Announcing The Urgent Company
Back in January 2020 — in what now feels like a different world entirely — Perumal and I drove a couple hours down the coast for a meeting with a regional ice cream distributor in California.
There was no formal agenda. The folks at this company had heard great things about Perfect Day’s animal-free ice cream, and we simply wanted to share samples and maybe learn a thing or two about how the ice cream market works.
We brought some pints in plain, white containers, straight from our demo kitchen in Emeryville. They were unmarked, apart from sample IDs scrawled in Sharpie.
As our hosts started to scoop out the ice cream, we introduced ourselves and our vision, now almost six years in the making. “Perfect Day is not an ice cream company,” we began, as if to apologize for our technical ignorance around things like overrun percentage and the exact difference between a variegate and an inclusion. “We’re not a consumer products company, either. Or even really a dairy company.”
Then what are you? What’s Perfect Day all about?
It’s about, we explained, creating a world where the things we consume are made in sensible ways, with less waste, more compassion, and more optimism for the good that humans are capable of. Yeah, I know… vague, right? But when we made the decision back in 2016 to focus on creating a technology — a 21st century supply chain and a true alternative to factory-farmed cows — we understood this meant we would leave the development of the consumer products to the experts. This has been a blessing, giving us the opportunity to think more broadly.
Because we’re making ingredients, we can think about all the places those ingredients can go. And our initial focus on milk proteins has given us an incredibly broad view of the food industry, since, as I like to say, there’s virtually no aisle of the grocery store where you won’t find some sort of dairy ingredient. It’s everywhere.
This is the extent of the world’s dependence on milk — and therefore cows. These proteins are even found in shirt buttons.
But how do we create a world where dairy can be made without cows?
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think the next pea-protein-slurry is going to suddenly deliver on the creaminess and delight of real dairy ice cream. Proteins do stuff in food, and milk proteins do stuff better than pretty much anything else humans have ever discovered.
The ice cream experts in the room knew this, of course… That’s why they immediately understood what we were talking about, despite what I’m sure sounded like the rambling of an overzealous founder. “Our company does everything, for everyone!” Sure, buddy.
When they tried our product, if they were looking for something to dislike, or some notable difference between our ice cream and one made from cow’s milk … they were unable to find it. They loved the sample. In fact, despite the fact that we had shown no packaging mock-ups, no consumer data, no unit margins or P&L or growth plan or anything — they encouraged us to give them a product to sell. “We could have this on shelves throughout California in, like, three days,” they said. “There’s nothing else like this on the market.”
We were flattered, but explained that this was only a prototype. We’d be launching with B2B customers, some of whom would surely work with this particular distributor. After all, our job was just to provide the ingredients.
But this isn’t a story about how someone tried our ice cream and liked it. It’s about the conversation we had on the drive home.
You see, since 2016, when we first “pivoted” to a B2B business model, Perumal and I had always felt a slight, stupid, kind of selfish sense of loss. Consumer brands are powerful — they interact with the world and its many cultures in a way that’s simply impossible for an ingredients supplier. More importantly, they can drive culture in meaningful ways. If our vision is so broad, how can we achieve it without taking active steps across the entire value chain? It’s not just ingredients that need to be re-thought. It’s the products themselves: the brand identities, the packaging, the distribution networks, the waste management. All of it.
So, with a little free time in the car, we played with a crazy idea, just to see how it felt. What if we had told those guys, “Sure, we’ll launch a brand with you?” It couldn’t be called Perfect Day, of course — what we’re building at Perfect Day is about much more than just ice cream. If we did this, it would have to be something new, something broader, something most young companies would never do. We would create another company.
We had some fun with it: Our new company’s brand would be the very embodiment of our Generation’s sense of urgency. “We don’t waste our time with months of design meetings,” I joked. “The packaging is literally just a plain white pint container, with our name handwritten in Sharpie. We rush to get it on the shelf in 3 days. We need to get out there, FAST! With every passing day, the situation gets more urgent…”
Sometime in February, as we watched a zoonotic disease ride global transportation networks into every corner of the planet, we hopped on a video call with Paul Kollesoff, a friend and fellow entrepreneur who operated a contract manufacturing company in southern California. At some point, we shared our crazy idea to create consumer brands. Paul didn’t think it was crazy at all. As someone who had worked closely with food companies ranging from the tiny to the multinational, he understood how unique Perfect Day’s proteins were, and how many opportunities they created for new kinds of food companies.
To our surprise, Paul actually wanted to run with it. He loved our idea and imagined something even bigger: a whole new generation of companies, pushing the envelope, harnessing the most exciting innovations — Perfect Day’s and other’s — establishing a broad, bold, mission-critical point of view.
And thus, The Urgent Company came to be.
With a lot of work to do at Perfect Day, Perumal and I knew we’d need to stay focused. We had a business to run — and now, so did Paul. We were insistent that The Urgent Company be set up as an independent company with its own team, mission, funding, board, and everything else.
Paul hired a team of like-minded food-industry veterans: Paul A, Jon, Amanda, Mark, Shelley, and Vicky — experts who hungered to start something meaningful from scratch. We helped coordinate a friends-and-family seed round to get the company off the ground. Perfect Day put some money in, but with strict walls around information sharing in the spirit of giving The Urgent Company its own set of wings.
We have no idea if this will work — any of it. But we’ve learned over the last six years that some of the best ideas sound crazy at first, and nothing great happens without a little risk.
Perumal and I are 200% engaged in running Perfect Day, but we’re beyond excited to see what Paul and team build with The Urgent Company. I know they’re working on an ice cream like you’ve never tasted before, called Brave Robot — which I can’t wait to buy when it hits shelves later this month. From there, the plan is to build an inspiring portfolio of brands, pushing forward the future of food through a wide variety of products across different categories. We can’t wait to see them grow in the coming months and years.
And if they need a distributor in California, I just may have an idea for them…