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Ben Chesler, Co-Founder of Imperfect Foods

Ben Chesler, Co-Founder of Imperfect Foods
Ben Chesler has been a social entrepreneur since before he really knew what the words meant. He just liked solving problems. While in high school he co-founded a non-profit that went on to raise $100,000+ to combat the child sex trade.

Ben Chesler has been a social entrepreneur since before he really knew what the words meant.  He just liked solving problems.  While in high school he co-founded a non-profit that went on to raise $100,000+ to combat the child sex trade. In college, he started the Food Recovery Network to bridge the gap and recover food and donate it to food banks and shelters in the community.  Over the next 4 years, they scaled Food Recovery Network to 200 colleges across the country, and it became the largest student movement against hunger in the US.

Ben kicks off our discussion by answering my question to force rank Customers, Employees, Planet and Investors. Listen how our answers differ. Ben also talks about starting Imperfect Foods and some of the mistakes that were made and the benefits of not always knowing the “proper” way of starting a business. He shares how the press was helpful to their launch and it was not customer acquisition. Ben shares why they chose to register as a B-corporation. He also discusses his different roles within the company and the one that he has settled on now.

“I think that I really believe in the power of, you know, young people with ideas to change the world. And I don't believe that, you know, you have to be an expert to solve a problem.” - Ben Chesler

Today on Startups for Good we cover:

  • Starting a business while still in college
  • How to hire the right people and how to know they are right
  • Raising money from venture capitalists
  • The differences from impact investors vs traditional investors
  • Starting a company with a friend
  • The highs and lows of starting a company
  • Creating good jobs for the employees

Connect with Ben on LinkedIn and check out Imperfect Foods

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Transcript

Miles

Ben, welcome to startups for good. Thank you so much for coming on.

Ben

And Miles, thanks for having me really, really glad to be here.

Miles

I'm so excited to talk about so much of your story here. But I'd love to dive in. By getting your perspective, how would you rank if you had to force rank them, customers, employees, planet and investors.

Ben

You're right, you're gonna you're gonna put a gun to my head and force force me to rank them high note no ties or anything like that? No, I

Miles

want a strict ranking here.

Ben

And I'm going to say, planet, employees, customers, investors in that order, top to bottom,

Miles

and why.

Ben

So, you know, again, I think it's more nuanced than just a straight list, but one, which is, you know, we're facing a real climate crisis. Without the planet, the other three don't exist, I guess, is what I would say, you know, without customers, the business is gonna be really tough without the planet, and there's gonna be no people. And so I think we all no matter what we're doing, have a part to play in mitigating climate change. And that's actually why we started Imperfect. And I actually think that, you know, our customers, employees and investors all love our dedication to the planet. So, for me, it's kind of a no brainer to put that one first. And employees, you know, employees and customers are so are so close together, I think you always want to do right by the customer. But your employees are the people. And I think back to when we started Imperfect five years ago, they're the people who put blood sweat and tears, you know sweat equity, everything into the business and believed in it. And I think you have to believe in them and prioritize them if you're going to want your business to succeed. And part of this is just a personal choice, which is I don't want a cutthroat business, where I put my customers first at all costs at the kind of to the detriment of my employees, I want one where everyone wins, but I'm always going to stand up to my employees. And so, you know, a great example is we're gonna make it right, if something goes wrong, you know, with an order for a customer, but I have no tolerance for you know, anybody disrespecting, or, you know, getting angry at one of my employees, that's where we draw the line, you know, customers, obviously, super important to, to keep happy. And investors. I mean, you know, look, you know, this is you forced me to write them here. But I would never say, you know, investors are last by any stretch of the imagination. And, you know, they give us the capital and allow us to do what we want to do. But when push comes to shove, yeah, that's how I'd order it.

Miles

Thank you for that. In my first startup, I used to talk about employees first, customers, then investors, I didn't talk too much about planet. But I really had the sense that even the best way to serve the investors was to make sure employees are taken care of, and they'll take care of customers, and investors will be happy from the results of that. So I'm generally in agreement with your your ranking there.

Ben

That's good. That's good way. And so I know I'm not supposed to be asking you questions, but but why when did kind of the planet come into your consciousness?

Miles

I'd say we didn't see that as a mission of our startup at the time. You know, since then, I have been more engaged personally in philanthropicly and investing in companies that are focused on planet but for me, I think then this may be a difference you and I have, I'm focused on the wellness of people primarily and call that speciesist, if you want to, but that is my ranking. So I'm interested in planet primarily as a means to improving the well being of people.

Ben

I could be a whole hour long conversation there. But I appreciate that perspective. For sure.

Miles

Yeah, I'm sure not everyone agrees. But that's when it comes down to if I had to force rank it. That's how I think about you know that and that's coming from someone who's been vegetarian and vegan for short periods, but, and other things. But I also wanted to talk to you about when you started a company, it's another parallel between our careers you started a company while you were a college student. And I'm curious, looking back, if you would recommend that someone do that.

Ben

Yeah, you know, this is this is a really tough question. I think that I really believe in the power of, you know, young people with ideas to change the world. And I don't believe that, you know, you have to be an expert to solve a problem. And I think that's often kind of a way that big companies and potentially the older, older generations, kind of keep the statusp quo is by having these gates around innovation, entrepreneurship and capital. And so I actually started, co founded a nonprofit, in high school, to nonprofits and college and then Imperfect as well, while we were in college. And I believe those experiences were far more valuable than the academics in any of those places, I believe it sets up a lifelong kind of, you know, sets you up for lifelong entrepreneurship success. All that being said, it definitely helps to be in the industry that you're going to be disrupting. And I'd say at the very least, it's really important that you understand the customers and deeply understand their pain points. And sometimes you can do that in college. Sometimes it takes 20 years in an industry to understand what the pain points are. And so I don't think it's a one size fits all answer. But I do. You know, we didn't know the first thing about farming, and we didn't even talk to that many customers, and we started Imperfect, we just knew, you know, this problem had to be solved. And I do sometimes wish that that we had had a little bit more experience before starting it.

Miles

So why didn't you talk with customers? And what do you think flowed from them?

Ben

Yeah, we, you know, we, we did talk with some customers that I want to sell ourselves totally short. But, you know, we started Imperfect to solve an environmental problem, we saw that there were, you know, 20% of the fruits and vegetables in the US, were going to waste never even left the farm at 6 billion pounds of food. And at the same time, you know, groceries are expensive, and there's millions of people who are food insecure. And we said, this is a ridiculous problem. Let's solve it. You know, we didn't start this from customers were clamoring for ugly produce, right? Or customers were clamoring for, you know, 30% off grocery store prices, we you know, we gut checked in did surveys, I remember in Berkeley at the farmers market to see if customers were open to the idea. But I think we didn't, we didn't come at this from a customer perspective, because we came at it from an environmental perspective. And I'm happy to talk more about kind of how that influenced the evolution of the company, because I think it really did, but we pick the customer perspective, up later than most. And I think just happened to catch on to an idea that whose time was ripe, kind of no pun intended. for someone to take, take it on,

Miles

I get it, I get what you did there. I really would love to dive into this more because it is so counter to central dogma of startups like build something people want, talk to customers talk to humans get out there, get out of the building, these kinds of classic things you're told in startup learning. So did you were you unaware of those things? Why do you think you were able to skip over that and still have such a positive response from people?

Ben

Yeah, I think, yeah, I don't think we were intentional and ignoring it. I you know, neither. Neither, you know, myself nor my co founder, Ben Simon came from an entrepreneurship background. You know, I took one course in college with Danny Warshay was an amazing professor. And that now I count as a friend, my senior year when I knew I was starting the business. But we didn't come from the entrepreneurial kind of background, although we had started organizations before. And so it just never really occurred to us. And that's how you were supposed to do it. It was just, it was so unconscionable to us that there was all this food going to waste, that we knew it had to be solved. And as long as customers were willing to buy it, we had a business. So I didn't get I don't want to sell some short, because we wouldn't have had a business if customers didn't, you know, want this. But I think that the idea was just so right. And the value proposition ended up being really strong, which is basically reduce food waste, and save money, you know, 30% of the grocery store to start that it resonated. And then I think over the first year or two, we really started to learn how to listen to our customer. And I think without hiring, some of the people we hired really early on, who had more of that background and who kind of were listening to the customer. That's really what allowed us to succeed is surrounding yourself with great people.

Miles

And how did you know how to do that kind of hiring? Did you learn that from your previous nonprofits?

Ben

Trial by fire, which is pretty much how we learned to do everything we definitely had. We had experience with nonprofits and our CEO and my co founder, Ben Simon had been the executive director of one of the nonprofits and hired a staff of about 10 people. And so, we, we had experience there. A lot of it was listening to advisors and surrounding ourselves with good people. And a lot of it Yeah, was, you know, is kind of, you know, two steps forward one step back, we'd hire someone that worked, we'd hire someone that didn't, you know, we'd hire two people that worked. We'd promote someone at work, you know, we promote someone too fast. And so I think we really learned by doing it in some, some senses, you know, we raise venture capital from day one, but we're not your typical, I don't think, venture founders, you know, I think we were kind of seen as a bunch of hippies who were trying to reduce food waste. And once we realized what we had, and we learned a lot really quickly in terms of how to run a venture.

Miles

So how did you raise money from venture capitalists and a lot of money from what's been publicly reported? How did you do it as these quote unquote hippies, not the typical founder?

Ben

Yeah, I mean, the, the, the first round was, was tough. And, you know, I remember, you know, talking to 30 people, and, you know, different firms, and someone said, Hey, well, have you talked to any seed stage investors? And I literally remember, I was like, what's a seed stage investor, like, you know, we, we, we were just getting, you know, connections, connections, connections, you know, somebody says no and passed you on anybody else, but we had no idea the right way to do this. And, and, and advising startups now. I'm like, Oh, my God, I can pass on so much wisdom of what not to do. And but I think really is one we hustled to is, we happen to stumble upon some really aligned, mission aligned investors. So I'll just give a shout out to this group called Gratitude Railroad, which gave us around 250 to $300,000. And they were basically our first check in the door. And they were just starting a bunch of ex-hedge fund and Wall Street guys who really believed that they could do they could have outsized returns by doing better for the planet and doing better for the world. And I think we were their first investment. And it was just kind of a match made in heaven, that that, that we happen to find each other. And the other thing that I think, I would say is, we had a lot of really good press connections from our days of Food Recovery Network. And we and my co founder, especially Ben, was really good at telling the story in a compelling way. And so a great example is the day we launched in Oakland, we served five zip codes. And we were on the front page of the New York Times, you know, food and wine section, or food and drink or whatever it's called. And I think we had, you know, we're on the Today Show, a few days later, we had CBS, all the major news, news networks, knocking on our door, and so that drummed up a lot of inbound interests from angel investors, because we got that press.

Miles

So the press was more helpful for investors than it was recruiting customers. Right?

Ben

Well, totally. I mean, it was, it was really funny that like, you know, it makes me rethink whenever I read about, you know, a company in the news, because people must have thought we were this huge business. And we were literally like, five people in a warehouse. And, and we only delivered to 100,000 possible customers out of the 300 million in the US. So we had people all over the US go on our website, seeing they couldn't sign up and probably, you know, leaving us their email or, you know, forgetting about us. And so the it was far more helpful with investors than with customers. And actually remember, after we got the New York Times article we knew was coming. And so I was bracing the website for a few, you know, huge influx of customers. And we probably got, you know, 50 signups or whatever, you know, not bad. And a few weeks later, we had like 200 signups in one day, and I was like, do we get some press? What am I not hearing about like? And it turns out, somebody on Reddit had asked, What's a really good kind of food delivery CSA style option in the East Bay? And so it was like, Oh, I love Imperfect foods. And that comment and response got us far more signups than the New York Times, you know, cover, which, which I think speaks to the power of kind of how media is changing, but that's also another topic.

Miles

Now that's like turbocharged word of mouth in a way.

Ben

Yeah, exactly. Any referrals were a huge part of what we did from day one, and probably propelled our growth, you know, solely by referrals for the first year or two of our business.

Miles

Going back to fundraising Gratitude Railroad is known as an impact investor. But many of your investors who've invested later are not correct.

Ben

Correct? Yeah. Some of them might tell you they are but No, they're not.

Miles

And so how did you make that transition? and What impact did it have on the business going from the impact oriented to not as impact oriented?

Ben

Totally, and and it's, you know, although gratitude railroad is impact oriented, their thesis is they can create bigger returns. For their LPs, by investing in companies that do good for the planet. And so, you know, I don't think they have a thesis that may have to sacrifice returns, financial returns for impact. And I think that that kind of made the transition easier for us to, you know, investors like Mavron, Insight, Norwest because they all knew that our brand, and actually how authentic our brand was, you know, the fact that we really cared about the planet was one of the leading drivers, you know, customers signed up, and we still and, you know, you used to, and still have data that shows that that is a huge driver, that customers want to know that their purchases are improving the quality of life on this planet, and improving the health of the planet, and reducing food waste. And so they knew that there was no choice between impact and scale, that, you know, we can only scale with impact, and that our impact could only, you know, occur with scale as well. And so for some, you know, for us, it was the more produce we sell, the more pounds we recover from the fields. And so, you know, like I said, You forced me to rank them, but we were all winning, including the planet, when we were when we were growing.

Miles

This is something I really believe, which is early investors who buy in with the mission can help propel that business forward so that the business becomes attractive to those that don't have that mission lens and the mission gets baked in, you guys did such a good job of it, the mission being baked in, as you're saying with the success commercially of the business, in which case, even a very mercenary investor coming in later, wouldn't want to rip it out because they would be destroying commercial value.

Ben

Exactly. I think, you know, it's, are there small trade offs that get made along the way? Like, Yes, for sure. But in the grand scheme of things, we fully believe that the mission that delivering on our mission, returns kind of, you know, gives our gives the greatest returns to, you know, to our stakeholders, and we screened for investors, you know, that believed in that, you know, we didn't encounter too many investors that were kind of, you know, they dumb enough to say, Oh, well, we want to take the mission out of Imperfect Foods. But we were definitely looking for investors that that bought into the idea that our customers cared about the plan, and that was going to be our strategic advantage.

Miles

Any particular trade offs that come to mind, just so that listeners and founders who may be early in their journey are going in eyes wide open?

Ben

Yeah, You know, it's, there's not that many specific ones that come to mind. But I would say like, it's not a you know, every every company is gonna have trade off. Even if you're a nonprofit, right? You give away all the money, but you're not gonna have any money to run the nonprofit, I would just say that, you know, there are times where growth comes at the expense of perfection, I guess, if that makes sense. So like, you know, we've been working for years to make our packaging more sustainable. And we are making gains on that our customers care about it, morally, we care about it, right. But we didn't stop everything we did until we found the perfect solution. And so what I would say is if if you're going to be a purist, when it comes to impact, which is like 100% impact or nothing else, then venture capital or traditional venture capital might not be the right fit for you. Or if you have a company where you don't feel like the mission is embedded, but you want to do something good on the side. So for example, if you have a T shirt company, and you want to give away all the profits to charity, right, that might not be compatible with venture backed, because if you're giving away all the profits to charity, how your you know, backer is going to make their returns. But it's much less of a problem. If you embed the mission in the growth plan.

Miles

Did it make any difference to you being a B Corp?

Ben

And you talk about like registering as a as a public benefit corporation?

Miles

Yes.

Ben

Yeah. I mean, that was a choice we made, it was more of a statement than anything else. To be honest, the regulations right now are still pretty weak. I'm hoping, you know, I've been hoping for five years that the the policy would change, the IRS would start to recognize some tax benefits there. But for us, it was just a statement, and it was also protection. And we're still a benefit corporation, that in the event of a sale, we want to be able to maximize, you know, we we do not want to have to be legally required to only think about profit, right? We still think about profit all the time. But, you know, the reason that the certification and the private, you know, corporate status came about is, as I was told the story, at least, you know, and you know, Ben and Jerry's didn't didn't necessarily want to sell to Unilever. I think it actually worked out for both parties. But you know, They were a public company, and they have to maximize value for their shareholders. And so it just gives you a little bit of wiggle room to say, hey, look, if there's really a terrible evil person that wants to buy our company, and they're going to squash the mission, you know, we have a right to say, No, that's not what we want to do with the company.

Miles

Yeah, I think it's great. You're pointing to that point of sale, we had Professor Lynn Stout on the show a little while back, talking about the myth of shareholder value, that there's no duty that you have to maximize shareholder value, except in that very endpoint decision of sale.

Ben

Yeah, I think Yeah. Or at the very least, that, you know, I'm sure she knows more than you at the very least, that's when you're more likely to have litigation. And so anything you can do to prevent, you know, to protect yourself, I think is important there.

Miles

So what was it like starting a company with a friend?

Ben

Yeah, it's interesting. And I do consider Ben a friend. But it's funny because we met, basically, when we started the Food Recovery Network. So we knew each other through that kind of context of working together. And I always joked that because I was on the board of Food Recovery Network, and he was executive director that I was his boss, for four years ago, we started Imperfect, he became my boss, although he was always running this show, and it it, it is the best thing in the world. And it's definitely different than a traditional friendship. You know, we love going camping together, I remember, you know, but I would say, make sure if you're gonna start a business with a friend, make sure you, you, you work well together. And again, because we met through work with the Food Recovery Network, we knew we worked well together. And not only that, we knew that kind of, you know, Batman, Robin, you know, leader, sidekick, kind of one to roll that worked for us. And so we were able to do that. And, but I would just say, if you're gonna start with a friend, try it out and make sure, don't prepare to lose the friendship and make sure you're willing. You know, make sure you both align on what you would do when push comes to shove in terms of prioritizing the friendship or the business relationship.

Miles

And did you have to do that?

Ben

No, no, we were lucky enough that we never had to do anything close to that. And again, mostly because we, you know, we met through a working context, and we knew we worked well together and a friendship was was usually based around, you know, working together, you know, we lived together for the first four months, you know, decided that working 16 hour days, and, you know, eight hours living together was too much, and so decided to, you know, you know, to live separately, but, you know, I don't think it ever strained our friendship. And we just needed a few hours a day apart.

Miles

I lived with my brother and worked with him on a company. And then we took a trip together. And the airline attendant was very distressed that we weren't sitting together, and we were like, it's fine. It's fine. We also train together for running race, like, it's okay, we work together, we live together, we can take a flight apart. Anyway, I understand what you're saying. Looking back, what what are the highs and lows that really stick out to you?

Ben

Yeah. I think the highs are. There's a few there's one that, you know, the the the holiday party every year was always a high and not not because I actually cared about the holiday party. But you know, we experienced some really rapid growth, I think we went from like 12, to 60 to 200 to 1200 to 4000 employees. And so and, and so every year, it was amazing, kind of at the holiday party, looking at one how far we'd grown to the people that had been there for, you know, three, four or five years with us. And really, like, I remember that first holiday party where we had people who worked for a year or two who would kind of left other jobs to take jobs, like, you know, people who are working in our fulfillment centers, who had careers who like brought their kids and brought their wives and husbands and partners and said, you know, it's like, I'm an Imperfect Foods employee, and like, this is this, this is this supports me, you know, and pays my, you know, pays, you know, for my kid to go to school or, you know, pays, you know, for my family to put food on the table. That was one of the proudest moments from day one, we wanted to create good jobs for people it was, you know, we always paid a living wage, and gave benefits and stock options to all of our employees even down to you know, the drivers and, and it was something that was important to us. And so knowing that we had actually created jobs for people was was one of the best feelings I could ever imagine. So that's definitely one of the highs. Another one of the highs was I think across just across 20. The 2017, 2018 we expanded really rapidly from San Francisco to LA to Portland. to Chicago, to Texas, and eventually to Baltimore. And that was just such a fun time where you'd open new centers, customers are clamoring for you to come, the orders would come in, you're hiring the team, you're figuring stuff out as you go, it was like, it was that was the rocket ship. And I don't think I'll ever experienced anything like that year. Again. And so that's, that was, I think, another one of those highs in terms of lows. And I would point to two, I think one just like raising that first round was really hard. And I think you start to get so many nos that you start to get down on yourself a little bit. And so, you know, I think that was really tough knowing that we had such strong conviction that what we were doing was going to be huge and was going to matter. And you know, all you're getting is, well, I'm worried about Amazon, or I don't think there's gonna be big enough. And why would people want to get a box of veggies delivered? And it makes you start to question if you're not strong enough, kind of question your own? Is this big enough? Like, is this a good idea? Um, and so I think that was tough. And the second one was, I think we would we expanded into grocery in 2018. We, had some missteps along the way, and took a little bit of time to really figure out what our customers came to expect from us, and also service on assumptions about the customer from our customers they had about us that we didn't know they had about us. And, you know, there was kind of a period of confusion of what is the brand stand for now, what are you doing? And I think it took a toll on us. And we righted it pretty quickly, and I think came out even stronger and figured out what you know, we did stand for as a grocery company, not just a produce company. But I definitely remember that was kind of some internally, employees were saying, you know, what, why am I here? What do you stand for? And that was really tough.

Miles

How did you resolve that?

Ben

We listened to our employees. So we had lots of listening sessions and our employees. We had lots of listening sessions with our customers. And we kind of separated out the fact from the noise, I guess. So it's like, why are you you know, why does this change? (unintelligible)  Oh, well, we of course, know you have to go into grocery, but like, we just want to make sure we're still selling really sustainable products. Okay, great. I can work with that. Or, hey, I get that you're selling grocery, but like everything else has been branded and Imperfect. Why are you selling third party brands? Okay, it's the brand that matters to you, we can work that we you know, we launched our own private label and brands, for example, that all have kind of a sustainability or foodways mission, or, you know, are affordable for our customers. And that has really resonated with them. And we redouble down, we kind of had a strategic session to on what is Imperfect stand for as we're shifting and bringing employees into that process and created some real, real buy in.

Miles

You said one of your highs was creating a lot of good jobs. Aside from compensation and benefits. How do you create a good job?

Ben

Yeah, so there's, there's a few ways to look at this. And I do believe that benefits, ownership in the company, and a fair wage a living wage, are the core of it. You know, I think a lot of these tech companies, they're so there are other components. I think a lot of these tech companies talk about, oh, well, you give unlimited paid time off and, you know, you're always, you know, paying for them to go to classes at you know, General Assembly, it's like, okay, that's great, because you have a completely white collar workforce, right? That's all making $150,000 a year. But how do those strategies we think expand to, you know, we call blue collar jobs or people on our fulfillment centers or drivers. And there's a few other things that I think we value. So one are opportunities for advancement, that was something we kind of didn't realize early on, but really picked up on is that people want to better themselves, they want to, they want to know the path of if I do X, I can achieve y if I if I put in my time, and I step up, and I'm a leader and I'm always on time, you know, I can get promoted to a supervisor, you know, and if then I improve my metrics on my line and keep my team you know, at a high, you know, productivity level, I can become a manager, right? So they want to know how they can improve and I think we underestimated at first totally the desire to improve from our frontline associates. The other thing is you got to get security people, I think value security, that they know their job is going to be their new year. And I think if you give people security, opportunities for advancement, living wage, and a stake in the success of the company, which we did through employee stock options, then people are going to be on your side, and good things are gonna happen and interests are going to be aligned.

Miles

You talked about people having a sense of advancement and what their career path is, and stability. When you look at your career path through the company, you are a lot of hats and a lot of change. Starting off as COO I think ending up as Chief Innovation Officer, how did you think about that progression?

Ben

Yeah, I don't know if I'd call that advancement, or just kind of, you know, figuring out which hat fit best. And I think a lot of it is around the, the right role for the right stage of the company. And I think, and this is something I hope to potentially write about someday is a company with multiple founders, the non CEO founder, has a very interesting role to play, right. And so sometimes it's really easy, right? Someone's the CTO, they're the technical founder, right? obvious that that's gonna be the role someone comes in with a marketing background, they are the CMO, you know, I came in with a college degree. And that's about it. And so I think it took me a little while to find my place in the company. And I think that changed as the company grew. So you know, I lead operations, and that was my passion, kind of, throughout life systems thinking, finance, fundraising, operations, strategy. And so you know, at the beginning of the business that was COO, I ran in warehouses, I ran the pack line and got the financial models, you know, I did the kind of forecasting all of that labor, management, all that stuff. And then we got to the place where you realize that I could do it, but I was learning on the job every day. And there were far more qualified people to run an operation, the size of ours, especially one that was so kind of logistically intensive. And so we hired a COO. And I also realized that what I loved doing was starting things, building an MVP, building a prototype, getting them off the ground, and then passing them off to someone else. And so that's kind of how we move to the Chief Innovation Officer role is realizing that I was going to build teams from zero to 10, zero to 20, six months to a year, do the customer discovery, figure out what was working, build a business model and then pass them off to, to kind of a functional leader. And that's the role I kind of served in for last three years in the company.

Miles

And those projects, you started off, did they become major business lines?

Ben

Yeah, I wouldn't say business lines is probably some of them did. And some of them they were more internal permin. So one of them was a lot of the automation in our warehouses. I did kind of the V1 of that, you know, moving from fully human picking to kind of technology assisted human picking, and to moving from third party couriers for delivery, to having our own drivers deliver, and was a big project, and which we still do to this day. And the third, which was probably my biggest and longest project, which I spent about two years on was grocery. And that was expanding from Imperfect Produce, to Imperfect Foods. And that was what I would call a new business line.

Miles

Many companies struggle with expanding their product set, why do you think you were successful making this transition?

Ben

Yeah, and again, you know, what am I lows was during that transition. So I don't think it was all easy, but I think it was successful in the end. And I think it was successful, because, you know, going full circle here, we finally were listening to our customers. You know, we we expanded the product line for two reasons. One, because we knew there was a huge amount of food going to waste outside of produce that we wanted to capture. But to because we were hearing from our customers that we were satisfying the affordability value proposition, we were satisfying the sustainability value proposition, but we weren't cutting it on convenience. They were saying if you just carried eggs, and milk, I wouldn't have to go to the grocery store. If you just carried chicken and other products, just go to the grocery store, I wouldn't have to go to a grocery store. And I'm looking for a brand to do my shopping with that aligns with my values. And so I think that that was a natural progression for us. And our customers are clamoring for it. And I think that's what makes it so easy. And in some senses, it's unnatural to just have a produce delivery description. So the grocery was a far more natural evolution. I do think it was easier for us because we were going into a category that was established, I didn't have to convince people to buy groceries every week, I just have to convince them to buy groceries from us every week. And I think that's a far easier transition than a new business line that might not exist. Yeah,

Miles

That makes sense that both you and Ben have transitioned out of day to day roles in the company. What's your relationship, like now? With the company?

Ben

With the company? Yeah, I'm still still shareholders. And I'm still a board member. And I would say, a very good relationship. I think it's, you know, sometimes it can be a good thing to have the founders move on and have a new set of eyes, take a look at it. So I am incredibly grateful to our board the rest of the board and Phillip Behn our, CEO and the whole executive team for taking the company to the next level. But no, definitely I still have a good relationship with a company, I would say.

Miles

You've been spending some time advising startup founders. Is there anything that comes up as a reoccurring point that you want people to know?

Ben

Yeah, I think a lot of it that comes up is around, I think two things. One is how to raise capital. Two is kind of what stage I'm going to be at. Like when I like what, what milestones Do I need to hit to raise capital? And some of that is very specific to the business. The third is, how do I jumpstart the flywheel of growth. And I'm by no means an expert in that I mentioned, you know, we did it through press, and then a series of other things. But how do I jumpstart that flywheel and I think fourth is, the thing I've learned advising startups is, it's, it's lonely. And a lot of the founders I work with, just want somebody to validate that they're not crazy. Hey, I had this idea, but I just want to make sure you know, you know, this makes sense. Or I'm thinking through this problem, can you help me think through it? I mean, I think I forget, having worked at a large company that I was surrounded by amazing people. And when you start out, you don't have anybody to gut check those things. And I think that's really important. And that's the one thing I would tell founders is, whether it's an advisory board, a co founder, you know, some consultants, bring people you can trust into the fold early, because it will, that those multiple perspectives will make the business more successful, and it'll just make it more fun as well.

Miles

I think that's a great place to wrap up startups don't do it alone. Where should people follow you online?

Ben

You know, honestly, I'm, I'm much less interesting. But feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn, and if you're interested, but really go to Imperfect Foods.com. And check out what they have to offer that is far more interesting than anything I can tell you. But if you messaged me on LinkedIn, you want to get in touch I'm always happy to to help out and see if there's a way to work together.

Miles

Thank you so much, Ben for coming on.This has been fun.

Ben

Thanks, Miles. Really appreciate you having me.