One year ago, Rob Rhinehart was hungry. He was also busy trying to get a wireless networking startup off the ground, and food fell down his list of priorities. In fact, it fell so far down, he came up with the idea of a meal substitute drink that would contain everything the human body needs.
Working on a startup, “you don’t have much time or money and eating well can really be a hassle,” he said. “I decided to take an engineering approach to food and broke it down to the essentials — what would it look like, how would it taste, and if it would work.”
The result was Soylent. The drink is meant to be a nutritional, hassle-free substitute for food. Yes, the name is a nod to the ‘70s sci-fi flick that starring Charlton Heston about a revolutionary new food, but, no, there are no human remains.
While Soylent is designed to provide 100% of the recommended daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals, Rhinehart emphasizes that Soylent isn’t meant to replace all food in your diet. “Eating well is complicated. It takes time and effort,” he said. “We’re offering something that’s affordable, easy to prepare, and healthy.”
In the ultimate product demonstration, Rhinehart himself has been subsisting mostly from Soylent for about a year. “I didn’t discuss Soylent with my family until I first proved I could live on it,” he said.
In April, pending further delays, the company plans to start shipping Soylent to customers. RFI Ingredients, a manufacturer with over two decades of making FDA-approved food products, is under contract to produce and ship the product.
Arriving at the shipment date took a lot of work — and help. The project got a big initial boost after raising more than $2 million on a crowdfunding site now called CrowdtiltOpen, more than 10 times its target goal.
“Our initial goal was $200,000, which we raised within hours,” said Rhinehart, adding that private investors have since pitched in another $1.5 million.
Philip Reicherz, manager partner of venture capital fund Magnolia Ventures, said crowdfunding has revolutionized how entrepreneurs raise the money needed to turn their dreams into reality.
“The benefits are that you are reaching a larger audience with less expense involved,” said Reicherz, whose firm is a seed stage investor that offers crowdfunding solutions. “And the people donating are contributing to a cause or a business that you believe in and are getting the product that you want. “
The recipe for Soylent has also gone through a number of iterations, mostly to improve taste and texture. “My background is tech and I saw food as a form of technology,” said Rhinehart. “It was risky but that is what a startup is for.”
He expects Soylent to start turning a profit within a couple months. The drink is already earning good reviews.
“My family now has tried it and they really like it,” he said.