “I always thought that a coach would be there just to help me with my business, and that was it. I thought that they would come in and, with their expertise, they would tell me this is what’s wrong with your business, and let’s implement and let’s execute and let’s move on,” he remembers.

Laurie Fuller dispels myths like this from the get-go. As a certified executive coach with Stanford Seed based in Nairobi, Kenya, and a mentor to founders and CEOs across multiple continents from all kinds of industries, she immediately tells her clients that she’s a coach, not a consultant who is going to do the work for them. “A coach is really a collaborator, a connector, a cheerleader, and really focused on being able to support you. But we’re not actually producing those deliverables that a consultant would,” she explains.

According to Fuller, entrepreneurs often blame their teams for their business problems instead of looking inward. But she advises them to “hold the mirror up to yourself first. Let’s understand what we can do differently. Then we can go to others and ask them to do the same.” When Rach held up that mirror, he didn’t like what he saw. And that became the starting point for his coaching journey.

Trying to fill his mom’s very large shoes led to self-doubt. But having Fuller in his corner gave Rach the confidence to keep going. “She kept me honest, she kept me on the path, and she kept telling me to keep persevering, and that change is tough at the beginning, messy in the middle, but beautiful at the end. You just have to keep going, but you’ll get there eventually,” Rach recalls.

Fuller explains that coaching isn’t a solo endeavor or a quick fix. It’s a long-term journey that gains strength with the involvement of the entire team. She says, “Many of my clients, when they go through this journey, they understand that being a leader isn’t how much they’ve accomplished, but it’s who they have become as a person. And that’s the change in mindset that moves things.”

Listen to Rach and Fuller describe how coaching can be transformative for both the entrepreneurs and the coaches who help them succeed.

Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed, an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives.

Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Laurie Fuller: Be honest with your team. If you are going along a leadership journey and you’re transforming yourself as a leader, tell them. That is big and it’s real and it’s very impactful to the team.

Darius Teter: Business owners are problem solvers, but who do you turn to when you can’t find a solution? And what if the biggest problem is you?

Laurie Fuller: Because the only way that they’re going to change is if they see you changing, and you taking that risk, and you going through the discomfort, and you being scared as a leader. That’s the only way they’re going to do it if you ask them to.

Darius Teter: Welcome to season three of Grit & Growth from Stanford Seed, the podcast where Africa and South Asia’s intrepid entrepreneurs share their trials and triumphs, with insights from Stanford faculty and global experts on how to tackle challenges and grow your business.

Let’s imagine you’re driving in a foreign city and you’re lost. The landmarks don’t mean anything. The street signs are in a different language. You’ve got a map but you can’t check it. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the road. Traffic’s moving fast, and there’s no place to pull over. There are scooters in your blind spot, cars speeding by, and people are honking at you.

That’s sometimes how it can feel to be a CEO. You’re in unfamiliar territory trying to find your way before you crash. Now, wouldn’t it be nice to have a local guide in your car, someone who’s been there before? That’s the value of a business coach, a guide who can help you navigate the unknown. Today’s episode is a story of a business leader from Kenya and the Silicon Valley coach that changed his life, and also her own. I wanted to share this story with you today because right now Stanford Seed is recruiting coaches to support the amazing founders and CEOs that go through our programs. So if you like what you hear, stick around after the episode to find out more about the Seed coach application process or visit stanfordseed.co/coaching. It just so happens that the coach in this story is an old friend of ours, a very talented old friend. Hi, Laurie.

Laurie Fuller: Hi, Darius.

Darius Teter: So we’ll do the traditional “could you introduce yourself” sound bite.

Laurie Fuller: So my name is Laurie Fuller. I am a proud coach, certified executive coach, with Stanford Seed based in Nairobi, Kenya. And I am also active in venture investing.

Darius Teter: Longtime Grit & Growth listeners may recognize that name. Laurie was a founding member of our podcast team and a producer on seasons one and two. She’s also a strategic adviser, investor, board member, and an incredible business coach. She’s mentored founders and CEOs across multiple continents from all kinds of industries. And she’s one of our most celebrated Seed coaches. But Laurie doesn’t do it for the acclaim.

Laurie Fuller: Well, I think what’s most important is to really understand what are you passionate about and what drives you. And so a few years in, I realized that I really had a passion for learning. But then there’s an element at some point in your life of give-back. And while these other opportunities — I did learn and they were great experiences — I felt that I could be better served looking at an opportunity to have a more direct impact and a more direct give-back to a community. And, really, coaching has been an incredible way for me to do that.

Darius Teter: Let’s dig into a little bit about coaching now. Why do entrepreneurs need a coach? Or why might they need a coach?

Laurie Fuller: Well, I think that being a startup is really fulfilling because you’re growing and building a business. But it is complicated, and there are challenges. And so during the journey, I believe many entrepreneurs find it helpful to seek out a sounding board, and often they say it’s lonely at the top. And so when I’m looking at clients, I say, “Think of me as your one-person board.”

Darius Teter: You don’t have to take Laurie’s word for it. Just ask someone she’s coached. How would you pitch to them the value of a coach?

Kunaal Rach: Priceless.

Darius Teter: That’s Kunaal.

Kunaal Rach: My name is Kunaal Rach. I’m the CEO of Healthy U.

Darius Teter: Kunaal is a former coachee of Laurie’s, an experience that clearly left its mark.

Kunaal Rach: It’s something that will help you within every walk of your life. Your communication with your company, with your colleagues, with your family. I think I’m able to now have better conversations with them. It’s a game changer. It’s something that everyone should pursue.

Darius Teter: The story of Kunaal and Laurie’s coaching journey actually starts long before either of them were involved in Healthy U.

Kunaal Rach: So it’s a family-run business. We are a retail and distribution chain based out in East Africa for health and wellness. That’s basically food supplements, sports nutrition, natural cosmetics, organic foods, free-from foods. So anything that kind of you’d find in your equivalence of a Whole Foods or a Sprouts in the U.S. It started out in 1985 and it was basically the brainchild of my mother. Of course, at that point, there was a lack of awareness and of course pricing was very, very high. So just to make ends meet, they used to sell Heinz baked beans, Kellogg’s cornflakes, again, just to ensure that —

Darius Teter: Not your traditional healthy foods. But they do move. They move off the shelf.

Darius Teter: Kunaal’s family has been in Kenya for four generations, but that’s not where he imagined his future.

Kunaal Rach: I actually moved to England when I was 13. So I went to boarding school, so at a very young age. And I ended up working in the city in London, and I actually worked for a clearing and derivatives trading house. And so my dream was always, I guess, to pursue a career in finance, in trading. And I had no intention of ever moving back to Kenya.

Darius Teter: But one day, Kunaal got a call that changed his perspective.

Kunaal Rach: So it was on my way home sitting on the train. My mom’s had a horrendous day at work and she sounds extremely upset. And I’m trying to prod her with questions and she’s giving me one-liners back. And she turns around to me and says, “I want to sell the business.” And I’m like, “What you mean, you want to sell the business?” And she just said, “I’m tired. I’m tired of doing all of this alone. And I feel like there’s no help.” So we left the conversation like that. And I remember I couldn’t sleep the entire evening. I woke up the next morning and I resigned.

Darius Teter: Wait, wait, wait. You drove into your probably nice office in London Financial District and you walked into your supervisor’s office and you said, I quit?

Kunaal Rach: Literally said that. Yeah. So that was the end of that. And it was just a kind of impromptu decision.

Darius Teter: Was it always the plan that you would eventually become CEO? Was that understood?

Kunaal Rach: No, it was never discussed.

Darius Teter: So when you came back in 2014, what role did you take up?

Kunaal Rach: Procurement and supply chain. I was actually not even allowed to sit on the main table with the executive team. I had to earn the right to sit on the executive team.

Darius Teter: Okay. So you’re the kid, you’re not allowed at the executive table, you’re observing the business. What did you think were the challenges facing the business?

Kunaal Rach: I think it was accountability. When I came in, there was a level that I wanted to take the business to, which was now putting more formalized structures in place, more processes in place. So when I talk about accountability, what I’m referring to is if someone says that I’m going to give this to you next week, the deadline is next week. It’s not four weeks from now. There’s never any deadlines. There’s no structure in the way things were working. And so that’s where my frustration came in.

Darius Teter: Kunaal also observed a lack of trust and an inability to delegate.

Kunaal Rach: I think when you start off a business as an entrepreneur, you’re so used to doing everything yourself. And so when you get to a certain size, it also becomes a little difficult to let go. My mom was doing almost everything.

Darius Teter: So a lack of accountability meant that work wasn’t getting done. A lack of delegation meant that your mom felt all the stress of the work not getting done. And it seems like the business relied really heavily on individuals. So if somebody was to leave, that would just leave a big hole in the business. You were head of procurement at that time still?

Kunaal Rach: Yeah. So I mean, I could not go on holiday and not open my laptop and work. I had to ensure that orders were going out and containers were getting cleared. And so the idea was, and I always said this to myself, was that I’ve got to get to a point where I can actually take a two-week break and not have to worry about work. And so, that’s the level I wanted us to get to.

Darius Teter: These problems were holding Healthy U back from its potential to grow.

Kunaal Rach: When we realized that, look, if we want to scale, we need to change culture. And there’s going to have to be a very different mindset here because we can’t keep working like this. There’s going to come a point where we’re going to hit a plateau.

Darius Teter: Kunaal originally saw coaching as a quick fix, a shortcut to success.

Kunaal Rach: I always thought that a coach would be there just to help you with my business, and that was it.

Darius Teter: They’ll roll up their sleeves and solve problems for you, you mean?

Kunaal Rach: Right. That’s what I thought. Yeah. I thought that they would come in and with their expertise, they’d tell me, this, this, this is what’s wrong with your business, and let’s implement, and let’s execute, and let’s move on.

Darius Teter: Getting a coach was part of buying culture.

Kunaal Rach: Right. Was bringing discipline,

Darius Teter: Come in and fix this.

Kunaal Rach: It was, yeah.

Darius Teter: But that’s not how Laurie operates.

Laurie Fuller: So I definitely start by saying I’m not a consultant, which a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders perhaps are more familiar with generally. And what that means is, I’m not going to roll up my sleeves and go in and actually do work for you. So I’m not going to create your strategic plan. I’m not going to create your marketing plan. I’m not going to create your cash flow statement. And so that’s a really different resource that can be helpful, but isn’t what a coach is. A coach is really a collaborator, a connector, a cheerleader, and really focused on being able to support you, but we’re not actually producing those deliverables that a consultant would do.

Darius Teter: Coaches are great at dealing with problems like delegation precisely because they won’t do things for you.

Laurie Fuller: You can’t just walk to someone’s desk and say, here, do this. I want it by this time. There’s more to it. And sometimes, as leaders, we want to do things quickly. We want the easy way out. But if you want something to sustain and be successful, there’s still an investment on your side to make sure that it can happen properly.

Darius Teter: So making that work, if that’s the challenge you’re helping them with, I mean that includes accountability structures, KPIs [key performance indicators], targets, you actually need to have goal setting. Everyone needs to be aware of what they’re responsible for. You have to have a way to check in.

Laurie Fuller: People think of soft skills, like maybe delegation, as a soft skill. But it actually does have an underlying process that helps you be more successful. Do you have a clear strategy? Do you have an organizational design, which is clear from a reporting perspective, from a role and responsibility perspective? Do you have some kind of culture of debate? You need some foundational elements in place. So those are things that we have to work on.

Darius Teter: But often, the real issues are hidden deep beneath the surface. In those initial conversations, do you often find that what the coachee really wants to work on may not necessarily be the most important thing, and there’s kind of a process of getting on a journey together to kind of rethink or re-evaluate what’s the most important thing they need to work on with you?

Laurie Fuller: Absolutely. So you go in, you talk for the first time to an entrepreneur, and they’re often saying, “My team isn’t doing this. My team isn’t doing that. I wish my team were doing this and that.” And my response back is, “Well, what about you? What are you doing or not doing?” Because sometimes we forget as the leader or the founder that we’ve developed a relationship with these individuals, with these team members, and based on our actions and what we say, we are training them and they’re behaving because they’re reacting to what we do first. But hold the mirror up to yourself first. Let’s understand what we can do differently. Then we can go to others and ask them to do the same.

Darius Teter: When he held up the mirror to himself, Kunaal didn’t like what he saw.

Kunaal Rach: When you move back from a place like England and you’ve worked in a very different culture, I moved back with a bit of a, I would say, a little bit of an attitude. I was quite aggressive in terms of just how I wanted things to be done. I wanted things to be done at pace. That’s the mindset I had, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes I made in my early days as CEO, was that, as I mentioned, I tried to almost buy culture. I tried to bring culture. What I didn’t realize was that the leadership journey is just as important. And for me, that’s actually something that I’ve continued to work on.

I mean, we did the 12 months within the business, but now it’s been more around my journey and my development. So it’s been, how do I just become a better leader? How do I become more effective? How do I build capacity? How do I empower people? How do I become more empathetic? So there’s so many qualities that I’m learning to develop. And not just the technical side of things. It’s more around the essence of being a good leader.

Laurie Fuller: One of the articles that I give a client before we start is an HBR [Harvard Business Review] article on, “Are you ready to be coached?” Because this is exactly it. You’re going to have to unlearn and relearn a lot of behaviors. The mindset, the communication style, and so inherent in that is also it’s going to be uncomfortable. I had a client say, “Laurie, this is intense.” And it is. Now we will take the pace that the client sets. But it’s not easy, which is why without a coach, without an accountability partner, we fall back into old patterns, old behaviors, doing things that we have the highest level of comfort in. But that’s not necessarily what your team needs, and it’s certainly not what the business needs. And what you’re looking for is progress, but it’s incremental progress. I’m never going to expect, in that example, a leader to go in for the first time, completely change the way they think and behave in its entirety.

And that if it is really intense, and if it is uncomfortable, we have to respect that and allow them the time to work through it.

Darius Teter: The kind of cultural change that Kunaal was pursuing takes time, because you have to bring everyone along with you.

Laurie Fuller: You can’t coach the leader and neglect the team members. Just like you can’t coach the team members and neglect the leader because it’s a relationship. Be honest with your team. If you are going along a leadership journey and you’re transforming yourself as a leader, tell them, because — guess what, Darius — if you don’t and your behavior all of a sudden changes the way you act, the way you communicate, they’re going to know something’s up and then you’re going to leave them to guess what’s going on. So for example, this client, if the client’s name was Laurie, they would say, they said, “Team, I’m working on my Laurie 2.0. Laurie 1.0 got us this far. But I’m working on Laurie 2.0 to get us to the next level. And that’s my commitment to you.” That is big, and it’s real, and it’s very impactful to the team. Because the only way that they’re going to change is if they see you changing, and you taking that risk, and you going through the discomfort, and you being scared as a leader. That’s the only way they’re going to do it if you ask them to.

Darius Teter: How does the leader, and how does the coach … First of all, explain to the team what the coach is doing there and get them comfortable with the coach being in the room over and over again, observing them do their thing.

Laurie Fuller: There is a timeline and a sequence of steps to this. I do need to meet the team members. I do need to develop a relationship with them independent of the leader. It’s important that they know me, and they don’t know me just in context of being with him or her, but they understand who I am as a person, what my role is.

Because if I don’t do that, to your point, they wonder, well, why is she here? What is she doing?

Darius Teter: Yeah. Is she checking on us?

Laurie Fuller: Right. Right.

Darius Teter: So am I going to get a report card from this person and then get fired?

Laurie Fuller: Absolutely. So you do have to develop those relationships first in order to really sit in and have that type of honest behavior and communication.

Darius Teter: When Kunaal introduced Laurie to his team, their reaction surprised him.

Kunaal Rach: So I think my heads of department were very excited.

Darius Teter: They said, “Oh, my God, Kunaal, you need a coach so bad.”

Kunaal Rach: Yeah, trust me, I think there’s some truth behind that. I mean, I think they were excited because there was someone that’s coming in that was going to potentially break the norm, change the way we think.

Darius Teter: It occurred to me that if no one knows why you’re there, it’s weird to have you in the room. If they know why you’re there, you might actually be the physical embodiment of the leader’s commitment to change or to at least self-reflection. So in some sense, you’re creating a permission structure. “Oh, he’s paying this person to be here and listen to us, so let’s do it.”

Laurie Fuller: I think that’s true. I think there’s a sense of empowerment that individuals feel if they see that sense of commitment from the top.

Darius Teter: This mix of operations and relations is what makes coaching so beneficial. Any HR consultant can fly in and set up a process, but often that process only treats a symptom of the dysfunction, and so it fails to stick. A coach has the time and the context to address the actual root cause.

Laurie Fuller: For example, we go back to the complaint that most leaders have: my team isn’t doing enough. So my question is, do you know the true capacity and capability of your team? No, I don’t know. How are you going to figure that out? So then we discuss perhaps the only way you’re going to figure that out is to give an individual more and more responsibility until you see them fail. Then maybe you know that at this point in time, this is their true capability. And then you know, okay, here’s training, here’s support, here’s mentoring I need to provide in order to move them to the next level. Now, in order for me to do that, I have to let go as a leader, and I have to be willing to accept that at some point they may fail. And how do I get comfortable doing that?

Darius Teter: At Healthy U, these strengthened relationships, established more trust up and down the corporate ladder, and that improved accountability and made systems of delegation possible. Just imagine this happening at the company Kunaal described 10 minutes ago. How did you communicate this strategy of growing the business?

Kunaal Rach: So the first thing we did was we created a more top-down instead of a bottom-up approach to all the HODs.

Darius Teter: Sorry, HOD is heads of department?

Kunaal Rach: Heads of department. We call them into a room. We show them the T plan, and what the next three to five years look like. And then we asked them each to go back, have a think about the ambitious goals that we had set, and to then come up with their own strategies based on their own departments. We then had monthly meetings where we started to now share numbers with them. So before, we never used to share any top-line numbers with them. And so they would never know how well the business was doing until the end of the year. This way, they knew how well the business was performing or how the business was not performing on a month-to-month basis. So they were able to now give their insights on how they could improve from their point of view.

And then in the following year, because I took over the beginning of 2019, and in 2020, they started to now create their own budgets. So they were now given a budget and they were told, okay, this is your spend for the year: create a roadmap. And so what we started to do was to try to create more inclusivity in the decision-making process. And so that’s when they bought more into the strategy.

Darius Teter: I really liked the idea that each head of department has visibility to how the business is doing, but also has to come up with their own strategy to address the company-level goals. I think that is super empowering. First of all, having the data to understand what’s going on, and also to have the ability to make their own decisions within it. Kunaal was making progress. By this time, he’d proven he was a capable leader and he’d succeeded his mother as CEO. But not everyone was on board with his bold new vision for Healthy U.

Kunaal Rach: One of the major challenges we faced was when I took over as CEO, we had zero growth in the first year, because there was so much infighting. There were almost two factions created within the business, Kunaal’s team, and there was my mom’s team. So my mom’s team was the older sort of generation, the older team that had been there for a number of years. And there was this new team that I was building that I was now bringing in a new head of quality, for example, because I felt like that was such a critical part to our business. I went and hired from places like DHL and thought, great, I’ll bring in an operations guy from DHL, and he’ll bring in this great process, and structure, etc. And what I realized was that he was coming into a place where he had no one to support him. So he felt very abandoned. So I had a few resignations here, a few resignations there. And of course, you had a lot of the older staff kind of just sitting back and saying, “Yeah, okay, fine. You guys think you know it all.”

Darius Teter: “Prove it.”

Kunaal Rach: “Prove it.” Basically, yeah. There’ve been people that have been sitting in the business for 20 years. These are people that have grown with the business, that have been instrumental in helping my mother take it to the next level. And here I am, coming from a transformation program and trying to change culture, trying to change mindsets because I feel like what’s going to be relevant in five years time. So I wasn’t looking at short-term thinking, I was thinking about more long term. So you could see that there’s a bit of a divide. And so what that meant was that as much as you had this wonderful strategy in place and you had all these processes put in, people didn’t know who to follow.

Darius Teter: Was Laurie also in the room with the executive team? Did the executive team welcome her into their meetings so she could observe and hear their own deliberations? And did she also work with specific members of the executive team?

Kunaal Rach: She did, yeah. She actually attended all of our board meetings once a month. And she was privy to numbers, she was privy to conversations, she was privy to arguments. She saw us at our best and at our worst. And she also had a sit-down with each individual member. And of course they voiced their opinions as well about just the way the business is running, and about the culture of the business, and where they thought that the business was supposed to be heading. So they definitely had their bit of her as well, or their part of her. What she actually helped me identify was people’s behaviors, their roles, and, I guess, what we required in the business. And it coupled up with my thought process as well. So it gave me the confidence to make certain changes. And so we made some really difficult choices.

Darius Teter: These changes even caused tension within Kunaal’s family.

Kunaal Rach: I had a few difficult moments with my mom. You’ve got to understand that my mom has built a business that has done well, and that at that point is sitting with multiple branches. And now you have someone in myself and a coach coming in to rattle the cage, and to now change the way that she’s operated for 20 years. One of the reasons why I opted and elected to have a business coach was because I felt like I didn’t only need assistance with certain areas of the business, but it was more around my own personal development. I didn’t feel that I was good enough or that I was the right person to fill my mom’s shoes.

Darius Teter: I’ve heard you use the phrase before, the “emotional runway.” I know what a financial runway is. What’s an emotional runway?

Laurie Fuller: This is such an important part of being a coach. Really, it’s about the energy and the passion that you have to continue to move the business forward because it is difficult as an entrepreneur. There’s always challenges. Everyone is bringing you their problems to solve. They’re always giving you reasons why something won’t work. So because it’s lonely, and especially in emerging markets, there’s so many things outside of your control. “Emotional runway” is how much energy do you have available to draw on, to move things forward and address these challenges?

Darius Teter: And presumably it’s a direct function of your passion for what you’re doing or what problem you’re trying to solve with your business.

Laurie Fuller: I think that’s part of it. And I also think within the business, while you’re running the business, are you focused on the things that are most interesting to you and give you enough energy? So I think it’s a combination of both.

Darius Teter: So you become CEO 2019, zero growth, huge infighting, you bring in new hires, they don’t feel supported, they’re undermined, they quit. What did that do to your self-confidence?

Kunaal Rach: That’s one of the times when I started doubting myself. And I remember just trying to figure out: How do I get myself out of this? How do I make sure that I can do this? And so like I mentioned, having someone like Laurie around me, having an extremely strong … I had my wife around me as well at that time, someone that really supported me. And she also said to me that, “Look, you are doing the right things. You are putting the right structures in place. You are putting the right processes in place, so just keep at it. It’ll work out.”

Darius Teter: This is another reason that coaches are so beneficial. They’re in your corner when things get tough.

Coaching is a vulnerable process. I mean, these sound like really difficult times and difficult emotions. I mean, did you feel like you could share all of your feelings with Laurie? Was that the type of relationship you guys were able to establish?

Kunaal Rach: Absolutely. Yeah, because I knew that it stayed in that inner circle. I knew that she’s not going to go out there. She’s one person that I can fully trust, but she’d hold me accountable. She would explain to me that you are not the only one in this journey, that there are so many people that go through this journey. She would set up a platform for me to sort of also network with like-minded individuals. So not only are you having conversations with your coach, but now you are also speaking to people that are going through that journey. And where Laurie really helped me was she kept me honest. She kept me on the path, and she kept telling me to keep persevering, that change is tough at the beginning, messy in the middle, but beautiful at the end.

Laurie Fuller: And one of the things that I didn’t bring up, but I find is a really big part of my role as a coach, is being a cheerleader. When things are good, I’m celebrating with them. When things are bad, I’m commiserating, I’m empathizing. And when is the last time you heard someone say, “I’m proud of you?” I say that all the time to my clients because they’re willing to go on the journey. They’re willing to reflect, they’re willing to change, and they’re willing to be rare, and raw, and do it in front of me and do it in front of their team. And they’re solving difficult problems in running their business. And I’m proud of these clients, and I want them to be proud of themselves.

Darius Teter: Laurie’s support helped Kunaal through the tough times. Now, not long after their year of zero growth, he believes that Healthy U is ready to scale.

Kunaal Rach: Yeah, I think I’ve got a good executive team. I’ve got great heads of department. We’ve put some really good structure in place. And yeah, I mean at present, the way the business is operating, it’s in a good place and it’s in a place where we’re ready to now really go to the next level, really scale.

Darius Teter: So tell me about your scaling ambitions. You have two shops in Uganda, most of your retail outlets are in Kenya. What’s next?

Kunaal Rach: So our vision is to be pioneers in health and wellness across Africa. And I don’t take that statement very lightly. So we’re now pursuing distribution in Tanzania and Rwanda.

Darius Teter: “Health and wellness leader across the continent” means what? Give me your 10-year number.

Kunaal Rach: Over 300 million.

Darius Teter: Kunaal credits much of his company’s growth and his own to the work that he’s done with Laurie.

Kunaal Rach: I think if you were to ask me why get a coach, acting as a sounding board helps you develop leadership skills, helps you become a better listener, a more effective communicator, teaches you how and when to delegate. I think that is such a critical skill set that a lot of leaders need to learn and develop. Gives you lots of different perspectives. Challenges the way you think, especially the norms, makes you think out of the box. Provides insights on ideas and strategy. Motivates you, inspires you, encourages you. But also keeps you honest. And I think the biggest part for me is that after every session, I feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I walk in there sometimes and I feel like this is tough. It’s hard to keep going, and we have our conversations and I feel so much lighter.

So it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for the foreseeable future because I feel like, as much as you can say that you’ve learned enough, I still feel like there’s so much more development left.

Darius Teter: Of course, Laurie doesn’t take credit for all of Kunaal’s growth.

Laurie Fuller: Each individual is creative, resourceful, and whole. And what that means fundamentally is that the answers come from within the client. It’s our job to draw them out. And so we have these different tools that we use to support the client in doing that. Because ultimately, many of my clients, when they go through this journey, they understand that being a leader isn’t how much they’ve accomplished, but it’s who they have become as a person. And that’s the change in mindset that moves things forward.

Darius Teter: And what role does your mother play in the business now?

Kunaal Rach: As a founder, as my mother, she’s always going to be the one that’s going to be my mentor.

Darius Teter: Some sort of a boss.

Kunaal Rach: Right. Exactly. It goes without saying. There doesn’t have to be any lines or anything like that. And I respect that.

Darius Teter: But you’ve earned her confidence and she can relax now that you’re CEO and you feel that she’s comfortable.

Kunaal Rach: I mean, she’s away from town as we speak and she’s not had to worry at all about the business. So yeah, she’s certainly got to a good place now.

Darius Teter: And can you take your two-week vacation without your laptop?

Kunaal Rach: I can.

Darius Teter: Being a business leader can be difficult and disorienting. Even with a solid strategy, you’re often stumbling around in the dark. The problems you don’t know how to solve can fester and grow. It’s no wonder that founders and CEOs sometimes lose confidence. Coaches can help with all of that, and while it isn’t a quick fix, coaching can be deeply transformative to both you and your business. Coaches help you diagnose and treat the underlying issues that are holding you back. They get to know your people intimately, so that the team grows with you. And whether times are good or bad, coaches are there for moral and emotional support, which is so often lacking for entrepreneurs. This work isn’t just transformative for the business owner. Laurie has been a Seed coach since 2018, and she’s told me privately that it’s been one of the most impactful experiences of her life.

And now you have that opportunity, too. Stanford Seed is currently accepting applications for new Seed coaches. As a coach, you would join an elite group of accomplished professionals who work on the ground to help leaders transform their businesses. If you are interested in creating meaningful change for companies and communities in Africa and South Asia, then visit stanfordseed.co/coaching to learn more.

I want to thank Kunaal Rach and Laurie Fuller for sharing their sometimes deeply personal story. Laurie will be joining us again later in the season, so stay tuned for more coaching insights.

This has been Grit & Growth from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’m your host, Darius Teter. If you like this episode, follow us and leave a review on your favorite podcast app. Erika Amoako-Agyei and VeAnne Virgin researched and developed content for this episode. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator, and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Andrew Ganem and sound design and mixing by Alex Bennett at Lower Street Media. Thanks for joining us. We’ll be back soon with another episode.

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