Transcript – #124 Andrew Carter of Smallhold: My Favorite Books, Tools, Habits and More | 20 Minute Playbook

Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Andrew Carter, Co-Founder & CEO of Smallhold. We cover eliminating the ego, building around community, and creating lasting relations
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August 2, 2022
20
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Before founding Smallhold, Andrew focused on hydroponics and vertical farming at companies like Re-Nuble and Agritecture.
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Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Andrew Carter, Co-Founder & CEO of Smallhold. We cover eliminating the ego, building around community, and creating lasting relationships. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here

“Build around community. You want to focus on the people around you, and the people that you're servicing, however you're servicing them.” – Andrew Carter

Andrew Carter is co-founder and CEO of Smallhold, which is upending the food industry by growing mushrooms and Michelin-star rated restaurants, and grocery stores, and through their network of on-site and macro farms. Smallhold is inverting the way food is traditionally grown and distributed. Today, 68% of all mushrooms consumed in the United States come from a single town in Pennsylvania called Kennett Square. That's 400 million pounds worth of mushrooms per year to be exact, which means that most mushrooms are transported across a vast distribution network to reach stores all around the United States.

Smallhold knew there was a better way, so they spent years creating a proprietary set of technologies that could allow them to grow mushrooms in an incredibly small footprint, their cases, which are their on-site farms are about the size of a small standing cabinet. The first Smallhold on-site farms went up in restaurants around New York, which was followed by on-site farms at grocery stores including central market stores all across Texas, where their on-site farms sit right next to where the mushrooms are sold in the grocery aisle. Smallhold is an incredible example of what the future of food looks like, and they're just getting started. In this episode, Andrew shares why everyone should watch the mushroom-focused Netflix documentary, Fantastic Fungi, why he recommends the book Entangled Life for anyone who wants to learn more about mushrooms and the mushroom kingdom, Andrew's advice for building an incredible company culture, and the advice he'd give himself if he could go back to the start of his career, and much more.



Transcript – ##124 Andrew Carter of Smallhold: My Favorite Books, Tools, Habits and More | 20 Minute Playbook

Daniel Scrivner (00:06):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of our 20 Minute Playbook series, where each week I sit down with an elite performer from iconic founders to renowned investors and best selling authors to dive into the ideas, habits, and tactics that got them to the top of their field, all in less than 20 minutes. I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today, I'm joined by Andrew Carter, co-founder and CEO of Smallhold, which is upending the food industry by growing mushrooms and Michelin-star rated restaurants, and grocery stores, and through their network of on-site and macro farms. Smallhold is inverting the way food is traditionally grown and distributed. Today, 68% of all mushrooms consumed in the United States come from a single town in Pennsylvania called Kennett Square. That's 400 million pounds worth of mushrooms per year to be exact, which means that most mushrooms are transported across a vast distribution network to reach stores all around the United States.

Daniel Scrivner (00:57):

Smallhold knew there was a better way, so they spent years creating a proprietary set of technologies that could allow them to grow mushrooms in an incredibly small footprint, their cases, which are their on-site farms are about the size of a small standing cabinet. The first Smallhold on-site farms went up in restaurants around New York, which was followed by on-site farms at grocery stores including central market stores all across Texas, where their on-site farms sit right next to where the mushrooms are sold in the grocery aisle. Smallhold is an incredible example of what the future of food looks like, and they're just getting started. In this episode, Andrew shares why everyone should watch the mushroom-focused Netflix documentary, Fantastic Fungi, why he recommends the book Entangled Life for anyone who wants to learn more about mushrooms and the mushroom kingdom, Andrew's advice for building an incredible company culture, and the advice he'd give himself if he could go back to the start of his career, and much more.

Daniel Scrivner (01:48):

You can find the show notes and text transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/124, that's 1-2-4, and you can learn more about Smallhold at smallhold.com, and follow Andrew Carter on Twitter at 40, that's four, zero, K-K-M, with that, let's dive into Andrew Carter's playbook. Andrew, thank you for joining me again on Outlier Academy, this time for 20 Minute Playbook. I'm excited to ask you 10 questions and dive into a little bit of what drives you, and try to pull some interesting thoughts out of your head.

Andrew Carter (02:20):

Yeah. Let's do it.

Daniel Scrivner (02:21):

So, to start, can you just share a little bit of background on what you're building at Smallhold, and how many stores you're at today, how people can buy the mushrooms that you produce?

Andrew Carter (02:31):

So, Smallhold is a distributed farm, growing fresh mushrooms throughout the country. We grow them locally. We're certified organic, really great, quality mushrooms you can find on-shelves throughout the country. We're in over 400 stores now. And so, various Whole Foods, Albertsons' banners. In Los Angeles, we're in Lassens and Erewhon. You can also order us online through Amazon Fresh, FreshDirect on the east coast, Misfits Market, and Perfect Produce, Good Eggs, all over the place. But, whenever you're buying our mushrooms, they're grown locally, and grown in the region that you're buying them in. So, you can always know that they're fresh and organic, and they'll taste good. And I hope you enjoy them.

Daniel Scrivner (03:17):

Perfect. It's a perfect setup. I want to ask, the first question I always ask is around a recent fascination, what's been intriguing you lately? What can't you stop thinking about? Can be mushroom related, cannot be mushroom related.

Andrew Carter (03:28):

Yeah, it's probably a boring answer, but I just had my first child. He is nine and a half months old. His name is Oscar, and beyond the fact that I have a startup and a child, and so I can't really think about much else than that, but he is extremely fascinating. It is the craziest thing I have ever experienced in my life. He looks identical to me, so it's very weird. But, he changes daily and has teeth and tries to communicate in different ways. And it is just the most fascinating experience of my entire life. And so, I can't really think about much else besides that.

Daniel Scrivner (04:09):

That's a great answer, and you're actually the first person to share it in the show.

Andrew Carter (04:12):

Oh, really? That's funny.

Daniel Scrivner (04:12):

So, congratulations.

Andrew Carter (04:15):

Yeah. Thank you.

Daniel Scrivner (04:16):

When you think about business and leadership, when you think about your role at Smallhold. What do you think of as your superpowers, and how do you use those?

Andrew Carter (04:25):

I'm not the best at completely eliminating my ego, but I do try to do that. I trust my team as much as I can. I sometimes jump in, but I think that there's many different ways to get to a solution. And so, I trust our team to get there. I let people talk, I let people finish. I really try to build a team and have an actual team atmosphere, and do that in my own way.

Daniel Scrivner (04:55):

If you had to distill down your philosophy of building a company into just a few words, what would that be? What comes to mind if someone was to try to ask, how have you built Smallhold, or what are some of that principles you hold near and dear?

Andrew Carter (05:08):

Yeah, build around community. You want to focus on the people around you, and the people that you're servicing, however you're servicing them. People want everything to be scalable, and you imagine that every single person wants the same thing, but it's not true. And so, you really have to focus on the communities that you're trying to reach. And the more you can build into that, the more lasting of a company, and the lasting of a brand you'll have.

Daniel Scrivner (05:35):

That's two great principles. When you think about mentors and figures that shaped your approach, and this can be to farming, to even the reason, or interest, and why you wanted to create Smallhold. Who comes to mind, and are there any favorite quotes, stories, anecdotes from them?

Andrew Carter (05:52):

There's so many people that have gotten me to where I am. I studied in college with a guy named, Professor John Todd, and he invented these things called living systems and eco machines. And there are these crazy forms of ecology that allow you to filter out water, and do the things that I want to do by remediation, basically, really cool engineering feats. But, one of the best ways of making a living system with this kind of technology is by, essentially dosing it with a really icky, dirty water source from another area. And so, the idea is that you have this microcosm, it's like an environment that's going through its own evolution internally. And then, by constantly dosing it with something else, something that's like... might have some invasive organism or something else like that.

Andrew Carter (06:51):

We'll just continue to help it evolve rather than become in some sort of like, never really be in a steady state, but it allows it to be a stronger organism, a stronger ecosystem. And so, that is definitely the case with ecosystems, but you can think about it with anything. You always want to shake it up or bring different kinds of perspectives in, to top different things out, because you're going to get stuck in the same cycle if you're not constantly rethinking any of that. Another, I think about my parents a lot, my parents aren't around anymore, but both my parents worked in different startups for various reasons, but my mom ran an antique store in Los Angeles. I grew up basically in an antique store and it was on Wilshire Boulevard in west LA.

Andrew Carter (07:34):

And she had her own way of managing community, which is, I always found so amazing. There were a lot of people that there were either homeless or just spent a lot of time on the streets. They would just come in, and most business owners really dismissed all these people who my mom was really welcoming to a lot of people. Because most these people weren't dared to mess with anything. They just lived there. People just had their own things going on, which a lot of time can be pretty depressing, but most people weren't trying to steal anything or anything like that. And she really embraced people and built a community around her. And I always appreciated her for that, because it was not in the mission of an antique store necessarily, but she found it really important, and it helped her run her own business in her own way.

Daniel Scrivner (08:20):

Yeah. That's so cool. We talked in the last interview about Fantastic Fungi, this amazing film that came out, it's on Netflix now, the people can watch. So separate from that, are there books that you'd recommend for people that are interested in learning more about mushrooms? And then, do you have any books that have particularly helped you as a founder?

Andrew Carter (08:42):

Yeah. So, the book that I recommend most people to read for mushrooms is Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. It's a more recent book. It's an amazing book that covers a lot of different aspects of the mushroom industry and fungi, but really embraces the unknown. And I'm really a big fan of it. I think that it's a good gateway for most kinds of people. There's also all the Paul Stamets books. All those are very helpful if you're looking into cultivating, but I would really start with the Merlin Sheldrake book if you're looking. As far as books that helped me as a founder, I tried reading a lot of self-help books in the beginning, and I found that a lot of it is so specific to the certain period of time that those were written.

Andrew Carter (09:34):

And it's not that you shouldn't listen to any of them, but even me as a founder, we still have so much so far to go, but people ask me for advice, and I'm like, "Look, me fundraising a year ago is completely different fundraising right now." And whenever I went through two months ago, it's going to be different in two months. And so, I can give you my perspective, but everyone's adventure is so different. And it took me a long time to really think that, because I was reading these things being like, "Oh, I have to wear my company like this." I listen to certain podcasts and all that kind of stuff. But, I think mainly just people trying to create their own adventure is really important in this space.

Daniel Scrivner (10:15):

Yeah. No, I think that's great advice, and you're totally right. There's so many books that you read that are... I don't know, just you have to always read them through the lens of what's useful for me. And you're trying to find those tidbits in the book, and you're discarding with everything else. And in that way it seems somewhat wasteful. Because you might read an entire book and take away maybe two ideas, but I totally sympathize with that. And I also love people who, when you ask them for advice, frame it as, "Well, let me give you my perspective as opposed to like, here's the one answer." So, that's nice. What tiny habit or practice has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

Andrew Carter (10:49):

With people, definitely letting people finish. I'm not the most crazy interrupter or anything like that in general, but really letting people finish their thought, and communicating, and sure, it might take a little bit longer, but it gives people time to talk, and to explain themselves. It helps people get their thoughts out, but it also, it just helps your own relationship. This might seem obvious, but I'm around tons of people and lots of people don't do that. People just want to get their thought across as fast as possible, and it's not the best way to do it in my opinion. And it's really helped me with my management of the people around me, and in our own team.

Daniel Scrivner (11:30):

Love that. Last question, if you could go back to the start of your career and whisper some words of advice, words of encouragement, a reminder in your ear, what would you tell your younger self?

Andrew Carter (11:42):

I would make sure that I am building lasting relationships with people. I eventually became a consultant before Smallhold, and for me, consulting was basically just knowing the right people to call. I could be good if I needed to do things, but I basically just had a bunch of specialists that I was close with, that I could call, and I still have those people. And I think that, that's important for anyone, in any of these businesses, you can be a consultant or you can be a business owner, you could work for a place. But, having that network and keeping up with everyone, don't be like a ladder climber or whatever, but you never know what people are going to do. I have friends of mine that went to middle school with, that now work at large funds and stuff. And so, try to keep up with people, and I was okay at it, but I could have been much better. And so, I would tell myself to just really try to keep those relationships going.

Daniel Scrivner (12:46):

Yeah. I love that advice. It's a perfect note to end on. Thank you so much for the time, Andrew. I really appreciate you coming back on.

Andrew Carter (12:51):

Thanks for having me.

Daniel Scrivner (12:54):

Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes and text transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/124, it's 1-2-4. For more from Andrew Carter, listen to episode 122, where he joins me at our outlier founder series to go deep on Smallhold, which is upending the food industry by growing their mushrooms in Michelin-star rated restaurants, and grocery stores, and through their network of on-site, and macro farms. In that episode, we cover the wild world of mushrooms from the Netflix documentary, Fantastic Fungi, to the book Entangled Life, to mushroom people. We go deep on how mushrooms work, why most of us have only eaten a single variety of mushroom our entire lives, and why we should all be eating more mushrooms. Andrew covers why the modern food industry is broken, from why most apples you eat are nearly a year-old to why fish sold in the U.S., even if it's caught in the states, is sent to China to be processed, and then back to the U.S. to be sold.

Daniel Scrivner (13:47):

We cover the technology behind Smallhold from the incredible number of sensors embedded into their farms, to how much data they crunch every day to grow incredible mushrooms reliably 24/7, 365. And all of the lessons Andrew has learned along the way, from how they built a new direct to consumer side of their business during the pandemic to how they've iterated and refined their business model over the years. For more on Smallhold, listen to episode 122 or visit outlieracademy.com/122. You can find videos of all of our interviews on YouTube at youtube.com/outlieracademy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full length interviews, as well as our favorite short clips from every episode including this one. So, make sure to subscribe, we post new videos and clips every single week. And if you haven't already follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn under the handle, Outlier Academy. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you right here with a brand new episode next Friday.



On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outlier Academy, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

Daniel Scrivner and Mighty Publishing LLC own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Outlier Academy podcast, with all rights reserved, including Daniel’s right of publicity.

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