When former tennis player Ross Mackay found himself at a crossroads in his career he took on the challenge to change what we eat. Venturing out with just a couple thousand dollars in hand, he has built a startup that has already raised $125M, to take on a twelve-figure industry. His venture, Daring Foods has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Steve Aoki, Chase Coleman, Naomi Osaka, and D1 Capital Partners.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The future of food
- The 3 C’s you’ll face as an entrepreneur
- Ross Mackay’s top advice when starting a business
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About Ross Mackay:
Ross Mackay is the CEO and founder of Daring, the category-leading, plant-based chicken brand on a mission to remove chicken from the global food system.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Mackay always kept a strict diet of high protein, low-calorie foods as a former competitive tennis player. Mackay became vegan over ten years ago after a fellow athlete “dared” him to try a vegan diet for a week to discover if there was a positive impact on his performance (hence the name Daring Foods). After struggling for years to find a minimally processed vegan alternative with recognizable ingredients, Mackay set out to create a plant-based chicken that rivaled the animal-based counterpart in taste, texture, and accessibility, while contributing to a more healthful world. After years of product development alongside researchers and food scientists in the UK, Mackay launched Daring Foods in the US in early 2020. In the last year alone, Mackay has closed Series A-C funding, raised more than $115M from high-profile investors like Founders Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Maveron, Palm Tree Crew, Drake, and Naomi Osaka, and rapidly expanded the brand’s national retail distribution from 200 to 6,000 stores.
Mackay continues to position Daring for significant growth through retail expansion, as well as the brand’s national direct-to-consumer platform, new restaurant partnerships, innovative product launches, and more. Since its inception in 2018, Daring has been named one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas, awarded NOSH’s Best New Product, and featured in national outlets like Forbes, Thrillist, and People Magazine. In 2021, Mackay was recognized as a Food & Beverage innovator by Forbes 30-Under-30.
Mackay currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dog.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
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Alejandro: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today I’m very excited with the founder that we have here with us today I mean definitely a very competitive founder I mean he was um, a pro as a tennis player you know, ah, really incredible. What he’s doing now. Raised a ton of money in just twelve months alone I think you’re going to find it mindblowing but without farther do let’s welcome our guest today Ros Mckay welcome to the show.
Ross Mackay: Thank you appreciate the intro I’m excited to be here looking forward to it.
Alejandro: So originally born in Glasgow so how was saying life growing up there. Give us a walk through memory lane.
Ross Mackay: Seems like a while since I’ve been back. But um, it was great. Grew up in Scotland in a town called Glasgow so spent the best part of 1819 years there um you know a lot of my youth was was spent playing tennis or other sport. So. Um, if you’re familiar with Scotland it’s very rainy and cold. So it’ll teach you a lot and it’ll make you pretty tough but I enjoyed it. It was a great place to grow up.
Alejandro: Now your father was an entrepreneur so you had the entrepreneurship running in the family. So I guess what? what did you learn from seeing his journey so close and and do you think that that’s probably what has inspire you to also follow in his footsteps.
Ross Mackay: Yeah I was very fortunate to watch my father build a business you know from the age of ah I suppose 5 to about 15 or 16 where he he actually you know sold that company. So um, you know, growing up taking the bus home from school. Going to his office sitting in the office watching a girl from 1 person to 5 people to 6 people watching him move out of a tiny little office into a larger office and grow the business over you know I guess for his life. It was thirty plus years but for the 10 that I watched him do it. Um, it was super inspiring and I think looking back now. Definitely was the catalyst for I suppose my obsession on on starting something in that entrepreneurial spirit within me so very inspiring I think 1 thing that he taught me and which I try and carry into my company daring is the importance of team. You know he was he was in recruitment. He was in hr so vary people forward on this notion that teams win and without your team in place and without ah people around you that are quite frankly, better than you and a lot of things and my responsibility was to to bring the best people into the organization. So. He taught me that from a very young age It’s definitely correlated sport in many ways. But I I have a lot to thank for for my father. So.
Alejandro: Then let’s talk about sports and really pushing yourself to become better and better. Let’s talk about tennis. How did you get into tennis.
Ross Mackay: Um, you know I think um I guess you know my again. My father was was was pretty into tennis and rugby and and at the time you know I picked up a racket probably at the age of three years old um you know growing up. Ah you know. Very passionate about you know tennis so much so that I actually kept saying you know what do you want to do when you grow up I want to be a tennis player I want to be a tennis player I watched Marra Sapffin I watched Andre Agassi sanpress you name it I was very fortunate to to go to a lot of Wimbledon events where I was up and close with a lot of these top athletes. So. Growing up my my north star was was to be 1 of those one of those guys on the big screen playing in the big tournaments. But um, you know I went to tennis academy in tennis school for a short period in italy and and got my ass handed to me very quickly and. Um, you know at the age of 16 you kind of take a step back and say what is it. You want to do for the rest of your life. Do you want to commit to this and do nothing else or do you want to explore other avenues other events parties maybe other sports and and if that’s the case you know you you probably um, you’re in the wrong game. So. That was very much where I was I loved the sport I was fortunate enough to play for Scotland I was coached and mentored by a lady Judy Murray who was Andy Murray’s mom who is Andy Murray’s mom if you’re not familiar with Andy Won wimbledon couple times he was world number 1 and he was also from Scotland so um, you know 16 um, you know I had ah I hit a cRoss Mackay:roads and sort of the the other sports were calling and more of a lifestyle was kind of my desire. So I’ve recently started playing again. I’m pretty into padel. Um, so if you’re if you’re into it. We should get a game. Yeah.
Alejandro: More more more strategic and hitting it with a power as as you would do in tennis I mean I’ve got into pilot to a good sport now in terms of you know, kind of like a turning chapter and turning page I mean you suffered an injury playing tennis that kind of like ah forced you to really. Press the reset button and then really take a look to reflect and to see you know what will be next. So What was that process for you I’m sure it was not ah you know an easy I’m sure it was quite challenging for you.
Ross Mackay: No no.
Ross Mackay: Yeah, absolutely I think you know you go from spending more time on a tennis score than anything else and running around and keeping fit and healthy I think what that taught me was this understanding of this notion of you are what you eat and at the time I ate a lot of animal protein. You know you’re told every two and a half hours eat some form of lean, clean animal derived protein in the center of your plate and you’re going to grow up and you’re going to recover and you’re gonna get big and strong. That’s what we’re all told. Um after suffering the injury you know I sort of took a step back and started to. Research and I’m a very sort of addictive personality I’m all in or I’m not in at all. So you know page 55 on Google on how to recover from an injury I think I read an article about you know the the potential benefits from reducing your meat intake and actually a plant strong diet. So a plant-based diet a plant forward diet could could enhance and benefit recovery. So I’m I’m sitting there with ah a torn quad muscle and thinking you know what? let me give it a go. Let me not eat animal protein tomorrow. Let me start to eat some legumes and grains and. All these things that were kind of new to me I suppose at the time and very obscure because I’m sixteen years old where everyone else is eating. You know, fish and chicken and turkey and and and that’s what we’re told is is bad for us I’ve decided you know to go completely and forgive the pond cold turkey. So um, this was a long time ago now. But you know thirty forty days in I felt amazing. I felt you know as cliche as it sounds I felt like a new man I recovered faster higher energy levels and this is what I wanted to continue on the journey. It fundamentally started with health um and you know it’s interesting because as I stepped into the category as a consumer. Buying of course alternative proteins. You know the the veggie burgers of the world that were were available. You know 10 years ago or so um, you know they didn’t quite hit that void. There was still this void that I was looking for in this intersection of of a taste because at the time I still loved the taste of meat I decided not to eat it? Um, but also health you know I was turning to the back of these packages and saying oh goodness like this is 50 ingredients. What is this on my better eating animal protein. But um, that was kind of the catalyst for for daring today. Um, I became a consumer in the category after being extremely passionate. This was truly beneficial for your health having witnessed it firsthand. Um, and I wanted to to see if there was was better products on the market.
Alejandro: Now in in your case I mean as they say ideas take time to incubate. They’re kind of like doormant there and I guess that for you really becoming vegan and really seeing that difference that it made for you. It was kind of like a process and and a journey to. and and I know that you did a couple of you know, gigs here and there you know a couple of smaller ventures and then all of a sudden you ended up one day with something that happened you know, perhaps it was like a triggering event that really made you think and that really pushed you over the edge to say you know what? I think it’s time that I start this thing.
Ross Mackay: Yeah I think we’ve touched a little bit about this passion for entrepreneurialism I think entrepreneur the word entrepreneur the term is very glorified I think you know you don’t have to have your own business to be an entrepreneur but we’ve kind of touched on just this ingrained. You know, desire to do something for myself. You know, fueled by I think the the the witness of my father and my family environment again. You combine that with this obsession over health and nutrition and this newfound passion for a plan-based diet. You know this intersection created me to think about how can I take both this passion for business and this business oriented mindset and the learnings from my previous or previous companies and this mission that I had was to educate and tell more people about. What I believe was the future of food and that is a plant-based diet. So um, you know as I explored and I thought of ideas of course I thought about everything and you’re reading the news you’re watching funding happening in the states at the time I was living in the yeah uk so it seemed you know potentially naive at the time but I thought well. A lot of people are focusing on alternative milks that seems like a soon to be very saturated market. A lot of people are focusing on beef alternatives. Why is no one looking at the world’s most popular protein. Well why can’t why why don’t I do that and and this was about 2018 um, so not that long ago. But um, you know I kind of hit ah a moment where I said you know what? Um there’s got to be a product on the market. There’s not today then why don’t I do it and um. You know I said I think that was January 2018 I said okay, let’s let’s let’s do this.
Alejandro: Amazing! And then when you said,, let’s do this. What was that process like because obviously you had I’m sure to do a lot of research a lot of testing a lot of looking into it. So What was that thing I would say a journey like in order to really land on on on Perfection. You know when it when it came to taste to also to to to do the they they the way that it was it Failed. You know all of that stuff.
Ross Mackay: Absolutely I think well I certainly know what chicken tasted like I ate a lot of it growing up so that was always the norths star. Um, you know it starts a lot about understanding the market. It starts a lot about understanding what you’re trying to achieve. The mission of daring is to rethink and replace chicken from the food system we had to go into the reasons why people love chicken the reasons why potentially chicken needs to replace from the food system. Of course you know it’s deemed today to be the world’s healthiest protein. I still got a lot of people almost every day tons of mass you saying what’s wrong with chicken Ross Mackay: and you know and it’s true. Chicken is the protein source of choice when you look to lose weight or or step away from red meat. So there was a. It was a very obscure idea that I wanted to create an alternative to what seemed to be the healthiest protein in the world but my background is not in food sign so taking my passion for business. Um, understanding. You know, of course the planned kingdom the manufacturing process. Um, but working with people in the ecosystem working with food scientists working with Comanufactrs continuing to iterate of course at the same time trying to raise a little bit of friends and family money to keep this gym alive and to pay for development and to pay for consultants in the space. but um, it was um nothing but um failed production runs and um, you know hurdles along the journey that I’m sure you’ve you’ve heard so many times but it was definitely not a straight line the product we have today was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of samples later and and you know we’re still iterating on it today. So. Um, I think we focused largely on building a solid foundation understanding. Of course our our market and that market was was the us. So I was very focused on on bringing this product here. Why because one you eat a lot of chicken over here in America and 2 access to capital and market was. Was definitely more appealing than where I was at the time in Scotland where you know rubbing a couple dollars together and asking for funding was almost impossible.
Alejandro: Now when you came to the us you came with two thousand bucks and with very limited time. You know I’m sure that was quite stressful and they probably was a lot of entrepreneurs do that that you know are thinking about coming here and and and and giving it a shot I mean I’m sure that that was incredibly stressful for you I mean.
Ross Mackay: Yeah.
Alejandro: What was it like to come with such little money you know with such little time to be able to make something happen and what was that turning point where you said you know what I think I think I’m going to be able to make it here I’m going to be able to stay.
Ross Mackay: Yeah, well I definitely I think it was it was 2400 so I don’t want to I don’t want to shy away from that additional $400 that we had but I took a flight to the us on a whim for a potential meeting with an investor. Combined with ah with a meeting with a retailer. So I think we had enough money to pay for. You know 6 nights in a hotel plus flights plus per Dm food and and get back and this was our last array you know we we tapped out. We’d we’d gone through a few hundred thousand dollars in investment for and innovation and. Had a few batches of samples that I brought here on a flight mind you this was my first time in the states since I was five years old I’ve been here once before to Disney and this was the the second time ever. So first time in New York the big Apple I’m pounding the street seeing he would listen to me. The tickers going you know I’m I’m playing I’m playing the clock because we have no money in the bank and this is my job now to fund the company, get believers and of course try and land business at the same time. So a lot of pressure. Um I was fortunate enough to 1 meet. Um, some investors who believed in the mission and and also believed in the opportunity and I guess myself at the time because we had nothing you know to show for it yet other than a great product and an idea and also we met a retailer called sprouts. Um, and I I was very fortunate to meet the Ceo there Jackson Sinclair and the frozen buyer Scott Reid who you know believed in the natural space and believed that this was a product that would fit within their retailer. Um, so you know it was a great meeting. Um, we we landed a small amount of capital just to be able to support the the deal that we had at at sprouts and that was late December Two thousand and nineteen I went home for four or five days ah took took a flight back over. And I haven’t actually been home since 2022 now so um the the realization was the ability to have people believe now and we’d had believers before but when you get emotional when you get financial backing and psychological backing running a business becomes very very very fun. And we were fortunate at the time that we had both of that early twenty twenty.
Alejandro: Nice now in this case I mean for you guys, you know it’s been. It’s been an incredible run and and and you were alluding to it. You know exactly what you guys are doing at daring but but what does daring look to today, especially for the people that are listening. So.
Ross Mackay: Um, what does it look like today.
Alejandro: Yeah I mean what are you guys selling I mean how how are you guys making money here. What is the business model of daring.
Ross Mackay: Absolutely so we have we’re we’re the creators of daeering chicken. It’s a clean label plant-based chicken. So when you think about the category as a whole you think about alternative meats you know forty fifty ingredients dariring has 6 ingredients. It’s the healthiest cleanest plant-based chicken on the market. Ah, we sell through 2 channels grocery retail and food service. So we’re in thousands of doors within a grocery retail. We’re in Walmart Whole food sprouts air one you name it, you’ll find us in the frozen section pretty much every retailer in America in the short space of the last twelve months and and in food service. We show up in in in amazing locations acRoss Mackay: the country from David Grippman’s grit hospitality kamodo swan soho house the one hotel just salad in new york so um it’s ah it’s super exciting. It’s a clean label plant-based chicken that cooks looks taste just like chicken. Um, and it’s it’s truly truly truly of course our belief better for not only human health but the sustainability um of the world and also animal welfare and 2021 our first year daring sold over 1 point, £2,000,000 of of plant-based chicken and when you think about that as a whole it’s about the equivalent of removing you know three million showers a year um it’s about 800 football fields. It’s it’s a lot of impact that we’re creating and that’s really aligned to the mission of removing and replacing chicken from the fit system now when you think where we are today six and a half thousand retailers one thousand food service locations this year um and we’ve also been very fortunate to raise near north of one hundred and twenty five million dollars from very very prolific and exciting investors. So I’m I’m very fortunate where we are. We’re still at level one and we got a lot of work today. But it’s been an amazing couple years.
Alejandro: Sounds like a wild ride and also a wild ride on the on the financing I mean you guys have raised quite a bit of money as you were alluding to and literally you’ve done your series a b and c in a 12 in a twelve month span I mean that’s. Kind of like unheard of I mean typically you race every 18 to twenty four months so why did you raise everything in in all all those rounds in in in just one single year.
Ross Mackay: Yeah, you know’s I’m not a massive fan of branding rounds but we we’ve done a great job I suppose of of bringing on great partners to to fund and capitalize the mission. Um, you know mavron who led our series a Dan Levitin there is a. Ah, truly phenomenal investor. He’s he’s worked closely with Howard Schultz over at Starbucks and taking that company public. So I think the patron recognition of of great product. Big market big lane and great team was something he spotted verily on so you know he was an $8000000 investment in. 2020 and end of Twenty twenty or beginning of 2021 and our business you know was was still fairly handcuffed at the time because we didn’t really have the capital to grow. So. When that investment came in I was able to hire more team members I was able to access more distribution and was able to do more marketing and with that comes more demand for your product so we had to scale furthermore so with that scale comes additional capital and additional interest because we had grown from 1 door to. 2000 very quickly. We were selling a lot of product people were starting to hear about us. So the demand was starting to come in and um, you know in my opinion 1 of the most exciting investors in the space now you know moving more into the private site is is d one capital. So um, Mike Tully over at d one and Dan Sunheim I was fortunate enough to meet them and they moved very quickly on what was our series b at the time to help fuel innovation help you know build the brand and the product innovation and very shortly after I was very fortunate to meet Peter Thiel um at founders’ fund and cooked for him and told him about what we were doing and all of the growth and again there was an appetite to capitalize the company so you know we’re we’re very fortunate to to 1 of course you know put a lot of money in the bank but also too I think. There’s ah, there’s a difference between building a great business and raising a lot of money we’re focused on building a great business if you do that you know you will have option. You’ll have option to you know to capitalize the company at hopefully a low cost to capital. So um, yeah, I’m very fortunate to have some awesome investors. And investors that one believe in in the business model and believe in the mission.
Alejandro: Now there’s 2 things here that that are pretty interesting that I’m sure that the listeners are gonna enjoy listening to to see what you have to say so number 1 is you’re originally from Glasgow so it’s outside of the us you’ve managed to. Um, assemble a team of investors that are probably some of the best in the world. So how were you able to really get those doors to open. So.
Ross Mackay: Yeah I mean there was no plan B for me ever I am I’m a very ah I suppose unapologetically ambitious about where I want to take this company and you know that you know I Guess there’s an element of luck you know meeting people whether it be. You know I’m in an elevator and I’m telling them what I do and they know someone or I’m out. Ah you know I’m on a flight and I happen to be in this same airport as someone I’ll be constantly selling the vision and the business to whoever wants to listen to me so naturally through this I’ve been fortunate enough to to. Be introduced to some people that at the time were deemed to be potentially interested in listening to to the story and um I think as an entrepreneur it’s your job to you know set the vision and get people on your team. Whether that be team members. Ah your employee base or Investors. So. Take it. You know as my one of my main roles to do so and um, you know I guess it’s led from a sheer belief and passion about what I’m doing I think um, what you need to do is is align people around what matters and execute with urgency and intensity every single day. Um, and that’s what I try and do and I think that’s been you know a combat of of my of my personality but also obviously a little bit of luck.
Alejandro: And then in in this regard too. I mean this is not the typical Vc software enable you know type of thing. How were you able to really have a compelling. Positioning or packaging here when it comes to the story to really get these people to invest in something that is so unique like this.
Ross Mackay: I think there’s been a lot of there’s been several alternative protein companies and within dairy um alternative dairy alternative meat that um have one in raised significant capital and returned too many. Public and private invests. Great terms. Um, you know I think the the category of alternative protein is is ah is only growing whether it’s chicken beef milk fish. You know, whatever. Um there’s a lot of upside in that in that trajectory. And and investors are now are becoming more and more interested in sustainability. They’re becoming more and more interested about est investing. Um, so it’s it’s really, you know an amazing thing to watch I think a massive time supported by changing consumer preference. The global plant-based food market is set to reach north of 140,000,000,000 by 2030 with 13% annual growth inspected that’s a massive town and of course the growing consumption of alternative meat with increased awareness of its health benefits is there too. So. Um, it’s a massive you know area for upside within investors. Um, you know we’re becoming the the category leader with plant-based chicken better for you. 6 ingredients a lot of ip surrounding our product so there was a mixture of that and and I think you know the tremendous growth and significant run. We ah had we grew into. Six and a half thousand doors in a short period of time. It was pretty unheard of before so the mixture of time. Great product. You know sustainability focused business aligned of the est themes and and again the most important point is I’ve been and I take this as my you know number one priority. Is to hire best in class management team with you know, an extensive experience in this industry and you know I regard myself as of course the the founder who sets the strategy but around me and my team you know both from an executive level down to you know junior management. We have the best. Team. So I think if you’re an investor looking at a company like daring. You know you take all those things in consideration and I think we take a number of those boxes.
Alejandro: By the way I know that we are now 1 minute past time. Do you have time for 2 more questions or do you have a hard stop. Yeah I just want to be respectful of your calendar. So I don’t know if if it’s okay to go just five more minutes yeah okay cool now.
Ross Mackay: Of course I can talk all day about daring.
Alejandro: Imagine imagine Ross Mackay: you know that you were going to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of daring is fully realized what does that world look like.
Ross Mackay: Um, it. It means that no one is is is utilizing um chicken in the food system. We are fully dependent on plant chicken. Our mission is on the wall in the company office. It’s to remove. Chickens from the fit system. Um, and it means that we have done a job of 1 delivering on like for like taste texture macronutrients health but also price. So I think it’s going to take us some time but that is our ultimate goal. It is to continue to create plant-based products that is tasty while solving. The negative impacts on the unsustainable industry that is poultry. Um, so that is the the sole reason I continue to wake up and continue to fund and grow the business. Um, and and that is success to us.
Alejandro: So now if I were to take you into a time machine and I bring you back in time and I bring you back in time to that moment where you were thinking about like maybe starting a business right? I mean it’s been now a wild wild journey you I’m sure you’ve learned a lot.
Ross Mackay: Do.
Alejandro: You’ve been now able to surround yourself by amazing People. So if you had the opportunity of having that younger self and let’s just say for a second that that younger self will listen because our younger selves We Typically you know we didn’t listen much when we were younger. But imagine you were able to sit down with your younger self. And give your younger self one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Ross Mackay: Yeah, and I’m sure this is one that we’ve all heard and and read before but it’s true to me and and that is you know, follow your passion I got asked the question by my dad after trying so many different things and he said. If you could only do 1 thing. What would it be and if tomorrow was your last day. What would it be and it was this and I think you’re going to come up against tons of critique. You’re going to come up ton. We call it the 3 c’s critique challenge and conflict. And you get them every day you get them I get them listeners. We all get these. But when you’re truly passionate about something and you’re not afraid to fail and um, you believe that this is you know the only plan and the only path forward then? um. I think your your opportunity and your outcome is is much highly likely to to be successful I think at the same time you know being nimble is super important and we say big on vision nimble on tactics fast feet I guess it’s my sporting analogy here. But. If that doesn’t work. There’s another plan another plan markets change. You know there’s a war oil price fray operation complexity. You’ve got to be nimble. Don’t just. Sit there and say this is the strategy execution over strategy every single day when you’re moving at a million miles an hour and you’re going from security to ubiquity. So you know passion and and being nimbo it’s probably my 2 fundamentals that I try and live by. You know every single day.
Alejandro: And for the folks that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi ros.
Ross Mackay: Absolutely um, well it’s you know our website is daring foods daring dot com actually a new url I’m on Linkedin Ross Mackay: Mackay or you can get us at Ross Mackay:@daring.com so I appreciate the time today I thank you for letting me share the story and and hopefully you enjoy the product I know we got some coming your way.
Alejandro: Mason. Well thank you so much for Uss Really appreciate it and what an honor and to have you with us. Thank you? So so much.
Ross Mackay: Appreciate you.
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