Kuli Kuli CEO and co-founder Lisa Curtis. Photo: Kuli Kuli Foods

After the coronavirus hit, Kuli Kuli Foods CEO Lisa Curtis and co-founder Jordan Moncharmont cut their salaries by 50% and established “furlough Fridays” for the 13-person staff. It wasn’t enough. Walmart had delayed a rollout of Kuli Kuli’s energy snacks and drinks, and the startup’s sales forecasts dropped by half. 

Worried about making payroll, Curtis turned to an unusual new source of funding: the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. The emergency aid had set off an intense debate over whether venture-backed startups could—or should—take out the forgivable loans. Many steered clear, fearing public backlash.

Yet for Kuli Kuli and others, the chance to save jobs won out. The $238,000 loan let the startup avoid laying off up to five workers.

“We would have run out of cash this year if we had not gotten the PPP,” Curtis said.