Ben Simon is the co-founder and CEO of America’s leading ugly produce company, Imperfect Produce, which he founded alongside Ben Chesler in August 2015. The Ben that we’re talking with today started in the world of food waste as a student at the University of Maryland, where he founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN), nonprofit aimed at eliminating waste in college cafeterias.
Through FRN Ben learned firsthand about the 20 billion pounds of produce that never makes it off of farms, often because it’s just a bit too big, too small, or too misshapen for the grocery store’s beauty pageant standards. Imperfect gives a home to all this unloved produce that goes to waste every year. Since then Imperfect has recovered over 40 million pounds of produce and now operates in 15 major cities across the U.S.
Tune into my conversation with Ben to find out how he went from high school jock to founder and CEO of his own company on the Find Your Passion Career Podcast!
In order to fully understand Ben’s passion career journey, we have to go back to where it all started, high school. Believe it or not, Ben was a typical athlete, laser focused on his sport. But, things took a turn during his junior year when a shoulder injury kept him on the sidelines.
“I didn’t have a lot to do with my time; I needed an outlet,” said Ben.
One day after school, a friend flagged down Ben and told him to join his meeting for a club called Students for Global Responsibility. Here, Ben learned that not everything was peachy keen in the world— there were issues that he, a high school student, could help out with.
He soon realized that if he focused on one thing he was truly passionate about, no matter what it was, he could make a difference.
“One piece of advice I have for folks is to try and figure out what you’re passionate about and try to get started in that early,” said Ben.
The Food Recovery Network
Ben’s passion journey continued at the University of Maryland. As a student there he noticed how much cafeteria food was thrown out at the end of the day. Ben took action by asking the university if he could donate the food to a soup kitchen. One semester later, Ben and his student group of volunteers, donated over 15,000 pounds of food.
Ben wasn’t concerned about his future career, he knew he just wanted to reduce food waste. Through fundraisers and word-of-mouth Ben took the Food Recovery Network, a “scrappy,” volunteer group to an official 501(c)(3) organization with its own office. Eight years later, the Food Recovery Network has expanded to 230 schools across the country. He truly turned his vision into a reality.
In 2015, Ben moved to the Bay Area to co-found Imperfect. The idea was to create a weekly subscription box of “ugly” produce at a 30 percent discount. Ben was certain of his decision despite hesitance from his family. They didn’t believe that people would pay money for an “ugly” box of fruits and vegetables even with the discount.
What started out as simply bringing aluminum trays of food to soup kitchens back in college truly evolved into Imperfect Produce. In fact, Ben connected with his co-founder Ben Chesler through the FRN.
Today Imperfect Produce is in 20 markets coast to coast, and has recovered over 40 million pounds of produce, donated over 2.8 million pounds of food and created several hundred living wage jobs.
“My growth as a person really accelerated when I actually started saying no to things, and I jumped in to here’s what I want to say yes to,” said Ben.
Living and working his passion
Ben honed in on his passion and was determined to get results. As the CEO Ben is mostly in meetings, employing and strategizing. “Each day is a little different, but it’s a lot of fun,” said Ben.
As someone who leads with his passion, he’s a firm believer that it’s important for career seekers to figure out what they’re passionate about early on. Don’t spread yourself thin and divide your time – focus on that one thing that excites you.
“Go both feet in…Following my passion has really just defined my life,” said Ben.
Once you’ve picked the one thing you want to jump into with both feet, write it down and then get ready to speak your passion. Practice your pitch in front of a mirror and then rehearse your key points in front of friends and family. It’s okay to be multi-passioned, but if you can, choose that one thing that you can go all in on.
Once you’re inspired by Ben’s story, we’d love to read your review. Thanks so much!