Reimagining Meat [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

May 21, 2020
Stanford eCorner
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Reimagining Meat [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Ethan Brown, the founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, discusses his journey of creating plant-based meat products and the challenges he faced along the way. He talks about how his personal experiences with animal agriculture and his background in clean energy led him to start Beyond Meat. Ethan shares his strategies for raising capital, achieving product-market fit, and building a diverse and talented team. He also addresses criticisms of plant-based meat products and emphasizes the importance of transparency and innovation in the industry.

Questions & Answers

Q: Where did the idea for Beyond Meat come from?

Ethan Brown explains that his idea for Beyond Meat began to form as a child, as he became uncomfortable with animal agriculture while growing up on a farm. His love for nature, animals, and the environment, combined with his career in clean energy, led him to question the need for animal-based meat and explore the possibility of creating meat directly from plants.

Q: How did Ethan Brown stay confident and focused despite facing detractors and doubts?

Ethan admits that he faced doubts and detractors along the way, including his own self-doubt. However, he ultimately had a sense of urgency and a fear of not addressing the problem he saw with animal agriculture. He explains that his fear of regret and not being able to live with himself pushed him to overcome these doubts and stay determined in pursuing his vision.

Q: What were some impactful technical breakthroughs that led to the creation of Beyond Meat's products?

Ethan highlights two main breakthroughs that shaped Beyond Meat's products. The first was understanding that the traditional model of animal agriculture had reached a point of diminishing returns in terms of efficiency and sustainability. This led him to think differently and explore the possibility of building meat directly from plants. The second breakthrough was discovering a technology, high moisture extrusion, that allowed plant protein to be restructured into the same general structure as animal protein using only heating, cooling, and pressure.

Q: How did Beyond Meat evolve from a small operation to a publicly traded company?

Beyond Meat initially started as a shoestring operation, but over time, it grew into an established enterprise. Ethan emphasizes the importance of continuous innovation and rapid iteration, which he has institutionalized in the company. He discusses the value of having a diverse and talented team, as well as a strong focus on expanding and improving their product offerings. Beyond Meat went public in 2019 and continues to strive towards creating meat alternatives that are indistinguishable from animal protein.

Q: How does Beyond Meat address criticisms of plant-based meat products?

Ethan acknowledges that there are critics who argue that plant-based meat is not healthy or is overly processed. He believes that it is important to address these criticisms and provide transparency in the food industry. Beyond Meat focuses on using known ingredients found in nature and avoids using artificial substances or genetically modified organisms. Ethan also highlights the importance of educating consumers about their process and inviting them to visit their facilities to see how their food is made.

Q: How did Beyond Meat approach capitalizing the business and building a diverse cap table?

Ethan started by using his own money and then raised funds from friends and family. He then leveraged his networks to connect with venture firms and investors who were aligned with his vision. He intentionally sought out partnerships with well-established and respected individuals and companies, ensuring a diverse cap table with divergent views and expertise. Ethan believes that having a wide range of perspectives is crucial in making better decisions for the business.

Q: How did Beyond Meat navigate the challenges of getting product-market fit?

Beyond Meat initially focused on creating plant-based chicken products, which appealed to vegetarian communities and garnered some success. However, they realized that to reach the mainstream market, they needed to focus on beef products. This required continuous innovation and improvements, which eventually led to the launch of the Beyond Burger. Ethan emphasizes the importance of not being complacent and constantly pushing to improve the product to better meet customer needs.

Q: What strategies did Beyond Meat employ to attract and retain talent?

Ethan believes in caring deeply about the people in the company and creating an environment where they feel valued. He emphasizes the power of networks and leveraging the connections and expertise of others to attract top talent. Ethan also highlights the importance of proving that you can deliver on your promises, which builds trust and leads people to recommend you to others. By having a compelling vision and the necessary resources, Beyond Meat was able to attract talented individuals who believed in their mission.

Q: How did Beyond Meat approach their go-to-market strategy?

Beyond Meat initially faced challenges with their go-to-market strategy, particularly with foodservice, where they entered too early before the product and brand were well-known. They recognized the need to build the brand first and focused more on retail. They learned from the experience of other successful brands, such as Honest Tea, and adapted their strategy accordingly. Ethan talks about the importance of personally engaging with customers in supermarkets to understand their needs and preferences, which influenced their marketing and messaging strategies.

Q: What were the primary reasons businesses fail, and how did Beyond Meat address them?

Ethan identifies three primary reasons why businesses fail: lack of need for the product, running out of money, and talent-related issues. Beyond Meat addressed these challenges by continuously innovating their product, ensuring capitalization through various funding sources, and attracting and retaining top talent. By staying aligned with customer needs, managing their finances well, and building a diverse and talented team, Beyond Meat was able to overcome these obstacles and achieve success.

Q: What advice does Ethan Brown have for students looking to raise money for their ventures?

Ethan advises students to focus on getting a track record and proving that they can deliver. He shares his own experience of conserving cash early on and leveraging grant programs to support their research and development. Ethan also emphasizes the importance of getting hands-on experience by engaging with customers early on and learning from their feedback. He encourages students to start the business and build the brand before seeking venture capital, as personal passion and a compelling vision are often more important factors in attracting investors.

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