Soylent, a downtown L.A. subscription-based meal replacement company

Employees: 25

Financials: Profitable, recently raised $20 million Series A funding round

Los Angeles has a well-earned reputation as one of the world’s most innovative food cities. But it’s also home to a company that, while certainly innovative, is on the forefront of the opposite of fine dining.

Soylent, which raised $3 million through crowdfunding and recently closed a $20 million Series A round led by famed Menlo Park venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, aims to provide nutritionally complete meals to people not interested in going through the hassle of preparing them.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a company with that mission was co-founded by four 20-something dudes. Its one and only product is a vegan, shelf-stable powdered drink mix that has a color and consistency similar to pancake batter – or plaster, depending on whom you ask.

It’s made of a blend of ingredients designed to provide a complete balanced meal, including rice protein, oat flour and sunflower oil. Since it was launched in 2013, Soylent has shipped more than 3 million meals.

The company actually started almost by accident: Chief Executive Rob Rhinehart and Chief Operating Officer Matt Cauble had moved to San Francisco to work on a cell-tower startup, which wasn’t working. The other co-founders, David Renteln and John Coogan, were involved with educational technology. As Rhinehart worked to develop other software ideas before his seed money ran out, he was tired of expending the brain energy – and money – necessary to come up with balanced meals.

“I had the idea of this engineered staple-food product,” Rhinehart said. “I started using it myself and I felt great.”

That product became Soylent. The company moved first to a Studio City house in late 2013 and to its current downtown L.A. headquarters earlier this year. Los Angeles offered access to research universities such as UCLA and Caltech, which spin off food scientists, as well as a big, diverse market. But just as importantly, it also had real estate that was priced favorably, at least compared with San Francisco.

“It was considerably more affordable,” Rhinehart said. “We were looking for office space, residential space and industrial space.

While it’s easy to pigeonhole Soylent as food for computer nerds, Rhinehart said the company serves a much wider customer base that includes truck drivers and artists as well as, yes, engineers.

“When you look at the sales data, we see people from all walks of life,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of movement in Middle America.”

Rhinehart said Soylent, with its nontraditional customer base for what’s essentially a Silicon Valley tech startup, has even dragged some folks into the Internet age. He recently helped an older customer purchase Soylent – which was the first time the customer had ever made an online purchase.

To Rhinehart, providing cheap, nutritious food for busy people Soylent sells for about $3 per meal – has become as much a mission as a job, which is evident in the way he talks about the firm’s “ethos” of making an easy, healthy and affordable food product. Also, he and his team of entrepreneurs couldn’t imagine working for anyone else.

“Maybe if my personality changes,” Coogan said.

– Matt Pressberg

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