2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: The Ugly Company, Notre Dame (Mendoza)

The Ugly Company

MBA Program: University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

Industry: Agriculture and Consumer Packaged Goods

Founding Student Name(s): Ben Moore (ND MBA ’20)

Brief Description of Solution: We prevent food waste at farms by upcycling ugly fruit that would have otherwise been tossed out into tasty all-natural dried fruit snacks. They contain zero GMOs and no artificial ingredients. We discard between 2-4 million pounds of fruit at farms everyday within a 10-mile radius of my hometown Kingsburg, CA. We seek to end this waste and by changing the perception of what it means to be ugly through our clever branding and healthy snacks.

Funding Dollars: $100,000 founder investment –  $270,000 debt financing

What led you to launch this venture? I finally got fed up seeing millions of pounds of fruit getting wasted every day.

I’ve witnessed hundreds of thousands of tons of perfectly edible fruit thrown out at and around our family farm over the years. Growing up, I always thought fruit getting thrown out because it’s ugly was normal. During the summer of 2017, there was a hurricane in Houston, TX. Then another hurricane shortly after in Puerto Rico. I watched the news and read the reports that people were starving. There wasn’t enough food to go around in Puerto Rico. Just that week, I had personally dumped out over 300 tons of edible fruit.

I sold the bulldozing and trucking company I started, and then I decided to roll the dice and launch The Ugly Company.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture?  My biggest accomplishment is the fact that I haven’t quit and that our company continues to battle every day. To date, we’ve prevented nearly half a million pounds of fruit from becoming waste. That might sound great, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the massive scale of waste we are dealing with. Every day, I wake up and I can think of 100 reasons to quit trying to solve this problem and to go do something easier for work that would certainly pay better. Instead, I decide to keep my head down and keep grinding with the other fighters who are working alongside of me.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture?  The MBA program at the University of Notre Dame gave me the confidence to realize that I am fully capable of leading The Ugly Company to accomplish the goals I set forth. I come from an area where most every job is a blue-collar job and all of our businesses are centered around agriculture. At Notre Dame, I learned the hard skills that I wanted to learn – accounting, branding, etc. I also gained access to an exceptional network of people and financing. Most importantly though, I learned how to relate to white-collar professionals whom I had never been exposed to previously. I now share common ground with everyone from farm workers to truck drivers to bankers. I believe that the benefits of being relatable and sharing common experiences with people in all levels of business is an immeasurable benefit that cannot be overstated.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?  I started my self-employed career out of necessity when I left the Army. I wanted to farm and didn’t have the financial means to do so. Working a corporate job would have been the death of me, so I started a trucking and bulldozing business.  I modeled that business after what I had learned working alongside my dad when I was a kid.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Working Capital Management with Professor Walt Clements. I finally realized that all the finance classes weren’t just meant for desk jockeys working on Wall Street. I was able to apply his teaching to past situations I had experienced. The knowledge I gained has help me run The Ugly Company very aggressively without taking on significant equity financing.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Jon Hall led an 8-week-long independent study course with myself and two other classmates. He helped us develop a brand strategy from scratch for a new booze product we wanted to create. We are now taking everything we learned and are launching the production process this summer. It’ll be on shelves in 3-4 years. Stay tuned.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans?

Pros:

  • Our sales tripled month over month from pre-pandemic levels.
  • We were a matter of days away from signing a contract for a significant capital raise. We had to adjust plans, which has led us to be more capital efficient and take bigger risks that have paid off.
  • We gained sales in 20 new grocery stores in 3 additional states partly due to product shortages from other vendors.

Cons:

  • It has stunted some of our plans for regional growth, and into new sales channels we thought would be promising.
  • I was really looking forward to coming back from school this summer and setting up an office for all of the Ugly crew to work from. We canceled our plans and are all continuing to work from home.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? I want to eliminate food waste at farms globally. We already grow more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. Everyone should have access to proper nutrition at an affordable price. Ethically-sound business can solve this problem.

DON’T MISS: MEET THE MOST DISRUPTIVE MBA STARTUPS OF 2020

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