Back at the Shelf: Sanjiv Patel | Babson Alumni Spotlight
Like most MBA students, business is my world. On every personal trip to the grocery store, I bring with me an inner-voice that considers the establishment’s inventory turnover rate, business model differentiation, and its industry’s strategic barriers to entry. Every once in a while, I come across a brand that really stands out and requires only a single exposure to commit itself to my memory. I came across such a product on a recent trip to the grocery store. The intriguing brand was called Lord Nut Levington, a collection of uniquely and creatively flavored peanut varieties packaged in bold and brightly colored containers. The canisters featured a mascot, Lord Nut himself, whom I assumed was an ironic take on the likely entrepreneur and founder of the brand’s parent organization.
Several weeks later, I was watching every MBA’s favorite television show, ABC’s Shark Tank, and saw the founder of the same impressive brand. The founder, who bore little resemblance to the brand’s mascot, was proud Babson MBA alumnus Sanjiv Patel. I contacted Patel to learn more about his startup and life after Babson.
Like many current and recent students, Patel attended Babson in the midst of a tough national job market. He came to the U.S. from London in 2000 in search of opportunities in the world’s largest consumer market. Internships were difficult to come by, and those that were available didn’t excite him. Instead of pursuing something that didn’t interest him, Patel chose to “make his own summer”, telling me, “I didn’t want to waste three months doing something I was trying to get away from. I wouldn’t have done myself justice. We should make efforts to get what we want regardless of how it looks”.
Patel’s summer wasn’t the glamorous one that many MBA students desire. He even paid his bills by walking dogs. According to Patel, “I didn’t regret for a minute that I wasn’t working. I never was one to worry about how my resume looks”.
That summer, Babson’s McFee office told him about a weeklong, unpaid opportunity at a small upstart company called Stacy’s Pita Chips. Patel gladly accepted an unpaid internship with the firm.
In only one week at Stacy’s, Patel saw numerous things he thought could have been done better. He used his finance background, which included instruction by current Babson professor Bill Lawler, to revamp Stacy’s budgeting, planning, and costing methods. All in one week. Patel maintained close communication with Stacy’s after his brief internship was complete, and was later hired to become the company’s CFO. Today, Patel looks back fondly upon his experience with the then-startup brand, and urges current MBA students to consider the advantages to working for a small firm. Although larger firms can offer higher pay in the early years, Patel describes the opportunity at startup as “starting at a small company is like sitting on the top branch of a Christmas tree that keeps rising”.
A few years later, Stacy’s was acquired by Frito-Lay. Although Patel could have gone to work for a large corporation, he had other thoughts. “I had the means to sit around, but had to rediscover my purpose to go to work. You have to sit there and think what the motivation is…I need to make a mark and keep pushing myself”. Following a brief sabbatical which included a trip home to London, Patel returned to the U.S. to take advantage of its plentiful opportunities for food entrepreneurs. He wanted to start something of his own because he was able to put together a brand rather than lobby for his piece. “This is the country that gave me my break,” Patel said. “I couldn’t have done what I did at Stacy’s at that age in London.”
Patel created his business, Holy Cow LLC, and its brand, Lord Nut Levington. Although Patel didn’t walk away from Shark Tank with an investor partnership, the brand is quickly closing in his goal of a presence in over 1,000 stores, including grocery giant Kroger. Patel confirmed that his company’s branding has been a huge success, and that he chose the character because “faces are better than names”, and for the ease with which it could be remembered.
“The ultimate win-all is increasing sales. A month for a startup is like three months for other companies. I just want to build a good business. It’s like steering a ship, constantly moving forward.”
Lord Nut Levington is available on Amazon, at Wegmans, Walmart.com and about 1,000 Central Market, Kroger and Whole Foods Market stores.