The CEO Of Purple Carrot Discusses Leadership And Balance

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Purple Carrot CEO Andy Levitt
Photo courtesy of Andy Levitt

[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Kevin Kruse: Hey everyone. Kevin Kruse here. Welcome back to another episode of the LEADx leadership show where I'm trying to make you into the boss that you always wish you had yourself. I want you winning the best place to work awards. I want people to say you're the best boss they ever had. Now on today's show, I got to apologize 'cause I kind of go over the top. I fanboy over our guest who you probably never heard of before but he's the CEO of a company that delivers vegan meals. And I love them. I'm going crazy over their meals. No, this is not a paid placement. This is not sponsored. In fact, I was a customer, I've been a customer of theirs for about three months and three or four months and I got pitched by their marketing firm to interview the CEO so I jumped at it. But other than that we had no relationship. He did not even know I was a customer until we were already recording the show.

But before I get to that, if you're the kind of person who says, “Thank you,” I hope you will thank us for bringing you this show by leaving a rating on iTunes. It only takes a minute. Or leave a rating on whatever podcast player you're using. Overcast or Stitcher or wherever it is. And make sure to visit leadx.org, check out the free training course of the day. You don't even need an email you just go to leadx.org and it will start playing. And while you're there check out the LEADx Academy. I think we've got over 50 courses now that are of course going to help you to stand out and to get ahead.

Our quote of the day, “The foundation of success in life is good health. That is the substratum fortune. It is also the basis of happiness.” P.T. Barnum.

Now, onto our guest. After getting diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2012 our guest saw that integrating more plant-based meals into his diet not only made a dramatic difference in how he felt but actually altered the course of his disease. Two years later he went on to create Purple Carrot, the plant-based meal kit company.

He started it out of his garage with a mission to inspire others to experience these health benefits themselves. The company has also partnered with five-time Superbowl champion Tom Brady to create the TB12 Performance Meals which are higher in protein. Now, remember, I live in Philadelphia, no fan of Tom Brady and I think much of the country is no fan of Tom Brady but let's put that aside because other than that, this company rocks. Our guest is the CEO of Purple Carrot, Andy Levitt.

Andy, welcome to the show.

Andy Levitt: Thanks for having me.

Kruse: Now I've been looking forward to this interview. I guess we scheduled it up about four weeks ago because and you didn't know this ahead of time but I am a customer of yours.

Levitt: Fantastic.

Kruse: What you also don't know though is that I'm from Philadelphia so I did have to overcome the whole Tom Brady 12 thing but other than TB12 I'm just a big fan and really looking forward to talking with you about this.

Levitt: Thanks. It's great to be here with you.

Kruse: I've probably done, I don't know, 250 interviews and including some other meal delivery executives and I think, and other just business leaders and often my listeners, I get emails afterwards like, was that a paid endorsement? Did they pay you to say what you said? We've never met. There's no secrets here. There's no paid endorsement. But I will honestly say Andy that you're the fourth meal delivery service that I've tried and it's the only one I've stuck with. It's the only one I've stuck with. And I've been eating plant-based for about a year and until I started with Purple Carrot, I'm not making this up, I was miserable. I didn't like it. Now that I've found your company and your service I am happy. I'm recommending it to everybody. It's really changed the way I eat, the way I feel, my life. I tried other, I won't say their names but the biggest names out there and I for different reasons I abandoned them. You figured it out and it's perfect.

Levitt: Well thank you that really means a lot and glad that we've hit the mark for you.

Kruse: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Andy, I have a tradition where I always ask our guests the same first question. Doesn't matter who they are. I love failure stories 'cause I just think it's like there's no win or lose. It's win or learn. I want to learn not just from my failures, I want to learn from a failure that you may have had. So share something. What's one of your best mistakes? Your best failures? What'd you learn from it?

Levitt: Yeah, so thanks that's a great question. I've thought a bit about it and I think that the way to think about the failures that I've had and there have been many, is probably a singular reliance on either a sole provider, supplier or even an individual. I hope that theme resonates with your listeners as far as making mistakes by believing that one individual person as an employee or one supplier that we would work with could really be the answer to most of the things that you're trying to solve. And placing an over-reliance in that one area or that one person was really, has proven to be problematic at times for me and I'm thinking about my career within Purple Carrot. I started in October of 2014.

More specifically around those themes we had a particular supplier that we work with that was that was playing a particular role in our business and having that singular reliance on them really put us in a tough spot at a certain point where they had a ton of leverage over us from a pricing perspective, a supply chain. It ended up costing us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in the lack of leverage that we had and they knew that and it was a tricky situation. We ended up in court and there was a real lot of misery and heartache that went into that.

So what I come to you to share that there was that mistake I think in as much as it was a good approach for our company working with that particular supplier for that part of our business, in the end, the learning there is not to be overly reliant. And I think that since then we've become a lot stronger from that experience.

Similarly placing so much value on a particular employee and there's a couple of people that come to my mind will remain nameless who you think okay, if I hire them just imagine what we're going to be able to do together and you can get caught up in believing why they're you go as high as it is and what it's going to do. But the importance of hiring for fit and culture is so important that adage of hire slowly, fire quickly really resonates with us and it's the letting someone stay too long can really have detrimental effects on culture even though you place this belief they're going to be, they're so important to our business or their name is such an important brand. That was really, those were mistakes that you learn to live with and live through and I feel a whole lot stronger from those mistakes but I think those are the key learnings there. Just not putting all your eggs in one basket I guess is the simple way of saying it.

Kruse: I think it's a great lesson. Business-wise or even individual, someone on your team. You can't have a team that you're relying on one person. Just to share further with our listeners, some people have told me that I'm crazy to do this but even on a micro level when I'm looking for with as much writing I do I occasionally will work with writing partners or ghostwriters on some pieces. The really, I'm very picky, they're really hard to find and when I've gone on these websites where you can hire freelance talent sometimes I'll pick two or three people and pay to get the same article written three different times because I know that at least one's going to be a disaster. One's maybe okay I'm hoping for that one but then I also know long term, it's like “Okay, I'm not gonna pay for three articles every single article, but I can create a stable of writers, not one writer, but a stable.”

Levitt: Right and, I'm sure the challenges if you're just starting out, you could probably only afford one writer, barely and beg some favors and special pricing. And you're not gonna have that optionality in front of you to explore that. So in those early stages, it can be really tough and sometimes comes down to luck, I think. And then, knowing when you've got to pivot off of something that you've made that bid on because you may not have the luxury of having multiple, either people on staff or multiple suppliers or writers, what have you, whatever capacity those people are playing for you. But that's part of the challenge and the joy of entrepreneurship.

Kruse: Yeah, that's right, that's right. So, you've had, obviously a long successful career before doing the entrepreneur thing. You were working in big pharma. My early companies were vendors to Ethicon and others that you know of. There's so much out there on management, on leadership, what advice would you give to a first time manager? Someone new and she wants to be great but where to you start?

Levitt: Yeah, that's a great question. You know going back to what I was saying a moment ago about at the beginning and hiring people. When I first got started out in this role, I always liked to hire athletes, in quotes. Someone who can play multiple roles, who was smarter than I was on any particular issue and it was really hiring for generalists who were excited about things and I like that model. And then, as we've grown, we've needed to really refine that and focus more on specialists who are going to do particular roles as our company has grown significantly. We've moved out of that, but from a first time perspective, I think hiring athletes is important. You can't underestimate the importance of culture and hiring for culture and nurturing the culture that you want to create and standing by that and letting your actions align to those virtues and align to that culture that you're creating and putting into the emotional labor with your staff to show them what you care about and how you behave and how you act.

Couple more things come to mind. One is it's great to say no. I think a lot of first-time managers and people in general, I think of myself as a people pleaser and so you want to say yes to people and it's so powerful to say no and you don't have to be a jerk about it when you say it but to be very selective on the things that you say yes to. Be very selective on the areas where you invest your energy because when you're first starting out it's so nice when people want to sell you something or get involved with what you're doing and it's very easy to get distracted from a very focused area and that's so important.

The last point around that ties back to being focused and for me, it's been about making meaning. And not just going after money. By rather really understanding what you're trying to accomplish and placing value to what you do so that adage of do what you love and the money will follow very much has resonated with me. It comes from learnings from a guy named Guy Kawasaki from the book Art Of The Start, which is a great read, I highly recommend it.

Kruse: One of my favorite entrepreneur books that most people don't talk about. It's really, really good.

Levitt: Guy is a big top 10 list person and the first thing in his top 10 list of that book is make meaning. And so if you can then focus a company and build a company around that idea and then you can then align your employees to be thinking in the same way and get everyone at least moving in the same direction it certainly should account anything differently in how they approach problems but to at least all be focused on that north star end in mind I think is really important as well.

Kruse: That's great. I want to talk about, I want to get at the issue of work/life balance. I don't really like that term work/life blend, whatever it is but I want to start by saying, I was planning to ask you about this anyway but just in the couple of minutes we've had together, you seem to be incredibly chill. Really relaxed, present. Just focused, relaxed. I interview a lot of CEOs and most of them don't have the vibe that you're giving off right now. Not only are you the founder and CEO of this fast-growing entrepreneurial company, you're married, you have four kids. So what's the secret? What are you doing right that others need to be learning from?

Levitt: You're very kind. The idea of work/life balance to me is I think it comes from a place where people don't work for themselves. I realize that entrepreneurial life is not for everyone. I totally recognize that. For me for better or worse that's who I am and I'm an entrepreneur and I love it and I've been doing this for about 11 years and I would never trade it and change it. Because I'm an entrepreneur and because I said I'm going to chart my own path here and I'm going to bet on myself and pick myself instead of letting others pick me, the work doesn't feel like work to me. It's just a joy and it's a privilege to do what I do and I'm so lucky that I have a chance to do it. My work, as hard as I work and I think I work pretty darn hard. Probably most people you speak to, my work never feels like I need to balance something because I'm not out of balance, I'm doing what I do.

At the same time I have an amazing wife, I have four beautiful kids, they're eight, six, four and two and they're certainly a handful and it's a challenge and there's someone said to me, “It's the hardest job you'll ever love.” I take so much pride in my wife and my children and the relationship that we all have together that I don't need them to balance me out. They just are also part of my life and who I am. I don't know if that sounds trite but the reality is that I don't think of, I think people need a work/life balance when they need to balance out the less desirable part of their life which is, “God I got to work. I got to go to work. I travel. I got to go to this meeting. My boss is a jerk. I have to fill in this report.” And all those kinds of things, the reality is that most people follow and have to endure.

And so I endure a lot of other things and stress that comes with being an entrepreneur but I think that I'm really, really fortunate to do what I do and to have a loving supportive family around me that makes it possible and then I just get to spend time with them or with the people that I kind of think of as family is the people that I work with. So then it's just, it's just life.

Kruse: But you just said that well when it comes to kids and I totally agree, they're the best thing in the world and the hardest thing and you talked about feeling some stress as an entrepreneur. You don't seem to be showing much stress. Do you have routines that help you with the tough part of parenting or being an entrepreneur? Morning routines, fitness things, we know you eat plant-based but other than that, what else is your secret?

Levitt: Yeah, I think that I still rely a lot on my wife, on my parents, on some close friends, I have an opportunity to speak to them and process some of the stress that I go through. My kids do provide a great stress reliever when one of my favorite parts of my day is when I come home at the end of the day I open the door and they yell, “Daddy!” And they all come running toward me. It's really priceless. But I do exercise, not as often as I would like and I'm working on that.

One thing I'm a massive fan of is the Peleton bike. I'm so intrigued by the business model and admire the business model of Peleton, for those of you don't know it it's a home spin bike that is a subscription based service and you pay $39 a month and you have unlimited spin classes through this great computer interface on your bike and so from the comfort of your own home you really have no excuse not to exercise. And so that's a great stress reliever for me. I do try to eat healthy and I follow a largely a plant based diet. I cheat every now and then and I think that makes it interesting.

Kruse: In the Peleton to go back for those who don't know it, it's not just these are like videos, you're actually riding with other people in other parts of the world.

Levitt: Yeah, it's incredible. It's this on demand, you can take on demand classes that have been recorded already or you can stream into a live class and the brilliance behind that is the data where no matter where you are in your ride whether it's a live ride or a something that was filmed a year ago, they pull in the data at that exact moment where you are so it feels as if you're taking a live ride. And your data's being measured up against those others. It forces you, every time I get on there I'll think, okay, I'm just going to do a nice half hour ride, just get my heart rate up a bit or sweat or do 45 minutes and then as you're going through it you're watching your data. You're like, okay, I can go a little harder, a little bit harder and it just drives you to do even better than you were otherwise. I think that's a great tool. It's a nice way just to decompress and take some stress out of your life.

I have to say when you eat cleanly I think that also helps. You feel good. Helps you sleep better I think. Overall you just feel good about how you're living.

Kruse: Were you into spin before you got the Peleton?

Levitt: Yeah, I like spinning. There's a studio I go to it's not too far. I bought the Peleton for my wife as a present after she delivered our fourth child. It was this push present and she's been obsessed with it. She loves it. So I get to use it. It's her bike but I use it sometimes too.

Kruse: That's great. This is a selfish question, I'm just curious. So I was having actually it was a TB12 meal with my 17-year-old daughter who eats plant-based as well. She's a theater kid. She's into the arts. She's not an entrepreneur like dad. She's not a science person. We're in the middle of the meal and she's been digging, she really likes it that I've signed up 'cause we're eating well. She says, “Dad, do you know how hard this company is?” Out of the blue. And I said, “I think it's probably pretty hard but what are you talking about?” And she says, “First of all, they got to figure out the recipes. But then they got to go to all these different people to get the food delivered to them that they then have to repack to deliver to their customers.” And she said, “How do they know how much food to order when it takes time to get there and they don't know how many customers they're going to have in future?” And I said, “Yeah,” I said, “this supply chain has got to be wicked.”

So I'm curious though, it has to be a very tough business, supply chain and everything else. What's the toughest part? You've been at this a lot of years now, what has been the toughest part to figure out?

Levitt: Yeah, the supply chain side of things is very complex. I knew so little when I started out of my garage in the fall of 2014. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible team of people who I get to work with every day who really know how to optimize the supply chain. I've gotten so good at predicting our subscriber base and how people may skip or enroll each week. It's a balance that I have to minimize any waste that comes from our process of ordering a variety of both perishable and nonperishable items. I think the hardest part about the business is just continuing to innovate and be relevant. I'm really proud of how we've grown. Most people said I was crazy by starting a plant-based meal kit. I always said it was vegan food for non-vegans and people still thought I was crazy.

82% of our subscribers though are omnivorous which is one of my favorite data points to share because it speaks to the purpose of what I started and why I started it. And we grew from my garage to a regional play to now national in scope. The partnership with Tom Brady and TB12 has been spectacular and I really feel like we're just getting started with the ways we are engaging consumers. The purpose of our mission to be very mission-driven around the environment and people's health and that differentiator is what's kept us so relevant in the space and I know there are some really great things ahead that you'll be seeing in the months to come.

Kruse: I've got to just say that first of all I'm glad I wasn't a customer back when you were doing this in your garage.

Levitt: It was terrible. Terrible.

Kruse: I imagine there were a few bumps in the road all that back when it worked out of your garage. I just want to end with a statement. It's great about the omnivores data. This is going to be the thing where my listeners are going to think I took a sponsorship or something. I live in Philadelphia. I'm trying to be vegan and reluctantly and I'm fighting it. There are maybe three or four vegan restaurants, vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Philadelphia, I even go to those. I'm a foodie. And it's like, all right, I'll have the portobello mushroom burger and it's fine but it's not what I would normally want. These are higher end Philadelphia restaurants and I've never been happy there.

Levitt: Have you been to Vedge? Rich Landau's restaurant.

Kruse: I've been to Vedge depending on the dish. See I'm a tough customer.

Levitt: All right.

Kruse: I've been to Vedge, been to V Street, all of these. Pretty tough customer. Your kits first time in a year where I've said, I can't wait to eat this meal again. You guys have some Buffalo tempeh tacos.

Levitt: Those are amazing.

Kruse: I save about one out of three, almost 50% of your menus because, now I'm never going to go out and get the ingredients and do it.

Levitt: But you'll fool your daughter.

Kruse: But I'm thinking oh I'm going to make these. But seriously, I've thought about that meal. I don't remember when you guys delivered that, four weeks ago, six weeks ago. Something like that. I've thought of that meal so many times and there's several. Usually one out of three I'm like, it's better than what I get in the restaurants in Philadelphia. I don't think of those meals like, oh I can't wait to go back to that restaurant and get that fake burger, whatever it is. This happens all the time with your meal kits. They're delicious. Even non-vegetarian, vegan people should just give it a try.

Levitt: Well thanks for saying that. The food when it started out in my garage was not that great. It was not terribly innovative. Over time we've evolved and in the past year plus or so we have an amazing head chef, her name is Andrea and she and her team create such incredible plant-based meals like those tempeh tacos, the Buffalo sauce. The whole goal is to create meals that are so flavorful and so delicious that the person that's used to eating all sorts of animal protein is not going to miss those flavors because they are transformed in our products. Hopefully, we're exposing people to a lot of new culinary techniques, new products, new foods and flavors and having some fun in knowing that at the end of the day we're doing something really good for your own health and for the health of our environment.

Kruse: That's the way I feel about it and they're easy to make. Easier than the other kits. The genius of the chef or the team and I don't even want to give your secret away but I figured it out, it's there's only three kinds of moving pieces and they don't overlap time-wise so even a guy like me who can't cook can figure it out. Kudos on all of that.

Levitt: Thank you so much.

Kruse: Andy, thanks for making the time to come on the show. Gave some great wisdom in terms of career success, management success and again, thanks for Purple Carrot.

Levitt: Thank you so much, great to speak with you.

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Kevin Kruse
NY Times bestselling author, Inc 500 entrepreneur, and keynote speaker on Wholehearted Leadership and Extreme Productivity. Download 'How Millionaires Plan Their Day: A 1-Page Tool' at http://kevinkruse.leadpages.co/1page/