Musk - Tesla, SpaceX and now... food?!
Kimbal Musk is confident and relaxed when he slips up on stage at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum, which recently took place at the Clarion Hotel Sign in Stockholm. Wearing a cowboy hat and a broad Texas styled cowboy belt, he told the audience about his views on the food industry and how to improve it on a large scale. We sat down with him after his keynote speech for a long conversation about food, Tesla, and other ways to improve this world. It is the first time he is in Sweden and he is not as well-known as his brother Elon, but he still stands out among the participants, even though the guests and participants include royalty, renowned professors and leaders from big international corporations. He has gone from being a super entrepreneur in the tech industry to change and improve the food industry.
That the Musk brothers have become world famous in recent years is no understatement. Big brother Elon is obviously the most famous of the two by being the founder of companies as Tesla and SpaceX, but the two have hooked arms in different companies since they created their first company together in the mid 90s. Zip2 became the brothers' big break when it was sold to Compaq for over $ 300 million in 1999. Then they became icons in the tech world. Brother Elon went ahead and created the company x.com who later became well-known PayPal and sold to Ebay for about $1.5 billion dollars 2002. Kimbal has been involved as an investor, partner and board member in the other businesses, Tesla and SpaceX, since their beginning. He is still on the boards of SpaceX and Tesla, but apart from that he today concentrates on improving the world through something he is truly passionate about; food.
"I never thought that my interest in food, which I had since childhood, would become a career. I saw it only as a hobby but I wanted to get really good at my hobby. Therefore, I decided to take a break from the tech industry, settle down in New York and educate myself to become a chef."
On September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City took place, Kimbal got an opportunity to cook for all the firefighters who worked at the area.
"To serve food to firefighters during that day was something that changed me profoundly. To see them, colleagues and close friends, come together and share a meal together during a break, after having been out trying to save people's lives while risking their own, was an experience that it is impossible to describe with words."
Kimbal opened his first restaurant, The Kitchen, in Colorado in 2004, with a clear focus on sustainability. As an example, the restaurant was run entirely on solar energy and all waste was recycled. He developed it over the next few years but it was not until 2011 that he decided to fully invest his time and efforts in food. During 2006-2011 he was CEO of yet another tech company that was sold successfully and he later felt then that it was time to leave, at least on an operational level, the industry that had made him extremely successful and wealthy.
"I've always liked the tech industry but I have also always loved food. There is a huge difference between liking something and loving something. If you do something you love, and compare it with something you like, it's like eating sawdust."
Today, The Kitchen evolved into a successful restaurant chain and has been praised lots of times for their extremely clear sustainability focus. As a true Musk he just doesn´t want to build a successful restaurant chain. A large scaling potential and impact maker is to early connect kids to real authentic food by creating gardens for educational purposes in schools across America. The gardens are built up to give the children, our future leaders and decision makers, an understanding of food, healthy eating, lifestyle choices, and the environment. Kimbal is also trying to change the curriculum in schools to make it mandatory to learn these things early. If kids learn then they will do the right thing for this planet. The gardens today reaches several 100,000's of children every week and the money comes, in large part, from the profits from the restaurant chain.
How do you quickly improve the world's food production and consumption to achieve the great objectives of sustainability? Through big companies that will take the flag or perhaps through politics? Kimbal answer on these questions:
"There is only one group that will do it quickly enough and on a massive scale. Not big businesses and certainly not politicians but the entrepreneurs. What makes me positive that we will see a tremendous positive change and improvement in the world in the coming years is that venture capital is starting to come into this area on a bigger scale and, perhaps above all, the younger generation's focus on purpose. Millenials want to have meaning in what they do. More resources to entrepreneurs dedicated to change the world for the better and a younger generation that demands meaning and purpose; these two factors will make all the difference."
Musk has been right before.
EAT Stockholm Food Forum is a part of the initiative EAT Foundation founded by Stordalen Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The three organizations are using their unique range of experience in health, science, politics and sustainability, to convene the world's foremost experts and decision-makers together to change the way we produce and consume food. The vision of the EAT is a transformation of the global food system in a sustainable way to feed a healthy population of nine billion people by mid-century. Two of the founders of this platform are our Nordic "rock stars" in sustainability; Dr. A Gunhild Stordalen and Professor Johan Rockström.
Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf, EAT