I am often told by those who know me well that I am “hard to read” when they first meet me. After reflecting on why that might be the case, I’ve come to realize it is probably because I am always “reading” those around me. What often gets construed as shyness or quietness is often just observance and curiosity. In fact, the first compliment I received from Mark Rampolla after joining PowerPlant was that I was a good listener.
Understanding people, their behavior, and their choices has been an unconscious obsession of mine for as long as I can remember. I even wanted to be a private investigator growing up. Not only has it allowed me to cultivate deep and impactful connections with others, but it has also helped me navigate through important chapters of my life. Nonetheless, it was not until I made the transition into venture capital that I felt empowered to channel this previously unidentified strength into something meaningful.
At the core of consumer investing is a deep empathy for and understanding of others. What motivates this founder at the core? What problem are they solving? Does the brand spark the emotional drivers of consumers who want to be seen or spoken to in ways not previously done before? Finding answers to these key questions, among others, is a big part of our diligence process at PowerPlant. Another equally important step in the process, a step I’m actively trying to develop and strengthen, is to identify and have conviction in founders with unique insights and differentiated perspectives, even if they are out of consensus. It is easy to follow the crowd. But just like my volleyball coaches used to say, we must get comfortable with being uncomfortable to truly encourage next-level thinking.
I pinch myself every day knowing that I have the privilege of meeting such innovative thinkers and can support them in building transformative businesses. Having even a minor role in shaping the lives of consumers by backing brands that create a positive impact on the world is an incredible opportunity.
Now that I’ve revealed what makes me tick, I’ll briefly discuss an area around consumer behavior I’ve been thinking about recently: mindsets. During a recent weekend beach walk, I listened to a podcast that featured Dr. Alia Crum, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford and Director of the Mind & Body Lab. Her work focuses on mindsets and beliefs and how they shape our responses to stress, exercise, and the foods we eat.
Through an experiment with milkshakes, Dr. Crum proved that our belief about the nutritional content of the food we eat changes whether it is satisfying to us at a physiological (hormonal and metabolic) level. The way a product is labeled – “indulgent, and rich” vs. “healthy, fat-free, – not only influences our desire to eat it but also primes our bodies to metabolize those foods differently. Essentially, both what you eat, and what you think about what you eat, matter.
We all know that there is a consensus in our country that healthy foods are depriving and undesirable, a view heavily influenced by cultural and societal forces. Work from the Mind & Body Lab makes it clear that there is a lot of work to be done to help shape a more positive, indulgent mindset around healthy, nutritious foods.
With this knowledge, companies who want to positively impact human health and encourage healthy mindsets around food should take a page from the marketing playbook of the junk food industry. Although some better-for-you brands already do so, the jury is out on whether the positive societal effects of promoting healthy indulgence outweigh the lost sales from extremely loyal dieters and “low-calorie” seekers that pour money into brands that speak to them. Personally, I’d choose “slow-roasted, caramelized, crispy brussels sprouts” over simply “brussels sprouts” any day.