There’s a habit I have of walking over to the fridge, opening the door, and seeing that I have nothing to eat.
It’s something that everyone does. Inevitably, it leads to a trip to the grocery store to stock your shelves with enough to last for another few weeks.
The constant cycle of shopping, cooking, eating, shopping is emblematic of the humdrum mundaneity of our food system. Groceries are jails of nutrition and the only way we get food out of lock-up is by shopping.
The average American heads to the supermarket 1.5 times every week. Even with that high rate of consumption, we still throw away 1/3 of the food we produce. The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.
We didn’t always do it this way. There’s been a steady decline in the number of agrarian jobs over the last hundred years. Nowadays it’s roughly 2 percent of the total workforce.
These farms used to provide sustenance and income for their occupants, but with industrialized agriculture, it has become nearly impossible to make a living with a small scale farm. While more efficient, it has also brought the price of produce down to the point where small farms cannot compete. We have moved back into the age of sharecropping, where large agriculture companies make farmers license seeds/land/equipment and often take a percentage of their sales. These kind of arrangements lock our food system into mass-scale endeavors using monoculture crops in order to drive down price.
While good for the wallet of the consumer, problems arise in the logistics of delivering massive amounts of food from the field to the table. Similar to the power revolution of the early 1900s, we are going through a logistics revolution in which services like Amazon make it effortless to get fresh food deliver to your doorstep at the press of a button. Adding to the demand for a new supply chain, grocery stores stock the best food they can find, sometimes shipping it thousands of miles to end up on your plate.
This only works for those who can afford it. The reality is that much of America lives in food deserts, struggling to get access to this nutrient-dense food.
Just like the solar revolution, there’s an opportunity here for individuals in these areas to produce their own source of nutrition.
Companies like Grove are driving the personal indoor farming revolution. This is partly driven by the growth of the marijuana industry, with the need to develop high-yield indoor growth systems for illicit activity in states that have yet to approve marijuana. Another enabler of the expansion of this market is the development of high-efficiency LED lights. These lights have become higher-powered and cheaper over time, driving the ability to setup indoor farms.
My main issue with these companies is that at such a high price point, it is almost impossible for the average consumer to purchase a unit. In addition, the yield of these farms is minimal, making them more of a luxury than a necessity in the home.
That is why Spira is focusing on systems that grow microalgae. Not only is microalgae nutritionally-dense, but microalgae also has an incredibly fast growth-rate compared to conventional vegetables.
Our first strain/system combination utilizes Arthrospira (common name spirulina) to produce a high-protein ingredient that can be used as a supplement, colorant, or mixed into any recipe. We’re improving our technical systems to constantly improve on growing nutrition.
I don’t envision any one source of food as the solution to malnutrition. The human diet is varied and the enjoyment of eating comes from beyond just getting nutrients. Just because a drink can provide for your nutritional needs, doesn’t immediately mean that every single person will get their food through a straw.
More what we envision is eliminating the fear of getting adequate baseline nutrition. Spirulina isn’t a miracle by any stretch of the imagination, and the way we begin selling it will be more as a “fancy green juice” as one critic said recently. However, just because a company starts with a high-priced product, doesn’t mean that the aim isn’t to move toward more accessibility.
Take Tesla, a company that started with a high-priced plaything for the rich with the overall goal of providing off-the-grid transport and energy to the masses.
If they started with a low-priced electric car at the beginning, Tesla would have gone out of business. In order to build a sustainable company that had the financial wherewithal to approach a larger market with an innovative piece of technology, they did a number of things that enabled them to get where they are today:
- They built a community
- They developed technological capability
- They delivered a kickass product
- They went open source
- They merged with Solar City
There is nothing better than insulating your company/mission from destruction than a diehard community of supporters. From the very beginning, cultivating this group of fans is absolutely essential. They are gold. For Spira that is our beta testers (who we love ❤).
When Tesla started, they didn’t have the technological capacity to build a high-volume, low-price car. Spira is in the same boat. Currently we can only make a low-volume, high-price product. As we grow, we’ll lower the price to make it more accessible as we increase technological capacity to make our products more efficiently and implement new innovations.
There is absolutely no compromise on product. Ever. Our success is determined by the happiness of our customers/community with our products. By holding ourselves to a high standard, and creating something that we love to use each day, we’re making sure that the usage of Spira is an excellent experience for everyone involved.
Open Source (almost) Everything
The founder of GitHub wrote this in 2011:
“everything we keep closed has specific business value that could be compromised by giving it away to our competitors. Everything we open is a general purpose tool that can be used by all kinds of people and companies to build all kinds of things.” ~Tom Preston-Werner
Tesla open sourced their patents as soon as they knew they had created an avenue for their own commercial success. The core of their business wasn’t compromised and they wanted to bring electric vehicles to the masses.