The Biggest Pivot in YC History
Today, we are announcing that Soylent is a part of the YC family. While the art of the pivot is nothing foreign to YC companies, PG has stated that Soylent represents “The biggest pivot in YC history”. This post outlines our story up to now and encourages all startups to never die.
YC accepted our original idea, to build affordable wireless networks for developing countries, for the summer 2012 batch. We spent the entire summer prototyping our technology and looking for a customer. By demo day, we had a white space radio with a Bill of Materials (BOM) of $70 operating around Silicon Valley. We didn’t have customers and were facing an intimidating set of regulatory hurdles. We spoke with some of the valley’s top VC’s but failed to raise. Instead of pushing for investment that wasn’t there, we went back to focusing on acquiring customers and finishing our product as soon as possible. We never found a customer.
The original project phased out in November. Our roommates were part of Imagine K12 and ran out of money around the same time. One of our co-founders went back to finish his degree and another of our roommates went off to grad school. We were able to recruit the other roommate (John) to join Rob and me on hacking up anything and everything. To cut our burn rate, the three of us moved from a five bed house in Sunnyvale to a cheaper apartment in San Francisco. John, our new recruit, sleeps in the living room of our two bedroom Tenderloin apartment.
By the start of 2013, we were working on a handful of projects. Sometimes collectively, sometimes independently. One day, Rob said, “There must be a more efficient way to eat.” He researched the human nutritional needs and was frustrated to find that nutrition is not quite a hard science right now. Regardless, he identified the essential ingredients the body needs to thrive and, a few days later, began constructing his alternative diet using supplements purchased on Amazon. Pleased with initial testing, he committed to his newly invented diet for 30 days.
Every morning, Rob would wake up, mix together the nutrients into a pitcher of water, drink his breakfast of all the essential nutrients and get to working before I could even have my eggs scrambled. Anytime he felt hungry, Rob would simply go to the pitcher, shake it once, and pour a delicious meal for himself. He would join us for social dinners but, committed to his experiment, would reject any traditional foods. John and I noticed that he lost a lot of weight and was looking noticeably healthier after two weeks. PG said, “You look taller. Your aspect ratio increased.” At the end of 30 days, Rob posted his experience in a blog and the product took off.
Soylent has now been covered by multiple press outlets and has garnered tens of thousands of customer sign ups. The people signing up to get Soylent are willing to give their blood to be an early tester. If that doesn’t show a product/market fit, I don’t know what does. Guerilla distribution is going on to deliver Soylent to twenty diverse testers in the bay area. The product is working exactly as planned and our customer base is growing.
The HN community has been incredibly helpful up until now. Today, we would love your support in getting Soylent into the hands of more people.
At the last dinner, post S’12 demo day, PG and Sama stood at the front of the room and imparted on us their final and most important piece of startup advice.
Matt Cauble - Co-founder