Eman Pahlavani: “Be the change you seek in the world”

Small acts of kindness and sacrifice are often heroic. Focusing on the greater good is the biggest driver. Our delivery captains are very much driven by the urgency to help seniors in need. Times are hard right now for so many. Our drivers are what you would call able-bodied, ordinary people who sacrifice their own […]

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Small acts of kindness and sacrifice are often heroic. Focusing on the greater good is the biggest driver. Our delivery captains are very much driven by the urgency to help seniors in need. Times are hard right now for so many. Our drivers are what you would call able-bodied, ordinary people who sacrifice their own health each day to help feed others.

Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eman Pahlavani a successful D.C.-based serial entrepreneur. After graduating from law school in 2012, he and his brother Shy Pahlevani founded LiveSafe — a venture-backed mobile app company that crowdsources safety intelligence. The brothers teamed up with a longtime friend and business partner Jeff Grass to successfully grow LiveSafe into a global enterprise. Over the next five years, the trio would raise more than 30 million dollars for LiveSafe and take the brand international. Later in 2017, Eman, Shy, and Jeff again teamed up to create food-tech platform HUNGRY — the first-ever online marketplace connecting local top chefs with businesses in need of office catering. The company grew quickly from a 1 million dollars run rate to a nearly 20 million dollar run rate in less than 24 months. HUNGRY launched in several new markets in 2019 and today operates in a 65 billion dollar catering market within D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, NYC, Austin, and Dallas. Notable investors include JAY-Z, Usher, Kevin Hart, and the founders of Honest Tea & Whole Foods. In March 2020, the food-tech startup decided to pivot, save jobs, and help those in need amidst the pandemic. So, they launched HUNGRY @ HOME in select cities, a subscription-based, family-style food delivery service that provides direct-to-your-door, no-contact meal drop-off. In addition to providing people with access to healthy, chef-made meals, HUNGRY has also kept hundreds of local chefs and hourly workers gainfully employed throughout COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, HUNGRY has donated more than 20,000 meals to people in need.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up/your background?

Iwas born and raised in the D.C. area. I’m 33 years old and I have a son named Eden who is 4 ½. I have one older brother, named Shy, and one younger sister, Naz. I went tolaw school in Boston and after graduating I co-founded my first venture-backed business, called LiveSafe, with Shy and another entrepreneur, Jeff Grass. That was the start of my entrepreneurial career.

Is there a particular book or influencer that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My brother, Shy, has been a big influence on my career. I learned from him how to hustle and to never accept no for an answer. He’s taught me how to just keep plugging away, no matter what, and work through the business-building process. There may be lots of times when you want to just throw in the towel and quit, but if you can find the motivation to keep going, to keep pushing through, then you will find yourself among the very few who have the stomach for the roller coaster ride that is a startup.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“You can’t fail if you don’t stop.” That saying has stuck with me. If you continue to work on your project, continue to iterate, continue to build, and make progress, then failure starts getting replaced by hints of success, and over time that success becomes more and more real.

OK, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what HUNGRY is doing and what exactly your organization is trying to address?

HUNGRY is currently delivering a million and a half meals a month to the elderly and those in need throughout New York City. We have partnered with the City of New York to help feed vulnerable people during this pandemic and we have hired more than 300 people to help carry out this huge project. Now other cities from around the country are asking us to also help them feed their local elderly citizens.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero? How have HUNGRY workers exemplified that?

A hero is someone who goes out of their way to help others. All of our employees have spent the last few months helping donate food to those in need and helping identify communities most at risk. Many of our workers have even driven across the country to support our delivery operations, ensuring people get the food they need.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. fearless—one of our drivers jumped in to help save a senior who had collapsed on the floor. He waited with her until the ambulance arrived, to make sure she was in good hands.
  2. focused on the greater good;
  3. honest;
  4. self-sacrificingand
  5. team-oriented — Just recently, one of our drivers in New York was assigned 50 deliveries inside a 10-story building where the elevator was broken. Instead of refusing to do the deliveries, she walked up and down those stairs as many times as was needed to get the job done — she said she didn’t want 50 seniors to be without food. To me, that encompasses all five characteristics of a hero.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people (like food delivery drivers) — to become heroes?

Small acts of kindness and sacrifice are often heroic. Focusing on the greater good is the biggest driver. Our delivery captains are very much driven by the urgency to help seniors in need. Times are hard right now for so many. Our drivers are what you would call able-bodied, ordinary people who sacrifice their own health each day to help feed others.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that action needed to be taken?

I’d say it waswhen we realized we had the resources to make something really big happen — and that we could keep our people employed while doing it.

Please share how HUNGRY has had to pivot during this pandemic, and how you are partnering with NYC to deliver 90,000 meals a day to seniors in need.

HUNGRY usually employs several hundred drivers to deliver meals to seniors — we typically dedicate a lot of resources to bettering both our food and our delivery service — so we were able to tap into that resource. We believe that service is almost more important than the food itself.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

Everyone on the front line who is sacrificing their health and time to help those in need. It’s really amazing to see so many people coming together.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

Other than the basic fear of family and friends getting the virus, as an entrepreneur, I’m feeling more sadness than fear. I hate to see so many people lose the companies that they’ve worked so hard to build, along with all those jobs that they’ve created. I remain hopeful, though.

What gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why?

What gives me hope are the willpower and determination of people around the world. That includes the people who are working tirelessly to create a coronavirus vaccine.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

The number of heroes who have emerged is really inspiring. Seeing some people not taking the pandemic seriously is a bit disappointing.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

There’s no better time to reassess things than in the middle of a crisis. Although my views are still the same, I think it’s more important than ever right now to focus on bettering our decisions and actions, to help fulfill a greater goal.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I would like to see a shift in how we, as Americans, view health and lifestyle. A little more Zen and a little less stress never hurts.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

“Be the change you seek in the world” should be their motto. Someone always has to take the first step. The younger generation should continue to make positive changes, for a better future.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

For many Americans, just feeding their families has been a big challenge during this pandemic. Do you remember the ice bucket challenge that reached millions and raised so much money? Similar to that, I would ask each individual to feed one person or family in need and pass it on. Before we know it, thousands of people would be supporting each other just by spending a few dollars a day.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and if yes, why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That would be Jay-Z. He’s an investor in HUNGRY, so it would make sense for me to reconnect with him about how we’re doing. 😉

How can our readers follow you online and learn more about your business?

They can visit and also follow us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

Thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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