Julia Collins is the founder and CEO of Planet FWD
Julia Collins is the founder and CEO of Planet FWD, a trailblazing company that uses the magic of food to help reverse climate change by making snacks from regenerative ingredients.
Julia is already a legend and trailblazer in her own right, she made history when she became the first Black woman to co-found a unicorn company. The company in question? Zume Pizza, a technology-enabled food company whose mission was to make healthier food fast and accessible to every single person on earth.
Zume patented en-route cooking technology
Zume was founded in 2015, Julia and her co-founder created a team of humans and robots that worked collaboratively to create the safest possible environment for food production (they also sourced 100% of its ingredients from local sustainable farmers).
As for Planet FWD and Moonshot Snacks? The first thing one notices from the Moonshot snacks is the large type on top of the Moonshot logo that says Climate Friendly Crackers. Thanks to regenerative agriculture techniques, the ingredients are grown by farmers using practices that help tackle climate change by storing carbon in the soil.
Moonshot Snacks: Climate Friendly Crackers
As Julia later explains, 25-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from our food system, highlighting the fact that there is tremendous opportunity in the sector, hopefully setting the example for many companies that will follow the lead and join them in the climate-friendly food category.
We had the honor of connecting with Julia and asking her about her newest venture, Planet FWD, the impact having her son made on her life, and how it inspired her to take action against climate change.
Doing the research for this interview, I don't think I've ever felt more inspired by someone's attitude towards life, entrepreneurship, and being a female founder. Not just in terms of taking action against climate change and addressing the urgency of the situation, but for all of the work she is doing for fellow female founders. One of the things that stood out was an interview with Inc, where Julia talks about the role motherhood played in her life, and how female entrepreneurs with kids should never pull back to "appease the heteronormative patriarchy." I hope this interview will inspire you as well!
Firstly, how did the idea for Planet FWD first come about? Planet FWD is in a similar field as Zume Pizza, in that it connects food and technology, what brought your attention to regenerative agriculture?
After giving birth to my son, I went from being concerned about climate change to being absolutely obsessed with doing everything that I could to educate myself and take action. Addressing the 25-30% of global GHG emissions that come from our food system, seemed like the best place for me to start, given my background and all that I had learned about re-imagining food systems while at Zume Pizza. My work at Planet FWD really builds on some of those early learnings. As I was researching ways to bring my existing passion and expertise in food and technology to help tackle climate change, I began to focus on regenerative agriculture and the power in tapping into these practices rooted in indigenous wisdom and land management practices. Seeing the potential to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and improve soil health through regenerative farming led me to the idea of a climate-friendly snack brand - and thus Moonshot was born.
Julia Collins and her family (for Moonshot and Inc.)
What were some of the first obstacles you had to overcome?
The experience of creating the US market’s first explicitly climate-friendly snack brand was incredibly challenging but not for the normal reasons that you would expect. Of course, food product development, branding and go to market strategy are all challenging. However, the hardest thing about creating Moonshot was getting access to reliable and complete data at the ingredient level. I was surprised how much time and effort was involved in truly understanding where ingredients come from, how they are grown and the outcomes of farm-level practices. I started gathering this information for my own brand and I quickly realized that I needed to do something to make it easier for all brands to create more sustainable and climate-friendly products by connecting them to high-quality information all throughout the supply chain. I believe that a brand's impact is limited only by the quality of actionable information that they have access to.
Julia Collins Planet FWD's founder and CEO with Moonshot Snacks
Although this number has slightly fluctuated in the last years, less than 3% of VC funding goes to female founders, how was your experience pitching/seeking investment?
As of 2018, less than 0.2% of venture investment went toward Black female founders. Although the numbers have changed over the last few years and we do see many more Black women reaching the $1M threshold in terms of capital raised, the numbers still indicate a startling amount of inequity. I have raised 8 rounds over the last 5 years across multiple businesses, as both co-founder and a sole founder. I also invest in and advise a number of other diverse founders. One of the most difficult parts about raising capital, particularly at the pre-seed and seed stage is actually getting introductions to investors. The soft-intro is one of the elements of fundraising that offers the biggest opportunity for furthering inequity. If you don’t have a connection to the inside, then you are left out. I am inspired by funds that address the structural inequity that arises through soft-intros by inviting founders to pitch them cold.