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COVID19 for Gold at Cannes Lions

On why we choose not to contribute to the Corona crisis. What we set out to do and why we are doubling down.

Life was good

After having spent years solving problems for people who don’t have problems in the first place, 3 months ago, we founded Equilibrium Ventures with the sole purpose of addressing existential threats. We think these threats should be seen as opportunities and an inspiration for a new breed of business.

As the focus of our first model under the Equilibrium we chose food loss; a top 3 driver of climate change also referred to as “The world’s dumbest problem.”

Future Kitchens is addressing that problem, turning over-produced fruit and veggies into healthy yet convenient soups, baby food and sauces amounting to a total market of ~200B USD. In the past 3 months we’ve been working day and night, conducting (questionable) experiments with drying techniques, risking our  lives in experimental tasting sessions and signing pilot deals to get a Minimum Viable Product in the bellies of customers A.S.A.P. Life was good.

And then the virus hit

And then the virus hit … and then 2 weeks passed … and then the seriousness of it all hit us. Our office campus got very restricted, the planned pilot was rendered trivial, the prospect of a normal high-risk-early-stage startup seemed like a walk-in-the-park compared to what we were all facing now…

Being restless entrepreneurs, we consequently spent the next 7 days and nights plowing through all the available research and credible forecasts in a sea of incredibleness, looking for the best possible way for us to contribute.

Should we convert the soup proposition into one that delivers emergency food packs with a long shelf life? Should we provide a way for the public to support our healthcare workers? Should we pause the soup model altogether and kickstart a model that focuses on Corona specifically?

We went full circle only to conclude that the best way for us to contribute is to keep focussing on what we started 3 months ago. (Albeit slightly adjusted.)

COVID19 as the ultimate awareness campaign for the pandemic threat

The list of existential threats – which is Equilibrium’s raison-d’être – has been featuring the failure to manage pandemic threats for quite some time. Alongside technological disruption, nuclear holocaust, global warming and other Sunday afternoon strolls. All of which have had their own little awareness campaigns throughout recent history, yet never have they been prioritized like we’re now prioritizing the battle against Corona, of course to no surprise.

In a very morbid way, this is good news for the pandemic threat as the breakthrough innovation brought forth by ~4B connected, computer-aided brains will not disappoint, neither will the amount of resources that will be allocated to this threat in the years to come.

However, we should avoid getting served more of these campaigns worthy of Golden Cannes Lions and can’t afford to lose focus on the other domains on that list! 

To everyone working on those topics,  I would like to urge you all to keep at it and don’t lose focus. And to people who – in the midst of this crisis – realize they could be working on more meaningful stuff, CONSIDER THIS YOUR CALLING. There’s a plethora of interesting causes to choose from and although the numbers are growing, we’re still small fish in the vast ocean of mainstream business.

Doubling down

Uncertainty is not just a nuisance startup founders can’t avoid, it is an integral part of what allows startups to be successful.
– Jerry Neumann, Founder of Neu Venture Capital

So how do we cope with the weeks and months to come? Well, we re-assessed the riskiest assumptions in our business model, figured out which planned experiments still stand despite the virus and redesigned experiments that were broken.

Resulting in the following 3 things we’ll be doing differently:

  • Direct to consumer packs instead of office dispensers

We had planned to do a B2B pilot for 3 companies for a 3 month period, starting May 1, with soup (powder) dispensers installed at the offices. For obvious reasons this would not be very smart, so we decided to postpone the in-office pilot and do a B2B2C pilot instead, sending soup packs to the homes of the employees instead.

  • Doubling down on ingredient sourcing

The whole idea behind Future Kitchens is to only use (good quality) ingredients that – for whatever reason – don’t match the demand. Although supermarkets are currently overwhelmed, our research of the past few days has shown that this crisis will bring forth some unusual excess fruit and vegetable streams. We will try to harness these streams and -within our means – save what can be saved. To this end, we also submitted a pitch to a “Call for excess produce during the Corona crisis”, published on Starthubs.co.

  • Doubling down on backend development

With both soft- and hardware components, the backend part of the vision is by far the most challenging. We initially planned to fully validate the frontend first and only then jump to the backend – de-risking our model sequentially – but given the current opportunities in the job market, we decided to de-risk frontend and backend in parallel and hire backend talent (vacancy to be published).

COVID19 reinforced the idea that what we’re working on, matters. That – come hell or high water – we keep our focus. Without guilt or regret but with profound compassion towards everyone who is throwing herself into the battle, we keep doing what we set out to do. And what about you? What is your problem worth solving?