In Episode 22, we speak to Josh Tetrick, founder of Eat Just Inc., a San Francisco-based FoodTech startup that is radically reimagining the way we consume meat globally. Eat Just is best known for its mung bean-based egg substitute called "Just Egg" and its “lab-grown” cultured chicken. In December 2020, Singapore became the first country in the world to grant approval of the sale of cultured chicken. Eat Just was founded in 2011, and the company has raised over US$650 million and had last been valued at US$1.2 billion.
In this episode, Josh talks about how he came to focus on the problem with food, solving massive challenges in the food industry and building a new universe of tools to supply food in a more ethical way. He discusses the hurdles to widespread adoption of plant-based meats, talks about the mindset shift towards FoodTech innovation that will occur in the next decade, and shares advice for aspiring founders looking to solve real problems in our society.
Josh: The mission of our company is to build a food system where the vast majority of chicken, beef, pork and eggs that we consume doesn't require killing a single animal, tearing down a single rainforest, using antibiotics or hormones, or accelerating zoonotic diseases. The main operating principle for me is: Will this decision (whether it's hiring someone, firing someone, taking this capital, choosing this business model or this go-to-market strategy) increase the probability that we get closer to achieving that mission in our lifetime or not? And if it does and it’s ethical, we’re probably going to do it.
Josh: If you asked consumers in 1978 if they would like to drive an electric car, I'm guessing fewer than 2% would say yes. It's very difficult for human beings to imagine what five, 10, 15 years in the future is going to look like. The best way to get folks more comfortable is to put them in the car, to let them listen to streaming music, or to put their fork in some chicken. So the best way we can work with consumers is to get it on the menu. As you know, folks eat it and realise it tastes good, and they feel good after they eat it. That's the most important thing.
The biggest reason people are driven to eat cultured or cultivated meat is that it's just real meat without the issues. People like the way meat tastes, they just don't want to feel bad about eating it. About two thirds of people that we've surveyed both in Singapore and the United States said that if it met the taste and the cost requirements, they would only eat this and not conventional chicken, beef or pork. Even plant-based meat-eaters say the same thing. A little bit over 50% of the people that have purchased it in Singapore (and we've served over 500 people) say it tastes as good or better than chicken and 80% said they feel good about eating it.
Josh: First, I wish I would have started my journey of understanding entrepreneurship a lot sooner. I didn't really understand that starting a company could be a career until I was in my thirties. I think if I would have realised that earlier, I probably would have started a couple of companies that flamed out and learned a lot more before I started this one.
Second - It's always tempting to do more things. And in almost every case, it's better for the company if you focus on doing fewer things.
In the early days, I just didn't understand that. I thought when people would tell me that I was doing too much, they didn’t understand my capabilities and my team's capabilities or how important this mission is to me. Now, I know that even if I want to do many things, I have to sequence those things.
Third - I didn't appreciate the importance of engineering and scale-up in getting these products out. I really focused on the upstream science and biochemistry and not the downstream product development. I didn't think about “what is the process of taking what you can do in a lab and scaling it to many millions of units?” I just had a blind spot there. And that probably cost the company 1.5 to two years of development.
Josh: There are 30,000 kids that are dying every single day because of preventable illnesses. There are billions of animals that are behind the walls of factory farms, a huge homelessness crisis in the US, and millions of kids that still don't have an education.
If you're not starting a company that is solving an urgent problem, then you really should rethink it. There is such an opportunity to start a company that is solving one of these problems. Start your company-building around what business model will solve one of these really urgent problems that are facing your local community, your country, or the planet.