Editor’s note: Earlier this year we launched our New Carnivore Fund to invest in the massive potential for alternative protein products. To learn more about our investment thesis for this space you can read our whitepaper here. Since then, we’ve invested in a few stellar companies we think have the potential to become more than the next Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. SIMULATE is one of them. Here’s why.
Mail order, frozen, plant-based chicken nuggets…
Before we met Ben Pasternak, the founder of SIMULATE (formerly NUGGS), this would have sounded like the worst idea ever. But true to form, terrible ideas have been a rich vein for the emergence of important companies. Especially when exceptional founders make it their life mission.
Where one would naturally see logistical problems and high shipping costs associated with direct-to-consumer (D2C) frozen food, Ben saw an opportunity to apply principles of software engineering to connect directly with the consumer and then rapidly iterate on his product and messaging until they achieved product-market fit; this fit would clearly jump out of repurchasing rate data. With D2C, you also know your exact customer demographic down to the zip code, and from national purchasing data you can set up production for optimal logistic efficiency.
And this gets us to the main reason why we invested: at the time of our investment, the product was already good, and since the recent launch of V2, it’s even better. But from our first conversation with Ben, it was crystal clear that he wasn’t going to rest until he succeeded in creating plant-based meat alternatives that were indistinguishable from their animal-based counterparts. We weren’t investing in the product as it was today; we were investing in a future portfolio of great products.
So why start with nuggets?
Nuggets are a convenient food staple for Americans, especially families. The nugget was invented by Robert C. Baker at Cornell in the 1960s, who discovered a way to bind together ground meat, along with batter that wouldn’t shrink when frozen or expand when fried. Ironically, the chicken nugget got a big boost in 1977 when Congress issued the “The Dietary Goals For The United States,” urging families to curb red meat-based consumption due to dietary health concerns in favor of fish and poultry. Then in 1983, McDonald’s put chicken nuggets on the menu and the rest is history. Last year American’s ate 2.3 billion servings of nuggets in restaurants and one in five Amerians ate nuggets last year. This is the kind of market we like to take a bite out of.
Ben’s a rare and special founder who’s deeply connected to the Gen-Z consumer. Just 20-years old, he’s already accomplished more than most of us will accomplish in our lifetime. At the age of 12, Ben had millions of views for his YouTube channel for technology reviews. At the age of 14, he launched an app that became #1 in the iOS App Store. At the age of 16, he was offered internships at both Google and Facebook, but instead dropped out of high school in Australia and moved to New York, raised VC funding and launched a social media startup. In 2016 he was then named on Time Magazine’s 20 Most Influential Teens list. A couple of years later he sold his startup, and wanting more purpose in his life, he created SIMULATE.
I can’t speak for everyone, but it would have been a terrible idea to give me millions of dollars at the age of 20, so in our founder reference calls, we really wanted to understand what made Ben tick: could he lead and inspire a senior team, could he execute with focus, and would he have the endurance to build an important company? What stood out in these reference calls were universal comparisons to the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk for ruthless focus, intelligence, and vision.
This was a founder we wanted to work with.
Read more about the round over on TechCrunch here.