Strive to be kind to everyone, even those who aren’t kind to you.
Paul Shapiro has been an advocate for food sustainability from a young age. In high school, he founded an animal protection club that he turned into a national organization which he ran for ten years. Shapiro then spent the next 13 years leading legislative and corporate campaigns to help improve the welfare of farm animals. He now is a bestselling author, co-host of the Business for Good Podcast, and the co-founder of a sustainable protein company.
During his 13 years at The Humane Society of the United States, Paul Shapiro served as a Vice President and helped lead many legislative initiatives to prevent abuse of farm animals, as well as engage with major food corporations to improve sustainability in their supply chains.
In addition to Paul’s bestselling book, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, he’s been featured as a guest speaker on numerous radio programs around the world, television talk shows, and TEDx. His four TEDx talks focus on the food systems in place, food systems of the future, and general treatment and well-being of animals. Paul Shapiro is a regular contributor to major newspapers, and has also published articles in academic journals.
Paul Shapiro received his Bachelor’s Degree in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at The George Washington University in 2001. As a private research university located in Washington, D.C., GWU was founded on with the principles of George Washington himself in mind. The university is organized into 14 difference colleges and schools, serves as host of the National Security Archive, and is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia.
Today, Paul Shapiro and his partner Toni Okamoto call Sacramento, California home, where they both work to spread awareness of how our food choices can help make the world a better place.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Meat consumption continues to rise both in the US and globally, which presents serious strains on humanity’s ability to feed ourselves, let alone sustainably. Clean meat (real meat grown from animal cells) is still years away from meaningful commercialization. Plant-based meats, while extremely promising, still represent a tiny fraction of all meat sold. On the other hand, blending plant-based proteins directly into animal meats like sausages, meatballs, nuggets, and more, represents an efficient way to help alleviate some meat demand in the near-term. That’s the idea behind The Better Meat Co.: to help make enjoying more plant-based protein the easy, default option.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My goal is to ensure that my coworkers have the resources they need to help propel the company forward, thereby furthering our mission of improving food sustainability. That could mean meeting with investors, potential customers, scientists, journalists, government officials, and more.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As an early-stage start-up, we’re fast-moving and quick to execute ideas to see if they’re tenable or not. We’re an action-oriented company that isn’t afraid to fail and pivot to something more successful when need be. Having raised funds in our pre-seed round, we’re now on the field, and even if each play doesn’t yield a touchdown, we want to keep moving the ball forward.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The blending of mushrooms into burgers is an exciting way to help protect the planet. It really seems to only work in burger formats, and we’re expanding greatly on that to be able to do any type of ground meat. But it’s a promising trend with some really cool innovations going into it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt put it best: “Persistence is the single biggest predictor of future success.” I’ve learned from other great entrepreneurs and innovators that tenacity really pays. There are always headwinds in life, and I’ve faced some strong ones. But even in the midst of setbacks, I’m committed to throwing myself into those headwinds and doing as much good in the world as I can. In this case, that good is expressed in helping to improve food sustainability through meat reduction efforts.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I might have gone into entrepreneurship rather than nonprofit charity work earlier. My partner Toni Okamoto and I co-host the Business for Good Podcast in which we spotlight companies making money by solving serious social problems. Honest Tea cofounder Seth Goldman puts the case for entrepreneurship well in his an intriguing blog. Yes, business can be the cause of social problems, but it can also be the solution. In fact, it can sometimes be the single most effective solution.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Strive to be kind to everyone, even those who aren’t kind to you. I take seriously the Paradoxical Commandments and try to live by them. It’s hard and I don’t always succeed, but I aspire to adhere to them and think the world would be better if more people did.
There’s an instructive Quaker prayer on this. Its origin is disputed, but its meaning is profound enough that I put it on my door so I read it each time I leave as a reminder: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We’re still an early stage company that has a lot of growing to do, so this question may be premature for us. At the same time, our goal is to help solve our customers’ problems, even if they didn’t realize they were problems in the first place.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I feel like every rejection I get is a painful failure, whether it’s asking for investment, a sale, or really anything. Life can be hard. The key for me is not to take it personally, realize that people make their decisions for a variety of reasons, and to simply keep moving forward. We’re only on the planet for a fleetingly short amount of time. I want to ensure I do as much good as I can while here, and lamenting each failure–of which I of course have many–isn’t how I want to spend my time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’d love to see a synthetic biology company engineer microbes that digest plastic and excrete something valuable, like soil, for example. What an invention that would be. We’re drowning in plastic, which doesn’t biodegrade. How else are we going to get rid of it?
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My friend Matt Ball recommended an inversion table, and it’s revolutionized my life. It’s extremely useful for preventing back pain.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
It’d be hard for me to imagine my life without Google, let alone how our company would operate without the ability to easily share and jointly work on documents together. Thank you, Sergey and Larry!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro, of course! Okay, maybe it’s not the most important book of all time. It’s hard to select just one book to recommend, but if you want to really understand humanity’s history, our humble place in the cosmos, and how we came to be the dominant animal on the planet, check out Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. (And BTW, he wrote the foreword to Clean Meat!)
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