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Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
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‘Experiment’ Bites Alt Food CEO

Nothing seems to focus the mind like a criminal charge.

Rob Rhinehart, the 27-year-old chief executive of downtown alternative food maker Soylent, is part of a team that has built a $100 million-plus business, in part, out of his unique vision of how the world can be.

As much as it is about creating Soylent, an alternative to food that allows coders to stay rooted to their chairs, the business is of a part with Rhinehart’s interests in sustainability and environmentally friendly growth.

He’s been at it a while, and along the way, it has been suggested that he wanted to “turn himself into some sort of creepy nerd messiah” (Gizmodo) and that he’s “a guy existing solely on vitamin puke” (Vice).

All well and good. Lots of visionaries have been called worse – some have even been called messiahs.

Some have knocked his product – for its flavor and claims of health benefits – but what really seemed to get his attention was the city of Los Angeles, which, after hearing complaints from neighbors about a shipping container he plunked down on a hilltop he owns in Montecito Heights, ended up filing criminal charges.

It generally takes time to get to the point that the city files criminal charges, and according to press reports Rhinehart met with city officials and agreed to a time line to remove the container, evidently part of an alternative living “experiment,” only to miss the deadline.

And so the four misdemeanors, which together carry penalties of up to $4,000 in fines and – worse for a young entrepreneur – two years in jail.

A contrite Rhinehart then quickly issued an apology and the container is gone from the hilltop. Good for the neighbors and, probably, good for the company.

As we report this week, investors have a deep – albeit not unlimited – patience for entrepreneurs whose eccentricities are seen as part of building a viable business.

Call me whatever you want, just don’t call me late for Soylent, er, dinner.

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