Paul Shapiro is the CEO of The Better Meat Co., a B2b ingredients company that formulates plant-based meat enhancers. He's the author of the national bestseller Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, a four-time TEDx speaker, and the host of the Business for Good Podcast. The Better Meat Co. is peering toward Asia as a significant market to acquire a totally different class of half breed, mixed meat and plant-based ingredients.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual process of The Better Meat Co.?
There was certainly no lightbulb! Many years ago, a friend of mine suggested that the food industry would be much more sustainable if the big food companies simply blended plant-based ingredients into their meats so they could use fewer animals. I agreed, but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that I decided I was the person to start a company to accomplish that goal.
How did you get your first customer?
Our first big break was when the then-CMO of Perdue Farms took an interest in us and asked if we could create a product that would work well as an ingredient in their forthcoming line of half-chicken / half-plant nuggets. We went to work, tried lots of different iterations, and then finally presented a product to them. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but it was certainly “like” at first sight.
We continued innovating until they loved the product and then went into business together. More than two years later, the product still sells well.
Have you raised any money? How much?
To date we’ve raised about $12 million.
How did you fund the idea initially?
Our initial round was a friends, family, and fools round that was populated mainly by people who believed in the jockey, not necessarily the horse. We’re working hard to ensure that they made a good bet!
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
The Good Food Institute was particularly helpful introducing potential founders to one another, including in our case!
Any tips for finding first employees?
We knew we couldn’t afford people with decades of experience at first, but felt confident that we could cultivate newer entrants to the space who would end up leading our efforts, and that’s exactly what happened.
What motivated you to start your own business?
The planet isn’t getting any bigger, but humanity’s footprint on the planet is getting bigger.
I knew that without new technology empowering us to produce more food from fewer resources, we’re approaching a dead end. I wanted to start The Better Meat Co. to help the food industry use fewer animals, thereby giving us a chance to right the planetary ship.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
They were largely supportive, but I do wonder how many of them who invested early were doing so more as an act of charity than with the expectation of return. Thankfully, they now are more likely to get rewarded for their generosity, but we still have a long way to go.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
There’s a joke that when you start your own company you’ll sleep like a baby--since you’ll wake up every two hours and cry. But the key is building resilience and getting back up after you’ve been knocked down. Creating something from nothing is hard to do, so get ready for frustration and make sure to celebrate every ounce of progress you make.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
It’s hard to adhere to them, but I aspire to follow the so-called Paradoxical Commandments and encourage other entrepreneurs to do the same:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?
Yes, we’ve been granted one patent on our core technology and have other applications pending.
What are your favourite books?
I’ve learned a lot from reading John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism and Oliva Fox’s The Charisma Myth.
What are your favourite podcasts
I really enjoy Rob Reid’s After On Podcast.
What are the next products you’re working on?
We’re now bringing to the world our Rhiza mycoprotein ingredient that offers the
most meat-like experience of any animal-free protein on the market.
Are there any releases you can tell us about?
The power of fermentation is great and we intend to bring an increasing number of fermented protein products to market to help sustainably feed an increasingly protein-hungry planet.
Would you ever sell?
We’re open to whatever path is going to help us achieve our goal of reducing the number of animals used for food the fastest. That could include an acquisition, but doesn’t require it.
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