Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Much harder than anyone can possibly imagine — even if you’ve done the hard work and are perfectly positioned at the right moment in time, in a hot category. My life tends to involve significant daily Zoom hours (I was Zooming long before the pandemic), and one Friday evening my daughter pointed out I’d basically been wearing the same clothes all week. And not in the cool Steve Jobs way. Clearly it was time to step away from screens and do some serious “forest bathing”.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jody Boyman.
Jody is an entrepreneur and life-long advocate for sustainable food practices, healthy eating and animal welfare. She has a background in whole-food, plant-based nutrition, marketing and sales.
As Co-Founder & Chief Purpose Officer of Hungry Planet, she is bringing to market the first full range of chef-crafted plant-based meats with her brother Todd, Hungry Planet’s CEO. Jody has developed strategic client relationships resulting in over 2 million servings of Hungry Planet® meats to a wide range of venues, geographies, and cuisines. She is also closely connected with key influencers.
The challenges of eating plant-based since grade school, followed by raising two children plant-based, provided Jody with ample inspiration and motivation to develop delicious, nutritious foods readily accessible to all. She is also committed to helping build a humane economy that fuels new levels of sustained prosperity. Her focus is creating and promoting delectable plant meats to feed a hungry planet, while also feeding our deepest values.
She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and has traveled the globe as a professional wildlife photographer.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell me a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born an animal lover, and have been plant-based for 45 years. In St. Louis as a child, I spent hours after rainstorms rescuing earthworms from pavement and relocating them to grass. I rescued baby birds who had plunged from their nests, and dogs who had been dumped along country roads. From an early age, while eating family meals, I’d ask our mother, “Who did this used to be?” Fast forward a few years and I’d begun taking Dolly Parton’s advice to heart: “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.” Among other influential tomes, I read Silent Spring, Diet For A Small Planet, Diet For A New America and Animal Liberation. I was empowered knowing that others were pondering the same intersections between animal welfare, environmental justice and human health. For a decade after college, I was a wildlife photographer, spending significant time in Africa, Antarctica and other far flung places. Those experiences reinforced my belief that we only protect that which we love — and I have always fiercely loved all sentient beings and wild habitats. Later I became a psychologist, had two children in my late 30’s, and ran a small business. A few years ago, I was eager for the next chapter and felt compelled to dive wholeheartedly into something that would move the needle significantly — and in my lifetime. To that end, Hungry Planet began as a passion project — to make a better, more just and sustainable world. My sibling co-founder, Todd Boyman, and I have a deep and abiding hunger to feed a healthy, hungry planet. We decided to build a platform for positive change, one where people could eat their way to a healthier planet — while staying true to our deepest values. We set out on a mission to craft a wide range of proteins to feed our growing human family, prevent environmental destruction, avert global pandemics, and reduce animal suffering. Our mission is simple: to bend the curve on personal and planetary health with the only full range of delicious and nourishing plant-based meats.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Unlike most companies in this category, we had the advantage of time and being self-funded for almost two decades during the pioneering R&D phase. It’s definitely possible to have a great idea but be too early, so we were patient and readied ourselves to scale for when the market was receptive to the solutions we were developing. Starting in 2015, Todd and I began focusing on scaling Hungry Planet, putting literally everything else in our lives on hold. We worked 80–100 hour weeks, 24/7, for about 5 years, putting key scaffolding in place to scale smartly and sustainably. Even though there was strong interest by investors to participate, we chose to self-fund so that we could remain 100% true to our long-term mission. Those early years harken back to the sleep deprivation experienced when my kids were little, when I also had to tap into some serious stamina!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were hard?
This is the simplest way I can put it: I can’t NOT do what I’m doing. I am driven from my core to put my shoulder to it, trying with all my might to make the world a better place. The alternative is just not an option. I believe that our collective food choices have the power to heal our world, so my daily objective is to meet people where they are while inspiring them to make positive changes, even if it’s one nudge at a time.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
From about 2015 until a couple years ago, we were a very small team who wore many hats including sales, marketing, operations, PR, social media, design, etc. I’d never sold a thing in my life but ended up being Hungry Planet’s first salesperson, going restaurant to restaurant, telling our story, cooking up our meats, and sharing smiles. Our headquarters are in St. Louis but I’m based in Santa Barbara, so that’s where I focused my early sales efforts; Hungry Planet® is now on the menu at dozens of local restaurants ranging from steak houses to fast food, including the first female Iron Chef Cat Cora’s Mesa Burger restaurants. In the past two years, we’ve been rapidly building a world-class team, to scale expeditiously in order to meet global demand. In January of this year, we announced a $25M raise that is further accelerating our growth.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I remember in the early days, our first chef casually mentioned that he “came from the CIA” and I was absolutely stunned. He just didn’t seem like a Big Government kind of guy. Eventually I mustered courage and asked about that part of his life. Turns out he earned his considerable chops at the other CIA: Culinary Institute of America. Aha! As you might gather by now, I was drawn to the food space predominantly because I believe it’s the biggest lever for change, not due to any particular culinary predilection.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Very simply, Hungry Planet has upgraded meat. We are the first to offer authentically delicious plant-based meats with demonstrably superior nutritionals that perform spectacularly as a 1:1 substitution for conventional meat in any cuisine and any recipe. In early 2016, we were invited to prepare an entirely plant-based dinner for 16 top executives at Apple, exclusively using our meats. These execs were having an annual off-site strategy session, and the sponsoring executive had been reading about new developments coming in plant-based meat. While we were still keeping a very low profile, they found us and asked if we’d like to provide the meal. The caveat was that only the sponsoring exec would know in advance that the meal was entirely plant-based; none of the other senior execs would be told until after the dinner. Our chef prepared a delectable meal for these executives, included appetizers and entrees featuring Hungry Planet Crab™️, Hungry Planet Chicken™️, and Hungry Planet Beef™️. At the end of the dinner, the sponsoring executive asked if the others had enjoyed the meal, to which our chef received a round of applause. Then the big reveal from the sponsoring exec: “You’ve just eaten the future of food. Everything you ate tonight, including the beef, chicken and crab was made 100% from plants!” There was dead silence, disbelief, then a standing ovation for our chef. So, it is the excellence of our food that makes our company stand out. No compromise. Authentic. Delicious. Nutritious. We’ve upgraded meat to the next level.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”.
I’m maybe not the best person to ask because my passion is my avocation, so I tend to have my foot on the gas much of the time. And when I’m not working, often the mental gears are still going. There is so much to accomplish, and I feel a tremendous sense of urgency. As entrepreneurs, we continue working very long hours, although it has become much more fun as we’ve onboarded dozens of team members to drive and manage facets that aren’t in my wheelhouse. Any quality downtime for me involves immersing in Nature, whether trail running, hiking in the mountains, strolling the beach at low tide with my rescue pups or just meditating by a bubbling creek. I have also always valued adventure travel to far-off lands that invariably recharges my batteries and lends important perspective.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to our parents who raised us to be curious, open minded and problem solvers from earliest memory. But in particular, I am grateful to my younger brother who is also co-founder and CEO, and who amassed 30+ years experience as a tech investor and tech entrepreneur before pivoting to plant-based meats. There would be no Hungry Planet without his keen vision, tireless dedication, broad skillset and unflappable nature in the face of constant challenges. Such is the nature of a startup; it requires absolutely every tool in your tool chest. When I get frustrated, he always says, “If it were easy, everyone would do it!” I think of him as Hungry Planet®’s Swiss Army Knife, and working together has been an incredible adventure and joy.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a team, we are striving to create a dynamic community that welcomes everyone, including committed carnivores, omnivores, flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans. I’m heartened that people are finally waking up to the fact that eating plant-based — particularly meat that just happens to come directly from plants — is the single most impactful way to make a difference for our health, the planet, and animals. Globally, the meat industry exceeds a staggering $2.4 trillion dollars. It is inefficient, unhealthy, unjust, inhumane and unsustainable. This ginormous market provides a significant opportunity for Hungry Planet to do well by doing good. My wish is that we all regularly ask ourselves, “What kind of ancestor will I choose to be?” How can we proactively create a meaningful, nourishing, just and sustainable planet for ourselves, our progeny, and all sentient beings who also call this amazing blue dot Home? I deeply believe that our daily food choices, including swapping plant-based for conventional meat, are a vote for a world we want to inhabit, and future generations will inherit.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Much harder than anyone can possibly imagine — even if you’ve done the hard work and are perfectly positioned at the right moment in time, in a hot category. My life tends to involve significant daily Zoom hours (I was Zooming long before the pandemic), and one Friday evening my daughter pointed out I’d basically been wearing the same clothes all week. And not in the cool Steve Jobs way. Clearly it was time to step away from screens and do some serious “forest bathing”.
2. Build your support network before you need it. Building great businesses requires great people; it is all about the team. To get started, you need vision, drive, focus, and a wide variety of talents and skills. But, at a certain point, it will become abundantly clear that you need more capability and bandwidth. So, be sure to nurture a strong support network of accomplished, mission-aligned people who can provide advice, provide a lending hand, and help you figure out what you can’t (and shouldn’t) do all by yourself.
3. Running a food company often means you’re too exhausted at the end of the day to ever think about food or cooking again. My kids have been home during the pandemic, and the busier I get, the more frozen meals appear in our freezer. Favorite evenings are when Sophie and Milo surprise me with yummy Thai or Indian food to fill our bellies and insert a much appreciated pause to my day.
4. Being an entrepreneur and building from scratch a mission-based company is rewarding beyond my wildest expectations. As Co-Founder + Chief Purpose Officer, I’m effectively involved in all aspects of our business, working to bridge the gap between intention, purpose and execution. Every day allows me to live and work in alignment with my most deeply held values, and to interact with a growing and capable team. Having worn many hats since the earliest days, I’m particularly grateful for team members with enormous expertise in areas that are critical to our success.
5. When people ask about your exit plan, I say, HUH? Right now all my bandwidth is taken; I’m fully absorbed in executing our three dimensional chess plan for 2021 and 2022. The focus needs to be on building a thriving business, remaining true to our mission, and creating a team capable of bending the curve.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs and lows of being a founder?
Especially during the pandemic, it’s been extra important to not feel isolated, and to rely on family and close friends as touchstones. Our family is close, yet spread across the country, so one silver lining has been regular family Zooms where Todd and I get to see and catch up with our parents and sister. I’ve also been in an awesome book club with the same seven women for two decades, and each time we gather, we laugh ourselves silly. Absolute balm for the soul.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement, that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
That’s the thing; I’m fortunate to be living my dream and working to accomplish just that, every single day, as we continue scaling Hungry Planet in retail, foodservice and ecomm — including increasing numbers of international markets. Food is humankind’s biggest common denominator, and thus our biggest opportunity for positive change. If we can feed 80 billion land animals annually (who wind up on our plates), we can certainly find a way to feed our growing human family of nearly 8 billion.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please connect with me on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/jodyboyman
Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.