What about Soylent as a non-profit organization?


#1

So listen here.

About about the company being a non-profit organization?

With an initial investment (Kickstarter?) you can make the company headquarters. There, many things would be going on:

  • Research on nutrition for a better formula, ways of consumption, etc
  • Research of providers for minerals, vitamins and all nutrients
  • Research of an automated Soylent mixing machine that can make batches of per-person tuned Soylent mixture
  • Research of Soylent packaging
  • Marketing and awareness of Soylent
  • Business deals with other companies, like hospitals, governments, that would greatly benefit from Soylent
  • All the other stuff a normal company would do

Here is where the fun part begins.

The Soylent-making-distribution centers. We would need at least one of those with an automated Soylent mixing machine, a planned organizational structure for distribution and contracts with raw ingredients manufacturers. Such planning, and the arrangement with manufacturers, should also be handled in the headquarters.

But how do we decide where the distribution centers are founded? We let the people who are going to be buying Soylent decide. Much like kickstarter, a web app could be made to let people “back” each distribution center, selecting a region/city anywhere in the world. Each distribution center would have a certain calculated cost to build and kickstart, when the cost is fully backed by contributors, a new distribution center arises.

Also, not only the cost should be backed, also the amount of people, because if one person donates 100,000 dollars to fund a distribution center, and the he’s the only customer, it wouldn’t be able to sustain itself in the long run.

People should also be able to change the money backed from one distribution center to another. Let’s say you started backing the distribution center in your city, but the distribution center of one city near you is 90% backed, so you could change your money from one to the other.

The cost of the Soylent would be based on the relative cost of each distribution center (raw ingredients costs, country/state taxes, salaries for the people who must work there, organization costs, etc), plus one part for the Soylent headquarters, to pay for the research, salaries, and all the company stuff needed.

To buy Soylent each person would just have to enter a web app, change the nutritional data, select the distribution center where he wants it to be made, select the batch size, and pay for the Soylent plus shipping. Or if you are buying Soylent for a broader audience (Donations? Hospitals? Shelters?) you could buy a large quantity of a fixed set of formulas for the target audience (children, elderly, pregnant women, etc).

This way everyone benefits from Soylent, everyone would have access, and you could also get a lot of help from governments, international organizations, and other companies to help Soylent go global, specially important for underdeveloped countries. You would literally have the opportunity to end world hunger and malnourishment with the right approach.

What do you think?


#2

The big problem is that a not for profit soylent organization would have to rely on government and similar help, as there are largely uncontrollable costs involved in making an actual product, and…


Well, governments are slow. It would take a long time for something like this really to take off.
In my opinion Rob should do the company he is probably already doing, make Soylent, sell it for a profit.
If he uses most of that profit to do research or to bring Soylent to the 3rd world, great, and I’m confident he will! But even if not, even if he uses Soylent to become rich, more than enough people will benefit from it. :slight_smile:


#3

As I said, the cost of maintaining the company would be calculated and added to the price paid for each Soylent batch in each distribution center across the world. So you wouldn’t need to rely on governments, but governments and international organizations could help “back” new distribution centers and pay for Soylent in underdeveloped zones. Most of the organization would be paid by individuals who buy Soylent themselves. The cost of running the company is directly added to the Soylent sold.


#4

My apologies for being unclear - I wasn’t talking about organizational costs.
I was talking about buying ingredients and fixing or replacing broken machines.
Any not for profit organization would be on a very strict budget, so it would be very hard to adapt to changing ingredient prices, fix/replace machines as mentioned, or deal with a lawsuit - which can and will come with a health/food product.


#5

Everything could be considered in the international added price. You could make a money reserve to deal with all the inconveniences. The only difference between a profit and a non profit organization is that the profit organization would distribute the earnings with the shareholders at the end of the year. The nonprofit organization would just use/reinvest the surplus in the company.

Mozilla (and a lot of other companies) have done it pretty well, and they don’t even have a product for people to pay for! Soylent is something people buy, the company would get money proportional to the amount of Soylent sold.

Also, a machine breaking down would be responsibility of the distribution center, not the headquarters, and the cost of repairing would go to the people who buys on that distribution center. Although of course, measures should be taken to ensure the amount of consumers in the distribution center stay over a certain threshold.


#6

Also, some ideas. If a distribution center reaches a certain threshold where it cannot pay for itself with the amount of customers it has, then it closes down. The headquarters would just keep paying for the distribution center property taxes of the building. And the distribution center would go back to “backing” until it met a certain amount of people and money to kickstart it again.


#7

For starters, this is a terrible business model. It ensures that distribution centers will primarily weighted towards areas where food scarcity is not an issue. It also removes control from the non-profit and puts it in the hands of the donors. If the non-profit realizes that Cambodia gets the most benefit from Soylent, but donors favor another area, they don’t have opportunity to put it where it would do the most good. Moreover, purchasing Soylent for yourself would be dependent on having internet access, capital, credit cards, and so forth, making it hard for people to do.

Also, and I’m sincerely asking here, have you ever been to any “underdeveloped countries?” The commerce surrounding food makes up a huge amount of their economy. The people growing food for local sale, cooking, baking, selling, transporting, and so on, all make their living that way. Introducing a new miracle food substance generously given by middle class white saviors from America could literally decimate entire areas, leaving people dependent on it, until the do-gooders grow bored and move on to the next charitable thing, leaving the people worse off than when they started.

The problem of hunger is political, not technical. Until you solve the political problems, world hunger isn’t going away.


#8

I think that instead, a worker cooperative situation would be better. That way people in local communities can take part if they want to by starting up their own branches, but they have much more freedom in decision making, and the democratic process will foster more creativity. Plus, it will help local economies grow by keeping money local, and by creating more equality between workers. It would kind of just be an extension of what we’ve been doing here- working together to brainstorm and discuss ideas for everything from ingredients to logos to marketing (to business model). Also, since Soylent is such a forward thinking, futuristic company, it would only make sense it would help create a future of worker equality through worker coops.


#9

First, Rob is entitled to profiting from this. He is the founder, he gets to decide what to do with the product. This thread seems to envision Soylent as a socialist “for the greater good” product, when it is not necessarily so. There are too many people in the community who seem offended at the thought that Rob might want to get rich with this.

Disclaimer aside, how exactly is a non-profit model better than a for-profit private or public venture? I don’t see anything in your post that can’t be done with a more independent and flexible model that also does justice to the creator of the thing. A successful company would be able to grow faster than a slow non-profit where a long donation and voting process is required, and any inadequacy in the speed of spreading as opposed to demand could be made up for by potential competitors.


#10

Non-profits don’t always require government assistance. Look at WGU, a non-profit university.

If Rob sets up a company for Soylent, and it becomes a corporation, the goal of the corporation would be to make money. Simple as that. There are actual laws (in America) that actually say a corporation with stockholders that it must do whatever it can to profit.


#11

I disagree with the general sentiment that signing articles of incorporation makes an entity evil. The larger corporations have to make a lot of money because that is what it takes for them to survive. If you look at the overall profit margins for an oil, pharmaceutical, or car company you will see that they are quite reasonable. Faceless corporations are easy to hate, but it’s also easy to find the good that their research or social arms are doing. It’s a precarious balance, but companies sacrifice profit for sustainability or public good all the time.

The problem is not incorporation it’s inefficiency. If you have operating costs of 10 billion you will have to make that back somehow or die. There is an amount of greed and loss of freedom, especially with a public company but that is certainly not a concern here.

I would like to run Soylent as more of a social business than a non-profit. I do not think a non-profit business model is optimal for productivity. People should be rewarded for their contributions, and driven by more than just money, but there is nothing immoral about profit. Running for profit would give more fuel for research, especially long term projects, allow better hiring, and more subsidizing of aid programs.

I would like to see a future where a company’s value is not just measured in its finances, but even today I think any well run company should be able to create value in multiple ways, including pecuniary.


#12

The really interesting question is:
How do we get in? :smiley: