January 12, 2023

Meal-Replacement Startup, Scales to $30M in 4 Years with Matt Cauble — EP 008

Show Notes

As high-flying tech companies dominate the headlines, Matt Cauble’s approach to startup success took a different path. He asked a simple question: What do people need?

Matt is the co-founder of Soylent and Kin Euphorics, food and beverage companies that solve simple problems for everyday people. Soylent offers meal replacement options, saving time for on-the-go people, while Kin Euphorics boasts feel-good non-alcoholic drinks for those who want to socialize but avoid the booze. 

Today, Matt talks to me about how he uncovered the market opportunity for both companies, how he iterated the products before bringing them to market, and how he grew both Soylent and Kin Euphorics.

You’ll also hear why Matt believes “no press is bad press,” ideas for beta testing, and his thoughts on narrowing your focus to one goal at a time.

Key Takeaways from Matt Cauble

  • How Soylent went from a side concept to $30 million in revenue in 3-4 years. 
  • How a negative article drove $80,000 in revenue for one of Matt’s products.
  • Why a Mark Cuban comment on Shark Tank caused Matt to raise capital instead of bootstrapping Kin.
  • How Matt identified the “huge” market opportunity for Soylent.
  • Matt’s transition from Soylent to Kin and how both ideas are rooted in broad human needs.
  • The experience Matt would try to scale if he could go back.
  • How flying in the face of common thought can be an advantage for a startup.
  • The importance of product iteration before landing on a final solution.
  • Surrendering control and splitting up company roles based on passions.
  • Does it make sense to have users pay to test beta programs?

Matt Cauble Inspiring Quotes

  • If you can come at something as an outsider… You can look at it for the first time and you can cause a lot of damage.” – Matt Cauble
  • Someone needs to have a passion for a product and they need to take control. I think design by committee fails, in the early days especially.” – Matt Cauble
  • You should just focus on the thing that works and you just need to get to $100 million in revenue. And then you can talk about other stuff because we all want to do those things — but you need a sustainable business to get those things.” – Matt Cauble

Resources

Adam Robinson: Matt Cauble, co-founder of Soylent and Kin. Can you give us a five-minute bio with your significant career milestones, including what got you started making beves because it wasn’t the normal way people get started?

Matt Cauble: Yeah, totally. So, out of college, my friend and I, Rob, decided that we wanted to start a company. We just were young and knew that we could do whatever we wanted to at that point. So, we were like, “Alright, let’s just move to California.” We don’t know anybody out there. We have no idea what we’re going to do but we’re going to move to California. We’re going to try to start some companies.

Adam Robinson: L.A.?

Matt Cauble: No. Actually, San Francisco, Bay Area. First place I moved to was Pacifica, which turns out to be the worst place to ever move to. So, don’t do that if you’re thinking of doing what we just did. So, we moved out there. We tried…

Adam Robinson: What is Pacifica?

Matt Cauble: Pacifica is like a coastal town, 30 or 45 minutes outside of San Francisco, and there’s no one there.

Adam Robinson: So, like a Santa Cruz kind of thing but not as cool?

Matt Cauble: Yeah, but like quiet. Yeah, not fun. So, we were there. We were living in this like a furniture-less apartment for a summer trying to build apps. This is like summer of 2011.

Adam Robinson: Any direction there? Or is it just like, let’s try this idea?

Matt Cauble: We were like, “Oh, let’s…” We’re coming out of college so we loved reading and books were big things like, “Oh, let’s make a Netflix for books. Let’s make a limited reading service.” And this is before.

Adam Robinson: Bookflix.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, Bookflix. We’re building our – like Rob was coding up an app in order to read. And by the end of the summer, we had built this really fantastic tool, but like no one cared or wanted it, of course. So, Rob actually went back to college for his last year and I tried to figure out what we were going to do.

Adam Robinson: Did you graduate?

Matt Cauble: I had already graduated. Yeah. So, he had taken an extra year because he did co-op or whatever. So, end of the school year, Rob is presenting it at school like this concept of a cheap wireless network infrastructure. So, we built a $600 radio that could actually beam out the entire internet like ICP, like ISP connection. And it was really cool and the whole concept was like let’s just play this in rural areas especially Africa that needs more Internet connectivity, low power.

Adam Robinson: Was it like a mesh network?

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Kind of.

Adam Robinson: Or was it like you connected it to a wire and then a beam?

Matt Cauble: It was a wire and then a beam.

Adam Robinson: So, like a longer range Wi-Fi.

Matt Cauble: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And it’s like you can mesh them up and create this whole network. So, I was surprised but because I was like, “Oh, this is so hard to build. Who’s going to believe that 22-year-old college kids could do this?” You got to be like a ten-year entrepreneur in minimum with experience and money to do this. But YC loved the idea and I think they loved us especially and they accepted us on that idea. So, we spent the entire summer trying to build this radio like designing boards, getting those fab out in Santa Clara.

Adam Robinson: So, you made a proof of concept that worked. And then you’re like, “We need to make this mass market.”

Matt Cauble: It was actually pretty funny at the interview during YC, they tell you how difficult the YC interview is and I’ve done other ones and they are more difficult. But the one we had was particularly easy because the people at YC at the time, because they’re so small, were all software people, except for one hardware person. And they were just so gung ho about the concept that they really didn’t try as hard. So, we were like, shoot, once they saw that we brought the radio, they were just like, “Yeah, you guys come in.”

Adam Robinson: Yeah, sold. “You guys actually brought the radio.”

Matt Cauble: “Yeah, you guys actually built something. This is amazing.” Like, everyone coming in there, you know, it’s like they have an app and they’re just like, “Oh, we’re going to get a million users,” and go like, “How are we going to do that? Who’s your market? Whatever. They didn’t even care about any of that with us.” There was no idea of market or anything. They were just like, “This is so cool. Just come on in.” There was actually another guy in that YC that got in on a sort of similar thing, but more he was just really cool and hilarious. He had built this app called Brain Tripping and it was sort of now this is like very popular because of open AI and all these concepts. But he was kind of an early developer of creating an AI persona. So, he had done all these like Steve Jobs and like Benjamin Franklin and whatever, you know, George Washington and the app was you literally just convert your text and it makes you sound like that person. So, he got into YC. That doesn’t sound like a business. People are like this is funny and whatever.

Adam Robinson: Totally. Yeah. And they love those, it’s almost like one of their criteria is like, does this sound crazy to a lot of people?

Matt Cauble: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Especially at that time.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Those are the big ideas.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Totally. Yeah. So, we were doing a lot of that. Should I be looking at the camera?

Adam Robinson: No, it doesn’t matter. I mean, it doesn’t matter. The video is part of it but I think most people just listen to the audio. I’m not sure.

Matt Cauble: Cool. All right. So, by the end of the summer, we got to demo day and we were the last ones to present, I think. And we’ve got interest from some great firms like Andreessen Horowitz was super interested and General Catalyst, and we did pitch meetings with them but, ultimately, they were like, I mean, we just don’t get it. Like, this is cool but like what is this going to be? How are you going to make this a business? We don’t really have the answer for them even after all that time because we had focused so much on building the product. So, by the winter, we are like, okay, let’s just move to San Francisco. We’re very frugal. So, we didn’t go out. We didn’t eat. We were living on probably $500 a month each. So, we moved up to San Francisco with still nothing and three of us packed into a one-bedroom apartment in the Tenderloin and just started hacking away at things. So, we were working on like a Twitter bot service for marketing. We were working on a virtual machine like virtual desktop environment, the concept of like what if you could just fire up your browser and be able to do like insane graphic production or like insane video gaming at home. So, that idea of cloud gaming or cloud desktop in 2012.

And Rob who was on the side just working on this concept of breaking food down into its micronutrient components and then living on those micronutrients for micro and macronutrients for like a full 30 days and he blogged about that. That ended up blowing up and becoming what the company as Soylent and we raised a bunch of money. We had one of the most successful food crowdfunding campaign of all time. We were doing like 30 million of revenue in year three or four, all e-commerce, which was like we were talking like Red Bull like e-comm management. We’re like, how are you doing this?

Adam Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s amazing. How were you doing it?

Matt Cauble: I mean, honestly, Rob is such an interesting person and he was just out there telling a great story, and that story was resonating with people. It was hitting. I think this is like the peak of organic farm-to-table concept. And it was just flying directly in the face of that whole idea. So, it created this amazing polarity between people and it always was a discussion. I was always fascinated about any time I was at home or any time I was out and people wanted to talk about it, it ended up being very long discussion because everybody had very passionate opinions about it.

Adam Robinson: And best f*cking name of all time.

Matt Cauble: And the name. Yeah.

Adam Robinson: It’s just so incredible.

Matt Cauble: When you’re talking about…

Adam Robinson: You go ahead.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. When you’re talking about the days like pre, I mean, people were not buying Facebook ads aggressively. It’s still the days when you go like launch a watch company on Facebook and sell it for $300,000,000. So, it was such an open space and we weren’t buying any ads. But this is like those days when clickbait was still getting started. So, just the name, Soylent, would get so many clicks and likes and comments and it was just like ball fire.

Adam Robinson: It’s incredible. I just remember the first time I saw it, it’s like I had a similar reaction to when I saw Liquid Death for the first time. I was like, “This is the best branding play for its space you could possibly do. It’s like 500 waters competing on how pure they are and this one it says “death” in a can.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: You know, it’s just so amazing and like Soylent is kind of like the same thing. It’s like, “Wait, I know what that is. Holy sh*t. That’s an amazing name.”

Matt Cauble: Yeah. And I would say the second, you know, Rob is number one and the second reason for the success is just boomers cannot help themselves from saying, “Have you seen the movie?” They cannot help themselves reading that comment online and it’s just like, thank you for that click.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. It’s like, no, we just screamed at this.

Matt Cauble: What does it mean?

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Well, it just says a good roll.

Matt Cauble: We just went to the dictionary and put our fingers down twice. Hit soy and lentils.

Adam Robinson: Oh, my God, that’s so good. So, Rob definitely sounds like an interesting character. So, he was sitting there breaking food down to its micro components.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Very engineer.

Adam Robinson: Before that, did you have any interest in that type of thing?

Matt Cauble: So, I grew up like my dad was very into nutrition and very into vitamins. So, I was taking my whole life, I’ve been taking supplements. I’ve been taking vitamin C and Omega 3 and like B12.

Adam Robinson: And do you believe in it or you view this as like religion in your family or whatever? You just go to church because you go to church.

Matt Cauble: I question everything. So, the vitamin C stuff, I question hard and sort of like religion. I rebelled against it but now I’m full circle back. I mean, vitamin C is one of those things you can possibly do. But, yeah, my dad would buy like, you know, my dad, I remember he went to Costco and got the juicer and made me a carrot, celery juice or something. And I’m like, yeah, so I grew up with that nutrition in college. I got in shape and ate lean and all that stuff and I’ve done vegetarian and pescetarian and things like that. So, I had always done some kind of dieting and Rob had never done any dieting of any kind in his entire life. He thought the concept was ridiculous. It was always funny to see him react to people dieting, and he just thought it was stupid, basically. So, he never really cared about nutrition. So, it was really helpful for him. I think this is sort of true of almost any space of like if you can comment something as an outsider but you bring a skill set like for instance, in this case, this a software electro-engineering, you can look at it for the first time, then you can cause a lot of damage. And that’s what Rob did. I would never think about it because in my world, I have control over my nutrition like I’m not worried about it. But in his world, it’s like, “Okay. I want to be healthy. How do I do that? I’m going to apply my skills to doing that.” He did and he created, what, is like a very novel approach.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. I mean, there’s just no way to get above call them marketing messages like whatever you have been absorbing your entire life. You’re so shaped by that, right? Like, it’s just…

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Like Rob had never heard of meal replacements. He didn’t know that existed. Like, he didn’t even know about Ensure or anything like that. Things that I knew about was aware of because I did workouts in college, whatever. But yeah, so because you have that novelty to look at something and that skill set to do it his way, he created something really interesting.

Adam Robinson: Was the original formula pretty much what it is now? You know what I mean? What was the…

Matt Cauble: No. So, the original one, I remember trying it for the first time and I thought it was so horrible. And when it started getting a lot of interest and the article was being shared and Rob was getting all these interviews, this is a pre-product, pre like anything, I was like, “There’s no way this is going to work because it tastes so freaking terrible.” Because at the time, he was putting a ton of fish oil like directly in and all these other things that just did not taste good together. But the product, within two months, Rob had gotten it to a point where it was delicious. And I remember the first time that I had like maybe he set up the idea of like software engineering, v.1, v.2, v.3 and like had a beta program and everything going and let people trying. And I remember v.3 or something, v.2, he had fixed so much of the flavor issue and I just love the taste of it. We were running around one day doing all sorts of work and I drank a full one. And I remember actually feeling euphoric and realizing the whole story that was being told about this is like no one is actually getting all the nutrients they need. Like, it is physically impossible for you to eat a healthy enough diet to get all the nutrients you actually need. And I realize in that mode of drinking the Soylent that, one, is delicious and, two, I feel so good right now that I think it’s going to absolutely explode once people have this experience.

Adam Robinson: That’s a great story. And then from like, was it selling a lot before that version or was it still just like very pilot?

Matt Cauble: That was beta. Yeah. We weren’t selling anything.

Adam Robinson: So, you had something that you loved when you launched it? You like to mass market it.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So, then I took over. Rob was so busy with interviews and everything that I took over the product development and beta program. We actually grew that beta program out through YC and other people in the Bay Area. It’s a few hundred people like 300 people who were paying. So, I was very adamant about making them pay because I think the only way you get real feedback is when people pay.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, totally. I totally agree.

Matt Cauble: So, they were paying their monthly. We were in like a warehouse that we rented out in Oakland, just mixing this stuff up and shipping it out at USPS every Wednesday or something like that, and people were absolutely loving it. Like, if I could go back, I would say we should have probably just tried to scale that experience. This is like very DIY like hacker underground, like experience was really great.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Like, that’s the story. You know, people feel they’re participating in that.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Like you’re part of a grassroots movement. You’re like, “Oh,” and you would go to people’s houses, you know, our friends’ places and they have this product that are just handmade in packs two days before and there was something very rewarding about seeing that. So, we had to shut that down and they got really upset I remember.

Adam Robinson: Who’s they? The people, the consumers.

Matt Cauble: The beta customers, yeah. We had to shut it down because we had to start transitioning to mass production at a real facility.

Adam Robinson: So, the regret is not that you transitioned to that. It was that should have remained the story.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, exactly. We should have just kept doing that.

Adam Robinson: And you should have been making basically false media around the ten bottles that you’re producing at home when you’re sending 10 million out from the real factory.

Matt Cauble: We should have never stopped that. We kept trying to bring it back later and it never quite worked.

Adam Robinson: Yeah.

Matt Cauble: Because we had such a core group of real diehards that were telling their friends. I mean, I think the beta program I think was growing 10% weekly and that was not a business. That wasn’t our business. That was like a thing that we needed to get the product better. So, we did these iterations of the beta program to get it to version one that we eventually launched. And the feedback was so valuable and that experience is so valuable, we got such a great product out the door and we continue to iterate on it. And the product that you have now is so different from that product because that was a powder product and the ingredients are completely different and the costs and price point are totally different. I mean, Soylent now I think it’s down to $1 a day but like then we had to charge something like $7 or $8 a day, which we thought was still a good deal.

Adam Robinson: I mean, great deal versus eating in California.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, so now the product has gotten to the point where it’s so cheap.

Adam Robinson: When did the name happen?

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So, I remember Rob was drinking the sludge, which I think is what he called it, or maybe we called it that, but that’s what it was. And we watched the movie Soylent Green and like how we laughed about that. And then I think Rob just named it in the blog posts, his first blog post.

Adam Robinson: That is totally awesome. That is so great. So, it doesn’t sound like there were many other finalists. It was just like the sludge and then like, “Oh, this should be Soylent.”

Matt Cauble: You got to remember that we were working on passion projects, so each of us had our passion project.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, this was his.

Matt Cauble: That was his. And so, we weren’t really and I believe this is actually how you should do things. Someone needs to have a passion for a product and they need to sort of take control. I think design by committee fails, in the early days especially. And so, it was his passion, he named it, and there was no question about it. Some people were like, “Oh, you should change your name.” I was like, “Ah, you tell him.”

Adam Robinson: So, one of these questions that I wrote down was like, when you’re sitting there learning about things that are good for you, was there any interesting, startling, remarkable sort of revelations that you had as you were learning about it, trying to, when you took over product, presumably, part of it is like, you know, the inputs were not necessarily in their final state, right?

Matt Cauble: Right. Not at all.

Adam Robinson: You’re continuing to explore optimal nutrition, right?

Matt Cauble: So much. Yeah. So much.

Adam Robinson: Like, is there anything that sticks out that you think is wildly misunderstood that you learned or whatever?

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So much.

Adam Robinson: That’s the essence of this question.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Okay. So, there’s lots of experts in nutrition who don’t really have much to back up their opinions and they have wildly differing opinions about what is optimal. So, early on, we had to make a decision about which one of these scientific bodies between FDA, USDA, like Medical Association Europe, Europe’s whole system of food that matches the US’s. Which one of these people has the one to follow? And we ultimately settled on the US Medical Board because our thinking was these people have like there’s all these studies to show these micronutrient deficiencies lead to these problems. This is how much of the micronutrient deficiencies you need to solve. I found out since then that the vitamin D requirement or the minimum vitamin D requirement, people always say like, “Oh, make sure you get 15 minutes of sunlight or you need to have 500 IUs of vitamin D,” is based on a study where the assistant moved the decimal place over to the left one and the actual number is you need 45 minutes of direct sunlight and you need 5,000 IUs of vitamin D, but that hasn’t been updated and that’s just the way.

So, you find out with things like that with like who do you trust? And then you find out in that process how many things people are deficient in every day. So, most people are deficient in magnesium. Most people are deficient in vitamin D. Almost everyone is deficient in potassium. You’re not getting enough potassium. It takes eight or nine bananas to get enough potassium. No one’s doing that. So, you learn that there’s this concept of food, which is great but there’s also this concept of your human body and what it needs and those two things are not matching up.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. And so, like vitamin D presumably when we were cavemen and we were just outside and getting it.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Totally.

Adam Robinson: Potassium back then we must have been getting it from somewhere.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. I mean, a lot of stuff you get from the earth. So, we don’t get much from the earth anymore and especially our water supply. So, water used to just like drink directly out of a stream and that water picks up a bunch of minerals downstream. So, you’re drinking called living water. And now we just purify our water so much.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, because you can’t drink the beaver piss or whatever.

Matt Cauble: Can’t drink the beaver piss, yeah.

Adam Robinson: And give you like whatever that is.

Matt Cauble: Or algae or whatever bacteria is in there. So, Soylent is the most, you know, it was always funny to us because people were complaining about the sterility of Soylent. But everyone has – we’ve already moved towards sterility. Sterility is the norm now. Like, you may pay for the fancy experience to get the non-sterile but for 95% of your intake, you’re getting a sterile experience. So, wouldn’t you rather have the optimal sterile experience than the suboptimal one?

Adam Robinson: Yeah. It’s interesting. And then it just seems once you start going down that road, it’s such a rabbit hole. Even just that first thing that you described of like, well, which body of peer-reviewed studies in philosophical alignment are we going to choose to sort of be our north star or whatever.

Matt Cauble: Guide. Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. So wild.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. The other thing you learn about food pretty early on when you’re doing it is that the FDA doesn’t care. So, people have it. We learn this all the time because reporters were constantly asking us like, “What is the FDA going to do?” And we have to explain to them that the FDA doesn’t care. When it comes to food, they’re a passive body. So, they don’t even do approvals for food or anything. What they do is if they get enough complaints, they’ll investigate you and maybe do something but their whole business is drugs, so they don’t really care about the food system.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Wild. So, Rob, interesting dude. I remember you making a comment when we were talking with Tero at Lou’s house that he wanted to do flavors like gasoline.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: And then when I was thinking about these questions, I looked at the Wikipedia page and whoever put that together like put these like decidedly negative quote, it’s almost marketing the like, yeah. It’s like, you know, a New York Times quote about how it just tastes disgusting or whatever.

Matt Cauble: Okay. So, this is a really funny one, too. This is why I always believe I learned very early on about how all news is good news, practically, and one of those lessons was from The New York Times was one of the only ones that posted a very negative review or negative opinion about Soylent. And I remember the day that it went live, we did something like it drove $80,000 in daily revenue, just that article, a negative article about our products. And I was like, “You literally can’t lose.”

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Incredible. But flavors like gasoline, so you said the philosophy was he’s like your body is a car. You need to put gas in your body.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Adam Robinson: Was there ever a goal? So, I think part of what people like about green juice is it tastes like sh*t, and they’re doing something good for themselves, like taking medicine.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, for sure.

Adam Robinson: So, is that what that’s about? Or is it like…

Matt Cauble: I think Rob was very good at thinking about– he had built this feedback loop around if I continue doing the things that raise eyebrows, I’ll continue to be successful. And there’s truth to that for sure. And he probably didn’t even think about it in that way, you know what I mean? But that was like his environment telling him that.

Adam Robinson: Totally.

Matt Cauble: And so, he wanted to do like gas. He wanted to do like fresh-cut grass. He wanted to do like burnt coffee and certain regular coffee, things like that. And his ideas around that direction were like if we can pull off something that actually tastes decent and you tell people this is the direction. If you sell Soylent and it says gasoline flavored, and then you drink it and you’re like, it doesn’t taste that bad. It’s fine. Then it’s a hilarious cue to get people to drink gasoline-flavored food.

Adam Robinson: I’m glad I asked that question. That’s funny. So, my understanding was a lot of coders drink this. Is that right?

Matt Cauble: Yeah, early on…

Adam Robinson: Just because of the nature…

Matt Cauble: You got to remember, though, coders, especially them, I’m sure is for now. Coders then have the nicest jobs and the nicest offices with the nicest food. There is plenty of like– what we found more is passionate people really liked it because they were so busy they didn’t have time to go into the mess hall of Google. For like a lot of coders had…

Adam Robinson: Great setups.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, they like five-star chefs.

Adam Robinson: So, is there anyone who has only had Soylent as like 90% of that since it’s launched? Is that a thing you can do?

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Those people who just switched off of food to the steak.

Matt Cauble: There’s a bunch of people that did Soylent Challenges for three months. I think I’ve done like two months before, two months while trying to put on a bunch of weight. I put on 25 pounds of muscle in two months. I had to get a lot of Soylent, 4,000 calories of Soylent a day. It’s hard.

Adam Robinson: Did you feel good?

Matt Cauble: That’s amazing. The hardest thing is just– I mean, what I realized in that experience is just like, pick your favorite food and see if you can eat it.

Adam Robinson: Yeah.

Matt Cauble: There’s a guy right now actually in Philadelphia. I don’t know if you follow this, but there’s a guy in Philadelphia that’s eating rotisserie chicken every single day, a whole rotisserie chicken every single day. And he’s on day 44. And people gather now to watch this guy eat this rotisserie chicken. And it’s just like, I know what he’s going through.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, he’s just like, I can do it.

Matt Cauble: But pick your favorite, like ahi tuna or fatty tuna from sushi or something. And like, I promise you, you will not eat it.

Adam Robinson: No, I know. My poor Bonnie is not excited about her Farmer’s Dog anymore.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: We gave her Farmer’s Dog instead of burnt kibble. And the first day, she ate it in three seconds and was gasping for air and burping and stuff. And now, the poor thing, just like she has to be famished to want to eat that stuff.

Matt Cauble: The longest-living cats.

Adam Robinson: That’s my dog, by the way. Not my wife or daughter.

Matt Cauble: The longest-living cats are all owned by one guy. They live into their 20s, like mid to late 20s, early 30s, and cats, like 33 cats. And they’re like, “What do you feed them?” And he’s like, “Whatever I’m eating.” So, they have literally coffee, bacon, eggs, burgers, whatever he’s eating. And there is something about the variety and also the connection that they’re making.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. I like that. I’m going to play this back for Helen. Okay. So, parlay that into Kin. What was the transition?

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So, I left Soylent in 2016. Some of the other crazy ideas that we had and we had so many of them beyond just flavors for Soylent, like we were pitching this company as the future of food. We were going to build out an entirely new food chain because the other thing we had learned about food is that protein is extremely expensive. It’s really actually difficult to get quality protein outside of beef and pork. So, getting sustainable protein is a huge opportunity.

Adam Robinson: So, chicken is not good protein?

Matt Cauble: Chicken is a decent protein, but it’s not as good as beef or it’s not as good as pork. You’re still missing some key amino acids that would be better if you could find a way to get those. But beef is a complete amino acid of protein. So, we were like, okay, there’s a huge opportunity there. There’s a huge opportunity for also just food distribution. So, we were even joking about buying– the army had just released a bunch of drones, like decommissioned parrot drones and you could buy one for not that much. I think it was like a couple of hundred thousand dollars and it had something like, I think it’s a thousand-kilo payload so we could drop a thousand days of Soylent on a remote area using these drones.

So, we had a budget concept for that. I even did a whole thing going to Haiti in like a disaster zone and getting Soylent to people there. So, we were playing around with all these concepts, and then it became very clear to us by way of a little bit of slowing of growth and a little bit of trying to figure out which way to go, that this needs to be a focused food company that makes a food product.

Adam Robinson: And focused, man, you mean…

Matt Cauble: Yeah, focus is key.

Adam Robinson: Like you said, when we were eating lunch, it’s like get $200 million revenue first?

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Then worry about it selling.

Matt Cauble: Exactly, yeah.

Adam Robinson: But when you’re at like whatever, we’re like 13 or 14, it’s like if I did anything other than get to 100 right now, it will not work.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, exactly.

Adam Robinson: And neither will work, like the 13 will stop…

Matt Cauble: You won’t get anything. You’ll get nothing. And that was a huge discussion at Soylent. And I consider myself very annoying because I will just hardline my opinion and I will not waiver on it. And this is one of the opinions that I just have is just like you should just focus on the thing that works and you just need to get to $100 million in revenue, and then you can talk about other stuff because we all want to do those things, but you need a sustainable business to get those things.

So, that created this rift at the time that started to separate all of us. So, we all sort of over the next 18 months went off and started doing different things. And I was the first one and I knew when I left that I probably wanted to do something in food still just because there was so much opportunity that I saw.

And I actually met Jen right after I left Soylent. She was one of the first people I ever met with. And she was doing something completely different from food, but we had this amazing first conversation that threaded towards her recognition that at the bar, there’s no opportunity for a woman to not drink. I’m like, there needs to be something. And she called it at the time potions, that was like beauty booze for girls to have a good time but not get drunk. And I thought that was a really interesting idea. So, over the next few months to a year, I thought about it a lot and thought about just in general also, like stress and depression and what causes that and sort of the modern things that are leading to that.

Adam Robinson: As you’re sitting there going through it all.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. As I’m going through a massive type of depression.

Adam Robinson: Right.

Matt Cauble: And loneliness. And it’s sort of the same concept with, I think, how Rob got into Soylent because Rob was thinking about weight problems and diabetes. I mean, big part of the Soylent pitch was like 45% of the country is diabetic or prediabetic. It’s something insane. And so, I was thinking about depression is like growing, it’s going to get worse. It’s not getting better any time soon. And how do we put a stop to it?

And alcohol makes it worse. So, the good part about alcohol is people get together because really important to have community and social connection, but that part of it is it screws your brain up really badly. So, going back to that time I had Soylent and it was a euphoric experience of just getting the nutrients that I needed, I was like, “You probably could just get the nutrients that you’re missing and maybe some other things that work that helped too into some sort of social beverage so that you just would want to drink it with your friends and you would feel good and you would, over the long term, feel better instead of getting worse. So, I went…

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Not even the long, long term, like the medium term, right? It’s like the next morning, you would actually feel better and not destroyed.

Matt Cauble: So, my expectation was just like, feel something immediately, but it doesn’t matter, I just feel something, and then like, just continue to want to go back to it and share it with friends. So, Jen and I got together to actually make this product and we tried hundreds of different, very sort of Soylent early days of hundreds and thousands of different formulations.

A little bit more difficult because there isn’t any sort of body that helps you with like, go this direction with your formulation, this experience. I had to piecemeal together research to find different ingredients that were good for– I broke it down to like the brain has serotonin, it has dopamine, it has GABA, all these different things. What is alcohol doing to that? And can you find other substances that have effects on those channels? So, it was a very intense research figuring this out process to get to something that had an effect on the brain that made you feel happy and social, confident, awake but relaxed. It was a very hard clearance to hit.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, daunting. I mean, daunting with how little we understand about how it works and the brain works, anyway.

Matt Cauble: Oh, yeah. It’s hard.

Adam Robinson: So, you’re sitting there making potions.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: And then you end up being married.

Matt Cauble: A few years later.

Adam Robinson: And have a drink company.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Like, what was the…

Matt Cauble: How did we get there?

Adam Robinson: Yeah, what was the sequence there?

Matt Cauble: So, we launched, we ended up raising money for Kin. Originally, I wanted to bootstrap it with some of the money I got out of Soylent. But if you’ve ever run a drink company, you’ll find out quickly how expensive a drink company is.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, very capital intensive relative to this software thing.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Adam Robinson: On the screens where it’s like, well, I have a laptop and then I have a monitor and then I got a podcast.

Matt Cauble: You haven’t made it.

Adam Robinson: And then I got a podcast set up and that’s it. You know that’s the whole thing.

Matt Cauble: Ninety-five percent profit margin.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, it’s all that you need.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, like Mark Cuban just said it recently on Shark Tank. He said, in a beverage company, you’re going to make $50 million and you spend $50 million to get there. Yeah, like I didn’t have that much money. So, it became very obvious within six months of trying to bootstrap a drink company that this is not going to work.

So, we raised capital from some really great, like actually biotech people who saw the opportunity here to create. We were going to create the next alcohol replacement full-on and like actual feeling and experience. And they love the concept, they love the product especially, and they love us kind of the way it always does. And yeah, that’s it, baby. That’s it now.

Adam Robinson: You can’t go close because they don’t have autofocus now.

Matt Cauble: It’s not. We got some googly eyes on here. So, it’s fun. So, we ended up launching a year after we raised. I think we launched in 2018. So, this was one of my favorite experiences, these six months or something like my most accomplished times I consider in my career. So, my dream of launching this product was very much like Hunter S. Thompson’s, sort of like drug-induced, that was like my dream idea, like man, we could figure out some way to create a measly substance or drug. This is a drug, but it’s a good drug. So, this is a drug.

Adam Robinson: It kind of briefcases like fear and loathing stuff.

Matt Cauble: Exactly. And we have to make that…

Adam Robinson: Half open the trunk like…

Matt Cauble: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, we happened to get this Vogue editor, Vogue writer who was like family friends with one of our employees who sat down with Jen, had a whole Kin, took it home, drank a bottle, wrote the article on Kin, wrote this amazing article, and it turns out he was like Hunter S. Thompson’s protege. So, he wrote this incredible– if you go read it, it’s still an amazing article. It’s our first Kin/Vogue article, and it’s just this awesome experiential writing about what Kin did to him.

Adam Robinson: That’s great. Did he take a large dose?

Matt Cauble: Yeah, he drank a whole bottle, like a whole bottle of the concentrate. So, that’s like 12, 13 doses.

Adam Robinson: It’s a lot of doses.

Matt Cauble: And at the time, we were putting this little dovetail into my other great career accomplishment. We were putting this supplement called phenibut in the product, which is actually, I think, a GABA agonist. And if you take phenibut, it will make you feel amazing. You will feel confident, social, very much like a couple of beers or something. And so, that was in the product. So, he drank a lot of this and feel noticeably great.

So, product launched, lots of interest, very similar to Soylent’s early days of e-comm revenue growth, natural, sort of like press just spreading like wildfire. And six months later, we finished what I think is my best product I’ve ever made, which is Kin Spritz. And that launched in that summer, and at the same time that this was launching, my third great career accomplishment happened, which was the FDA cracked down and officially banned phenibut, thanks to us. Thanks to us putting it in our product. So, phenibut is now officially a drug. So, I got the FDA to make it a drug.

Adam Robinson: There you go. Do you think that the product would have more virality if it had phenibut there in still?

Matt Cauble: Yes. I’m being honest. But I think it would have more downsides, too. I don’t think it’d be good. I think what we’ve made is perfect. So, what we’ve accomplished here is true, like, if you drink one of these a day, your life will be better. And I can guarantee that. I could not do that with a phenibut product.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. And if I have a dinner that’s going to end at 11 o’clock, I just put two of them in the car and drink them on the way over and I’m good to go and I can still sleep.

Matt Cauble: It’s amazing.

Adam Robinson: And, like, just gets me, maybe I’ll take some magnesium when I get home or whatever to sort of ease into it, but.

Matt Cauble: Every time I have a social gathering, every time I’m like, hang out with friends for dinner or going out for whatever, I’m drinking a spritz or two because you just feel like– I mean, everyone feels a little tired after working all day, like everyone’s tired, especially socializing. And you can’t just drink caffeine to fix the desire to socialize. Caffeine just makes you jittery.

Adam Robinson: Jittery, yeah.

Matt Cauble: This is like you feel great.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, one last thing on this…

Matt Cauble: Oh, then Jen and I– oh, I got it…

Adam Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jen and you– how did that happen? Tell us the heart-wrenching romance.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So, we were just colleagues for three years.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Buildup, huh? Jeez Louise.

Matt Cauble: Lots of buildups, yeah.

Adam Robinson: I had a colleague relationship like that one time.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. Were you just colleagues?

Adam Robinson: The woman had a child.

Matt Cauble: Wow.

Adam Robinson: And we were just colleagues for a year and a half.

Matt Cauble: Wow. How was that?

Adam Robinson: Bananas. It was the weirdest. When it actually started happening, it was so unbelievable. I would never do it again.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: She was married for like, the day it happened, she was married, and then she was not married the day after that, you know what I mean? It was one of those very sudden, and it led to a horribly volatile two to three-year period in my life.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, I would say…

Adam Robinson: It was like together in long distance and then a breakup for two years and then three really nice years together, actually, but it was just so unbelievable, like I couldn’t…

Matt Cauble: It’s weird how when we work with people, we get so into that.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. But it’s just like depth of a relationship. Who else are you going to connect with on that level? Yeah, it’s like you spend time with people in college, but then you don’t hang out with your friends that much.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. And how do you really find out if someone’s going to make the decisions?

Adam Robinson: You don’t. You just hope. Anyway, so yeah, tell the story.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, yeah. So, we were just colleagues, and there was nothing between us. And she was with somebody, I was with somebody. So, it was, I will say I don’t recommend doing this. I think it was really challenging. And I think most people I’ve talked to that have had these kind of male-female co-founder relationships have run into this trouble at some point, which is like how do you have like a– how you speak to this person, like how you have the intimacy without encroaching on the– you have a boyfriend or I have a girlfriend. How do you explain to someone you’re going to go out with this person until like 11 o’clock at night, even if it’s just for work? It’s all these sort of little things that start happening where you’re like, I don’t know if this is comfortable.

Adam Robinson: One way you do is you start a software business. That’s remote.

Matt Cauble: And remote, yeah.

Adam Robinson: And that person lives in a different country.

Matt Cauble: Yeah. So, I was trying to do remote work on this. I was trying to make this remote work company in 2018, 2019, and just nobody was having it, so like very big philosophical differences. But we always really enjoyed, and what we realized eventually was this, we call this conscious copulation, where we really meshed ideas together, like sex. We brought the yin and the yang to these ideas and it would form into this complete concept.

So, that I think was the beginning of our sexual attraction that we weren’t even aware of, but it continued to progress as we worked together. So that when we both became single, we became extremely attracted to each other and just had this beautiful relationship and realized actually very quickly that we probably should have been dating. Romance was probably our destiny, and we were denying it or ignoring it for years.

And after about a year of that, I actually left Kin full-time because I just cared more about the romance. And frankly, I’ve done all that I can with Kin because Kin Spritz is the product I care about that I believe in. I think that it’s like the next Redbull or Coca-Cola or anything like that. So, this will eventually be there and it doesn’t need me day to day on it and Jen is way more capable than I am to take care of it.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. Interviewed Jen last week, by the way, if you want to hear her side of this.

Matt Cauble: I haven’t listened to it, so.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, it’s not out. These are still all, like they told me that they wanted me to record six or seven of them so that like you could launch them all at once so that if someone finds it, they could go down a rabbit hole rather than just having one episode and nothing else. So, yeah, they’re chopping these all up. That’s awesome, man.

Matt Cauble: And now we have kids.

Adam Robinson: And now you have two kids.

Matt Cauble: In the house.

Adam Robinson: And now, I have one kid.

Matt Cauble: Life goes fast. Three years ago, I was living in New York City, making these potions in an apartment. And now, I’m here in Austin with two kids and a wife.

Adam Robinson: Jeez Louise. Well, we covered a lot of ground. That was really interesting.

Matt Cauble: Yeah.

Adam Robinson: Thank you.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, thank you.

Adam Robinson: I’m sure Helen would enjoy listening to this. Jen might enjoy listening to this, possibly, by the way.

Matt Cauble: I won’t be around tonight.

Adam Robinson: Yeah, exactly. So, two questions I ask all of the guests, if you could write one thing on a billboard for everyone to see, what would it be?

Matt Cauble: Don’t be afraid.

Adam Robinson: I love that. I subscribe to that one as well. And then final five, favorite book?

Matt Cauble: The New Testament.

Adam Robinson: Alright, I like that one. A somebody you follow, a head CEO but like follow or hold in high esteem sort of figure that you think is worth?

Matt Cauble: George Washington.

Adam Robinson: There you go. You’re married, you have kids. You live in Austin. Favorite vacation you’ve ever been on?

Matt Cauble: Ooh. I don’t like vacations.

Adam Robinson: That’s an awesome answer. I get pretty sick of it too.

Matt Cauble: I don’t like it.

Adam Robinson: I got pretty sick of it too.

Matt Cauble: I like going somewhere too far.

Adam Robinson: Yeah. I mean, so Helen and I did this nomadic thing for a while, and my last company was in this really weird stage where I wasn’t doing much, but I felt guilty about it, like a strange combination. And we got in the habit of going places for a long time, and then when we didn’t have kids, we’d be like, “Let’s go somewhere.” And it’s like, oh, let’s stay an extra four days, and then combine it with this other thing in this other place, and like 17 days would go by and we’d like still be into a loom and I would just be like, hell, I’m so sick of being on vacation. I can tell you, I just want to be back in a routine.

Matt Cauble: Yeah, totally. Every time I’ve been on vacation, I mean, it only takes a couple of days for me to start sneaking work back in. I’m back to jotting down notes and creating things. I’m like getting out of it.

Adam Robinson: But the Aspen routine we had, I did really like it. It was just like…

Matt Cauble: We were working there.

Adam Robinson: Totally. It was like two or three months we were there, and then we had friends come in on the weekends. So, we didn’t have friends there until year four. So, it really felt like this– and like eight weeks is not a lot anyway. You have six different sets of guests. It always feels new every time. And then you’re back in it on Monday morning and skiing every day. It was such a cool combination.

Matt Cauble: I’m a huge fan of changing your environment, new places. And I think it’s super important, like sitting and just eating food all day…

Adam Robinson: Right. Drinking or whatever, yeah. Well, dude, thank you much. This was amazing.

Matt Cauble: Thank you. I had a great time.

Adam Robinson: I’m excited about all these. This one was particularly interesting.


[END]

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