Paul Shapiro attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 2001 with a degree in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. He made a decision to work in the non-profit animal welfare space, primarily lobbying in state legislatures to pass laws to protect animals. After doing that for over 15 years, Shapiro made a radical shift to entrepreneurialism, seeing it as the best way to achieve his goals of making the world a better place. He co-founded The Better Meat Co. in 2018 and has rapidly grown it to be a company on the cutting edge of food sustainability technology. His book, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World, was published the same year, putting him on the forefront of the issue, with interviews and published articles on CNN, The Washington Post, Scientific American and hundreds more outlets.
- Why did you decide to create your own business?
I like that we’re on the cutting edge of technological progress. We’re creating new types of ways to feed humanity that have a much smaller footprint on the planet. I’m particularly proud of the innovation that we’re creating. Imagine if you were around in the film industry for decades, and photographs had been on gelatin negatives and you had to have dark rooms and it took hours or days to get your photographs to even be visible. Then imagine that you were at the cutting edge of the digital film revolution in which you could get those images instantly and in pristine condition. That’s what I feel like in terms of food production technology. We’re on the cusp of commercializing methods of protein production that don’t take months or years, but rather hours or days.
- What is the biggest lesson you have learned managing your business/team?
There’s so much to learn in this field, but I think one of the biggest lessons is that you really want to have a team of people around you who are supplementary to your skill set. That means hiring people who know a lot more than you do about a variety of things. Oftentimes, people hire those who are like themselves, but I’ve found that the way to succeed is to hire people who know a lot more than you do.
- How has your company grown from its early days to now?
We were founded in May of 2018, and we’ve grown from having zero employees to now having 15. We currently operate a 13,000 square foot food production facility in Sacramento, a huge increase in capacity in just two years.
- If you could change 1 thing you did in the beginning of your career what would it be?
I wish I could have recognized earlier in my career that it’s easier for people to change their behavior when there are superior alternatives available. For example, if you think about clean energy, none of us like that we’re using fossil fuels, but until solar and wind and other renewables are cheaper, it’s going to be very hard to switch because most people are going to continue buying on price. Similarly, I spent much of my career trying to persuade people to do the right thing for the right reason regarding animals and our treatment of them. I wish I would have recognized that rather than trying to persuade people to change their behavior for the right reason, simply creating technology that renders the misuse of animals obsolete would be more efficient.
- Who has been a role model to you and why?
People who know me know that I routinely talk about Marie Curie and why we should try to be more like her. But in terms of people I personally know, I’ve had many role models, but I’d say among the people who have been particularly useful in my own entrepreneurial journey, one person has been a gentleman named Paul Schwartz. Paul was an early believer in our company. He invested early and really taught me a lot about how to run a company. He’s a retired businessperson himself, so I’m really grateful to him for routinely sharing his expertise and his experience with me during the course of this entrepreneurial journey.
- What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?
There’s a lot of people who are smarter than me. There’s a lot of people who are more talented than I am. But there aren’t many people more tenacious than I am. I think that whatever I may lack in terms of intelligence or other traits, I try to make up for with a relentless work ethic that’s going to help our company advance in a rapid way.
- What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Lack of resources is the perennial problem for startups. It’s the biggest issue that we face, and we have to try to make a lot from a little. When you start your own company, you’re essentially making something from nothing, and you have to squeeze dollars to go further in ways that are often unheard of. Attempting to do big things while trying to stay on a budget is a difficult thing to do, and we’ve found ways to overcome lack of financial resources and actually make real technological advancements with a fraction of the resources that would be available to more established companies. A lot of that comes from building our own equipment or buying used equipment on the market. We get very innovative with our processes and techniques to eliminate expensive parts of processes that perhaps, while useful, may not be totally necessary.
- Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
I’m very proud to be the husband of my wife Toni and the “father” of our dog. A big part of my identity is my family, and my favorite thing to do is spend time with my wife and dog. My parents are also a big part of my life. They’re very proud grandparents to our dog Eddie, so I like to video-call them while walking him so they at least see what he’s up to.
- Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
Our company is a B2B ingredients company, so we don’t make our own products that you would see on the store shelves. We sell ingredients to other companies for their products. So I think in that timeframe we’re going to be a significant player in the animal-free protein ingredients market. And most importantly, we’re going to tangibly reduce humanity’s footprint on the planet and animals.
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