The New Human and Planetary Health Pioneers | Mayfield x TechCrunch Disrupt

Mammoth Biosciences, co-founded by Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna, is the industry’s first CRISPR platform company. It has already delivered a breakthrough Covid test and has inked partnerships for novel CRISPR diagnostics, therapeutics and biomanufacturing with leading healthcare companies. NotCo is combining artificial intelligence and deep science to re-invent the food industry, starting with a milk alternative product with many more to come. Hear about the founder journey from these breakout companies and tips for scaling your business.

Transcript

Arvind Gupta:

Today, it’s my true pleasure to introduce two of the fastest rising stars in human and planetary health, Matias Muchnick, CEO of NotCo, and Trevor Martin, CEO of Mammoth Biosciences. Mammoth Biosciences, co-founded by Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna, is the industry’s first CRISPR platform company. It has already delivered a breakthrough COVID test and is in partnerships for novel CRISPR products with leading healthcare companies. NotCo is combining artificial intelligence and deep science to reinvent the food industry starting with a milk alternative product with many more to come. Both have recently achieved unicorn status by reinventing their respective industries.

I also have the pleasure of personally knowing both gentlemen for years – Matias through IndieBio and Trevor through Mayfield. I’m excited to hear their thoughts in scaling the next generation bioplatforms for human and planetary health and sharing that with you. So, let’s go ahead and get started with Matias. How is NotCo reinventing our food system?

Matias Muchnick:

Well, Arvind, I think from the get-go, we had this vision of taking the animal out of the equation with food. And consuming food really as it is, right? It’s not only something that keeps us alive, but really something that we enjoy the most. And we’ve sacrificed already too much in this world to actually sacrifice the taste of food. Now, the way we’re creating the food that we love to eat is inefficient, unsustainable, the overuse of resources; water, land, energy, CO2 emissions, you name it. The animal industry has become the major environmental detriments known to humankind. Deforestation, water scarcity, ocean depletion, loss of species, and I can go on. So one of the biggest problematic things that we saw is that we don’t understand food. And the food system has been operating under an obsolete technology for the last 80 years.

So using AI, using science, using technology, how can we create the products that we love, but coming from sustainable sources, such as plant-based ingredients? Now, plant-based ingredients were absolutely unknown. So, there are more than 300,000 species of plants in the world that we have no idea what they can do. And we’re human, so we’re biased, right? We have no idea if the combination of pineapple and cabbage can create the taste of milk. And it does, right? So that’s how we’re utilizing AI to debunk, to hack the system of plants, to really bring all of those tastes and textures that we like in food, and that nutrition, but in very, very sustainable ways. That’s how we’re doing that. In Latin America, we started, and then deploying in the US and Asia and probably more and more regions in the world.

Arvind Gupta:

Amazing. Thanks for that. And Trevor, how is Mammoth reinventing our healthcare system today?

Trevor Martin:

Yeah, at Mammoth, what we’re really excited about is, in short, delivering on the promise of CRISPR. And in particular, what we’ve done at Mammoth is that we’ve built up the world’s largest toolbox of novel CRISPR systems. And if you’ve heard about CRISPR, then you might’ve heard about Cas9 or Cas12a. And these kinds of legacy systems are really doing amazing things. And there’s really exciting work that’s being done. And I think there’s really great therapies that will be created with them, but there are limitations to what they can do. And at Mammoth we’re really all about pushing CRISPR beyond its boundaries and really enabling new types of products with these new proteins. And that’s the foundation of Mammoth, is that kind of CRISPR toolbox of proteins like Cas14 and CasPhi, and others. And then on top of that, we build products and diagnostics and therapeutics. Both internally at Mammoth and with partners. And in diagnostics, what we’re really focused on is really democratizing access to high quality molecular information.

And I think unfortunately, during the pandemic, we’ve seen that it’s actually pretty difficult to get high quality molecular information anytime and anywhere. And you almost face this choice of, do you want a result that’s extremely accurate and molecular, like say a PCR? Or do you want a result that’s very accessible and maybe easier to use like a lateral flow or an antigen or antibody test? But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. And I think what we’re excited about at Mammoth is that you really can design something that has that high molecular accuracy with that more accessible profile, being more similar to a pregnancy test. And I think we’ve seen our diagnostics work accelerated during the pandemic. We’ve gotten lots of great partnerships with organizations like GSK and the NIH who we’re really honored to work with to advance these technologies.

So, that’s one of the things that excites us on the diagnostic side. And on the therapeutic side, what we think is really enabled there, is in particular, permanent genetic cures and in vivo editing. So, in vivo editing means rather than taking cells out of the body and then changing them, and then putting them back in, which is how many of the therapies are done today, what if you actually could edit the cells in the body without having to remove them? And that really opens up a lot of doors about different diseases that could be treated and tackled. And there, we’ve really innovated around what we call these ultra small CRISPR systems. So you can think of it as a little, tiny, compact car versus a huge freight truck in terms of what you’re trying to deliver on a ship or something.

And along with many other kind of interesting innovations from these proteins. And on the diagnostic side, it’s just a totally new way of thinking about CRISPR, where you’re actually using on this property called collateral cleavage to actually amplify and read out a signal. These are both just things people didn’t think were possible or things that CRISPR could do, could be that compact, could do that kind of collateral cleavage. And I think that’s only the beginning of what’s possible is what’s really exciting. And Mammoth is going to continue to innovate in diagnostics and therapeutics, and really is at the forefront of building out this toolbox of what’s possible with the next generation of CRISPR.

Arvind Gupta:

Yeah. Thanks. And it’s amazing what both of you guys have created at this point, right? Both of you have companies that have massive technological platforms that are driving innovation very deeply in your respective industries. But it wasn’t always that way, right? I mean, I’m an inception stage investor and it’s remarkable how different the beginnings are from where things end up going. So, for the audience, I think it’s always nice to hear about these beginnings. So, Matias, we can start with you. Tell me, was there a founding moment? What was it like in the very beginnings of NotCo? Did you think this would happen? I mean, how did you think this would happen?

Matias Muchnick:

I probably would be lying if I said yes. I didn’t think this was going to happen. Now, the vision was less. Now, probably someone told me what getting here was going to take, I would’ve not done it, right? Because it takes so much time, it takes so much effort, so many sacrifices and the chances of failing in the middle are so, so high. And so, how was NotCo? Literally, and I’m not going to see at the beginning, it’s only two years ago. We were valued at $1.5 billion, but let’s not forget what it was two years ago. I was calling the guy who was delivering cases in the supermarket, if the cases were right or wrong. And so, that only happened two years ago. So, the unicorn status, or wherever we are right now, Trevor and I, doesn’t imply that we’re not operating this company, we’re analyzing the strategy where we need to go, right?

But at the beginning it’s a vision. It’s a team aiming to execute what the vision is. And building, in the building blocks of what do you really need to do in order to become a billion dollar company? And sometimes you fail miserably on those building blocks, because they weren’t the building blocks that you needed to do and construct in order to get where we are, right? So, at the beginning, it’s very purpose driven. It’s very visionary, but if I need to give any advice, it is that vision and that romantic speech has to be mandatory, converted into execution by an A-team. And the team makes, and people make companies. Not anything else. You can have the best product in the world, if you don’t have a great execution, then the company is not going to fly at all. So, I think those three things, what NotCo has done to become the company that produces products faster, better, more accurate, and less costly than anyone in this space. Nothing more than that.



Arvind Gupta:

Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. And I was very privileged to see some of those beginnings. And Trevor, tell me about how Mammoth came together and how, how it happened for you.

Trevor Martin:

Yeah. Mammoth is a rare Stanford-Berkeley team-up.

Arvind Gupta:

Yeah, Rare.

Trevor Martin:

Being graduate students, maybe, by a little bit, lessened the rivalry. But yeah, no, I think to one of the points Matias mentioned, it really all comes down to sharing that same vision of what’s possible. Whether you think you can achieve it, or how crazy it is, maybe the crazier the better, but I think that’s really what draws you together, and then what binds you for the journey. Because yeah, there’s going to be ups, of course, but then there’s going to be big downs. And, I also agree with Matias as well that, markers on valuation, like unicorn stuff are exciting and should be celebrated, but they’re really just markers of other more important value that’s being created. And it’s also just the beginning, right? I think when you have these kind of, really crazy visions about the impact you can have, that’s still early days, frankly, for what these companies can accomplish.

And I think that what’s really cool is that you don’t want to lose sight of what you’ve accomplished, but also that’s just building a stronger and stronger foundation for really tackling these really audacious goals that maybe you didn’t even think you could get to at the beginning of it. And for us, what really bound us together was this idea of delivering on the promise of CRISPR and really saying, “Can we leverage something that’s really fundamental science? And as quickly as possible, bring that through to actually diagnostics and therapeutics that can benefit patients?” And that’s a very audacious goal in itself and a huge journey. And I think you have to be a little bit crazy to think you can do that, especially with brand new technologies that are coming right out of the lab. But I think that’s what’s exciting about startups and what makes Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley.

And now I think that mentality is becoming more global, which is awesome, is that idea of just why not you and why not now, right? And yeah, it’s going to be really hard and there are going to be many, many failures, right? It doesn’t guarantee success, but really having that opportunity, I think is one of the most exciting things.

Arvind Gupta:

Right. Yeah, well I’m glad that the people can hear that you guys even, both of you building these large companies that are just getting larger and tackling bigger problems, started somewhere. It’s hard to remember that sometimes. 

And so, I always say that that platforms aren’t products, and people buy products, right? But founders go and talk to investors about, “We have a platform. It can do all of these things.” It’s always interesting, this tension between this whole platform idea versus, “Hey, we’re going to have this product and a singular focus.” We’ll start again with you Matias, how did you create focus for NotCo and choosing NotMilk, or some of the products that you have? What I first tasted, the NotMayo? How’d you choose those products versus the literally infinite other products you could have made?

Matias Muchnick:

Yeah. It’s always a matrix of decisions. There are different dimensions of complexities in the decision-making of what’s the next product to actually launch. Now the important thing is to really say no to 75% of what you’re thinking you’re going to launch. And really achieving the 25%, because that’s literally the 80/20 rule of startups, right? We had the idea, and you tasted it. There are probably products in the market that we’ve prototyped in the past that never reached the market. And they didn’t reach the market because we said, “Okay guys, what’s the mission of NotCo really in this world, right?” It’s to move the needle of sustainability. It’s to move the needle of the CO2 emissions. How are we going to do that? Is this going to be throughout a cheese? A yogurt? A Nutella? It’s going to be with milk, Right?

Where’s the biggest opportunity, as well, in the market, right? Who are the first movers? So there’s many dimensions, but what is the complexity of scaling this product, right? Who are the players? Why are we better? What’s the value proposition? Is it clear or no? What’s the market feed of products? So there’s many, many layers of complexity as you might sound, but there’s an underlying gut feeling that drives a lot of what the entrepreneurship spirit is. If you’re analyzing absolutely all the data, let me tell you, you’re not the first one to do that. You know? People have been drawn by the data and understood that data before you did. But, that’s what entrepreneurship really is, that gut feeling of there’s something there that no one else, even the data, is not telling you, right? So you need that spirit as well. So it’s a very good combination between rationality and the gut feeling, or the intuition of an entrepreneur.

Arvind Gupta:

That’s amazing, that you don’t hear that very often, this idea of, “oh, there’s all this data out there,” but really, if you don’t trust your gut, that data can lead you astray. And Trevor, with Mammoth, it’s an incredible platform of technology. How are you navigating the future and choosing what to do, and what not to do?

Trevor Martin:

Yeah, I think saying no is the hardest thing. And that’s also the most important thing when you have a platform, because, there’s the common adage that startups are more likely to die of indigestion than starvation. And I think, there’s definitely some qualifiers on that, around, I think it is good at the right stage of the company to really open up and explore. But I think you need to know when is the time to then constrain the exploration and really focus down on a product, because the product does make the platform, at the end of the day. And I think that intuition going to that gut idea. I don’t know if data will ever necessarily get you there. You definitely want to have as much data as possible. And you don’t want to just blindly make these decisions, but, yeah, you can definitely fall into analysis paralysis.

And at the end of the day, is that intuition around when is the time to go from exploration to focus? And maybe back to exploration in other areas, and just a constant cycle of trying to determine that. And I think that’s one of the most important skills that any platform company, really, is being able to strike that balance.

Arvind Gupta:

Yeah. Got it. And so, both of you guys have recently achieved unicorn status, which is something that all founders are looking forward to. And, as a milestone, as a marker, right? It’s not the end, it’s not the goal, but it’s a marker in the journey of entrepreneurship, and in the maturation of a company. So I’ll ask the same question to both of you guys, right? What keeps you going when you hit this milestone? And is there a vision that you’re trying to get to, or is that vision always changing and moving? Kind of like the horizon, right? As you chase, it just keeps staying in the distance. How do you manage this? And what keeps you going through all this? Matias, you go first.

Matias Muchnick:

Yeah. I mean, it’s a great question to which, unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer to. I think there’s a combination of things that keeps me going. I founded this company to move the needle. If we’re not in a report of sustainability saying, “Hey guys, you know what, in the world, the CO2 emissions have been reduced because you have NotCo,” we’re not ready. We haven’t complied with the mission. So what keeps us going is the purpose of why we created this company. It’s the mission why we created this company. More importantly than professional or economic development of myself or the management team or the founders, that’s not the case. It’s very mission-driven. It’s very purposed. And, every time we’re going and climbing this mountain, we see another mountain and another mountain and another mountain. And you need to enjoy the ride, and being on the top of the mountain, it’s pretty unbelievable to look around and say, “Holy hell, what did we do to get here?” It’s amazing. So, yeah.

Arvind Gupta:

Oh, that’s great. Trevor, what about you?

Trevor Martin:

Yeah, no, I think if you enjoy what you do, it is like the horizon. You’ll always fall into that, it’s not a trap, but it’s like, you’ll always have, as soon as you achieve something, that’s old news. And now, there’s something else like, “Ah, if I just get that done, then I’ll feel like we’ve had more of an impact.” But yeah, I think for us, it really is down to the potential of CRISPR. And there’s so many thousands and thousands of diseases that could be diagnosed and cured, and we could spend the rest of ten lives working on that. And I think that’s why we also do things not just internally, but work with partners to try and scale our ability to have that type of impact. And in general, if we can just keep having cures and keep having diagnostics, I don’t think anyone on the team will ever get tired of that, basically.

Especially if we can always be innovating on the backend and just constantly pushing the envelope of what’s possible. And I think in terms of what keeps us going, I know for me personally, it’s the team that you work with, right. I mean, that’s probably true for anything, whether it’s personal life or professional life, as long as you work with people that you respect and you think are really awesome and invigorate you, you could probably do literally anything for decades. So I think that’s a really key part of any startup growth, as well as building that team that you just want to go in the trenches with no matter what.

Arvind Gupta:

Yeah. It’s kind of interesting, you guys both said it at different times, but I think the secret to the success that both of you have in completely different industries are common, right? Incredible team, and an incredible vision of the change you want to create in the world. That’s been clear from this conversation, from my perspective. There’s no wavering on what it is that both of you are setting out to do and being surrounded by people that you love and are capable of making it happen. Well, I think we’re out of time here, unfortunately. I can keep going with you guys forever, but thank you so much for making the time to join me and talk to the audience at TechCrunch. And I hope everyone learned as much from it as I did and had as good a time as me. Thank you guys again.

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