(@tgoetz) is an
entrepreneur and journalist. He
his digital health
startup and now
serves as chief of
research at GoodRx.
THOMAS GOETZ ; LAUNCHPAD
What’s Stopping You
From Startıng a Business?
Pat Brown didn’t plan on creating Impossible Foods.
But the opportunity was too compelling to resist.
But he could tell potential investors, with complete conviction:
To say Pat Brown is unconventional is to say that cows moo.
What I am proposing is going to make you even more obscenely
rich than you already are. “I didn’t say it in quite those words,”
he notes, “but I knew that this was something that was going to
be incredibly successful. And that worked.”
Oh, yeah. Starting with a $9 million round in 2011, Impos-
sible has raised nearly $750 million, including $300 million in
May. It is now valued at more than $2 billion.
But it’s important to celebrate him, because, though few of us
are as smart, many of us are possessed of the same inspiration.
We just lack the conviction that we’re the entrepreneurial type.
Yet many of the best founders don’t have an MBA—what they
have is a sense of opportunity, a hunch that they’re on to something the rest of the world hasn’t quite spotted. Something they
can’t let pass by. I was inspired by Pat to take my own leap
away from a secure job and hatch my own startup.
Part of his success is that he’s honest about his capabilities.
He has hired well, including a terrific operations team and an
ace CFO whom he calls an “investor whisperer.” How did he
know he could survive moving from scientist to CEO? He
figured that, given the scope of the meat problem (massive and
global), few people would actually go about trying to solve it.
He’s not a guy who places limits on himself, and that’s his
at Brown isn’t an inventor
message. “There’s a big phenomenon of people self-censoring,
worrying about the imposter syndrome,” Brown says. “They
He pauses to take a big bite of burger. “There’s no road map
for what we’re doing,” he continues. “But someone has to solve
this problem.” He figures it might as well be him.
so much as a reinventor. He
sees something that works,
but not well, and figures out
how to do the same thing,
only a lot better. And, along
the way, he’s reinvented
himself into perhaps the
most unlikely entrepreneur
in Silicon Valley.
Brown trained as a pedia-
A decade later, he saw a vastly greater ine;ciency: meat.
trician but, seeing that
genetics figure prominently
in diseases such as cancer,
repurposed himself as a scientific researcher. Within a few
years, he’d created something called the DNA microarray, a
technology that has allowed scientists to better study genetic
code. It was a breakthrough, and for most people that would be
a career peak. Not Pat. In 2001, frustrated by limited worldwide
access to scientific research, he co-founded the Public Library
of Science, a radical revision of academic publishing.
Raising and killing animals, he realized, is an environmentally
expensive way to produce protein, demanding tremendous
amounts of water, land, and energy. “There’s a $1.6 trillion
global meat and poultry market being served by prehistoric
technology,” he fumes. So Pat, then at Stanford, ditched
academics for startup life. Today, he’s the founder and CEO
of Impossible Foods, a company that’s reinventing meat.
Unlike entrepreneurs who tally their startups like animal
heads mounted in a man cave, Brown wasn’t looking to
add founder to his résumé. “I couldn’t have imagined myself
doing this,” he told me over a lunch of Impossible burgers in
Redwood City, California. “But the most powerful, subversive
tool on earth is the free market. If you can take a problem and
figure out a solution that involves making consumers happier,
And so, in 2011, and nearing 60, he launched Impossible
Foods. First, he needed investors. “My actual pitch, if you
showed it to a business school class, would’ve had people
rolling in the aisles because it was so amateurish,” he admits.