Podcast #26: Andrew talks with Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Wild Earth, the world’s leading plant-based pet food company.

Big Idea Ventures has launched our very own podcast “The Big Idea Podcast: Food”. Each week Big Idea Ventures Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space and talk about the exciting projects they are a part of. 

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SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, companies, food, pets, meat, science, dogs, ryan, ceo, wild, called, biotech companies, bio, based, biotech, run, ventures, happening, scientists, andrew

SPEAKERS

Ryan Bethancourt, Andrew D Ive

 

Andrew D Ive  

Welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. I’m your host, Andrew I’ve, and I’m the founder of Big Idea ventures. So today we’re going to be talking to a chap called Ryan Bethancourt. Ryan is a very old friend, we’ve known each other now for probably about a decade or so. Sometimes, industries have this sort of inflection point where we just kind of create something entirely new and a new way of doing things. And we have that in the computer industry, in you know, Silicon Valley with the Apple guys and other folks, Bill, Bill Gates, etc. In my opinion, Ryan may be one of those people in the sort of biotech space. I think in a decade, in 15 years, people like Ryan, and there aren’t that many of them. So I’m not sure why I say people like Ryan, but people like Ryan, I think will be seen and recognized as true visionaries.  People who really helped to create the next stage of the biotech industry. So I hope I haven’t oversold him. I’m a big fan. I love how he thinks his vision, and a lot of the things he does. His motivations are altruistic and are very much about making this place better for everyone. So let’s listen to our conversation with Ryan Betancourt. Ryan is currently the CEO of a company called Wild Earth but he’s had a really interesting commercial background to date. So let’s get into the conversation. Love your thoughts and comments at the end of it. Many thanks, bye.

 All right. Hey, Ryan, welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. How are you, sir? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I’m great thank you Andrew, thank you for having me. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Like, this is one conversation I’ve wanted to have. I talk to you all the time so this is totally like not a new thing. But I just I love the way your mind works. I love the way you think. I kind of love the things you’re doing. So I think it’s only fair that we share that with other people. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

did

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Do you know Andrew, this is gonna be a lot of fun, because I love a lot of the things that you do, the way that you think the way that you build, right. So I, you know, I’ve loved seeing you build Big Idea Ventures into what it is now, right, which is really the leading future food accelerator globally. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

A way to, you know, set the bar super high, so that everybody is totally disappointed after this.That was supposed to be a good one, and it was terrible. What the hell, we were mis sold something. So why don’t we get people to, first and foremost, into who Ryan Betancourt is, and we can take that as early as you want. We can go back to when you were I don’t know three years old? Your mother? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s probably helpful to start off, like, you know, early childhood, what inspired me, that’s kind of a quick answer. You know, my mother got me into reading. So I was dyslexic. She got me into reading science fiction and that was really what helped me read. But in addition, it filled my head full of like these really fascinating ideas about what we could do with technology and with biotechnology. And, I couldn’t stop thinking about that. And that’s what really took me in the direction of science, right? Science just fascinated me. The fact you know, when I got into biology and genetics, I was like, we can be programmed, what like, what is that? How is that? And so that really started my passion. It wasn’t just biology, it was all science. Physics is fascinating. Engineering is fascinating and that’s kind of what inspired the path that I took. I started in the biotechnology industry. So the farm and biotechnology industry started with Pfizer, as a pharmaceutical sales rep for a little while, and did research in the lab. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So before we kind of skip through things, tell us okay, sci fi reading when you were what? 765? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Probably yeah, I mean, you know, I was probably reading sci fi when I was like seven or eight. That’s when I started reading. So that’s the, the main thing I used to like to read. And it was kind of a weird thing for a kid to be reading and you know, there were concepts in there I did not understand. But it was really interesting back then, for those of our listeners who didn’t grow up back then, you know, I guess I’m dating both of us a little bit. Like, it was a time when you didn’t have internet, right? So you actually had to go find a book and look up a term. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so that’s really how I started to learn, you know, it was like, Oh, what did you know? What is quantum effect? What is that? And it asked people I looked them up in books and things like that I used to use I think it was like, even encyclopedia Britanica and things. So, you know, that was like a quick way of checking stuff. And so that’s kind of how I learned a bit of science, then obviously, with the emergence of the web, I was able to learn much faster. And so I was tinkering around with computers and I was like, Oh, this is amazing. They were connected to the web, you know, do a dial in with America Online, you just got to do and then you now have access to all the world’s information, which was just, you know, mind blowing.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, so that your best I guess some Saturday afternoon on a rainy day was sitting in the library and just sort of running around the stacks. Kind of pulling books out?

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, actually, yeah, the library was a great place to find great science fiction, too. So it was definitely the library I used to love. Like the used bookstores where you could get all these really interesting old,  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series, Robert Heinlein, which now is very old school, for those that have not read Robert Heinlein. He was writing these books in the 1960s. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then that led me to genetics and all this other kind of weird and wonderful stuff, which we’ve actually proven by the ways, right? So all this longevity stuff, like you can breed worms, right? You can breed different types of animals to live longer. By selecting for longer lived animals, I was involved with a project that was called the Methuselah flies. A professor at the University of Irvine, who bred flies that lived the lifespan that was about 4x, the lifespan of normal fruit flies. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so, you know, it’s like, there weren’t computers back then so he kind of guessed something that was like a computer, that would help with flying spaceships and things like that. And so one of my inspirations around biology, and longevity, was Time Enough for Love. Where there was  a breeding experiment where humans were bred from long lived ancestors. So you would get a payment from a very rich person, it’s a sci fi book, to marry someone who also had a long lived, grandparents basically. And so it was a way of doing a controlled breeding experiment to eventually extend the human lifespan to, you know, hundreds of years. And that concept to me was just like, what you could breed humans to make them long lived?? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

He’d actually bred them over a period of 10 plus years to live four times the lifespan of a normal fly. The way you do that is just to get rid of the eggs. Until eventually there were only a few flies left that could actually breed and he just repeated that many, many cycles. So a lot of really interesting genetic insights there that we found kind of hard to, to explore. So that was like the inspiration. And then, to fast forward, I started in the pharmaceutical industry. I did lab bench research. I dropped out of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I did my masters at Cambridge, and I studied in British university, called the University of Warwick as well. And

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I kind of stumbled into weird science stuff. I was part of the biohacker movement in California, and moved from the UK. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So how does one go from multiple universeties in the UK to California? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, so I moved with a clinical research company that I worked for. So I worked for a company called Quintiles and I moved and joined a company called Parkestone that was a clinical research company. So two clinical research companies. In the UK, I helped most of the leading biotech and pharma companies develop the drugs and early stage clinical development. So phase one, which is called first inhuman drug development, which is something I still love to this day. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then I joined Parkstone to help them work specifically with companies, biotech companies all across California, and help them develop their drugs. And so I was deep deep into the science. I headed up business development, for Parkstone, early phase drug development. And this was around 2010. Then something kind of bizarre happened. A bunch of biotech companies started go bankrupt and a couple of my friends and I started to buy used lab equipment for literally pennies on the dollar.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

We were all kind of frustrated, because we saw the rise of like low cost tech companies, but we hadn’t seen the rise of low cost biotech companies. And so we’re like, Well, why not? Why can’t we just build a biotech company in our living room or garage or something like that? So we started by use lab equipment and one of my friends John, he actually started a biotech company was funded by Peter Thiel. It was the first bio hacker company that I was aware of.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

He raised like half a million dollars from Peter Thiel. It was the funniest story. When this happened, this is like 2010 2012. This is somewhere between 2010 to 2014, where all this stuff started happening and the term biohacker emerged. Before then it was just like a bunch of people doing community science together, right? We would buy used lab equipment and try and figure out how to do basic science together, where we didn’t have enough money. We didn’t have enough resources. We didn’t have enough equipment.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And it’s kind of like the computer hardware industry. Were just a bunch of people going to Fry’s and various other places and buying stuff as a group and sort of building things. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

100% It was, it was very much like the Homebrew Computer Club. Yeah. And it was in Northern California, too. So there was a lot of parallels. Some of the people who were part of the Homebrew Computer Club, were part of the biohacker movement. I mean there was one incredible guy, Jay, he was a retired Apple early Apple engineer. He was part of the Homebrew Computer Club and he was also part of the biohacker movement. Obviously, he retired from Apple and he was retired at that point. But you know, we had a lot of these retired Homebrew Computer people helping to build the next generation of bio hackers, not tech hackers, but bio hackers. And so they really helped us a lot. And you know, it was it was a pretty eclectic bunch of people.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

You know, it was literally every everyone in any, like, people just dropped out. People who just moved to California didn’t have jobs, back then jobs are kind of hard to get, it wasn’t that expensive to live in the Bay Area back then. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

And what kind of things were you, were the group or the community, what kind of things were you tackling? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I mean, so Yeah, John started a project with Arie Gentry and went on to start BioCurious as well with Joe Jackson.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

They started this project where they were actually had Hilo cells and they were taking their own white blood cells, putting them under the microscope and trying to understand how their white blood cells attack cancer cells. So I remember seeing this video of their white blood cells attacking cancer cells, and it blew my mind. I was like, wait, where did you do this? So it was in your garage? And he was like, yeah. And so I was like, What do you mean, you did this year, I pulled out my own blood out, I put it, you know, put my family where blood cells isolated them, had a cancer cell had my white blood cells attack the cancer cell.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then and then like, filmed it with this, like really cheap microscope, video microscope that he bought from a bankrupt biotech company is all the biotech companies back then were going bankrupt, right? It was just, you know, the newspaper articles back then like to 2010 and 2014. We’re like, this is the end of biotech. You know, that’s it, everything’s bust. And it just didn’t make sense to me. I was like, How can this be the end of biotechnology, right? Like we are made of biology, it is impossible for this to be the end of biotechnology. It’s just another bust cycle. And so, you know, at the time, I was still working with Big Pharma and big biotech who had plenty of money, because they were developing therapies for the diseases that affect us.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so it was just, it blew my mind, because I read a lot about the Homebrew Computer Club, I was a huge fan of a lot of the people and innovators that came out of that, you know, obviously Apple the two Steve’s wild snack and Jobs, as well as some of the other innovators that came out of that. And so I was like, maybe this is kind of like that. And so I was one of the few people that actually had a serious day job and so I had money. I was putting my money into these things, and helping people build stuff. You know, I was part of the community BioCurious, the early community. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then at the time, and I still remember this, when we started Indy Bio, people were like, oh, no, scientists don’t want to become entrepreneurs. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then I co founded Counterculture Labs, which is a biohacker lab in Oakland. And then I realized it was too chaotic. So we started Berkeley Bio Labs, myself and Ron, and a few other people. Ron, who went on to become my co founder at Indy Bio. There was myself, Arvind, Ron, and then Sean O’Sullivan funded everything that we did, through SOS ventures. And so, you know, it kind of led to this, this kind of gradual, like, eventually, I ended up accidentally as an investor at Indy Bio, when I was really just trying to help scientists become entrepreneurs and build low cost biotech companies. And so I kind of stumbled upon that just just because I wanted to see that in the world.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And, sorry, sorry to interrupt. So for people listening, they may not know what Indy Bio is. Yeah. And it might be good to give them a little bit of context. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, so I think Indy bio is still the leading biotech accelerator in the world. We started it back in 2014, the end of 2014, and we officially opened our doors in 2015.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Indy bio has now funded probably over 200 biotech companies, everything from future food to cancer therapeutics and, you know Andrew was my partner over on the food Ex side. Right as scaling, he was running the sister program to Indy bio. And so, you know, we became friends, Andrew and I became friends through that. But it was such a wild ride, because in the early days, you know, I would say Silicon Valley was skeptical that anything of value would come out of Indy bio.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And I just knew that if we helped scientists become entrepreneurs, they had plenty of ideas that they just couldn’t get money for to build and something interesting would come out, I didn’t actually know what it was, I thought maybe it would be like a breakthrough, cancer therapeutic or something. And it turned out that the future of food melding biology, technology, and food was this like, incredibly powerful thing. And that’s really what led to us being the first investors in companies like Clara foods. Now at the every company, Upside Foods, which previously Memphis Meats for cell based meat company, just a whole host of other companies in the future of food space. That was about 30% of the companies we invested in. The other 70% were hardcore biotech companies. So gene therapy companies, cancer, therapeutic companies, all sorts of stuff like that.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect, thanks for that. Thanks for the background. So, of all of the companies you were involved with, whether it’s an indie bio before, or, you know, whatever, what kind of most excited you as you’ve gone on, either particular companies or, you know, what’s most excited you about the companies that you’ve got involved with? And do any in particular standout? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, there was, there was one that I really loved and it was just so weird and wonderful. That, you know, I mean, I love Memphis Meats. Now, Upside Foods. I mean, that was really, at the time, people thought this was pure science fiction. They were saying it will never be commercial, there will never be cell based meat.  And I happened to talk to Uma, who’s the founder and CEO of Memphis meats then now Upside Foods. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And he was ready for the mission of turning this concept of lab grown meat, cell based meat into a reality. To end the the sustainability problem, the ethical problem of factory farming and I just loved the idea and so that was on the food side, that was probably my favorite, because it was just, I mean, it was transformational. It started a global movement. I think, Andrew, you probably know the numbers, right? How many cell based companies are there in the world now? Like, there’s over 100? 

 

Andrew D Ive  

No there’s more than that. Good Food Institute keep a running tab. We’ve made something like 12 to 15 investments in the cell based space at this point. So, and in total companies, it’s probably 200 or more every day.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

That is absolutely incredible to me. And then obviously, the shifts we saw in plant based, but I think like the weird science stuff that I’m you know, I was I still mind boggled by was a company that we funded, which was called Catalog Technologies.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

The premise behind the digital data in DNA, right? So DNA is about a million times more data dense than a hard disk. I remember talking to intel about this, they were like, Yeah, we’re gonna run out of silicon. And I was like, What do you mean by raw silicon, they were like, there will be a point in time, in our lifetimes, where we can’t pull enough silicon out of the ground, based on our need to store data, right? Like our consumption and need to store data is going to exceed our ability to pull silicon out of the ground and this is like a known problem with Intel and a lot of the other memory manufacturers, silicon manufacturers. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

So suddenly, I was like, Oh, and you know, the idea when I talked to Hon June from Catalog Technologies was just so transformational. I was like, wait, you store digital data? How much more data dense is it? So they know about a million times more data dense. Actually Ron did the calculation,Ron my fellow co founder. So I was like, this is mind boggling and the company’s real like it’s in Boston now and they’re storing digital data DNA like they actually started the first proof of concept was storing the road less traveled on the book in DNA, right. DNA has the ability and stability, estimated to be about 500,000 years.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

We found DNA that is readable, that is five, 500,000 years old and it might be longer than 500,000 years. The ability to store data in DNA is actually longer than the entire lifespan of our species, Homo sapiens is about 250,000 years old. So we might actually have a way of storing data in an interspecies way for the next species that comes after us. Right. So that really blew my mind. I was like, okay, that’s kind of mind boggling. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Be kind of interesting if we were the hardware for some other end sentient being, and we’re just sort of machinery. Yeah, we’re just the machinery. Right.So question for you. You mentioned you dropped into investment, almost by mistake by wanting to help other scientists. You have become an investor? How do you figure out which scientists you want to back? I’m guessing you don’t agree that every scientist needs to be helped or needs to be given money or needs to be an entrepreneur necessarily. So how do you figure out the ones that are worth backing? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

There are many paths. I think like a biologist, building and innovation and discovery. You know, I don’t think that there’s just one path. Like, there’s a perfectly great path, if you want to become a professor, and publish, and do blue skies research and basic science, we need that. We need all of that. So I think my perspective is not that entrepreneurship is for everyone. It is not necessarily for everyone and there are fundamental questions we have to answer. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so I have this very open mind to how we innovate, like how humanity innovates but I do think that one of the powerful engines is entrepreneurship. And I think that for some scientists and innovators and engineers and technologists, entrepreneurship is the better path. Because it’s a way of accelerating, particularly concepts and products and services that you can get to market, you can actually commercialize it, you have a clear path to commercialization. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so, you know, what I look for now, I think I’ve invested now in over 150 companies. So, as a, pre seed investor, as a seed investor with Babble Ventures, which is another Venture Capital Group, which I joined and then through sustainable food ventures, which is a little micro firm that I started with Marilla, my partner and my wife.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And then also as an angel investor. So I’ve actually, you know, in places where I have been able to cut, you know, my checks are very small. They’re like, five to 10k, because I’m not liquid. Yeah, what’s that?

 

Andrew D Ive  

You haven’t always been though. I mean after Indy bio, you’re writing checks…

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I’ve run the full gamut, right, I’ve run the full gamut of cutting, my personal Angel checks are very small. I mean, I’ve been able to cut within the bio, you know, we’re cutting 200k checks, with sustainable food ventures between 50 to 100k. The personal checks that I cut are 50 to 10k, things that don’t easily fit into a particular thesis. So you know, that we both invested in shook meats. So shook meats, for those that are not familiar, is the leader in cell based shrimp and crustaceans in Asia, and they’re based in Singapore. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

But there was a time no one really wanted to back them and so that’s when I funded. Sandi talks about this how I funded them to do the fundamental research to show that they could grow the stem cells. And so my small check, which was the first check that went in to help them rent a lab, and then actually do the work to the science, and then they were able to raise money and enter. You came in pretty much right after that, right? And backed them and it’s been a transformational story. They’ve actually, I think they’re still the leader in raising money for cell based meats from Asia had to be very specific with this. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

They are the most successful cell based company in Asia at this point, although uncle Joe’s from China, I think raised 10 to 15 in the last seven days, who are doing cell based meat.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Okay, Yeah, so that’s new. So the space is so rapidly evolving. Both you and I who stay on top of these trends are surprised by changes that are happening, which is amazing, right? It’s exciting. But yeah, so those are the types of things. The first thing I look for are founders, right backing the right people. And so when I say that it’s like people that really want to build something, they’re missionaries over mercenaries, they’re not doing this for the money, they’re doing this because they want to see, they want to build the change in the world that they want to see. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so that that really helps me outside of that. The second criteria is, is it credible? Is their idea credible? Are they the right person to build it? Right? So if you want to make a cell based meat company, but you have no experience with anything in biology, you’ve never been in the lab, you’re not a credible person, you have to find a co founder that does know their way around things in the case of shook meats. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

You know, both founders, both Sandy and Kerri, they were scientists, they knew their way around the lab, they actually knew how to make this happen. So they were both credible, and they had a purpose for doing this. And so, you know, those are the first two things and then you look at the markets and you see, is the market big enough? Can they raise money? But really, at that early stage where it’s still at the idea stage, Andrew, and I’ve been involved with actually, I don’t know, over a dozen companies together, like helping them build and scale. And it’s always about the people at the idea stage, and then we build and we support them as they continue to scale.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Absolutely. I know you’ve got some particularly strong points of view in terms of what team needs in the biotech space to be successful. I think he told me that if the CSO doesn’t have a PhD, then they’re not really the CSO, and they need to go find one. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

There could be a chief innovation officer or CEO or something like that. But yeah, I mean, this is coming from a PhD dropout, right. I’m kind of discriminated against myself, I would not make a good CSO, right. And so there are occasionally exceptions where someone has just been in the scientific world for a really long time. But it is a trade, like science is a trade, it’s a craft. And you have to get good at it by doing it. And so, you know, I will not back teams that do not have a CSO with a PhD. It just, it’s an experience that I had we tried backing me by we tried backing biohackers right, people who did not have conventional backgrounds who are doing the science, and they really struggled. And it’s just because they didn’t go through the, unfortunately backbreaking years have been the bench of learning why things work and why they don’t, which I think makes you a great scientist.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And likewise, does a good biotech team need a business person or a non science person in a key role? Or is that not as important? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeh, so the CEO role is kind of this Maverick wildcard role. It’s worked in many ways, right? So, you know, we’ve had experience with CEOs who are actually PhDs themselves or scientists, but they really want to learn business, and they do great. And then I’ve also had the situation where someone will have a social science or liberal arts background, they’re great with people, but they really have to learn the science. And they’ve thrived as long as they’re willing to do the work of learning the science. And the business part comes kind of easy to them, they may have been in a business role, they may have an MBA. So the the CEO role is really very much of a maverick type role. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so with that role, I keep a very open mind. It’s like anyone can be a CEO and I think in a time when you know, a lot of the conversations around diversity, I really mean it like everyone, anyone can be a CEO. As long as they’re sharp, they can figure things out, they can think things through and are willing to do the work, right? One of the traits I really look for as well is humbleness and not all CEOs are humble. But I look for, you know, being very humble and reasonable, because life humbles you in so many ways and so there are plenty of CEOs that are not humble. But those aren’t usually the people that I love working with.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And so that sort of chemistry is an important part to you.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, it is. Because it’s a commitment. I still talk to every single CEO that I backed, unless we’ve had an argument, I don’t think I’ve had any severe arguments with any of the CEOs that I’ve worked with, pretty much everyone that I’ve ever helped, I’m still in touch with. And so this is, you know, this is a decade’s long commitment. You know, this is outside of the company, like these are people that I want to help and support within the company that they’re in today. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And within the company, they’ll be next, you know, next and next. And next, as we build the future that we want to see in the world together. And so I don’t view it as just I’m an investor, I want just a financial return. Tell me when you’re returning my money. It’s more like, Hey, we’re going on a journey together, and it’s probably gonna be a lifelong journey. And so do I want to be on that lifelong journey with this person?

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I totally appreciate your mission. You and I have the same sort of objectives in that set. I also get the impression that you love to back science and teams that are doing more and more sort of out there outrageous, challenging, even things that haven’t been proven yet because you sort of get off on the potential of science and the potential of the companies that you’re backing. Do you look for sort of an aha moment where you’re like, Okay, this is something special. And if this is possible, and we don’t even know if it necessarily is yet, but if this is possible, then this is going to change the world? And I want to be a part of that. Is that sort of, yes, you’ve got the mission. But is there the sort of pushing the boundaries of possible of what’s possible? Is that part of it as well, for you?

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

It most definitely is and in fact, you know, I talk a lot about entrepreneurship and private capital, private investment, venture capital, but one of the inspirations is actually the inspiration behind the founding of the National Science Foundation. So the NSF in the US, and DARPA as well, you know, the perspective that science is the infinite frontier. Like, for me, that is probably one of the most exciting concepts that we don’t yet know what we don’t yet know. And so, at the horizon, there’s always something new. And so I’m always looking for that. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And it never ceases to amaze me when that happens, right? Like, one example of that is, you know, one time, and this was a very long time ago that there was a founder, who was at Berkeley, and figured out that they could actually make food from electricity using bacteria.  But the idea that you could use electricity, so basically, photosynthesis, you basically have a solar panel, you connected to a bacteria, and it makes food was just so mind blowing to me, that I was like is this how we feed the solar system, right like that, that insight. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And I’d never thought of that. I never seen it. I never read about it. I never thought about it, that you could use electricity to make food. Right? And so it totally makes sense from a first principles perspective. That’s what plants do all day long. But I never thought about using a bacteria with just electricity, like a little battery on it, or something or a solar panel to make food. And so I’m always looking for that infinite frontier, because I know it’s there. It’s always there. Yeah, so CRISPR is another example like CRISPR, when that was discovered, which was an incredible breakthrough by Jennifer Doudna and her lab…

 

Andrew D Ive  

Do you want to give people a quick explanation?

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

So the work that was done to figure this out was exquisite. It’s super detailed, I will confuse everyone, including myself if I try and go into it, because I need to have the scientific paper in front of me to be able to actually accurately describe it. But I mean, it was just exquisite science. And the discovery was exquisite. But it was literally a system that was in front of us the whole time. That’s what’s so mind boggling. Like, it was right in front of us, but we just didn’t see it because we didn’t understand what it was

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

CRISPR is the ability to do precision genetic editing. I won’t go into too much detail because it gets kind of weird. It was a mechanism that was discovered in bacteria. Bacteria actually use it as a way of protecting themselves against things like viruses infecting them, bacteria phages, and things like that are foreign DNA. And it’s almost like an immune system for the bacteria. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect Days the same way though, right? Where they’re taking what is a process inside of a cow and converting sugars and other things into dairy inside of the cow and they’re using a set a very similar process, but outside of the cow. That’s nature’s duplication  taking what’s working and efficient from nature and doing it in new ways. Right?

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah. 100% And honestly, you and I know, we’re talking about my investing background, but that’s really what inspired Wild Earth. We’re talking about feeding ourselves better right, humans better you know. I’m a longtime animal lover. I grew up with both dogs and cats and I know you’re also a dog dad, as am I, right, there we go. There we go. But remind me really,

 

Andrew D Ive  

This is coconut. So he was sleeping so right now he’s grumpy

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Coconut’s a little grumpy because he’s been woken up….. so um, so that was really inspiration. It’s like how can we rethink healthy food for our best friends and that’s what led to my the next phase of evolution, which was I actually do love investing, but I love building more than any thing else. And so that’s really what led me to the idea of, you know, who’s the Beyond Meat? Who’s the Impossible Foods? Who’s the Memphis Meats of pet food? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

You know, nearly five years ago, there was no one and so now that’s Wild Earth. Now, we’re the leading plant based and cell based pet food company in the US, and probably globally. And so our mission is really to transform the food for our pets, make them healthier, and make them more sustainable as well. But to use science to drive that. And so, you know, a lot of the work that we’re doing is just absolutely fascinating to me, because there’s so much to do in better food for our best friends. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Pet Food hasn’t changed much since the 1960s and so we haven’t brought in our understanding of nutrition, 21st century science nutrition, to our pets. And so that’s really the mission that I’ve been on and they’re actually so many insights, not just for our pets, but for us, too. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

We share about 350 different health conditions with our dogs. So you know, our dogs, they can also get obese, they can also get overweight, they can also get diabetes, they can also get arthritis, you know, and we can help them. And by understanding the illnesses that they get, and preventing them and helping them with better nutrition, we might be able to help ourselves too.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I’ve always assumed that dog food is basically the worst of the worst ingredients from animal protein, you know, the animal factory farming industry, where they’re taking the worst of those animals and grinding them up and basically calling it dog food. Yeah. And maybe I’m sure companies like Mars would slap me for saying such a thing, because they’re, they’re probably very nutritious. Yeah. But is that what’s happening? And,

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah, it’s actually a really interesting and deep problem, because it’s not like companies like Mars or Nestle want issues with their food supply chain, but you know they’re not making the meat themselves, they’re buying it from other people. And the problem is a supply chain for our pets is just not safe. It’s not a good supply chain. And so, you know, some of these companies, some of these larger pet food companies have had issues with recalls, with meat that’s been contaminated with all sorts of things. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I mean, you can look at the FDA reports, and actually see, plastics, burnt plastic getting in euthanized animals or somehow getting in there that you know, basically, animals that are basically put down with euthanasia, drugs or chemicals. Unfortunately, they’re the same chemicals are used for like death row inmates, as well as putting an animal down, or finding their way into the food chain, the supply chain. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And this is all documented, the FDA has this documented, there have been several companies that have literally recalled millions of units, because they’ve had high levels of euthanasia drug, there have been heavy, heavy metals found in dog foods, there’s actually a study that just came out recently, that found that byproducts of the meals that are used for pet food, the animal meals, the animal meals actually have high levels of heavy metals and other things you really wouldn’t want in your own food level let alone your pets food. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so there’s all sorts of issues around their supply chain that areprimarily focused around the low quality of the meat. The irony of the whole situation is that we have so many pets in this country, just in the US alone, we have 180 million dogs and cats, they account for 25 to 30% of the meat we consume in the US. So 25 To 30% 25 to 30% of the environmental damage of the meat into industry 25 to 30% of the factory farms that are run, go to our pets to make little brown balls of protein, which just doesn’t make any sense to me. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so that’s really what set off my mission to make better food. I was like, first, it’s not good food and you can see that with the fact that so many people are switching to like literally human food, right? Fresh foods, you know, Farmer’s Dog has been very successful. The reason for that is that people want something that they would eat. And so, you know, I’m a big fan of actually many of these companies are trying to do good things and feed animals better food, but the problem is now we have instead of feeding them, you know hamburger hot dog meat now we have like very high quality, animal protein and meat going to our pets. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so that creates even more of a challenge for our supply chain. I just didn’t think it was sustainable, so what we’ve done is we really focused on bringing plant based fermentation based and now we’ve just launched our cell based meat line as well as cell based meat research. So that we can basically replace the nutrition with a cleaner and more sustainable nutrition and that’s the start. The next steps are going to be really using more and more science to improve the health span of our pets.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

 One example is, you know, very interested in microbiome. We do know that centenarians, so people that are very long lived people that live over 100 years of age, their microbiome is different to most normal people, right? So the bacteria that they have in their guts are different. Why are they different? Like, how do they help them? Do they help them live longer? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

These are open questions, scientific questions, we think that also might be the case for dogs and cats, like long lived dogs and cats may have different microbiome, so it kind of makes sense. And so how do we understand that? And then how do we take that insight and design better foods, so they can live longer and healthier. And so that’s really our mission. And it’s something I’m super excited about, because I think it has implications for them and for us.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So you’ve mentioned Wild Earths plant based cell based fermentation based, right now today, it’s plant based,

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yes. We have eight products currently in the market. So we have three different treat flavors, we have two different sizes of dog food, we’re working on some puppy and some additional flavors. And we have three different supplements, particularly for older dogs, senior dogs who need some additional supplementation. But that’s currently what we happen to market. And so that is plant based and fermentation based. And then, we’re working on cell based or lab grown meat, some people call it and that we really think that will replace the majority of the low quality animal proteins that are going in with high quality clean, cell based meat proteins.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And so right now your plant based product, which is clearly marked as plant based,

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

yes

 

Andrew D Ive  

Is sweet potato includes, for example, sweet potato, chickpeas, spinach, yeast.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

It’s very clean, very healthy. I regularly eat it myself. A lot of people don’t like oh, this is really gross. And you’ve had some too Andrew right? You’ve 

 

Andrew D Ive  

I got it the other day, every so often, I’ll remember that I’ve eaten dog food and I’ll dream about that experience. Yeah,

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

The idea of eating dog food …. people can’t imagine it. And like that’s the whole purpose of wildearth. It’s not gross, the stuff that we put into our food is stuff that it’s not gross, right? So I have no issues eating it and like I make that a point actually challenging the CEOs of the leading dog food companies to eat their own dog food. None of them responded except there was one guy somewhere in the Midwest somewhere who was eating his own raw meat pet foods, and I think he got a little sick.  But you know, I’m very happy eating ours.I haven’t gotten sick eating it. So I’m very happy with that.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So, a couple of things. One is, I understood you do it, you did a survey, something like 85 86% of the people of the dogs that used your product had improvements in health.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah, yeah. So we had it was about about 80, roughly 85% of our customers who’ve been feeding their pet for three months or more, reported some health benefit in their animals, whether that was less itching and scratching. Usually, that’s due to like skin allergies, often from their food that they’ve been fed previous. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Some pet parents  reported improved mobility from some of the senior dogs who have maybe some, you know, some joint issues and some joint pain, it appeared to reduce the pain and allow them to move around a little more freely. Dogs with like tummy issues or diarrhea issues, there were reported improvements. So like, all these things together, was pretty powerful. And we think, you know, they’re all saying Let food be thy medicine. We think that’s true. And so, you know, we’ve developed Wild Earth, for pet parents.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So we’ve got about eight minutes left. I want to be cognizant of your time constraints and also mine. A couple of quick things. I don’t know if you have it, but if you have a code or something for Wild Earth, I’d love to put in the show notes, etc. Any kind of code that people can use to sign up and subscribe.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

For sure. And usually we have some discount for subscribers. So we usually have our standard discount. You just find it on while they’re calm. So whilethey’recalm one word,

 

Andrew D Ive  

I wanted an affiliate link, give me a prayer.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

We’ll get you an affiliate link, for sure. We’ll get that. So we have another guy Andrew, who will hook you up with the affiliate link. Yeah,

 

Andrew D Ive  

Awesome. The other thing is, you’re never going to be a guy that can just focus on one thing for a decade. It’s not in your nature. I totally appreciate it. You mentioned Peter Tale backing a company that you sort of had some involvement with back in the day. I know, for example, he and others do lots of things in longevity and areas that you’re quite interested in. Do you see a time when post Wild Earth whenever that day arrives that you’re, you know, what’s the next big thing? And will it be with the backing of company people like Peter and others to continue to do crazy things in the world what,

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

By the way, it already is. It already is. So Peter Thiel is actually one of our seed investors. So Felicis Ventures, lead our seed round. And actually, yeah, ours are pre seed round. And it was island from Felicis ventures and his team. And then Peter Thiel came in through to capital, and also Founders Fund and he led it. And actually, one of the things that he was very excited about was the insights that we would get around longevity, and pet longevity. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I have a hypothesis, that we can extend the healthy lifespan of both dogs and cats with better nutrition, right? Like, it’s not like a mind blowing thing. It’s kind of like, Hey, you eat better, you’ll be healthier, and you’ll probably live longer. But But I think I can prove that with data. And then we can really understand that. And so for me, there’s almost no better system to test improvements in nutrition than our pets, they eat the same thing twice a day, right? 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Like they eat their kibble or their wet food twice a day, they occasionally have some snacks, but it’s very different to humans. Humans don’t have a controled diet, they do have a control diet. So if we improve their health, and we understand how we’ve done that, we might actually be able to bring it to ourselves. And so, you know, for me, long term, I mean, this is a journey that’s going to span, you know, at least a decade with Wild Earth to really understand the deep biology behind this. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so for me, you know, I’ll still do stuff on the side, I always do stuff on the side, right? Like, I always help other companies and whatever else, but like, this journey is one that I want I want to drive through because I think, you know, is it possible to double double the lifespan of our dogs, if your dog on average is gonna live about 10 years, could create develop food and products that will help your dog live a happier, healthier life, and double their lifespan to 20 years? That would be cool. And if I could figure that out with my team, could I do that? For us? That would be even cooler. Right? So you know, these are, these are already things that I’m thinking about.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I see you, and this is just my personal point of view, I see you sort of guiding that journey and sort of making Wild Earth go through that process. And you know, as a dog owner, I hope you achieve it because I need my guy for another at least decade. But I also see you sort of driving other things as well. It’s just in your nature, whether that may become the chairman of Wild Earth,

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

You know, and we’ve seen that, right? We’ve seen that when you build a company, you scale and we have moved and scaled a lot. And so you know, we’re a commercial stage company, I was able to take while there, it’s from an idea to a commercial stage company. We now have 40,000 customers across the US. and so that amazing. But as you scale, you fire yourself. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so I’m doing, you know, like you literally are looking for opportunities to constantly fire yourself, otherwise you can’t scale. And so I for sure see that where I will have to find a way to fire myself from the day to day to be able to focus on some of the bigger issues. And you know, for sure, I might I mean, I would love to do what But Jack does from Twitter, he runs square and Twitter, right? Like that’s amazing, or what Elon Musk does, right? Like, sometimes you can run two companies, I’d have to convince the board that that’s even possible. Not yet. But you know, maybe in the future.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So what, what new horizon is sort of exciting you what if there’s a even something that you can just spend your time reading on reading about why you’re focusing on Wild Earth? What’s the next potential horizon for you?

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

So that I think that there are a couple things right. And so I would say, when it comes to when it comes to biology, I am absolutely fascinated about the potential of psychedelics for mental health, and the application of psychedelics for mental health. I think that is, that’s going to be transformational space. Probably for the next decade, we’re gonna see really transformational results coming from that. And I personally, I’ve cut I’ve invested in a company called silo in Australia, it’s one of the leading Australian psychedelics companies. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And I’ve tried to find ways of being able to back these these founders, these companies when I see them and then and then separately and I know you and I share this this love for all things technology, right? So science and technology is a love for I think both of us. And you know, web three is incredibly engaging. and web three, it’s engaging because, you know, it really is the future of consumer, right. And so, you know, I run a consumer, consumer packaged goods company, and everything is changing, like nothing is staying the same. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And so we have to understand the new trends like Facebook is dying, people don’t consume social media in the way they used to web three has changed so much. And so we have to adapt to that. And so, I am endlessly fascinated with the innovation that people are coming up with, with web three, I participate as a consumer, I know you do, too, Andrew, you know, NF T’s Dows tokenomics, all these concepts are so new and so interesting. They will change the, the consumer landscape, the cultural landscape, and they’re already starting to, and it’s something that I think we all have to embrace, and there’ll be something else, right. I don’t know when four is gonna be but there’s gonna be something new around the horizon. But I mean, those those two areas are fascinate me.

 

Andrew D Ive  

I totally agree with you. It’s a great time to be alive. Very exciting. Okay, you made me promise to get you out of here on the on the dot of the hour. So, last thing, how do people get hold of Ryan Betancourt? How do people get hold of Wild Earth? What are good ways of engaging with you? And sort of, you know, chat chatting with you also Wild Earth.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

I’m on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn, you can find me Ryan Betancourt. And then you know, if you have particular pet related questions, you can always email me ryan@wildearth calm. I get emails from our customers regularly, I actually share my email address on purpose so that people can tell me what’s great about Wild Earth. And also it’s terrible. It keeps us very keeps things very real. You know, when a customer writes to me to complain that their foods, you know, delayed and things like that. And so, so yeah, those are the ways to get hold of me.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Awesome. So Ryan Bethancourt for people listening is BETHENCOURT. I know, I spelt it wrong back in the day before I learned better. So Ryan Bethancourt, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wild Earth.com. do reach out to Ryan or me. Because he’s just a fantastic guy. You’re if you spend 30 minutes with the guy, I think you’ll be lucky to do so and blessed to do so. Amazing mind. You’ll be one of those guys in you know two decades, where people will be talking about you. Oh, by the way, we should probably mentioned you ran away from Silicon Valley. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

Yeah, yeah, I did. I did. So yeah. So I embraced the rise of the rest, right. So post pandemic, I realized that world of work is shifting, remote first is not going away. And so I embraced it. And so we embraced it for a while there. And we’ve actually had a lot of benefit, a lot of our team members, we asked them, you know, we did a survey, we’re like, we’re going back to the office, are we not? And actually their response was like, no, like, we don’t want to go back into the office. We want to be remote first. And so we accepted that. And we’re like, okay, great. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

So we became a remote first company that allowed me the ability to move out to the triangles, Raleigh Durham. And we now have two headquarters, one in Berkeley, California, one in in Durham, North Carolina. And it’s just great because we can really hire talent from across the US now. And we really are a US, Pan US company. We were reflective of everything in the US all the great things in the US and it’s been a lot of fun too, to kind of get out of the Silicon Valley headspace. 

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

And just, you know, go from a place where honestly, there aren’t a lot of families in Silicon Valley, to a place where they’re just, you know, surrounded by families, right. And so it really balances things for me. And I like being around people, I like being around different types of people. And that’s really been a great opportunity to do that. There’s also a lot of really interesting science and technology happening here in the triangle to if I were to bet and I did, but I think the triangle will be a another serious hub alongside Silicon Valley and Boston and San Diego.

 

Andrew D Ive  

I think it already is, is getting there. I know that you’re a big evangelist, and I think North Carolina should get you to wear the t shirt occasionally. I do appreciate that you’re in a shock me t shirt. So I should have done the same thing. Anyway, thank you so much for your time. I’ve gone a couple of minutes over I do apologize.

 

Ryan Bethancourt  

But one thing for everyone that’s listening and watching has made it to the end right. And I think this is important for them. Give yourself permission because no one else will. So whatever you’re thinking of building or joining or starting, give yourself permission to do it. I think I think you’ll.Thank yourself for giving yourself permission.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah, can you imagine those people who change the world if they’d have stayed as postman or lorry drivers or whatever, and had never actually taken the risk, we’d be so much worse off as a people. So yes, a great, great point. Ryan, thank you so much. I’m going to press pause and people can now run online and start reaching out to you because I know they’ll want to. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Thanks for coming along to our conversation with Ryan Bethancourt. We appreciate you. I hope you enjoy the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. Please do like and subscribe so that we can let you know when the next podcast is. If you have questions or comments, please post them I really do appreciate you. Please look forward to next week’s podcast and that’s about it. Reach out to us if you have any questions or comments. Thanks very much. We do appreciate you coming along and listening to these. Thank you

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