Career Spotlight: Ricky Ashenfelter (MSB'09)

Ricky Ashenfelter

Co-Founder & CEO, Spoiler Alert

Describe your current profession.

I am the co-founder and CEO of an early-stage startup called Spoiler Alert that was launched while I was in grad school at MIT. We are a technology platform working to address the global food waste problem by creating an online marketplace and reporting platform that helps food businesses and nonprofits recover otherwise wasted food.

What inspired the transition from sustainability and climate change to entrepreneurship?

After Georgetown, I was fortunate to begin my career with a carbon and energy startup in Arlington, Virginia (that was later acquired by Deloitte Consulting). It was there that I fell in love with working with leading food and retail companies to mitigate their environmental footprints via sustainable supply chain initiatives.

When I arrived at MIT a few years later for grad school, it was impossible not to get immersed in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. There were brilliant people doing brilliant things with technology, and I thought, “Now is as good of a time as ever to take a big leap of faith and start my own tech company.”

What has been the most challenging aspect of your career and how did you overcome it? (Or what are you doing to try and overcome it?)

To me, getting comfortable with taking the road less traveled has been the most challenging (and rewarding) aspect of my career. At the time, I think the combination of a finance major and environmental studies minor threw McDonough’s career office for a loop, as it wasn’t the typical resume or career aspirations like my Wall Street-bound classmates.

I find myself back in a similar position whereby many of my MIT Sloan classmates are pursuing challenging and financially rewarding (post-MBA) careers in finance and consulting while I’m off being scrappy trying to start a mission-driven company with only a little bit of angel funding.

What keeps me going—then and now—is the constant reminder of how desperately we as a society need innovative solutions to the world’s biggest environmental, energy and social problems. Whether that is climate change then or food insecurity now, I’m excited to be making a dent (however small) in tackling these problems.

Whom do you consider to be your influencers?

It’s hard to be a cleantech and sustainability entrepreneur and not admire the things that Elon Musk has been able to achieve. Between Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity and PayPal, the man is incredible at turning dreams into reality.

It’s also great to see fellow Hoyas building and growing great businesses in the food industry. Big congrats to the guys at Sweetgreen for all their success over the past 8 years (not to mention some of the awareness they’ve created around food waste).

What was the most useful piece of career advice you ever received?

Pursue what you’re passionate about—not what is most financially rewarding. If you love what you’re doing, the other pieces will fall into place over time.

What characteristics or skills do you feel are necessary for one to possess to excel in your industry?

Being completely and utterly comfortable with uncertainty while finding a way to stay focused and levelheaded to see through the fog. Launching a new business is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, physical and mental stress with no guaranteed outcomes. It takes a certain type of personality and work ethic to thrive in that type of environment.

How do you think your time at Georgetown affected your professional decisions?

Georgetown was so incredibly influential for where I ended up today. Academically, the business core coupled with liberal arts and environmental studies positioned me to excel right out of the gate. Culturally, the Jesuit values—particularly around service and community development—are foundational for what we’re doing with Spoiler Alert, and what we hope to achieve at a global level.

What’s a phrase, motto or quote that you find yourself saying to yourself or your team constantly to keep momentum going?

GSD. Get sh*t done. It’s a phrase our team picked up in grad school that translates to hunkering down and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals. When you’re starting a business, titles often don’t mean much because everyone needs to wear many hats. When you’re a small team, you have to have the right combination of flexibility, willingness and drive to juggle a million things while staying focused on the next major milestone.

What’s next for Spoiler Alert?

Our team is eager to get our platform launched in New England this fall and help businesses manage their healthy surplus food and valuable organic waste. Our goal is to create a scalable formula for expansion so that we can take Spoiler Alert to any major city in the U.S. and abroad. Be sure to track our progress at foodspoileralert.com!