Q19 Alumnus Mark Leybengrub Serves Produce with a Purpose

Hungry Harvest is committed to serving produce with a purpose. The Howard County based produce delivery service buys and sells produce that would otherwise go to waste, whether because of aesthetic flaws or supply chain inefficiencies. For each box of recovered produce they sell, they donate some of their recovery to the hungry; they have currently recovered over 300,000 pounds of produce and donated over 100,000.

Mark Joins the Team

At the forefront of Hungry Harvest’s operation is QUEST Alumnus Mark Leybengrub (Q19). After spending his first post-grad year as a consultant at IBM, he was contacted by longtime friend and Hungry Harvest CEO Evan Lutz. Evan needed help growing the business and was looking for someone to help run the company. While Mark’s dream had long been to go into the corporate consulting world, he had started to feel that the pace of work that he enjoyed and his newly developing career aspirations aligned more closely with charting his own path and figuring things out on his own. While Mark always envisioned a career in consulting, he already had lingering doubts about his place in the corporate world. Evan’s offer proved to be too tempting, as the promise of a faster pace, complete autonomy, and the ability to grow a business from the ground up ultimately led Mark to leave IBM.

“I had a larger entrepreneurial spirit than I thought I did when I first started looking for jobs,” said Mark. “Hungry Harvest was the right move. I enjoy running a company, making business decisions, and the immediate impact of working directly with consumers. I love working with a product that people can review, or my mother can subscribe to, that can affect people on a weekly or biweekly basis. The direct impact was something I was looking for, and Hungry Harvest was the right fit for me.”

Shark Tank

It was after coming on board that Mark learned about an exciting and potentially game changing development in the works: Shark Tank. Before Mark joined the team, Evan had been contacted by one of the show’s producers who said that their viewers would love to see Hungry Harvest and encouraged Evan to apply. In the first round of the Shark Tank application process, there are roughly 45,000 companies under consideration. The initial application is a 50-page, handwritten document to weed out those not committed to the show, followed by a video application about why you want to be on Shark Tank and what it would do for your company.

In June, Evan finally got the call that Hungry Harvest had been chosen and that he would be flown out to Los Angeles for filming. Then, right before Christmas, the producers called again and let them know that they would be airing Hungry Harvest on the show in January. Evan, Mark, and the Hungry Harvest team had 3 weeks to prepare their business for the attention and new customers the episode would generate. They spent 48 hours planning what to do, evaluating the operational risks, and how to capitalize on the attention. It was all hands on deck.

When the show finally aired, Hungry Harvest was thrust into the national spotlight. Evan was able to convince Robert Herjavec, a Canadian businessman, investor, author and television personality, to invest $100,000 for a 10% stake in the business, doubling the $50,000 request that Evan had approached the sharks with.

Mark is enthusiastic about their new business partner. “His brand and name does wonders for our business. Whenever we need help making new connections or creating relationships, we can reach out to him. Robert and his team can connect us and set up relationships we would have never had access to before.”

After the Shark Tank episode, Hungry Harvest went from 400-450 deliveries a weekend to over 1,000 deliveries a weekend. They now have over 1,000 active customers ordering weekly, and a wait list of over 3,500 customers that they cannot deliver to who want Hungry Harvest produce.

QUEST Was Key

Mark claims that when he first started working at Hungry Harvest, he went back and printed out pages from Quality Matters that he thought were relevant to the business. Although he never thought QUEST would provide the guiding principles to his career, he now says that the skills and lessons he learned while in the program are invaluable.

“I believe one of the biggest things that QUEST gives students is the ability to approach most problems in business and make them manageable and digestible. Many of the people I meet in business don’t know how to approach a problem and don’t know first steps to approach and solve an issue. QUEST teaches you those mental models of understanding, digesting, and developing action plans.”

“Whether it is using specific tools such as a fishbone diagram or Dr. Suarez’s systems thinking method or whether you just come at a problem with root cause analysis and problem identification, QUEST helps you think in terms of ‘What is the idealized design we need to get to in order to solve this problem?’ QUEST teaches you how to stay poised, react to different business situations, and especially in 490H, how to conduct yourself with clients or business partners.”

Advice for QUEST Students

“When deciding on a job or career path, startups or corporations, it all depends on the person. If someone enjoys working in a structured environment with a clear career path where they know the exact skills they will need to learn to become successful and the knowledge that there are other people in the company that can guide them and develop them, that’s great, and they will enjoy working in a big professional services firm. However, if you’re an entrepreneur, do not become an “intrapreneur.” Don’t pass up opportunities now that 5, 10 years down the road you may regret passing up. Your first job out of college is not as important as it may seem. Taking risk now is well worth it down the line.”

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