Ep. #1121 - How to Overcome Failure
In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, we’re learning how to overcome failure. Matt DeCoursey is joined by Michael Selden, CEO and co-founder of Finless Foods, for an inspiring session. Learn the importance of taking responsibility for your failure and moving forward. And discover the qualities of new hires you should look for.
Covered In This Episode
Have you ever failed as an entrepreneur? What kind of failures have you encountered before? And how can you overcome failure?
Matt and Michael are here to share their experiences and insights about overcoming failure. Aside from that, they also introduce the concept of a bioreactor and what Finless Foods does.
If you need the inspiration to overcome failure, this Startup Hustle episode is for you.
- Michael Selden’s backstory (02:36)
- An episode look-back at the history of entrepreneurship (07:45)
- The pushbacks in Michael’s journey (09:10)
- Effect of Michael’s history with science on dealing with failure (12:37)
- Fail fast, move fast, and break things approach in business (14:45)
- On hiring people that can learn from their mistakes (17:23)
- The value of taking responsibility for your failure (21:35)
- Do founders inherently march to the beat of a different drummer? (25:54)
- What should you look for in a new hire? (27:55)
- The most challenging thing about reinventing a major food source (32:23)
- Discovering bioreactor—what is it? (37:23)
- The key takeaway for the audience on overcoming failure (42:44)
We’re alone. We are sort of the only people, which is good and bad. It’s good because it means I don’t worry too much about competition. It’s bad because I care about the environment. And if we fail, then there isn’t much of a safety net for the environment and what we’re trying to do.– Michael Selden
Until I’ve tried something or done something, especially with things related to sales and marketing, how can we say that isn’t the thing that’s going to pop the cork on the business [or] that’s going to take us to the moon?– Matt DeCoursey
There are some lessons that people can’t learn verbally. There are some lessons that you have to learn by doing.– Michael Selden
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Matt DeCoursey 00:00
And we’re back! Back for another episode of Startup Hustle. Matt DeCoursey here to have another conversation I’m hoping helps your business grow. With that, have you failed? Because if you’re an entrepreneur and you tell me you haven’t failed, I’m probably gonna call you out and say there’s no possible way that could ever occur. So how do you overcome failure? We’re going to talk about that today. I’ve got a super successful founder and entrepreneur ready to have that chat with me today. Before I introduce him, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult. Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably and has the platform to help you manage that team. Go to FullScale.io to learn more. There’s a link for that in the show notes. With me today, I’ve got Michael Selden. Michael is the CEO and co-founder of Finless Foods. Go to FinlessFoods.com to learn more. There’s a link for that in the show notes, F, I, N L, E, SS foods.com. Straight out of Emeryville, California, Michael, welcome to Startup Hustle.
Michael Selden 01:05
Thanks so much, man. Appreciate you having me on.
Matt DeCoursey 01:08
You’re ready to talk about what failures have been in the past?
Michael Selden 01:11
I think that to fully cover that, it would take longer than this podcast. But yeah, definitely.
Matt DeCoursey 01:17
Yeah, that’s true. But, you know, and I’m gonna let you give more of the backstory, but you’re doing some really, really interesting stuff at Finless Foods. And I want to point out that I like to thank people that do things that are sometimes. I don’t want to say it’s completely thankless. But you’re saving the ocean. You’re creating food sources. You’re doing a lot of great stuff. I think a lot of people overlook that and don’t say thank you. So first off, I want to just say thanks because, man, oceans and mass, and anyone that’s doing anything to fix that is awesome. We’ll get into that. But how about we just start a conversation for a little bit about your backstory?
Michael Selden 01:56
Yeah, so for me, I’ve done a lot of different things. I went to school for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at a school that’s mostly focused on agriculture, UMass Amherst, out in Western Massachusetts. And I got into that because I just saw a bunch of problems in the food system. I was always doing environmental activism, like even as a kid, basically like electoral stuff around where I grew up on the north shore of Boston. I’m from Salem. And from that, I like getting into this idea of, like, hey, animals, agriculture is not giving us the environmental outcomes that we need. And it’s this huge part of the way that humans interact with the environment. Everyone’s focused on cars and power, and those are very important. But agriculture is an absolutely massive part of the way we interact with the planet. And animal agriculture, in particular while being something that all of us kind of love. It’s also like the biggest producer of carbon, it’s the biggest land use, it’s all of these, like, massive parts of agriculture. So when I was younger, I got really into the idea that, like, we could all just go vegan, and we would never, like, eat meat again. And then that would be the solution. As I got older, I just sort of saw that, like, that wasn’t what was happening, you know, and I sort of got this like, like, mindset from science really early of, we, you know, should look at what we’re doing, seeing if it’s working or not doing and edit our hypothesis based on that. So sort of seeing like, hey, like, this isn’t catching off in a way, catching on in a way that is fast enough to actually create the environmental solutions that we need, we have to start doing things differently. And for a while, that meant that I just had no idea about what to do. But eventually, I came across this article where people had created horseshoe crab blood without horseshoe crabs or shoot crab blood is really important for the pharma industry. It’s how we test to make sure things like vaccines are safe. And horseshoe crabs, we’re running out of them, like there’s just not that many. They’re extremely hard to breed. They’re very strange. If you want to Google them, they’re worth looking at because they’re very weird-looking creatures. And I basically got to thinking, you know, if we can make horseshoe crab blood without horseshoe crabs, can we just make any animal product without animals, and also didn’t have the background to do that being an agricultural biochemist. So I got thinking about this. But at the time, I wasn’t working in the industry. I had graduated college, and I felt uncultured. I wanted to learn another language. And so, I moved to China in order to first be a high school chemistry teacher, and I got a job. And then, after that, I wanted to work myself up into a translator job. So I started working at a newspaper as a translator translating Chinese into English. After that, I moved to New York, where my parents are from, and ended up working at a hospital. This was not super inspired by I, you know, talking about thankless jobs. Like I really want to thank everybody who works in healthcare and everyone who works in hospitals because it is a really brutal job. It is totally thankless in so many ways, especially for people on the back end, the research techs doing the lab sample work, and things like that. The nurses have to deal with patients for way, way longer than any doctor does. But that said, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t. I didn’t feel like I was doing what I wanted to do. And so I ended up getting hooked into this organization called New Harvest, which funds people doing PhDs in cellular agriculture, this science of, you know, creating animal products. Without animals, it was this totally new industry, it was mostly just a Google Drive with about, like, 150 papers in it and like 50 people with access to it, and that was all cellular agriculture. At that point, Memphis Meats were founded, which now is called upside foods. They do chicken and pork. But that was kind of it. This guy Mark posted in the Netherlands has created a burger. And then, other than that, total whitespace, no one had done anything. So I was gonna do a Ph.D. in this. But basically, I got intercepted by some venture capitalists, who sort of said, Hey, like, why don’t you make this into a company? And my attitude was like, Well, I don’t want to, you know, sort of something that we talked about before we started recording, like, I don’t want to sell out, man, I don’t want to create a business. And I have no idea how to do that. But they really captured my interest because they’re like, Well, if you’re doing a Ph.D., you’re a little bit on your own, you know, you’ll have your PI to help you out your professor, but you’re kind of doing this all on your own. With a company, you can have a ton of people behind you. And that was really convincing to me, like, do I want to do this project entirely alone? Or do I want to do this with a ton of people? So I went this route. I ended up taking venture capital, and I grabbed a co-founder, which is my best friend, Brian WIRIS. We went to college together, we’ve known each other for 12 years now, moved out to San Francisco and started Finless. Now, it’s 45 of us full time, we raised, you know, about $50 million so far. And we have this cool pilot facility that we built in Emeryville. And so, you know, it’s been a long journey. And it’s certainly not been without failure. But that’s where we came from. And that’s where we are today.
Matt DeCoursey 06:46
Well, yeah, we’re here to talk about failure. And that wasn’t necessarily a tale of that, obviously, $50 million in funding and a lot of progress. And one thing that’s pretty interesting, you mentioned, intercepted by venture capitalists, I’ve had several, several episodes in the past, including one with a professor of entrepreneurship from Princeton, a guy named Derek Leto, who has written a book on the subject of entrepreneurship. And you know, he was just so adamant when we recorded if you if you’re interested in a lesson, I believe that episodes called the history of Entrepreneurship, but just talking about how entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, in general, have moved the needle so significantly, well, on some things that are good, and some things that are bad, but you know, at the same time, as you talked about your ability to Well, you mentioned having an environmental outlook, being a scientist and stuff like that, and all sudden, hey, you know, you could actually put some of this into play, but there’s a commercial nature to it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I mean, it’s sometimes difficult to monetize that. Now, when we talk about, like, let’s talk about, quote, failure for a second here and how to overcome it. I would imagine. So you mentioned you, once again, use the term intercepted. I don’t know if you got funded right out of that or if you had to actually go out and pitch for some of it. But I would imagine that going into the pitch meeting, hey, we’re gonna reinvent food. Yeah, like, I mean, how does that go? That’s got to run into some failure or adversity. I would imagine you hear we only entered, we only invest in enterprise software or something like that. Is that worse? How am I right about some pushback?
Michael Selden 08:30
Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s been a failure up and down the line, you know, like what I just said, was sort of like the rosy story of how we got started. But the whole company even started with failure, like in starting to do my like research on what would have been a Ph.D. I ended up actually getting fired from my job at the hospital for a bunch of reasons. But part of it was just I was not paying any attention. I was so concentrated on this. And getting fired is, like, what pushed me into doing this, like, I took that as like an opportunity, I guess. And I was like, well, I need to have money in order to survive. So I need to make this work one way or another. But yeah, even in terms of VCs, I mean, like, when we took the money from Indy Bio, which was the first money into the company, we were really pitching based on the environment because that was why we started doing this. But VCs don’t necessarily care about that. Capitalists don’t necessarily care about that. I remember one initial pitch meeting. Any buyer would have your pitch in front of the entire accelerator, along and like for investors, who would be sort of a panel to judge you and a sort of fake pitch competition. I remember I got singled out in front of the entire crowd by an investor who said your entire pitch was on how this will help the environment, and you have nothing about how you’ll make money in this process. I don’t give a fuck about the environment, and I don’t want to hear you talk about it ever again.
Matt DeCoursey 09:52
And I was like, wow, that is a firm thing to say. Foster as well.
Michael Selden 09:55
Definitely not we didn’t end up working with him. But he did have some sort of point where It’s like it does. They do need to make a return on their funds. So we didn’t need to alter our argument if we wanted to be successful. And then you have plenty of pitch meetings that don’t work out. I mean, like, you know, the software is sexy. It’s a really easy thing to scale. And it is really, you know, easy to make edits to. With us, we’re limited by biology, you know, we’re making a physical thing. And so we need to actually take time, in order to change it, you know, we need to actually make something up to the specifications that it needs to be made to, in order to get to market, we need to get the regulatory approval, we just started selling this plant-based product, for example. And it turns out that, like, we didn’t have all the right certifications that we needed in order to get there. And now we have to, like, completely change the way that our production line works in order to actually get it there. You know, there’s a lot of, like, failure points in there around us being a physical goods company. And that’s hard. You know, that said, I mean, we can, you know, we’re going towards an absolutely massive market, which is all of the seafood, we have a new unique angle, we’re the only people who can do to have any variety, nevermind Bluefin, the only people who’ve scaled that up into large scale bioreactors. So, you know, I think we have a strong argument that we can do something pretty massive. It’s sort of like the road less traveled, the software is easier, it’s sexier, and there are a lot of people going for it. Because of that, this stuff is harder. It takes some time. But, like, we’re alone, like, we really are just sort of the only people, which is good, and it’s bad, it’s good because it means I don’t have to worry too much about competition. It’s bad because I care about the environment. And if we like to fail, then there isn’t really much of a safety net for the environment and what we’re trying to do. So it’s a little nerve-wracking at times, too.
Matt DeCoursey 11:34
So when you talk, you know, do you think that your history with science helped you become a better entrepreneur when it came to failure? Because I feel like so much. I mean, if you’re not showing me the scientists to have a successful experiment every time and once again, I’m gonna call someone out. Because if you’re not failing, then you’re probably not doing it. Right.
Michael Selden 11:57
Oh, yeah. I mean, like the scientific outlook helped. And also, starting the company kind of young, also really helped, like I was about 25, when we started this company, I’m 32. Now. And so like it, it was helpful to just not have a domain expertise, like not to feel like I was the smartest person in the room, because it meant I was genuinely listening to people. And that helps, because, like, you’re saying, every entrepreneur is gonna fail a ton, totally, including me, including, like us, myself and my co founder. But because we were younger, we were scientists, like, what’s funny is that your experiment? Whenever you’re designing an experiment, as a scientist, it is like a hypothesis and a null hypothesis. An experiment isn’t a failure, if you don’t get the results that you like, want, and experiments of failure if you don’t get results. And so like doing something and having it not work, that is a result. And to a scientist, that actually is a success, because it means you did the thing and it didn’t work. The question then is that if you’re a scientist, how do you build that into your process? To learn from that? Do you actually work that into your plans going forward? Or do you take the non-scientific approach and you ignore it? There are plenty of entrepreneurs who take the like, move fast, break things, approach in a bad direction, around just like, Yeah, I’m not gonna pay attention to my mistakes. And it’s like, you do need to move past them, you need to not get emotionally caught up in them. But you do need to, like reckon with them. You know, like, when we first started the company, we just didn’t know how to run a business, we hired extremely poorly, we asked questions that were about confirming our own biases with the people we were talking to, we wanted to be too nice to people. And we didn’t reject a bunch of people that we should have rejected. And it really stymied us. It really, like set us back a long way. We brought in people who were stubborn, we brought in people who were unwilling to look at their mistakes, we brought in people who were unwilling to admit when they didn’t know things, and it hurt us a ton. And I would say that was some of the biggest failures we had right off the bat. Obviously, there’s also the failures of like, well, we tried all these different cellular isolation protocols to build, so cultured tuna, and they didn’t work. But I think more importantly, to the company was sort of the structural stuff we did that did not work. And that we were able to move past and learn from you mentioned the fail fast and move fast and break things approach that doesn’t work if you don’t examine the failure.
Matt DeCoursey 14:05
That’s I mean, that’s so it’s not just about charging through the china shop, like a ball, it’s a video. So I’m gonna try to break this down. Pretty because I compare my entrepreneurship and the things that I do to science all the time. In fact, if I go tell my wife, Hey, I gotta go work on some science. That means I’m about to lock myself in my office, and I’ll be out when I’m done. And that’s usually because I’m onto something and I want to figure some stuff out. But when you look at like the scientific approach, and we’ll just use Full Scale as an example, like until I’ve tried something or done something, especially with things related to sales and marketing, how can we say that that isn’t like the thing that’s going to pop the cork on the business that’s going to, you know, take us to the moon, and, you know, I might approach as an entrepreneur for a man, okay, you’re 32 I’m, I’m pushing 50 Brown. So like, then down the road, and I look back at a lot of cities, so a common question you’ll get when you’re older. So looking back at your history as an entrepreneur, like what’s, how did your approach evolve or whatever, I tell people all the time, I try 10 things hoping. And I want to key the word hope in this italic, and bold, and maybe read, hoping that one works. And but when I find that one thing that works, it’s like a crack, you find this cracking, and now my first priority is to try to shove an elephant through it, you know, so you’re out there looking for things that you can I personally at this point, rest and feel better knowing that I tried a bunch of stuff and tested it out and don’t like I want to know, I want I want the failure, I want to disprove that certain things work. And I do keep proving myself to be wrong. And that’s actually a pretty good feeling. Because even though you’re wrong and your assumption you’re right for the business, and that’s a good thing. And that’s a good thing. And it’s like, you know, I don’t know, I’m not a true scientist in that regard. Like, I don’t. Well, I do actually create hypotheses. I mean, I don’t do it full on at science fairs. I don’t build the little diorama thing and the little stand, although I should. I might actually get more adoption from my team if I treated it like a science fair. But yeah, but with that there is that approach now with you know, and so like I said, like, for me, when I say overcoming failure, that failure is more.
Michael Selden 16:43
Yeah, absolutely. And I like it. I mean, not only that, but you need to also bring people in who feel the same, it’s really hard having people on board who can’t do that process at a startup, because there’s so few of you, you need everyone to operate. So independently, people need to be examining their own mistakes, they can’t be like, you can’t bring in people who are just going to be led to their mistakes, and then be resistant towards examining them. Like, that’s one of the things that we look for, like the most we set up some core company values, one of which is like opportunities through failure, like, you know, treat failures as an opportunity and like use it to go forward from there. We’ve had to do that a ton in Finless. And we’re going to continue having to do that all the time.
Matt DeCoursey 17:25
Yeah, yeah, as a leader as well, even though sometimes I feel fairly certain that people on my team will fail with a specific approach or idea, I oftentimes will let them attempt it. Because I think that also helps with Team buying, like, you can’t just squash everyone’s idea, all day, every day, because it’s not yours. And then you know, look at well, like salespeople are a good example. So anytime I get new sales, people or whatever, because we you know, we only bring in a specific type of client that fits a specific profile. And sometimes I’ll let people bring in the wrong kind of clients so they can experience why we don’t do that, you know, so it’s not just so it doesn’t just turn into me saying, No, we can’t No, you can’t sign this up. No, you can’t sign this company without your kids in the salesperson’s mind, they’ll just think you’re squashing their commission. You know, so you let them experience that and do it just takes one. And then the rest of the time, they’re like, Okay, I get it.
Michael Selden 18:30
You know, so I really feel that way. There are some lessons that people can’t learn verbally, there are some lessons that you have to learn by doing. And that sounds like a really good example of that. There’s definitely times where people have brought in contractors, for example, where I’m like, it was gonna work, like, stay my opinion, but I’m like, but you’re in the driver’s seat, it’s your contractor. You know, sometimes people just have to go through that process of like, bringing in the wrong people and letting them go. I also think that nobody does, like, it’s not like a fun topic to talk about. But I don’t think anybody is firing the right way, like their first go, or even their second go. Do that, like a handful of times to actually understand what that’s supposed to be, you know, in order to like, keep yourself like, you know, legally safe in the process. And also be respectful to the person that you’re letting go. Because I think that’s a really key part of the process is like making sure that it’s like, hey, this just wasn’t a fit. It’s not like an indictment of you as a person. And I don’t think you can learn it verbally. I’ve never seen someone do it right the first time or the second time.
Matt DeCoursey 19:26
You know, I once had a job where part of my job was to fire people. Yeah, I mean, honestly, it never feels great. I feel like as the leader of the company now when I have to do that, I feel like I’m the one that failed, not down to firing people that should take less than like two minutes because there’s nothing they’re going to say or do that’s going to change your mind about it. So like sitting there and getting into this, like a 30 minute breakdown of like all the things that they didn’t do. Right or whatever isn’t really that great either just get it done.
Michael Selden 20:04
I would say other than like, in some, like really extreme circumstances, which are super rare, you know, not to like, you know, be like, yeah, it is like putting it on me. I think that is our fault. I think that if you’re letting someone go, that’s a problem with your hiring process and a problem with our hiring process. And I think it is on leadership. Like, if you’re letting someone go, I would say it’s the fault of the leadership of that company for creating a process that let that person come in, in the first place. You know, that’s like a chance for introspection to be like, Hey, what did we do wrong here? Why do we bring this person in? What can we do next time, if there is a thing that we can do, to try and avoid the situation because it’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for that person, they get jostled around, it’s bad for the company, you waste a lot of resources, training someone up, it probably causes some internal strife. I try and I make everything I’m like people take responsibility. However, responsibility always lies with management, it’s always at the top of the food chain, not the bottom.
Matt DeCoursey 20:55
Well, that responsibility thing is key, I’m going to talk about that. Now. If you’ve been failing at building your software team, let Full Scale hub because finding experts, software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit FullScale.io where you can build a software team quickly and affordably use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and see what available developers testers and leaders are ready to join your team visit FullScale.io If you’re not aware, that’s my company. And we love talking to Startup Hustle listeners, head on over to FullScale.io takes about two minutes to fill out the form. It takes way less time than that to click the link for Finless Foods and learn more about what they’re doing over there. You know, I want to talk about responsibility for a second because I think that that is a keyword. I’m really glad you brought that up. Because when it comes to overcoming failure, taking responsibility for it is a big thing. And while this is a little, I’ve got a little thing that I give in presentations sometimes regarding this, and this isn’t exactly related to what we’re talking about. But the inability to take responsibility for your own actions and your own failures can be really catastrophic when it comes to leadership and just your existence in life. And a great example is if you’ve known anyone that showed up to work and they just got a speeding ticket and they’re How dare that police officer give me that ticket? What an asshole. And you’re like, man, that guy’s doing his job. He’s technically trying to keep you safe. And second off, you’re the one that went 20 miles and you’re on going 45 through schools. You know, and that’s just that simple. And I’ll tell you that when it comes to your own employees or being an employee, if you take responsibility for failure, it goes way better than 100,000 excuses about this. And that and that gets old for me in a hurry. If I heard someone say, Man, I could, I could have done a way better job at this. And I’m going to next time that’s going to work out way better for that person, both short and long term, less likely than 37 excuses or blaming or any of that stuff. So, you know, take I do it all the time as a leader, Michael, you know, like I just got back from the Philippines. And I was halfway through my trip. And I realized that I had made a really bad leadership error with the way that I had aligned some of our sales team. And I had someone in Kansas City trying to set up to try to train and manage a team that was 9000 miles away. And I realized that I was like, this is a terrible idea. Like changing the course right there on the spot. And I ate that crow. i Yeah, yeah, I don’t know if you met crows, too. But they don’t, they don’t taste very good when you have to eat them. They’re not as tasty as tuna. But, but yeah, and so that goes over a lot better in that regard. And just take it, eat it, get it over with. They say if you’re going to eat a frog, it’s best to not sit around and look at it. It just gets uglier and wordier. And the grosser, the more you look at it. So just get it all the way.
Michael Selden 23:57
Exactly. And like it sounds like you’re sort of talking about like there’s like the direct 10 Like the direct benefits of introspecting looking at what you’ve done wrong owning up to it and thinking about it. And there’s the like, drag along benefits, which is like you’re setting a good example. If you’re in leadership like I am, maybe there’s some company somewhere that’s perfect in this way. But like you’re not, it’s like I think everywhere, there’s at least some degree of aping leadership of like, people see the top of the company and act the way the top of the company acts. There’s obviously certain people who were like, I’m a loner. I’ll do whatever I want, you know, good for those people. They’re the minority, like the vast majority of people look to leadership for cues on how they’re supposed to act. So if they see leadership consistently being like, yeah, you know, like, you know, even if even if you’re like, the cop was an asshole, you’re like, Well, I probably shouldn’t have gone 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, like that’s just not safe for the communities that we’re in. And so it’s like, showing that kind of thing, even in like casual conversation, the ability to introspect the Abyss Have you to admit when you’re wrong, it creates a safe space, it creates an environment where other people can do the same, or other people can be like, alright, so it’s safe. The CEO admits when the CEO is wrong, I can admit when I’m wrong, too. And we can all do it together, it creates this good feedback loop.
Matt DeCoursey 25:14
Well, let’s talk about that for a second. Because you mentioned like March that founders inherently marched to the beat of a different drummer. And in a lot of cases like you did, you’re trying to invent some new categories. The reason I started Full Scale was, I was tired of freelance marketplaces, and not having people that were dedicated to my team to my success, the vatting was shitty, you know, and I wanted to provide a better, more secure solution for founders that wanted to protect intellectual property, have the right people, I was going to, you know, I won’t name the platforms, but I’m sure you can figure them out. I’m like, Why do I have to hire 10 people to find one person? That’s good? What if there was, because that was so distracting, it was shitty for the team, I feel like it was probably shitting for the contractors. And, you know, so you got to march to the beat of a different drummer in the beginning and do something and do something different. But then you also got to evolve back to like, a little bit more of a, you have to be a little more conforming, because like, as you mentioned, you can’t just always be that fuck you fuck everyone kind of person, because you’re going to create a culture downstream. That is the same way. Like, I feel like I don’t know, if you’ve watched the there’s a, like a seven part series about Uber on Showtime. And they had that exact problem, because they had to have that fu mentality. Because they were every city they went into, they had to fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. But the problem was, they weren’t able to retract from that. So they have a bunch of fun people. And one of the biggest one of the first interview questions was, Are you an asshole? And they didn’t hire people that said, No, because they needed fighters. And that, well, that was good at one point. And also, now all of a sudden, you’ve got all these hungry gorillas, like, you know, and it created a really crappy culture. So what are some of the things that have changed with your company? And you when it comes to like that evolution? Because you talked about having 4545? People, there’s a lot of responsibility with taking $50 million, and all that.
Michael Selden 27:21
Yeah, I mean, certainly what we look for in hiring has evolved massively, like we have these core values that we look for, we have cultural cues that we look for from people, you know, we also took a scientific approach, we’re like, alright, we like the team, we got, how do we replicate that? So we tried to sort of like talk to people and like, figure out like, Alright, what do we all have in common, and we found some kind of interesting stuff. You know, we found that everyone is always a lifelong learner, it’s people who actively are trying to improve themselves in things that aren’t even necessarily tied to their work, and oftentimes, are not. And, you know, there’s definitely a bunch of theories on staff of like, how that ties into the culture and how that ties into our work. But as scientists, we were just like, it doesn’t even really matter why it’s just the thing that ties us all together. And so we should continue to look for that. Because clearly, that’s some sort of good indicator of the stuff that we want, regardless of like, the mechanistic explanation of how that plays out. We know we came from not a business backer, we came from, like, you know, environmental activism. And so we had this idea around the beginning of the company. It’s like, Alright, we’re going to be super egalitarian, we’re going to be very flat, we’re going to be very horizontal, we’re going to like all make decisions together. And it drove people crazy. It was not, it did not work. For us, it did not work like a high growth startup, it did not work if there were a lot of complicated decisions that needed to be made. And we ended up moving away from that. Now we are in a pretty hierarchical structure, we have a lot of feedback mechanisms that leadership can actually get information from, like other sections of the company. But we realized that like, the key thing really is if you need people in leadership, to just be very informed, and then empower those people to make all the decisions that they need to make. And like that is a better structure for this type of company, than just everyone voting on things. You know, we were sort of looking at these models that like work where people vote on things. But these are more traditional businesses, a lot of the time, it’s like a grocery store, or like a farm. And like you know how to run grocery stores and farms. There’s nothing crazy innovating going on there where you can build things that are innovative. But you don’t have to; you can always fall back on the more traditional business model. For us, it’s like there’s just a ton of decisions that need to be made on a very regular basis that are hard. So it’s about creating a process by which decisions are made that people are like, that’s a fair process. I’m informing the person at the top of all the things they need to be informed of, I have my shot at informing them and then they make the decision and we run with it. And we then examine the decision, see if it worked out well or not, and then talk about how we would do it differently next time. And like this has been just a way more effective structure for us than sort of the more horizontal structure that we started off with. So that was another thing we implemented. That was I would say a failure. And then we move back more towards a more traditional model with a lot of like feedback loops in it. And that’s just worked out a lot better for us. You can’t innovate on everything all at once. You know, we’re trying to, like minimize the amount of things that we are innovating on, because we are already doing something that’s kind of crazy, we’re trying to, like, create this thing that will totally change the way seafood is thought about in on the entire planet, we’re trying to create seafood using animal cell culture, we’re trying to create seafood using plant based agriculture, we’re not also going to, you know, build an entirely new type of bioreactor that nobody’s ever thought of like, we’re not building an entirely new type of media development or recycling that nobody’s ever thought of. And we’re not building an entirely new type of corporate structure that nobody’s ever thought of, I think that is a thing that could use innovation. But I think we have enough on our plate. And we want to keep our conversations around the things that we need to keep them on, namely, like this cell line development, scaling up in these large bioreactors, getting these to market, getting through regulatory. It’s hard enough. So we picked our areas of innovation, I think that works better for us. Now.
Matt DeCoursey 31:02
I like what you said a couple of things there that I think, you know, I’d like to expand on when you talk about communication, your communication is a great way to overcome failure. And it’s a great way to avoid it, too. You know, I’m a 300 plus employee, and I want to say worldwide, which that’s a big world. And you know, we didn’t come back, we didn’t come back to the office, we stayed remote. And that’s a better, better thing for us. But we refer to circular communication, meaning there are three components. So we have our employees, we have our clients, and we have the company. And that information needs to flow both directions, clockwise and counterclockwise, they can’t just go one direction. And you know, I do things. So I do about four times three or four times a year, do these open, townhall kind of things. And I used to actually do them in front of people. But I put out just like an anonymous, like a little type form, you know, a thing where you can put in whatever you want. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t track who you are, there’s no email or in there. And I really lean into people I like, Just tell me. And I’ve kind of developed a reputation for answering all the questions to which is kind of funny, because I think that there’s some people that know that they’ll be like, Hey, Matt, do you drink? Want to get wasted? I’m like, that, you know, like, some of it’s funny, but with that, I think pushing for honest and open feedback, what can we do to make this place better? And what are we doing wrong? And you know, I look at trying to overcome that there’s an echo that kind of resounds in these questions, these comments, the input and the feedback that has all the answers in it, you know, in most cases, and that’s and I think when you’d look at like the leadership perspective is like, I think that making sure that people are heard, and trying to create a place where that people want to work out. And what that does is it builds up this level of social capital, and leadership that when you do something wrong, I make mistakes all the time. It makes a lot. And then when you leave you say, hey, this was on me, this is something I could have done better, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you because you have let everyone be heard you let everyone’s opinion come in, you get this collective like communal thing going on, it makes it a lot easier for you. Like I said, like I remember some of it, I looked back at the pandemic. And you know, we’re sitting there on March 15, in front of 150 people because we did an in person town hall on that day, and I’m like, Hey, I don’t have all the answers. And I don’t think this is uncharted territory for all of us. But we will figure this out. And I just need you to let this let this take place. Now the next day, we told everyone to not come back to the office. So that’s like how quickly we were working with that. But I think that part of what made us able to do that was the fact that we had let everyone you know, like, hey, look, we’ve we’ve tried to we have a history of making decisions that aren’t self serving their community base, we’re here for the company because like once again, like if you have a shitty company, then you’re not gonna even have people to overcome failure around. It’s just that simple. And you know, there’s a lot to be said with that. Alright, so if you think because, you know, we’re running, we’re running out of time here. You know, I just have to ask, like, what’s been the most difficult thing about trying to reinvent a major food source?
Michael Selden 34:43
It depends on what area of the company we’re talking about. I mean, lately, just the Hall of Fame.
Matt DeCoursey 34:47
We’ll go we’ll go all time we’ll go full time on.
Michael Selden 34:51
Supply chain has been killing us like just trying to get in the equipment and materials that we need to get the reagents that we want. We ordered a 250 liter bioreactor in January of 2022. And that is still not here, we just received the sleeve, like the big part basically, that everything goes in. Like last week, so a year and two months after we ordered it bonkers, like this is like one of the most important pieces of equipment that we can have, like we even order the next stage up already. Beyond that, because we figured that this one would just be here by now, a lot of that’s related to the steel shortage, manufacturing shortage, like we’re just having a bioreactor shortage in a pretty serious way. It’s out of our control, and we don’t have a hardware engineering component to our company. You know, we’ve tried to just stick to iterating on what we need, and what we know we can do that’s different from everybody else that differentiates us. It’s just been challenging. And then beyond that, it’s just been hard. I mean, you know, VCs talk a really tough game about like, being people who are like, creating the future. And then they like, you know, step back and like, well, you know, we’re reacting to the market. And it’s like, which one? Which one? Is it? Do you like innovators? Are you creating the future? Or are you reacting to the present? Like pick? I think that people should have to either just, like, admit that they’re just investing, you know, that there’s growing their money, or actually, like, get out there and say that they are like the courageous people who are doing something new and or who are doing something a little bit dangerous and interesting. But you can’t, you can’t have both, you can’t claim the mantle of the future, but just constantly be reacting to the past. So that’s been a frustrating thing as of late.
Matt DeCoursey 36:46
Oh, the shifting winds of VC sentiment. Yeah, they are swirling, I think it’s probably a probably an accurate way to track that weather pattern. I kind of joke I remember right before a pandemic and I remember talking to notable VC, Oh, I hate ed tech, never gonna get into your three months later love Ed Tech. It’s, it’s the you know, I’m just like, are you gonna do I don’t know, too many people to get into. That might be a trigger warning attached there. Because, yeah, either write the check and get out of the way, or offer value, and probably still get the fuck out of the way. So, by the way, for those of you that are wondering what a bioreactor is, I asked ChatGPT. A bioreactor is a device or system that’s used to create a controlled environment for the growth and cultivation of biological cells, tissues and organisms. And I could read a whole lot more but you much like me, probably won’t know what the hell any of that means. But yeah, it’s it’s an important thing when it comes to pharmaceutical manufacturing, food production, environmental engineering, sounds like a cat sounds kind of not having those with what you do sounds a lot like a carpenter not having a hammer or a saw or maybe nails or all of them. So yeah. fermenters tissue culture bioreactors photo, but I’m way out of my depth here.
Michael Selden 38:14
It’s a big tank. It’s a big tank that fills up and we put in a certain amount of cells, and then they grow themselves, they divide until there’s a lot more of them.
Matt DeCoursey 38:24
you seal it up, it shakes it up. It stirs it up in my Akita. Yeah, yeah. That’s probably about wherever you’re thinking of like a fermenter at a beer brewery.
Michael Selden 38:30
You’re totally, yeah, we got it.
Matt DeCoursey 38:37
Got it. Most people listening will get that part. It’s how you make air and wine and toxic tons of problems. Yeah.
Michael Selden 38:49
I have this like, when people like to quote ChatGPT in meetings, I like I’ve just been annoying my staff face to them. I’m very obnoxious at work. I asked ChatGPT, What are the dangers of using chat GPT at work, and then I just read that out to people and see if they get that I’m reading that off of chat. GPT is in your face.
Matt DeCoursey 39:09
I’m very into some of them. For me. It’s been like when I’m sitting here on the show. And we’re sitting there talking about bio reactors or like, you know, just certain things it’s like, actually produces a much more feasible result. Now, on the downside of that, I remember talking about the episode with Derek like Leto, I asked you if he did to give me a history of entrepreneurship and then he proved the entire response to be wrong.
Michael Selden 39:33
It can sometimes be clear, I actually love it. And I use it a lot just to like the preface. I just like being annoying. And I think it’s fun to like to use it to debunk itself. But that also sort of states how useful it is. It’s really great for all sorts of stuff, and I ask questions about it and get good answers very frequently. The downside is like, it is not thinking about his responses. It can’t do basic math like it can’t. Which I always find really weird because it’s just trying to pump out language like you think sounds like the thing that you want, it has no comprehension of what it’s saying. So I find it really interesting. I’m like, Ah, you can tell me what a bioreactor is. And that was a very accurate description, but it can’t be added.
Matt DeCoursey 40:11
As a creator, I find it to be super helpful. Because if you like you look at I don’t know, man, I think that’s been the thing. I’ve used it the most. And then there are other things like I created a 40 page technical training manual for our salespeople. And I do it in a few hours. Because like, a lot of that was like, you know, you look at like, define what Java is, what’s PHP, like, all these things that I would have had to go get all these one offs from? And yeah, it was super helpful in that regard. And then and then I asked it, who I was, and it gave me a, I don’t even know who it was talking about.
Michael Selden 40:48
Yeah. We asked her who one of our employees was, and they said that she was me, which was really bizarre. It said that she was the co-founder of Finless Foods alongside Brian why.
Matt DeCoursey 41:00
Yeah, so it did that. For me. It said that Matt DeCoursey is the founder of Full Scale. And then it’s and then it mentioned a dude that I don’t even know. And so we founded the company in 2014. It was all off. But I’ve had so we have a fun little community on on Startup, Hustle chat and Facebook and I actually had someone that was putting it it was prompting GPT to give responses written in my tone and my voice and the funny path was, okay, make it more click Beatty, and just like different stuff. I was like, Alright, we’re gonna we’re gonna move on from this. Alright, so here we are. The end of another compelling episode, Startup Hustle, quick reminder. Today’s episode is powered by FullScale.io. There’s a link in the show notes that makes it really easy for you to build team software. Hey, look, let’s take the science out of it. We were doing all out on the front end of it. We help you build a team of people that hit me up, how great would it be to have people show up and you knew they were good at science on day one.
Michael Selden 42:04
It would change the way the company runs.
Matt DeCoursey 42:07
That’s our mission. Much like yourself on Sundays, we’re like, God, there’s all these problems we need to solve. Let’s just start with one or two. So I managed to ask before we do the founders freestyle, which is a true freestyle. Michael, I you know, for those of you that can’t see the video that I can, which is all of you, Michael’s got a bass guitar on the wall. So maybe he’ll sing his response today. I doubt it. But it is a freestyle. So what about today’s show stood out? What would you like to leave the audience with or anything that else you might say to your freestyle, bro, so here you go.
Michael Selden 42:43
I would say that. What is a scientist? You know, I think that’d be the question because I know you and I talked about, like, basically using scientific processes for business. The answer to that, like, you know, is different depending on what we’re talking about, like in terms of being hired as a scientist and having that as your job title. I actually am not qualified. I don’t have a Ph.D., and you’re supposed to have won in order to have that. But, you know, there’s tons of pedagogy around, like, encouraging scientific thinking, even in kids. And you know, we’re just big kids. So I think it counts for us as, like, yeah, same. Like, we should be working this into our everyday lives, like, what things are serving us, what things are not serving us, and what are the problems in our lives? How do we examine them honestly and openly? Even if it hurts to like, look at it even if it’s not fun, even if it’s frustrating? How do we look at that, see it for really what it is, or get an outside perspective? Who can we talk to to figure that out? Since we started this company so young, that needed to be built into the process, immediately building up the right investors, the right advisors, people who can actually, like, you know, give us real feedback on what we’re not doing correctly so that we can correct it. That change in my life happened for me in starting Finless and being able to incorporate scientific thinking, not just from college, but into my everyday life. And it started off with the company, but now it’s like, I’m always thinking about things that way. I’m like, you know, not feeling great. My stomach’s off. What did I do? You know, I’m not feeling low energy today. What’s wrong with that? Like even just sort of basic health stuff to my relationships with people? What’s serving me, what’s not serving me, and why and like, how do I find patterns in that? It’s thrown me into therapy, which has been very helpful and in a bunch of different directions, and I recommend it to anyone finding anything. But yeah, I just think the power of scientific thinking in your life can do wonders. It doesn’t have to just be relegated to people holding pipettes. It can be anything. It can be business.
Matt DeCoursey 44:39
Well, sir, I think I look back at today’s episode, I think that the scientific approach is strong and kind of look at that. Like it’s all an experiment, folks. I mean, it really is, and regardless of how positive you are, that an outcome is going to occur. They could end up in a number of different places. And I think that that’s important. We also talked a little bit about the chap. GPT, so I asked chat GPT to write a song about a startup that reinvented seafood, and it said there’s a startup that’s changing the game and bringing seafood to a whole new stage sustainability is their aim, and they’re making waves. They’re reinventing seafood, creating something new with a mission to make a difference, and they’re seeing it through. Yeah, I could go on, but I will save the ears of our audience. So yeah, doing the important things with AI today here on the show, like writing songs about Finless and the foods that they’re creating once again. Man, I want to say thanks for doing environmental stuff. I’m a big fan of anyone that’s shown up and doing that, and you know, I mentioned I’m gonna give this a shot because, you know, one of the things that I actually love seafood, but the problem is I live in Kansas, you know, fresh seafood here, because there’s no see here and then some of it is I don’t know, man, the seas oceans kind of gross and dirty man, squid, fucking it up people like that’ll make me happier. So, I’m gonna just kind of leave on that note. That is your words of wisdom. People quit rowing in the ocean. I’m out. I’m out.