Published January 4th, 2023
Conquering The Impossible With Food Science
Vijay Chattha: Hello, everybody. We're here for another episode of the VSC Climb Podcast. I'm one of the general partners here at VSC Ventures, and we're very excited to have Nick as our guest today to join. Nick has had an amazing journey, and he's going to speak a lot about the experience of scaling Impossible Foods. So just a quick background on Nick: in the last 10 years, he helped build the company Impossible Foods from the ground up, forming an amazing team in developing and commercializing delicious, sustainable plant based foods to address many global food production issues. Today, it's all about Nick, giving insights and experience of wisdom to all the founders that are out there listening to think about how to scale companies in this space. So with that, Nick, thank you for joining first of all.
Nick Halla: Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here and share a bit of my story at least.
VC: Excellent. With that, I thought maybe we could just start with your background, you know, as an engineer and what got you inspired, first of all, to get into the food space. And then, more specifically, to get into the startup space.
NH: Yeah, so my background going way back: I grew up on a dairy farm in the Midwest of the US, and so I kind of been involved in food and agriculture most of my life. And I think you know, a couple of things I picked up that really stuck with me from the dairy farm: One is we're in the land 365 days of the year. You're raising animals producing food and I think that just drove into me a really deep respect and excitement for working on sustainability and like environmental issues. And two, it is a form of entrepreneurship. It's a very hard form of entrepreneurship where you have to make the dairy farm run with very little money, with very little control over pricing or weather, and you know, big factors that affect your business. But it's a family farm. All my brothers and sisters have their own businesses. And so I was always driven by having some sort of business that could improve the environmental sustainability of the world even back in high school. And then as I started looking at that I got really driven and interested in science and technology as the way to do it. And so when I went to undergrad, I studied chemical engineering and it was all focused on ways to create more sustainable systems.
VC: And then that took you to undergrad and then tell us about that sort of journey, sort of what you were studying there and what any particular areas that got you really inspired to further along in sort of your path.
NH: So I got to undergrad. I initially started in material science engineering that just came from a conversation as another person was in material science and some food tech stuff now. And as fascinating as just looking at you know how the future of materials in the world would move, but especially chemical engineering, because I love chemistry, just how the chemical makeup is, is of all the different pieces of the world and how much we can change it and make a much better world. And so I worked in diesel exhaust for a bit. There's kind of a research collaboration between mechanical engineering and chemistry and how to make diesel exhaust burn much more cleanly and efficiently. I designed batteries that designed biofuels facilities and undergrad. But I really had no idea where to go after that as an undergrad coming from a big state school, coming from a small family farm, you'd have like the big oil and gas and chemical companies recruiting. But that's not really where I wanted to put my time and effort into, I wanted to really work in creating something and create something much more sustainable. Which then led me to looking at how I can change systems and build systems in general, and that led me to General Mills. I wasn't intending to go back into food my intention; at that point, it was actually not to do food. But it was a cool way to look at how businesses go from a consumer insight into a consumer home. Because General Mills is a really marketing consumer-driven company, so a lot of the ideas start with a consumer insight and saying okay, consumers are looking for this type of application, this type of a product, and then us at R&D would be trying to find ways to make that happen, make a product, test it, and then once you had a product that seemed like the fit, then go find how to make it. And so it's kind of cool to see the journey from being in a consumer zone to all the way go into the manufacturing floor and making that happen. And then two years in new products and then two years in technology development; it was was very interesting, but it didn't hit my like sustainability bend that I really wanted to focus on. And so that led me out to grad school out here in California.
VC: What was your first impressions when you got to Stanford and how did that shape where you are now?
NH: Yeah, I'm definitely I found out very quickly. I'm not the typical Stanford Business School student. I'm kind of like the grungy engineer farmer who actually was like an engineer like, you know, getting your hands dirty every day. But I think that also kind of set me apart in a lot of ways because I did have a very different perspective. I remember, like a lot of my classmates will remember one of our first strategy classes, there was like a case study on water meters. And one of our manufacturing facilities, like your inputs in whether it's flour, water, shortening, sugar or whatever it is that you're putting into systems, that is the initial control point, if you don't get that right, nothing else is gonna go right. And so you just kind of eventually learn about water meters. We had a case study and the professor had something like is like well said something. I was like, well, that's not how water meters work. This is how they work. And people like "what, wait, how does somebody actually know that?" And it kind of set me up as like a different leg up in the class or as they call it, I have a technical background. That is, you know, very different than really most people in the class, and then I applied that to business school. For me like the business school stuff was all pretty new. I never heard of Silicon Valley. I'd never heard of VC before. I never heard of Goldman, Bain, BCG, like these companies that you know, big recruiters out of the out of these schools. And that's also not what I was looking for. I was looking to start a business and so I got really deep into the venture world pretty quickly when I got there, because that's where a lot of the new technology ideas and scalable technologies and things that were focused on sustainability like that I wanted to work on, were being incubated and this was like the, you know, 2009, 2010, kind of towards the end of the clean tech 1.0 movement. And so I was looking at different jobs I could do I got myself into a solar energy company that was doing cogeneration and so it was kind of fun to see a 25 person company now compared to General Mills, which was really the only company I had worked at before, you know, it's totally different operations, totally different ways to succeed within this, and I ended up working directly with the CMO initially and then to the CEO. And I found out very quickly, I could build a rapport with the CEO much stronger than really, the CMO could because I could talk to technical side, he was a PhD physicist. And so we could just sit here and spar back and forth and numbers and designs and different calculations. And I still like talk to him probably every couple of months.
VC: Was there one class that stood out to you that still had the most impact and how you operate?
NH: Well, so this will be a very different answer. So one of the classes that the Stanford GSB is really known for is, it's dubbed touchy feely, which has a very opposite side of like, my education and my background, was probably one of the most useful classes for me because of that, because it's interpersonal dynamics: how do people relate to me? How do I relate to people and how do you build better relationships? And I think that's something we use every single day of our life, whether it's personal and at work. And I think as you build and grow teams and growing companies, that skill set is probably more important than any technical skill that you can ever have.
VC: So give me an example of how you've used it at some point, some pivotal point where that knowledge came in handy.
NH: It's a good question. It's one of those things you use on a day to day basis all the time. I remember you know, maybe it was some of the pivotal points is when you get to like, just management and how to help people succeed. And you know, two of the values we had at Impossible very early on were be kind. We want to work with people that are good people, kinds of people, we're good to our customers, good to our consumers, and everyone we work with, and be candid. And it's like, yeah, we want to be honest and upfront so you can move fast and we always have run into situations where people are like, well, how can I be kind if I'm candid because that's not gonna be very nice. It's like, well, if I'm not doing something right, the kindest thing you can do is tell me. Now you don't have to tell me you know, like a rough way, you can tell me in a constructive way. That's where like, the touchy feely skills come in a lot. It's like okay, if I'm not doing well, what I want people do is tell me and tell me in a way that can help me get to a better position. And I think I learned a lot of skills in that class to do that. And so, you know, I was thinking about management of one person on the team and it got into a very heated place, and I just kind of stepped back and I use a lot of tools about how can I de-escalate this to make it less personal, and I think there's a term like stay on your side of the net. And so you're not putting yourself like in their shoes, in a way, you're trying to stay in your shoes and saying, "This is how it's affecting me." And it really helped to de-escalate the solution and get to a place where that we can actually continue to build a relationship and succeed in that office.
VC: That's great. Kind and candid. I liked that. Okay, so now let's talk about those early touch points of how you got into Impossible Foods?
NH: Yeah, so the way I ended up getting to Impossible, I was looking at all kinds of different ideas. I was doing a dual degree, so I had a lot of flexibility in school, whether I did a second internship, trying to start a company, or taking a full time job and just classes on the side. And so I was doing a ton of networking trying to find what I was going to do. And I like I said, I did get pretty deep in the venture world. And so one of the partners I was talking to who was Sameer at Khosla Ventures, and told me, "Hey, we got this perfect thing for you. It's sort of clean tech clean energy, huge impact, really early [stage]," which really fits my background well. He's like, "but I can't tell you," Like alright, so it's probably something in food or agriculture since that's what I've done my entire career, but definitely something sustainability driven because that's really what I was focused 100%, like completely on. Then when they invested in Pad, they introduced me to them. And we just hit it off. We hit it off on how we wanted to build a team. This comes back to the values. We talked a lot actually, not directly on values, but pretty indirectly and how we would like to talk to people we're gonna hire, the type of team we'd want to build, and then the mission. Like I had been in food and ag most of my life and when I came out here, it was all about renewable energy and electric transportation and things like this, because that's where I saw science, technology and global environmental sustainability coming together. Now the reality was animal agriculture uses 45% of the land surface every year, more than 25% of all the water consumed every year, more greenhouse gases, the entire transportation industry, by far the biggest driver of species loss, and no one is working. And we look at this and it's like, okay, that's a massive issue, but we need food, and meat and dairy consumption continue to increase globally, so how's this gonna work? But there's a huge opportunity. If you take a beef cow and you look at the calorie and the protein conversion from plants into, you know, meat that we consume, the cow's a 3% efficient technology. So every 33 grams of protein a cow consumes, we consume one gram of protein of its meat. So if you look at that, that's a huge opportunity to do something much, much more efficient. There's not many industries that exist that survived there are 3% efficient. And so I mean, the way we use animals for agriculture now is really as a production factory. And so our vision was, you know, we're going to create a much better way to do this as a much more sustainable, much more scalable, and really beat the animal at really every metric that matters, and when we got into that, that makes a lot of sense. And this is obviously a big flier. It was just an idea at this point in time. But if we can do it, the way we can change the world is much bigger than if I joined another solar energy company.
VC: At the point in which you joined, how big was the team and what were the immediate goals? What were the one year goals from when you joined?
NH: Yeah, so my first day in the office is our company anniversary. So it was me, Pat, and Jackie, who was the office manager, so it was the three of us and then we probably got to 10 people by end of the year. This is summer, so towards the end of the year, and one of the first thing is that Pat gave me, so Pat was still at Stanford at this point in time, and he's like, alright, so you need to start, so the best way we can start is to get everything, get all the tools that we can possibly find. So give me every single plant based ingredient in the world. And I'm like, "All right, like any more specificity on that?" And it was like, "No, just get every single plant based ingredient in the world." So we have a toolkit to start building from. And so then you kind of take that and you're like, Pat is an amazing visionary that can see like the way the world should be, and with the great ideas of how to get there. And so a lot of my job is very how to put [his ideas] into something more execution-oriented. Okay, so how do I take that statement of every plant base in the world and make that into something that we can actually buy? And so I found like, plant based oil company that was more of a redistributor and said, "Alright, can I get one if everything?" And the [company] goes, "well? What do you mean? Like we've never had a request like that before?" Like okay, put some parameters on. It has to be less than $1,000 a pound. And it's not like these really weird ones, and it has to be that something you end up getting, like maybe different coils that now the research team can work from, because the first two years are really technology development to understand what actually makes meat, fish, and dairy "foods", perform, taste, cook the way they do. And once we understand those fundamentals, go into the plant based world and try to find ways to eat. And so it was really a scientific development for the first two years before we even got to products.
VC: That's a fascinating framework, right, to start from, which is literally what are all the ingredients, right? Or what are all the tools in the toolbox?
NH: Yep, we were doing this in a bunch of different ways. And we also had some cheese stuff going on, and one of the funnier ones I had is, so you can make like artisanal cheeses in a lot of different ways. You typically use cheese cloth, but one of the other ways you can do it, which I had no idea, is to use pantyhose. They are much better for the cheese. And so one of the chefs was like, this is the best way to do it. So I was trying to source in bulk a supply of [pantyhose]. I'm calling all these places trying to figure out a way to get a bulk supply of this, which led to a lot of fascinating conversations. Eventually I found one. Now it wasn't really a scalable way to do it, but you kind of chase stuff down, and it's like, "Okay, that is an interesting idea. Let's go see if we can make it happen."
VC: So you're going to get bulk pantyhose. Is that what you're saying there, in terms of?
NH: That's right, so you don't get it. A lot of times you don't get into what you expect you're getting yourself into.
VC: Excellent. I'm interested to see all the retargeted ads that came your way. Yeah. This is a decade, essentially a decade long build here. And one of those chunks of time, I guess, how do you see that?
NH: Yeah, so they're all aligned to milestones, like the first set of milestones are can we create learnings and tools and technology that can really change the way we make food and make it a better way? And we learn things like heme drives all the flavor chemistry. And so those are like really powerful tools that didn't exist before. And then the series B, and this does rhyme relatively well with the financing rounds, was like, Okay, so now we have these tools, can we make a product, so you move more towards making that MVP product and saying, okay, take these tools, can we make a product and we decided to focus on ground beef for a lot of strategic reasons. And then by the end of the review, we really had a product to test it, you can see how it was working. And so then, we have a product that's not necessarily scalable, and you could see a path to get there, but wasn't scalable. So the Series C was really to make a scalable product with these systems in order to get the costs to a point that's not lab and it's more industrial scale system costs. And by the end of that, we had that in line. So then the next round was taking the market. And so the series D was going to go to market, take all the technology, all the research that we've done, and prove there is a market for this. And then after that is growth stages. So it's all about, that's when it becomes much more sales, marketing, operations after that, and so you want to continue to go up 50 to 100% as a company of that size, you know, every year stuff like that, that really shows that the market is grabbing on to it.
VC: Yeah, that's fantastic. And now in terms of that, what were the, I guess we could look back now, what were some of the early mistakes made? It was also like sort of great decisions, I mean the company's an amazing brand, but were there any particular mistakes that you would share with a founder making something today?
NH: Yeah, I think I'm very much a proponent of you make the best decision with the information you have in front of you at the time, knowing that it might not be the best decision six to 12 months, or even five years from now. And then you have to build it so it's like, if you're very competent, you can double down and you know, invest one way, if you're 80% competent, you invest it a bit different. And so for us, like we did have this hypothesis early that had and the scientists had that, you know, heme was gonna be important. And so we looked at this and there's a lot of heme in the root systems of legumes globally. And so heme is really in every plant or animal really alive as a main functionable cells, but in meat, it's very concentrated. But we did have a source where you could look at these root systems, and it would be like blood red. And so it was that high concentration. So we were building farming systems for how to do this and I spent, the team spent, probably a year to two years building systems trying to figure out how to grow, harvest heme from plants, and it was a total dead-end. But as we started doing this, we started talking to more people. We found, you know, we really found a way in fermentation. And in the biomed world, you know, fermentation is pretty expensive, but there are actually quite a few industrial fermentation processes that are very cheap, very dirty but very cheap. And so we kind of had to look at that and say, well, we're not like biomedical, or we're not industrial. Can we make a fermentation process for this protein that can scale, and then the industrial stuff shows you can scale, but at a cost that is, you know, still food grade as well and something for this protein, and it was so much better than, you know, trying to do it by agricultural base. But in order to do that, you have to have a really high, I'd say, real high utility for them that you put in there. Because if you're trying to do a full product, that would be very expensive, but as you know, heme is a very powerful molecule, so a small amount of transfers a big flavor. And so I think that's, you know, the hard part was upfront, we were trying to grow it and harvest and building systems that were completely unscalable. And we're trying to build models, and how this could be scalable, which on paper, could theoretically work, but on a kind of practicality basis? Really, really tough to see. And now from the fermentation side, we had a scalable way that we found, and it turned out to be one of the big parts of the business and the brand.
VC: That's great. And so I mean, is there a lesson there? It just sounds, like it's try things, right? And be ready to to pivot when they don't scale as you want. I mean, is that sort of the lesson there?
NH: Yeah, I think for us, I think it's different for every company. For us. We had a big vision. And our big vision was animals are used as a technology right now to produce food at a massive scale. It's insanely inefficient, extremely destructive to the environment, we're gonna find a better way. And that vision never changed. We're going to create a better food agricultural system by plate, by transitioning meat products to a plant based ecosystem. Now how we've gotten there has changed a lot, and so how do you pivot around this, and I think that's kind of, you know, maybe some advice is you want to have a vision of what you're building. And you know, the vision is probably gonna be pretty steady. Unless you're like, really often, you'll learn some stuff that okay, maybe this isn't even the right vision to have anymore, but then how you get there, you shouldn't be on a windy road. Because if you go down the same road in the same path the entire time, the chances are you're missing a lot.
VC: Yep. So you mentioned one point there around process and you're saying some of these particular processes may have been dirtier than others. I mean, maybe think about the classic idea of the Tesla argument well, okay, it doesn't use emissions, but it does use a lot of oil to manufacture. The pieces are making that car like is that is that like a conflict has ever come up? Or how do you weigh that?
NH: Well, you can't optimize everything upfront. If you tried to get the perfect product in from day one and start with from day one, you're gonna never launch, and so you do have to make trade offs and say how far you are. For us, you could say it was like product quality as we wanted to make sure we can pay that head on head with meat or not a veggie burger. We're competing head to head with meat with this, and so we needed a product that at least did that, and we got there. But it was not nearly what the product is today from a quality perspective. It's getting better and better every day. And from a resource perspective, we wouldn't ever launch if you're just trying to create the perfect product. And you can do this from a sustainability lens too. It's okay if you tried to build the best sustainable food supply chain, you're probably using some different ingredients and stuff to in order to build a brand new supply chain for doing that, and you're trying to create a new ingredient supply chain along with a new product and along with a new market. You're tripling your risk and a lot of ways, and so you have to look at what's out there and say, "okay, what is the best we can do that still matches up with the vision and the mission that is still much more sustainable?" Of course, you know, what we're replacing, which is the core of the company, and then over time, you're gonna get better and better knowing that.
VC: Yeah, I love that. You and the company made a very conscious decision around how you want to position the food that you create, and sort of what is it going up against, or what is it not? Can you talk a little bit about that?
NH: Well, yeah, I think there's been, you know, veggie products out in the market for a long, long time. I was a very avid meat eater when we started the company, I came from a beef and dairy farm, and I tried all the products and I just couldn't believe people ate them. It was so far off of what I expected essentially from that sensory experience, when I was looking for that sensory experience. And so when we're going to market, we knew that was some baggage that hung out there. And so as we go to markets, like how can we get by that baggage in this smart way to rebrand our products comparatively and really honestly rebranding the industry. And so what we ended up doing is, okay, the best way to do this is if we can get the meat chefs of America, kind of like the meat farmers of America, in some ways from the culinary perspective, the meat chefs of America say, "Hey, this is really good. My consumers want this." And that was really powerful as we went to the market that way. We didn't have a lot of supply anyway, so we want to be very targeted with what we did from our pilot facility. And it really enabled us to have a very loud voice and saying this and really setting up a position that this is not your traditional veggie burger. This is meat made from plants for meat eaters, that can really satisfy that craving, and then you start expanding from there.
VC: Was there any pushback from the media, from influencers, from restaurants on where they put you in the bucket, right?
NH: But ultimately, the ones that have done the best are the ones that believe in the vision right? They want it on there for a reason. They believe in this and therefore may make sure that it's branded as such. Like there's very little true branding on menus at this point in time. And so when we put Impossible on the menu, and you put the flag, we start putting the flag on the burger that represented product, and I remember going into our first launch restaurant like a week after we launched, and there was a table of like, probably 10 people what, probably shortly after college age, and once the food came out, I don't think anybody spoke for like five minutes. They're taking pictures and posting on Instagram and stuff like this, like, "Oh, this is fascinating." And then what had happened is that as you know, by putting Impossible on the menu, it actually drives way more trial, because people start to understand what the brand was and what it means, and people are seeking it out. Then for us, if we go to new restaurants, it wasn't as much of a sale and say, "Hey, this is working." And if they didn't do that, we had data that said if you don't brand it Impossible and put it in the menu this way, then it doesn't sell as well. We have that data to build the case studies up that helps you tell the story. But at the end of the day, the restaurant can do what they want, it's their restaurant, right, and I'm a product. That's right, and so who are our salespeople? Our salespeople are the staff. They're the ones who are talking to the consumers at the time of the point of purchase. It's not us, and so we're selling that there. And so you want them to be advocates of the mission, advocates of the product, and we would do a lot of training, especially in the early restaurants, and how to talk about the products in the company, the mission.
VC: For a new category, where there's a large volume of "salespeople" out there that need to learn or be educated and engage in and co-create, what were some of the sort of strategies that worked the best, and maybe anything that you didn't do that wasn't done before?
NH: Well, I think you know, one of the things that we didn't do is, one, when we talked about like branding through the menu, so the name was on the menu with it, along with the flag that came out and so we would just give restaurants the flags with the product. And so it wasn't, you have to buy it or anything like this, it was already there. And so they wanted to use it. So that was kind of a starting point to be able to drive awareness. And then it was like training. It's interesting because we're very particular at this point in time, especially with how we're building the brand and how to talk about it. But it's not going to be exactly the same, so you have to simplify. You have to create a really simple message that people can grab onto, people can remember and use. And then, typically, in a lot of back of the house, restaurants are an industry that has a lot of turnover. So for the first restaurants, we were pretty hands on and do quite a few trainings and updated relatively frequently. Once you start expanding, you totally lose that capability. There's no way that's a scalable system. So it's effectively a seeding mechanism for the industry and for the brand. Knowing that it's not going to be a scalable mechanism. Over time, then you create like books and manuals and stuff like this, certainly are not nearly as effective, but much more scalable. Scale businesses across the board, I think about this a lot. Is it the right tactics at stage one versus stage two versus stage three; often they are very different even if it's the same end goal.
VC: Are there any things you did specifically on social media for example, or with portals to, you know?
NH: Yeah, we definitely did. I mean, we created our, you know, the traditional social media sites for the products and you know, different hashtags and different campaigns. I think the most effective is typically still at the point of sale. That's where people are making decisions on food, whether it's at a restaurant with a table tent, or on the menu, or with the servers to the retailers, with like flyers and stuff like this, like that typically ends up being where you capture eyeballs and attention more effectively in the food world. But you do kind of have the background noise going there. The other one that we actually did a lot of is we did engage with the media a lot. And there's a bunch of pieces here is, like one is we had a technological solution and a product that was really good. That was a positive story. This is something that you can go out to your local restaurant or retailer and buy and feel really good about it. And it's making the world a better place and have an experience that you really enjoy. And so I think that it engaged the media in a lot of ways that was very beneficial for us. And for them too, because there's also there's plenty of negative stories that always get out there as we see in the media all the time. Like having to kind of feel good positive stories are also really important. I think we need more of that, especially in the climate world. Like the Climate Technology in the climate industry is so early that we need some big wins and some things that people want to come and say hey, this is really working. This is making this part of climate tech better and better, and this is the future we're gonna go because then you have those wins, then it encourages people to double down like we saw in the plant based industry. And going there's thousands of companies in this now globally. And when we started, there was a couple.
VC: That totally makes sense. We heard that ourselves, even with with the media dinner that you were part of, that there's an interest now from a lot of media outlets that were, actually had been quite, you know, jaded, if not critical, of the technology industry over the past, let's say, six years, that are you know, looking to be positive and excited actually about what's happening.
NH: And there's so much positive and exciting things happening. And I get asked this like, you know, working in climate is like, "Do I have climate anxiety?" I think to a certain extent, yes. But I also am just an optimist at heart, I think too. And there's so many people that want to work on this that want to do good. And so when you have that much energy going into an industry and into a movement, good things happen.
VC: Yeah, absolutely. Now tell us a little bit about like the food tech world right now. So I mean, because of Impossible and a couple other companies, you paved the route for other founders. Are there things that in particular are much easier now to go out and build, in terms of startups, in this space that just weren't built yet when you started that are huge advantages?
NH: Well, I mean, you take this in as a physical goods industry. So you think about physical goods. It's like hard goods are hard. Hard. Technology is hard. Like software, you can scale in much different ways. You don't have to have quite as much of the ecosystem typically built around. And so for us we even go back to that story like when we started the company and saying, "Give me every single plant based ingredient." There's a certain number, and there's not that many that are really catered to this type of function or this type of product and supply chain. The vast majority of agriculture is really created to produce food to feed the animals. So if you want to now take that food and directly go to human nutrition, and there's much, much better ways to do that than using the current system. So you're starting to see now is that the consumer pull is getting stronger and stronger. You're seeing some of these more ecosystems, supply chain companies, new ingredients, new proteins by the agricultural system for human nutrition coming through, and I think that's fascinating because that then enables more and more innovation on top of that.
VC: Let's talk about some just areas of interest now for you. You know, you were at Impossible Foods for 11 years. You're exploring new pastures as it were. What is exciting to you, and also, what is some of the areas that are maybe not being talked about enough?
NH: Yeah, so, I mean, the whole impetus of Impossible and even the solar work I was doing before is to create a much more sustainable world. And right now the biggest threat we have is climate change. Temperatures continue to rise, the forecast and the projections have gotten slightly better. But still, you know, the target out of Paris was 1.5 C, and we're really on a trajectory, from most of the research I see, at about 2.8 degrees Celsius, or almost double essentially where we need to get in. It's hard to see that changing by decarbonizing "clean it up" industries because there's so much hard good infrastructure there, and there's so many different pressure points that push it in a less sustainable way even as you're pushing into a sustainable direction. That makes sense. We are increasing livelihoods of people globally as well and you know, energy access is number one. And so then you get to the sustainability side, which is getting higher and higher on the agenda, but it's not always number one and understandably. So if that's the reality, you know, what can we do on the climate technology side of starting to pull co2 and methane, nitrous oxide out of systems after us, knowing that these systems are going to exist? And so I think there's more and more starting to happen there. One area that I've been focusing on the last few months is methane, and a 20 year period, methane is about 82 times more potent than co2, and it's much lower concentrated. So then, you know, every methane molecule you would say you capture, convert to something with, you know, has an 82 times effect on reducing greenhouse gases over the next 20 years than co2, and it's a much more reactive molecule too. I don't see as much stuff happening in that yet, but I think it will. And I'm starting to hear a little more chatter on that. And I think there's a lot of opportunity there. But I think, you know, the way I look at it is you know, every decade matters, and you know, we're gonna solve this in probably 100 plus years, certainly as a trajectory but every time we can have a short term win to buy ourselves time to solve it is a huge, huge way.
VC: What are some examples of how to reduce methane?
NH: Interesting! I mean, I'm trying to think what I should say on this, I'm working on lots of ideas right now.
VC: Whatever you feel comfortable, could be broad. We're trying to inspire founders, but also maybe not create competitors for you.
NH: It's fine. I think the more people working on this stuff, the better. I think you'll look at the industry as the kind of two sides of the equation. One is where does methane come from? And then two is, you know, what do you do with methane once it's out in the environment? And so there's, you know, where methane comes from. Dairy and beef and animal agriculture are massive drivers in the natural gas industry, and energy production is as well, I think, much bigger than I think we've thought, and I think there's a bunch of research coming out now with satellite imagery and looking at ways that there's fluxes of methane going into the atmosphere. Like rice production is actually a methane producer, landfills, old mines, old oil wells, and then you also have the permafrost, and some of these lakes that are getting formed, they have methane producing organisms in them. And so there's all kinds of kind of dispersed sources globally, which also creates a lot of opportunity. Other ways to solve you know those sources that are happening. Then on the other side and after use side, say it does happen. You go some of the concentrated systems where the concentration isn't the 1.9 PPM that it is in the air here that is more concentrated and more concentrated. Typically you can have more impact on it faster from a cost and scalability perspective. And so I think through all of that there's opportunities galore. You know what to do on that. I don't think it's very well understood because the focus has been bigger, more on co2, and understandably, it's a much more prevalent greenhouse gas and it lasts in the atmosphere much longer. But I think, you know, like I said, as a 20 year period, we can have a big impact by tackling methane too. You know, one thing that Pat, founder of Impossible, and my guy's a Brooklyn professor, wrote a paper that they published at the start of this year showing that you know, if we change the world's food system to get rid of animal agriculture, in the next 15 years, we'd go out of plant based ecosystem, we can flatline greenhouse gases for 30 years. And buy ourselves 30 years of time to solve all these other issues, and that's based on either reducing the greenhouse gases from animal agriculture plus letting that biomass grow back on. Because looking at systems, chemical processes are tough to scale, especially when you're looking at the prices the carbon markets are, especially with co2, that's a very low energy molecule. But if you use biological systems, this is really the only way that we've scaled that we know. And methane, I think within those systems, there's opportunities galore. They're gonna backside you to look at, okay, what are biological systems that can do this? What are catalytic or engineering ways you can do it? I think you can kind of do both because one of the advantages of methane is you don't need to capture it. It's like if you oxidize it, it's like it goes to a much, much less reactive or much, much less potent greenhouse gas. Which also it just creates a lot of opportunities to do something Excellent. And just to kind of wrap up, I think that was a great wrap, but I forgot, there is actually a huge thing I want to ask you about on your more recent role with Impossible Foods, which is sort of international. So I, you know, I'm fascinated, like, what was what were the cultural differences that you had to deal with? As you were scaling the brand that maybe is helpful to founders? Are there different things happening in Europe? I mean, certainly there's things happening in South Asia, even around religion, even things people will not ever eat, but just any sort of curious, interesting insights as you had to do that. Yeah, so I think, you know, as you think about internationalizing businesses, the first thing does start with product. And so I'll use the example for Impossible. When we first launched our product, the version 1.0 worked really well on a flat top grill, works very well on a burger. It didn't work that well in other applications, you can make it work but it was a bit finicky. And so when you went to to 2.0, a lot of the focus is on making a product much more robust and versatile. So you can use it in different cooking devices, different cuisines, different types of temperatures. And it enabled us to do more. And when we went to international Hong Kong in 2018, and so, you know, people ask us a lot of why we went to Asia first well, Asia is where 44% of meat is consumed today. And so, I want to tackle this, you know, we have to tackle the Asian markets. We wanted to start early. Now the product that we had there wasn't great, I think, for a lot of the cuisines that we were trying to push it into. Once we had that 2.0 product, it opened up so many doors because it was much more versatile. You really could use it in anything. So I think that's one. Two, you know, food is culture. And so you have to think about this way as like we're not just going to say okay, go eat this food as, you know, an American food; that does work to a certain extent. But you know, we're replacing essentially a base ingredient in the food system in a lot of ways; you work with chicken and things like that, and then you make stuff out of them, you don't typically serve obviously, the animal whole. You're using this as an ingredient that then you can locally make culturally relevant. And so if the US has burgers, you might go to another place and actually they they consume beef in a different way. But if the ground meat behaves similarly to the ground meat from an animal, you don't really need to change the product. Then we just give it to chefs and let them modify the cooking parameters and the seasonings and stuff like this to hit the local consumers to be culturally relevant. And not just like, you know, you know, forced American branded products, which I think was really powerful for us as we started expanding internationally.
VC: What are your most favorite cuisine integrations worldwide? If I'm a foodie, where do I need to go, and what am I going to try that would surprise me or delight me?
NH: One of my comfort foods is Mexican foods. I've made so many Impossible like burritos and tacos and things like that. I do that all the time. The pork product is like, I made mapo tofu with it when I was living in Hong Kong. It's fantastic. I think I've tried a lot of different stuff, and the fun thing is you can make anything work, and I'm a foodie that way, too. One of our actual launched customers in Singapore, they did a beef Wellington. I was like, I've never had a beef Wellington in my life. I mean, I grew up in a beef farm as like this was Midwest US, this is like you typically have relatively basic cuisine. And I tried it, and it was delicious. So I think that was fun. A lot of baos and dumplings and stuff like this, I think that have been really kind of fun through the Asian cuisines as I was living over there, so I think they probably have a little bit of a bend that way.
VC: It's great. I mean, I'll shout out to the Istanbul restaurant and Honolulu. They made, they have an Impossible kofta kabobs, which are amazing, we get them every time we go. So, it's really been incredible to see how this innovation has been reflected in all these different cultures. Thank you again, Nick for your time. We're really excited to share your insights with our community. Until we meet next!
NH: Sounds good. Thank you.
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Vijay Chattha & Jay Kapoor