Soylent Raises Money

total_recall

Three years ago I drove across the United States because I was looking for something. I wanted to join a community of benevolent technologists, laboring for the betterment of society at large. What I found were startups serving startups. I found billions of dollars of private education building apps. I found people with PhD’s eating organic, as if they were afraid of fertilizer. It frustrated me to see the fruits of engineering siloed in redundant electronics and digital advertisements, and it frustrated me to see food siloed from the culture of progress. Why did a tomato cost as much as a million transistors? Why have all our products gotten better and cheaper but food has gotten worse? Perhaps it doesn’t have to. Perhaps the food industry could leverage the forces of science and technology, rather than fighting them. And if it did, what sort of world could we create?

Two years ago today I decided to bet my life on the idea that food could be empirically rebuilt. I theorized that food and the body were reducible and a novel foodstuff could be superior to that which was naturally occurring. Three months of “Soylent” produced a remarkably healthy physiology, and continues to do so years out. Next, while the systemic advantages were obvious, I theorized that there would be consumer demand for such a product. Perhaps food focused on function, simplicity, and transparency would be a relief to a consumer burdened by a vain, frantic, confusing food market and culture. Turns out it was a good bet, and, while profitable, our growth has continued to accelerate and having more resources for expansion and research seemed logical. We are honored to accept an investment of $20 million led by Andreessen Horowitz, who has been behind us the whole way, with participation from Lerer Ventures, Index Ventures, and David Friedberg. Chris Dixon is joining our board. The money will be used to expand manufacturing and invest more in research.

However, the most beautiful theory can crumble under the weight of a single experiment, and the brightest idea can fizzle overnight if packaged in a subpar product. Making and shipping a million of anything is non-trivial, and yet we went from an idea to a shipped hardware product in barely a year, even achieving multiple iterations since. This is largely thanks to our COO, the indispensable Matthew Cauble. CTO John Coogan built an e-commerce powerhouse overnight, CMO David Renteln does the work of 10 men, and Julio Miles is the Steve Wozniak of branding. Without my friends I am nothing.

Similarly, Soylent would be a mere shell of a company without the support of our fantastic community. The patience and passion of our users gives our work meaning on a daily basis, and gives us the drive to do better all the time.

What is it that we have made? Quality without luxury. The world’s most useful and popular products are deceptively cheap and simple, deftly abstracting away volumes of complexity. This is the dream of Soylent, to be so useful it is taken for granted, like tap water or climate control.

The insatiable demand for Soylent is telling. Consumers demand and deserve a food system that is more transparent and more practical. Producers deserve the ability to develop and use new technologies and tools to improve their production. The environment deserves more than a modicum of long term thinking.

Like life, culture is in a constant state of evolution. Today cooking is manufacturing. Tomorrow it will be art. Domestic kitchens will go the way of the loom; the grocer the way of the bank teller. Dishes will be for satellites.

It doesn’t end there. The entire protestant ethic underpinning capitalism stands atop the inefficiency of food production. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”. Shoving the largely unsavory business of food on to the weak was the genesis of social stratification.  Suppose we were fed from the eternal bounty of the sun, tireless fusion reactions creating all the energy we will ever need, structured, automatically, by the machines tailored to our exact requirements..

Look to history. The market, and most physical systems, obey the principle of least action. Why hunt for food when the food comes to you? Why go to the store when you can order online? Why order when you can subscribe? The automation of basic tasks frees the mind to focus on higher arts.

Humans are distinct from animals in that we possess the ability to increase our means within a single generation. The automation of food production is distinctly and proudly part of our lot as an intelligent species. Cows don’t seem to mind chewing all day, ruminants who never ruminate. Only humans have developed processing, agriculture, pasteurization, and fortification, all of which began with reflection and ended with serialization.

Food tradition is often upheld as an inalienable part of humanity or society. This is backwards. Society as we know it would not exist without food processing and humanity is unique in its capacity to break free of tradition. To structure is human.

We have successfully structured communications networks and antibiotics. Why are we putting up with the waste and violence of agriculture? Agriculture butchers billions of animals, covers over a third of the earth’s habitable land and uses 80% of our water supply. Every year. One day the vast swaths of polluted land will be free. Our Anthropocene will be beautiful, peaceful, and healthy.

The future of food is not the return to an agrarian society but the transcendence of it. In time Soylent will be synthesized directly from light, water, and air with designer microorganisms. Genetic engineering to enhance our microbiome, and eventually ourselves. I don’t know who was the first farmer, but I want to be the last. We will make food so cheap only the rich will cook.

  • Lyubov

    Great post, Rob. I like your vision and you are clearly passionate (your second last sentence in particular) however I feel this is too strong a focus on eliminating (rather than reducing) food culture. To say that if people didn’t have to bother with cooking they’d be better off is difficult to swallow for me, because I feel that food is central to a lot of people’s identities, such as their culture and/or work (either paid or unpaid). I think argriculture is generations away from becoming obsolete, and it seems naive to think that having only the rich cook is beneficial for society. The idea that having more free time will leave people to pursue higher arts may not necessarily mean that it would be something of interest/skill to a lot of people.

  • Christian Von Stackelberg

    Great post and thank you for taking the risk and hardwork to start this, it has benefited me a lot with hardly any negative side effects.

    I’ve been living on Soylent 30-50% since September, biking 25 mi per day/working out and don’t see myself stopping anytime soon (especially mon-thurs for dinner). I’ve been experimenting adding extra unflavored protein, some salt at times, chia seeds, pb2, iced coffee and hot sauce (sometimes combinations of each) and that has made a big difference. Really excited to see how much the price might go down over time. Thanks!

  • Sergii Galaganiuk

    Nice!

  • Franco Biasin

    Hi! I’m very happy that you get good fundings for the proyect. I also notice the ‘avant-garde’ view that you have, It’s beautiful to see people like that, since they are the ones that shape our world.
    Hope the business keeps up, and congratulations!
    Ps: That’s a cool movie!

  • Pavel Korolev

    I really liked sci-fi allure of this post and totally agree with Rob. As we paint now with special software and stylus, as we read now from e-ink screens, we will have Soylent instead of our regular routine breakfasts and dinners. Cooking and getting groceries will eventually take a chunk of my life and I want those many hours for myself. By many other things, Soylent is a gift of time. And I can’t imagine someone saying no to more time on this planet.

  • Ayan Mullick

    Great..Congratulations. When can one expect a tentative timeline for all of these….

  • Guest

    Well said.

  • Aileen Quinn

    Congrats and good luck. I’m happy to see you have the vision to expand this company to better others, rather than just yourself.

  • Jherek Silber

    Beautifully said Rob. However, I completely agree with Lyubov’s post. As much as I enjoy Soylent, I also love gardening and harvesting the fruits of that labor. There is something rewarding and irreplaceable in eating eggs from your own chickens, biting into an apple straight off the tree, harvesting wild mushrooms, cooking fresh-caught trout, drinking milk from a neighbor’s cow.

    Industrial farming is a destructive, unsustainable practice, but as long as there are humans, local agriculture will never die. Traditional food humbles us by reminding that we are dependent on the organisms with which we share this planet. It places us in a web of life and shows us that despite all our technological advances and innovations, we are not independent – our survival is linked to a thriving ecosystem.

    Soylent can compliment traditional food – it gives us time and energy to choose what we eat more carefully. Food is part of our cultures and our traditions, the preparation of which can be an art, and is central to many professions. Food reminds us of something primal, something only remembered at a cellular level; there is a partnership with other forms of life that goes back millions of years. Food in its raw form has shaped us as a species and will continue to do so as long as there is sunlight, fertile soil and clean water.

    • dfgsdgdgsdf

      Then just do it. Nobody is stopping you.

      • Jherek Silber

        Don’t let your dreams be dreams! Yesterday you said tomorrow, so just do it! Make your dreams come true! XD

  • justwandering

    Love it! I’ve been wondering how humanity can evolve beyond the cruel slaughterhouses, and Soylent just might be a big part of the answer. Please keep doing what you’re doing and don’t lose yourself to wealth and profit in the long run.

  • http://www.howtoplaypiano.ca/ Andrew Furmanczyk

    Great news Rob! I’m excited for your future with Soylent. I’ve watched you grow from the early days on your blog, and I’m happy to see the successes you’ve had thus far. Thank you for being so forward thinking, you’re doing humanity a real service. I truly believe there are 3 types of lives people live in this world, and you are definitely a type 3. [Short explanation: Type 1 Active negative influence on society. (usually due to self-interest) Type 2 passively works at their job for positive or negative contributions to society. (they lack purpose, ambition, or courage) and lastly Type 3 Active positive influence on society. (High impact people who have a huge positive influence on society. I would put you and Elon Musk as two great examples.

    Best,
    Andrew

  • Rowas

    Beautifully written, Rob. I’m glad to see you are handling the escalating responsibility very well and keeping a solid mind on the welfare of humanity.

  • Soccerfan831

    I always looked at Rob as a fellow adventurer in this endeavor to be healthier. I always believed he would tell me like it is. I can’t help but think now with a company this heavily invested, they are going to push a product regardless if it is proven to be dangerous.

  • Soccerfan831

    Damn fine letter. Scrolling through some of the comments, you know what; I am comforted by the community and its continued feedback. I can’t wait to start.

  • Sy Lass

    “Why did a tomato cost as much as a million transistors?” – R.R.

  • btodder

    Not to mention the impact of Methane from livestock on Climate Change.

  • Cantab

    I think you should remove the last sentence.

  • Royce Edwards

    There are huge personal benefits to Soylent as well as the benefit to society. Besides the huge waste of land and water for the raising of animal food, animal protein takes a toll on the human consuming it. Breaking down animal protein to a form the human body can metabolize takes a lot of energy. When I consume Soylent I feel more energetic because my body has less work to do to assimilate the food.

    Between having more time and more energy, I can accomplish goals that really matter to me. Sometimes these are personal, but I have the time and energy to be a better friend and better neighbor. My life is better because of the superior food supply I’m using.

    It’s my hope that increased production of Soylent will allow new subscribers the chance to see how improved their lives can become as well.

  • Bryan Beege Berry

    Damn, Rob. Wish I had the fortitude and bravery (and potentially lack of student loans?) you had coming out of GT. I like to think that I think and speak like you, but your actions fulfill your words. Well done. I’m 66% Soylent and proud of it. Cheers to the future.

  • Cyclone Dusk

    My friend, at this point, cooking has already become a novelty, a luxury, for those with the time and money to afford it. The rest of us subsist on McDonald’s and bulk purchased frozen chicken nuggets from the local bargain mart. You’re just giving us what we *need*, and I for one am ever so grateful.

  • Joseph M Cutcher III

    i looked at your product but one month of supplies i noticed doesn’t cover 31 days. what gives? and did you ever get a proffesional nutrionist to look over the product? finally you still got that one size fits all thing, what about diabetics?

  • Allen Lai

    wow, that was inspirational to me

  • josh tripp

    We’re can we get this

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