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Andrew Ive on Disrupting the Food Industry and Defying Expectations

· Podcast Transcripts

Entrepreneurs around the world are coming up with innovative, great, amazing products, that taste great, are inexpensive, have a far lower impact on the planet, grown with more natural ingredients that are much better for you in terms of personal health. The younger populations are not as wedded to those brands. They're prepared to make better decisions in terms of their consumption. They recognize that every dollar, pound, or Euro that they spend is a vote.

 

- Andrew Ive

Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Welcome to Brave Dynamics. This is your host, Jeremy Au. Leadership is harder than it looks. As a proven founder and Harvard MBA, I interview courageous entrepreneurs, executives and investors every week. I also share my frontline experiences, coaching insights and own professional development journey. If you're stepping up as a new leader, founding a startup, or venturing into the great unknown, this is the podcast for you.

Andrew Ive is the Founder & Managing General Partner at Big Idea Ventures. Big Idea Ventures is a hybrid venture firm with a VC arm and accelerator program. It runs the $50M New Protein Fund, which is the world’s first and largest plant-based accelerator fund. The fund is backed by giants like Tyson Foods and Temasek, the Singaporean government’s VC arm. They focus heavily on plant-based protein startups and 10 percent of their money is allocated for cell-based endeavors. They have launched physical accelerator programs in New York City and Singapore. They aim to back over 100 companies.

Their first investment was the cultured shrimp company Shiok Meats. Shiok Meats is based in Singapore and has already done successful taste tests of its minced alternative “shrimp” in dumpling form. They have been featured on The Economist, the World Economic Forum and Techcrunch.

Andrew is focused on supporting entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest challenges. He formerly launched and grew businesses at Procter & Gamble. While in his dorm room at Harvard Business School, he took a new product idea, raised angel funds, established a manufacturing facility in China as well as a sales force to sell his first solo product line into major US retailers. In his second Silicon Valley based company Open Shelf, Andrew raised $20M+ from VCs to focus on the data challenge between retailers and their vendors. That company was also acquired.

Andrew has focused on innovation, developing high-growth business opportunities and serving as a business advisor in multiple verticals. He served on the Board of the Small Business Council of the Department of Trade and Industry advising the UK Government on entrepreneurship and high growth companies, the National Science Foundation on startup grant awards, the Investment Task Force and the Center for Policy Studies, and the UK think tank Small Business Council. He also served on the board of Tufts University’s School of Nutrition.

Andrew is also an author and currently has a bestselling book, ‘Choose Your Startup: Funding Your Company’ in the startups and entrepreneurial categories on Amazon. He holds a BSc from the University of London and an MBA from Harvard Business School. His first product design, the X-IT Ladder, is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

He is passionate about climate change, animal welfare and sustainability. His favorite hobby is writing and has ten books that he’s working on. You can find him on Twitter @TheFundingGuru

Jeremy Au: [00:03:19] Andrew! It's so good to have you.

Andrew D. Ive: [00:03:21] Thanks for inviting me. I really appreciate it.

Jeremy Au: [00:03:24] People really admire you for your leadership on the issues that confront us as a planet and society. You've obviously built ventures along the way, as well as helped fund and accelerate other great ventures. What has been your leadership journey to date?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:03:42] Great question, Jeremy. Thank you. I started my career as an intern, actually at Proctor and Gamble, an American consumer product company in England. So the funny accent you're hearing is English. And I grew up in a place called Bletchley, which is famous in the Second World War for where they created the first computer actually to solve the Enigma code-cracking.

So that's where I was born, and basically I joined Proctor and Gamble as a university student, between my last year and graduating. Proctor and Gamble, really great group of people. I mean the people that I worked with, I had an army commander and ex-army commander as one of my team members.

I had an Olympic athlete who was medalled for fencing and another guy that was Navy. For whatever reason, P&G at that time was recruiting heavily from the military, people with really strong leadership skills and the team I worked with was amazing. It was the start of working with great, great people, who treasured leadership. From that point on, I went from P&G to Harvard Business School to undertake my MBA.

I kind of used that two year process of going back to college as a reset to think through what I wanted to do with my career, how I wanted to develop myself, and I came to the conclusion after a lot of dipping toes in different waters that starting companies and starting my own company was what I really wanted to do.

Now starting a business sounds kind of grandiose, it sounds like you're the top of the tree, you're in charge, but the reality is when you're the only employee, yes, you're the leader, but you're also the wastepaper basket. You're the person that dusts your desk down at the end of the day and make sure everything's clean because you own every function when you start your own business.

So I'm not sure that was necessarily leadership, but I guess it depends how you define leadership. Exited that business successfully for my investors, which was awesome. And then jumped to Silicon Valley and raised about $20 million from investors to start my second company, was able to grow that to about 50, 60 people.

At that time, the VCs who were involved got really excited about the opportunity that we'd built as a team and got scared that I didn't have any experience running a 60-person company and suggested I take a sideways step to become the VP of strategy or some kind of really obscure title, and bring in what they call a professional CEO, someone that had been there and seen it and done it before, someone that had taken a company public, a lot of gray hair and fat around the middle.

Now I've got the gray hair and the fat around the middle. So I guess maybe I'm a true CEO now. I don't know. But, after that company, Made a few wrong turns in my career actually, took a couple of jobs where somebody offered me a lot of money to be their rogue entrepreneur. Got married, had a family and started thinking about mortgages and things like that.

That changed my entrepreneurial direction and it took me probably about eight years to come back to it. And what I've discovered is I need to be as a person involved in that entrepreneurial journey, whether it's myself building my own company or working with other entrepreneurs to help them to go through their journey.

So that's a little bit of background in my leadership journey.

Jeremy Au: [00:07:22] Amazing. You've really had quite the journey.

Andrew D. Ive: [00:07:26] Just means I'm old, man.

Jeremy Au: [00:07:31] Here, we call it experience.

Andrew D. Ive: [00:07:32] Oh, okay.

Jeremy Au: [00:07:35] You've had the opportunity to see great leaders. You've had the opportunity to see less great leadership. Why do you find leadership so important in your domain?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:07:45] I see some great examples of leadership throughout life, frankly, not just my domain. I think one of the things that strikes me about good leaders is it's not about the person, who's the loudest in the room or the person who's at the front of the group demanding everybody follow them.

It's the person who figures out how to get the most out of everybody on the team. Everybody that they're working with on a particular initiative on a particular project. We invest in young food companies and I know that my team and I after we've made that investment and we've put money in, we almost forget that there's a financial transaction that just went on and we've stopped focusing on how do we help those founders to become successful? How do we bring them opportunities to make the right partnerships, the right relationships? How do we guide them to make some of the right decisions, knowing full well that we don't always have the answers because we've written a check. It doesn't make us the smartest people in the room.

That's one mistake a lot of investors make. But leadership isn't about being the loudest or the one that everybody looks at all the time. Sometimes it's about being the quietest. For me, good leaders are people who manage to identify what is going to bring the best out of everybody in the room. And people are motivated by different things. Some people need to be challenged. Some people need to be encouraged. There's different ways of bringing people to their full potential.

Jeremy Au: [00:09:17] How did you personally get started in your leadership journey?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:09:21] Ah, so I mentioned Procter and Gamble right in the beginning. I was given a project, as one of the most junior people on the team to discontinue a product that wasn't making any money at all.

They wanted me to organize a group of people to take black plastic bags into the store. And pull those products off of the shelf, put them into black plastic bags and get rid of them. For whatever reason, I wanted to really understand why that product range wasn't successful.

I really wanted to understand why consumers weren't opting into the purchase of those products and weren't buying them. I started hanging out in stores. I'm surprised no one arrested me for being this strange guy. But anyway, I started hanging around in the aisles of the stores where these products were sold and watching how people wandering by potential consumers were interacting with those products and with the products around them to understand, what was making them not buy that product and buy something else?

I would actually stop. Some of those people explain very quickly. So they didn't think I was a strange guy, that I worked for the company and what made them choose that other thing instead of this thing. People were really friendly, gave me really good feedback in terms of price and packaging and positioning and other important things that you need to understand, to understand how a product works or doesn't work.

And so what I actually went back to the company with wasn't a plan to take those black plastic bags and remove the product, but was actually a very, very inexpensive, investment to turn that product around and turn it into a successful business. For whatever reason, the company agreed to my crazy plan. I pulled a group of people together across different departments and told them this was an initiative in the gap times, aside from their regular day jobs and got them really excited about trying to save this brand, and we ultimately got that product restaged. We reintroduced it to consumers.

Consumers love the new positioning, started buying the product and it started getting a lot of traction. Became profitable and was able to get more distribution, to the point where about three or four years later, that brand was sold to another company for, I think it was something like 20, $30 million.

So from black plastic bags to $30 million, it was a pretty good success story. But again, that came back to that leadership question of bringing a team of people together, getting them really excited about doing something a little bit different, and having them feel like they were going to make a difference.

It wasn't just a part of their regular job. It was something that was going to be on top of and special and different, and they had a lot of freedom to make a difference in it, that got people engaged. And that allowed us to turn that problem brand into a successful one.

Jeremy Au: [00:12:14] What hurdles did you personally face and how did you overcome them?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:12:18] As a Western male, I'm not sure I can probably claim too many hurdles. I've been given a lot of opportunities throughout my career. A lot of people have helped me. Some of my early investors were the most encouraging people. If I can think of any hurdles at all, it's probably personal ones or mindset ones in the sense that I come from a family that's pretty modest. My father was a mechanic. My mother was a housewife, and my father didn't really respect higher education. When I told him as a kid, because I was always reading that I wanted to get an English O-Level, which is a very basic qualification when I was growing up, I told him I wanted to get an English O-Level One and a Math O-Level Two, and that was it. By the way, you can take 15 of these things and then you can take A-Levels and the degree and everything else. He thought I was dreaming. I mean, he was like, I've not got any, I don't think you're going to get any, you're going to end up working in something quite basic.

And I didn't really agree with that. So, the hurdle there was getting my family's head around the fact that education was an important thing. The fact that it was something I wanted, something I pursued. Thankfully, my mother was actually very pro-education. It blew his mind when I told him I just had got into Harvard Business School to do an MBA after university.

He didn't speak to me for a couple of years actually, thought that that was the end of our relationship. I was going to turn into the biggest snob in the world. I'm not sure it's anything like some of the hurdles other people encounter, but it's quite easy I think to listen to those people who love you and surround you and just accept that their view of you is the right one, and I would encourage anyone with goals and dreams and aspirations to not let anyone around you, even people that love you and want the best for you, to necessarily determine, what your future can be or should be.

But at the end of the day, you need to have the courage to say to even those people who only have the best interests of you at heart, that maybe their view isn't the right one.

Jeremy Au: [00:14:25] Wow. Thanks for sharing. What are the common myths that you've encountered in your domain?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:14:33] We focus on, plant-based meat, seafood, dairy, and cell-based meat, seafood, dairy technologies, ingredients. So let's just think of it as plant based foods. And I think there's a couple of myths. One of the myths is it's just a fad, it's like the internet bubble of the ages. It's going to come and go.

I would disagree with that wholeheartedly, for a few reasons. It's consumer driven. It's a change in consumption of a lot of the population, not just a particular group. So Gen X, millennials, Gen Y, my daughter's generation, they're all becoming more and more aware of the impact of that consumption on the planet, on their communities, on climate change, animal welfare, et cetera. They're not as attached to the traditional brands that I grew up with and my parents grew up with. So in the old days, if we can use that horrible expression, Heinz, Campbell's, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, et cetera.

There were some really, really strong dominant brands and they were rare. They were pretty much the only products that were around. But entrepreneurs around the world are coming up with really innovative, great, amazing products, that taste great that are inexpensive, but also, have a far lower impact on the planet, grown with more natural ingredients that are much better for you in terms of personal health. So I think the younger populations are not as wedded to those brands. They're prepared to make better decisions in terms of their consumption. I think they recognize that every dollar, or pound, or Euro that they spend is a vote for a particular company and its mission, not just the products that they produce, maybe they're a little less selfish than my generation, or at least I hope so. So I don't think it's a trend. I think it's a shift and I think the large food companies agree with me because they're actively engaging with young companies and trying to support them to be successful at bringing their products, locally, domestically, and ultimately internationally.

Jeremy Au: [00:16:38] Who are your role models in real life?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:16:40] I wish I could say Mother Teresa or Richard Branson, or something very normal like that. All of those people are great for their own reasons. As a person who guides me in terms of, how I should act in any given situation and do the right thing is probably my daughter Sophia.

That sounds kind of crazy actually. She puts up with crazy parents like me and my wife, and she has a really good heart and always is looking to do the right thing. In fact, part of the reason why I invest in plant-based and cell-based food companies and I'm really focused on this whole climate change and animal welfare, personal health thing is because, she's made me feel guilty over the last three or four years as I hit my 50th birthday, made me feel guilty about creating just more stuff and making more money. Is there not a way to make money, but also to do the right thing and make a better impact on the world?

Maybe our role models should be the younger generation. So we're going to have to live with the decisions we've made and the consumption we've had during our lifetimes because we're passing it on.

Jeremy Au: [00:17:53] What support or resources are available for others considering a journey similar to yours?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:17:59] In the food space, we're actively engaged with many different partners in the food industry, with the government, and with investors and other entrepreneurs to build an ecosystem. Biotech, software, other industries, around the world have built this well-developed ecosystem that is supportive of entrepreneurs, so that it's very logical and transparent what entrepreneurs need to do at different stages to get the support they need to grow their businesses to become successful.

That, we're a little less developed. In the food industry. Traditionally, it's just been big food companies doing their thing. Now, big food companies are waking up to the fact that they have the ability to work with young food companies. They can be the engines of innovation, and they can breed the next generations of food products that we as a species need. There's a transformation happening in the food industry that used to be about cheap calories, like Twinkies and candy and cookies and other things that make us unhealthy, and I think there's a waking up both consumers and the food industry that it's actually about, great tasting nutrition, much more nutritious foods.

There's a lot of collaboration in the food industry. I think from my point of view, having worked in now six or seven different industries in my career, the food industry has gotta be one of the most collaborative. So if you're a startup company, if you want to have an entrepreneurial leadership journey, there's companies like mine, Big Idea Ventures who are investing in young companies.

We have a goal of finding a hundred great companies in the next four years that we can invest in support, hold their hand and make sure they're successful. We're working with large group companies to give those young food companies the resources they need, the support they need to make sure they're doing things well and the right way.

As I mentioned, we're very close to the Singaporean government, the US government and others, to make sure that the ecosystem exists for those entrepreneurs to start their companies, and to grow those businesses and become successful. It's our opinion at Big Idea Ventures that it's the entrepreneurs who are the solutions to the problems we have as a species. If we think that the two degree change in temperature is going to have a net negative impact on our climate, on our water levels, on our ability to grow crops and so on. Ultimately it's gonna come down to entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and people. I hope to be as impactful as they can be to solve these problems.

Jeremy Au: [00:20:39] You're one of the investors in the cultured shrimp company Shiok Meats. What struck you about their leadership when you first met them?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:20:47] The team over there is phenomenal, like Sandhya and her team are just so driven to make this company successful. They understand the science, they understand the technology involved, but they're also really good at, engaging with different partners, investors, collaborators and so on.

They also have the respect of their full team. They're able to recruit a rock star team of people to make this business successful. I'm not prejudiced against male entrepreneurs, but I often find that female entrepreneurs are more dedicated and can drive their businesses to greater success.

I make investments in all different kinds of founders, but I love the fact that it's a female founding team at Shiok Meats and I see their approach has been one that I believe will take this company to global, global success.

Jeremy Au: [00:21:49] I've heard that you are a writer and that you have quite a few books cooking away. Could you share a little bit more about what is fascinating about a hobby and what you like to write about?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:22:01] As a kid, I had this strange idea that I had a limited time here. I don't know why it hit me so hard as a kid. I wanted to make sure that when I left the planet, and I passed, I wanted to make sure that it was worthwhile me being here, and so I got this really strong sense of time pressure, from a very early age.

So I've always been very conscious of how I spend my time, and trying to focus on things that matter. I hate the idea of sitting in front of a television and, just being fed stuff, that bothers me. So I've always preferred the idea of sitting down and creating something, whether a painting or as a piece of writing or as a book.

I got this idea in my head when I was at business school. They spent two years Harvard telling us that we were going to be one day the captains of industry, we were going to run the biggest Fortune 500 companies around the world and a very elitist kind of thought process.

I had this weird idea one day. I don't know where it came from. What would happen if somebody with this training and with these connections wanted to get involved in organized crime? Not to go become a McKinsey consultant or a Goldman Sachs investment banker or whatever, but what happens if three guys came together in their dorm room one day and said: Hey what hasn't been cracked yet from a Harvard MBA perspective? It's organized crime, and let's go figure out if we can get involved in that business and make it much more corporate. So that crazy idea turned into my first draft of my first book. Since then, over the last 23 years, I've written about 10 or 12 books, all of them probably pretty horrible, at various stages of drafting. It's funny. I really enjoy the first step, that first draft when you get it all out, out on page. And I really hate the going through with a fine tooth comb and making all of the grammar work and all of the imagery work and all that sort of stuff.

So as I'm raising a fund investing in hundreds of startups and things, I get a little bit of an excuse for not finishing them, but at some point I hope to finish those 10 books and spring them on an unsuspecting world.

Jeremy Au: [00:24:25] Andrew, you have been an incredible supporter for so many companies. Can people reach out to you?

Andrew D. Ive: [00:24:30] Our website where you can get hold of me and what we're doing is https://bigideaventures.com/. My team and I hang out virtually via LinkedIn. So there's a Big Idea Ventures page, where you can come find out all the cool things we're doing and the companies we're engaged with.

I have a personal LinkedIn page where you can connect with me. So Andrew D. Ive. The other thing is every six months we open our doors to new investment. So we're looking for great companies across the food industry with a particular focus right now on plant-based and cell based meat, seafood, dairy technology, and ingredients.

Keep an eye out on our website. We usually have a button there that you can press fill in a form and engage with us, whether it's just to have a conversation or if you're looking for investment, direct investment, but also through our accelerator.

Thanks a lot Jeremy, really appreciate your time today.

Jeremy Au: [00:25:24] Thank you so much, Andrew.

Andrew D. Ive: [00:25:26] Thanks man.

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