Q&A with Wild Earth’s Ryan Bethencourt

Ryan is the founder and CEO of Wild Earth, a clean protein, sustainable pet food company for dog lovers.

Briefly introduce us to Wild Earth and your journey to founding the company. 

Back in 2017, I was investing and building companies at IndieBio.  While there, I became obsessed with the idea of creating “the Impossible Meats of pet food”, and while there was a ton of innovation focused on fresh dog food, there wasn’t any company tackling a plant-based angle.

From there, I left IndieBio and started Wild Earth and we took two years to perfect or formula and science, which creates a high protein dog food by combining yeast and plants, and we launched about a year ago.

How do you balance and utilize working both as a CEO and Partner of a VC firm? 

I spend my days as a CEO, and my evenings & weekends as a VC Partner. I recently started a fund focused on sustainable food, and we raised $2M in commitments which has allowed me to cut little checks via a rolling fund.  The two skill sets and responsibilities are symbiotic, and while incredibly difficult, it creates a sum that is greater than its parts.   

What do you think is the most important part of a business to get right first?

It’s always the people. If you choose the right people, they will solve almost anything. If you choose the wrong people, they can’t solve anything.  

What is more difficult, being a pet food or a plant-based company?

Being a pet food company.  We have 100+ competitors and counting. 

Also, we are a digital-first company, so we fight in a different lane than the legacy dog food brands. That comes with a host of other challenges, whether its customer acquisition, fulfillment, what have you.  But it also allows us to create a stronger community, have a more nimble business model, and create a product and experience that delights our customers in a more personalized, human way. 

If you could join the crew from Inception and implant one fact or idea into the minds of consumers, what would it be?

Dogs aren’t carnivores; dogs are omnivores. Many dog food companies feature a wolf on their packaging, but dogs co-evolved with humans. Whatever we’re eating, dogs should be eating too!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?

Take psychedelics.  

What’s your favorite embarrassing story about yourself?

Going on Shark Tank and being told I was an idiot by all the sharks (except Mark Cuban) in front of 3.8 million people. 

What fictional character do you identify with?

I identify more so with a scene rather than a character.  It’s the scene in the Matrix when Neo goes to see The Oracle, and the kid teaches him that there is no spoon. It was such a powerful moment for me because I think there are times when we believe things to be true, but it’s just an illusion of our minds.

I feel like I identified with all three critical moments in the scene: (the before) Neo when there is no spoon, (the after) Neo when he realizes there is no spoon and he can bend it with his mind, and the kid who reveals to him the illusion.  Once you realize that “there is no spoon”, you want to share the message with others. 

The takeaway is that what we see around us is actually just a bunch of photons reflecting off of surfaces.  From that we construct images with the “software” in our brains, but when this “software” isn’t working properly you may see a hat rather than a face.  So, once you realize that you control how you interact with your thoughts and perceptions, you can escape the matrix.  

[Tidbit: one of my favorite stoic axioms is ‘happiness is purely the quality of your thoughts.’]

Also, one of my favorite books is Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.  

The theme of the book essentially boils down to the fact that most of humanity is caught up in these finite games; there’s a winner and a loser…but you don’t have to play other peoples games.  

If you are losing in a game, play a different game or change the board.  The whole point of a game is to continue playing.

Often, when we are faced with obstacles or things go wrong, we think something is happening to us.  But, when we reflect on these moments later on, we tend to find that it actually happened for us.  What is one such example you have of this?

When my wife and I were seriously dating, she went on a retreat and took some psychedelics and had a terrible reaction to it. She entered a psychotic state, lost her mind for about a month and was in the hospital.  It was one of the most painful periods of time in my life. The doctors couldn’t answer my questions, and we had no idea if she would survive. 

While this was going on, we were launching a new product at Wild Earth.  It was an inflection point for the business. If anything was going to break me, with everything going on, this was it.  

But, what saved me was that during that time I read a lot of stoicism and buddhism reflections about suffering.  Part of why we suffer in life is because we don’t accept change. 

You use to be healthy and now you are not. 

You used to have a partner and now they are not. 

You wished things are different and now you are different.  

The only thing guaranteed in life is that we will lose everything that we value.  And to resist that is to blindly accept suffering. 

It was a powerful month and a half that I had to reflect on loss and one of the books that really helped me was Team of Rivals about Abraham Lincoln and the losses he had to face.  His first love died.  His children died during his time in office.  His wife fell into an endless abyss of grief.  But, he continued on and ran the United States during its most trying and consequential moment.  Even so, at the end of over day he would go into his room and cry.  But the next morning, he would get up and go do his job.   

Suffering is the resistance to change.  

What is a memento from your childhood that you still keep and how does it serve you?

I don’t have any physical items, but I’ve kept up a love for science fiction. Growing up, I had difficulty reading because I am dyslexic. My mother introduced me to science fiction, and I fell in love.  It really shaped some of my first insights about the world. Science fiction enabled me to develop a mindset that doesn’t subscribe to certain constraints, and I think about things from a long term, causal perspective as a result. Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein has especially made me think a ton about longevity, and I highly recommend it. 

What is your creative outlet and how does it help you channel a flow state?

I used to paint, but now I occasionally write. Nowadays my creativity is channeled into building things in the world — I view business as form of creative expression. 

What is one daily ritual that you cannot live without?

Social Media. I love the instant access to information around the world that it grants us. I check social media in the mornings and have truly curated my Twitter page to show exactly what I find exciting and interesting. 

What is the last: 

TV show you binged?

The Latest Star Trek. 

Movie you watched?

The Joker. 

Song you listened to?

Amazing by Kanye West. 

Podcast you listened to?

20 Minute VC Harry Stebbings. 

Tides of History by Wondry. 

Book you read?

The First and Last Man (from the 1930s) the founder of Stripe recommends it in his list of books.  At first it was really terrible but now I understand it as it’s the history of humanity but seeing from the perspective of someone from the 1930s.  

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