Origin Story Interview W/ Marina Schmidt, Red to Green

Origin Story Interview W/ Marina Schmidt, Red to Green

Brighter Future

 / 

Feb 21, 2024

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #PassiveImpact #IntrinsicMotivation #FoodSustainability #FutureOfFood #Podcasting

Brighter Future

We‘re here with the excellent podcaster Marina Schmidt, who hosts a show on a number of subjects that generally relate to food sustainability.

Thank you so much for being here, Marina. Could you please introduce yourself and your business?

I'm Marina Schmidt, the founder of Red to Green: a podcast and future-of-food communications agency. We run the most in-depth podcast on agriculture and food sustainability. Our podcast covers various topics such as food waste, plastic alternatives, biotech and food, and cellular agriculture. We go deep by not addressing these topics in individual episodes but devoting 12-episode seasons to each of them, which allows us to explore each subject extensively.

Red to Green aims to foster a systemic understanding of the challenges, solutions, and the future of the food system. You can find our podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms. You can search for us by looking for "food tech" because we rank for that keyword, or simply by typing in "Red to Green".

I am co-founding a nonprofit that drives climate-positive and measurable change in policy, corporations, and consumer behaviour by using engaging film and visually driven campaigns.

Who is your target audience for this podcast?

Our primary audience consists mostly of founders and professionals in the food industry. It takes a certain level of enthusiasm to listen to seven hours of content on topics like cellular agriculture or any other subject we explore. However, our season on food history for the future of food has also attracted individuals from outside the industry. We have received interest from professionals who aspire to transition into careers with a higher impact, and they often reach out to me for volunteering opportunities or support in their  journey.

Where do your roots lie, or where does your path begin?

My father and sister heavily influenced me when they were diagnosed with cancer when I was thirteen. This experience shaped my life, making me acutely aware of the value of time and the unpredictability of health. As a result, I began to question many of my family's ingrained habits, particularly food and our eating habits. This led me to delve deep into the realm of nutrition science, experimenting with various diets and contemplating the relationship between food and personal health and sustainability.

However, I quickly transitioned into founding a company in career consulting. As a co-founder responsible for business development and marketing, I had countless conversations with individuals navigating career transitions. I discovered that many of them achieved great success in their careers, building a comfortable and secure "golden cage" of safety and security, but ultimately reached a point where they hit the ceiling of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They could not attain self-actualisation or self-transcendence because their chosen paths did not align with their core values.

This realisation prompted me to question whether my career path, specifically in career consulting, truly aligned with my values and whether it was the right path for the rest of my life. Thus, I embarked on a journey of deep reflection.

When did this happen in your life?

In my early twenties.

What steps did you take in your career after this realisation, and how did you create your podcast?

I started to search for work that was more in line with my values and started working in market analysis and early startup validation. Gradually, I got closer to my goal. I had the opportunity to work with the World Economic Forum and European Innovation, which brought me even closer. I then shifted to the healthcare sector, feeling I was getting warmer regarding alignment but it still felt like I wasn’t working on the right topic.

After this realisation, I decided to take a break from work and went on a yoga retreat. I was still feeling burnt out from founding my first company, which, fortunately, is still running. During the retreat, I focused on intense meditation and yoga sessions throughout the entire day. If you missed one session, you couldn’t participate in further sessions for the rest of the week. It was challenging, but it clarified that whatever I pursued next had to be related to sustainability. To me, everything else seemed secondary because sustainability impacts the planet and all human beings. So often, we overlook that environmental health is interconnected with human health.

However, sustainability itself was still too broad of a focus.

What truly made a difference was when I filled out a spreadsheet. My friends found it amusing because I managed my entire life using spreadsheets— it was a bit ridiculous, to be honest. Finally, a friend of mine named Robert, now the co-founder of KLIM, a regenerative agriculture company, sent me a fantastic spreadsheet. He used 120 different impact areas to determine his next venture.

I filled out the spreadsheet and rated each impact area on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how excited I would be about them. A rating of 1 meant I wouldn’t even bother moving in my bed for it, while a rating of 10 meant it was so inspiring that I would immediately pack my bags and travel across the world to work on it. When I saw the results, it was truly enlightening. The only area I rated as a 10 was cellular agriculture, and I gave nines to vertical farming, regenerative agriculture, plastic alternatives, food waste, and healthy nutrition. Suddenly, it hit me— I realised everything that excited me was related to food. I couldn't believe I had overlooked this connection before. And that's when the idea for Red to Green podcast was born.

Once you had this big epiphany, what steps did you take to turn Red to Green into a reality, and how long did it take?

When I was around 16 or 17 years old, I recall walking around while listening to podcasts. Then, this one moment left me in awe, realising that people could pursue their passions and get paid for them.

Now, the person I was listening to probably didn't earn their money through podcasting, but at that time, I believed they did. Regardless, I had always wanted to have my own podcast. So, in the beginning of 2020, I started working on it before COVID-19 hit.

Even if it wasn't something I could make a living from, there was a significant need for a resource in the food and sustainability space. The industry was growing rapidly, and I believed there needed to be more content that showcased cool startups and provided explanations and insights for individuals. In addition, I wanted to cover topics such as startup opportunities, important changes in businesses, and legislative changes we needed to make.

My vision was to take a holistic approach to food and sustainability. Back then, one part of Robert's spreadsheet (a genius idea) involved conducting in-depth research on various topics and identifying the ones I was most passionate about. So that's where I should focus my efforts.

The first topic I chose was cellular agriculture. Initially, I planned to research it for just one week, but it quickly turned into a full podcast season dedicated to the subject. Luckily, I had invested significant time in creating a decent website. When I reached out to founders in the space, I discovered that many of them were available for interviews due to COVID and the resulting free time. It was a stroke of luck, and I had the opportunity to interview some truly amazing individuals in the field.

Returning to the spreadsheet, we made it available because it was an important resource that greatly helped me. I've improved it, and it's now accessible on our website, Red to Green Solutions, completely free of charge. There's no need to sign up; anyone can simply download and use it as their own resource.

What do you find the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

I have an eternal curiosity, and I easily grow bored with topics. Therefore, my work is similar to that of a venture capitalist (VC) investor, but I can view it from a broader perspective.

It is an incredible pleasure to delve into various topics one after another and become an expert in each of them. However, with season outlines, it becomes a complex structure. It involves more than just assembling a group of interview guests.

For instance, in the food waste season, I had to truly comprehend the entire scope of the issue along the supply chain. This required understanding the perspectives of various stakeholders, such as farmers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, consumers, and even the legal aspects. Additionally, I had to include perspectives from chefs, farmers, corporations, investors, activists, and so on, not to mention different regions like Asia, Europe, and the US.

It's like having multiple interrelated metrics; the challenge lies in creating a cohesive storyline from all of them. Although I am not a journalist in the traditional sense or a writer for an online news outlet, I consider my journalistic work as introducing someone to a topic and helping them gain a comprehensive understanding of it through bite-sized pieces of information.

Within 25 to 35 minutes and a total of seven hours of content, similar to an audiobook, I aim to bring them up to speed with the current happenings in the field.

Take yourself back to when you were younger and had thoughts about people earning their living through podcasts. How do you make a living or support yourself?

When I first started, I had such strong belief and conviction in the importance of podcasting that I was determined to pursue it regardless of the challenges. However, as I encountered the realities of producing high-quality content and the extensive planning required, I realised it was incredibly difficult to manage alongside a full-time job.

Interestingly, one of the first backers I secured was Foodlabs, a venture capital and venture studio based in Berlin. They quickly recognised emerging trends and supported me, even when my podcast had just launched. It was particularly exciting for me since I held them in high regard.

Instead of selling individual episode sponsorships, I focus on education and solving problems. Companies often desire to create valuable content and educate people but lack the means and audience. Therefore, I now primarily collaborate with foundations such as the Adalbert Raps Foundation in southern Germany. They actively fund scientific research and support individual academics and young startups by granting funds for their practical food science research. The focus is on generating products or valuable applications in the near future.

This is so aligned with my podcast that I partnered with them for a season on food book reviews. We also discussed eleven amazing books on the food system, exploring the most important and applicable insights from these books. In addition, we'll take a meta-view of the carbon emissions of the food system, pesticide usage, and the roles of corporations and retailers. I love that we'll be getting into some meta themes this season.

Being such a young business or startup, what were your biggest challenges?

As they say, I needed to hire myself, so to speak, following this business advice: hire yourself and then fire yourself.

As Red to Green is growing into an agency, I am hiring someone to help with social media, an audio editor, and a project and marketing manager. Doing this, while also founding a non-profit related to film production is surely a challenge, but I am up for it anytime.

Have you ever experienced significant failures or made mistakes from which you gained valuable insights?

Yeah: at one point, I had this idea of automating everything, including automating myself away as the podcast host. It sounds ridiculous because being the host is the core and most enjoyable part of what I do. However, I wanted to set things up in a way that allowed the podcast to function and grow without my constant involvement.

So, I attempted to replace myself as the host, but unsurprisingly, it didn't work out. During that process, when I had someone else as a co-host for a season, I realised how much I actually valued being the host and how challenging it is to establish rapport within a group of three people.

When conducting interviews, there are instances where I start a question and find myself unsure of where I'm heading. I stumble and struggle in real-time. Occasionally, this results in weird questions. Surprisingly, some of these spontaneous questions were quite intriguing, both for the interview guests and myself. It's fascinating because I didn't even know where I was going with them. It feels as though my subconscious simply takes control. Since it originates from a non-heady space, it generates more unusual questions, although admittedly it can be hit-or-miss.

Additionally, I have learned the importance of not excessively preparing and the difficulty of remaining present during an interview. I often failed to listen to others because I was too focused on preparing for the next question or trying to remember a specific one. Consequently, I realised that active listening is what truly counts in the end— it's all about engaging in a meaningful conversation.

As a leader and businesswoman, how do you handle spontaneity, the non-rational mind, and setbacks? What is your mindset and attitude towards these things?

I strongly believe in intuition, particularly when meeting people face-to-face. The connection and partnership I am working on originated at the Food Hack event in Lausanne, which was truly fantastic. They do an amazing job, and I encourage everyone to attend. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This opportunity arose from early outreach through the platform and engaging with various individuals. Moving forward, I intend to rely more on my instincts when going through these lists rather than solely relying on rational thinking. There were times when I would reach out to people without a clear reason for wanting to talk to them, such as in the case of Frank Kuehne from the Adalbert Raps Foundation. However, he proposed the idea of creating an audio season on book reviews, which aligned perfectly with something I hadn't even considered. The moment I heard it, I thought, "That sounds fantastic!"

On the other hand, connecting with people based on more rational reasons, like discussing R&D and corporate topics, didn’t resonate as strongly. In the future, I want to explore the intuitive side more and allow a bit more magic to take over. Also, while attending conferences, I will follow my intuition and go where I feel drawn, even if there is no solid reason behind it.

You started your first company very early. When did you discover your entrepreneurial skills? At what age did you decide to build your own business?

Due to my dad’s severe cancer stage and subsequent passing when I was 18, I was highly motivated to become financially independent from my parents as soon as possible. At 15, I was concerned about how I would support my mum. This made me contemplate various career options.

I became fixated on the idea of becoming a manager. Interestingly enough, I envisioned myself as the manager of a magazine, which is similar to what I’m currently doing in audio form. I love the idea of producing something with a clear representation each month that represents my own work. It gives me a sense of accomplishment before moving on to the next project.

I always knew that project-based work suited me. Whether due to my competence or impatience, I would often take the lead in group and class settings. I started my studies early at 16 through a support program for talented students called “Förderprogram” in German. I was simply in a rush, constantly multitasking and striving for efficiency.

This led me to pursue higher education, only to realise business is pretty disappointing if you study it. I preferred doing business rather than just studying it. Therefore, I started working in online marketing when I was 16 or 17. Everything happened very early in my life, and I feel like I sacrificed a significant part of my teenage years for a sense of maturity. Interestingly, I now appear younger than I did in the beginning of my twenties back then. It’s as if I’m reversing the ageing process.

Have you ever taken a completely different route than planned, whether in your personal life or career?

Due to starting to study business at the age of 16, alongside still finishing my high school, I got pretty disillusioned with the university. I had already started going to startup events and working in online marketing.

At 18 I had the opportunity to transition from working in online marketing to founding my own career company backed by a family office. But I was faced with a decision: should I finish my bachelor's degree or jump into this opportunity without any business expertise at that time?

It was a tough decision, but it seemed impossible to continue my studies because I had a serious issue motivating myself for anything I wasn't truly passionate about. So, I leapt and founded the company. However, this decision was hard for my family. It was devastating for my brother, who always wanted to study but didn't have good grades, and my sister, who barely finished her studies. They thought things would go downhill from there.

Throughout the three years of founding the company, I had to constantly reassure my parents that I had my life together and that everything was going well.

What were some of the biggest sacrifices or compromises to get where you are today?

The main one is stability. I gave up a regular paycheck in exchange for working with partnerships and having to budget all expenses over a longer period, which is fine in that sense.

I consider myself lucky because I have great freedom in what I do and am willing to sacrifice certain things for that. For instance, I wouldn't work with a big corporation that doesn't align with the true purpose of Red to Green, but I also believe that corporations need to change. They are the most important part of the system that needs to change. They consist of people with different, often conflicting motives, almost like a civil war within themselves. So there are always good people within a bad corporation.

I would rule out working with certain companies. Still, overall, I feel incredibly blessed regarding my flexibility and freedom, and I have prioritised working on things I feel passionate about. I'm particularly interested in urgent topics such as creating a season on alternative farming inputs to replace or reduce the use of fertilisers. I'm also fascinated by finding ways to reabsorb or recycle the nitrogen in our environment.

I'm shifting my focus towards agriculture and moving away from the shiny object syndrome of chasing the coolest and hippest startups. Instead, I'm embracing a whole-foods information diet that focuses on what is truly necessary. Even if it's less shiny, I aim to make it shine now.

What future do you envision creating with Red to Green, or what are you envisioning to help create?

Many competent individuals unknowingly engage in evil jobs. Most unfortunately, we also have a lot of competent individuals who knowingly engage in evil jobs. This means that we require an equal, if not greater, number of individuals to counterbalance this situation. I strive to inspire people to transition their career to meaningful work. Every person I can guide from a negative or neutral job to a climate-positive one is a significant win.

I have received messages from individuals who used Red to Green to explore opportunities in the food industry, became passionate about food and agriculture because of it, or used it to enhance their skills and performance in their current roles. That's so awesome, and I cheer them on a lot. I frequently share these success stories in our Slack channel and celebrate every message we receive through email, LinkedIn, or any other channel.

In the long run, I aim to develop a comprehensive understanding of the food system, enabling me to provide unbiased advice by considering various perspectives such as plastics, food waste, farming, technical expertise, social dynamics, and even geopolitical factors.

How has studying food science guided your knowledge of the food industry?

Well, due to a slight detour, I was fortunate enough to study something that I am truly passionate about, which is science and technology history with a focus on food and agriculture. It makes a significant difference when you can make predictions based on the last 10 or 20 years of personal experience in the industry, along with recent data. However, what remains constant is history. People don't change as much. We are still driven by the same underlying motives we had decades ago, just with fancier rationalisations. That's why we created a season on food history, focusing on applicable learnings for the current food industry. We learn from examples such as how corporations, like the butter lobby, suppressed margarine as a competitor in various ways. We also explore how foods we now find desirable or attractive, like potatoes, tomatoes, and lobster, were once hated, despised, or seen as something like pig food. Finally, how consumers change their minds still applies to these stories and remains relevant today.

What advice would you like to give young climate entrepreneurs or individuals contemplating starting a business in the climate space?

If you consider the principle of effective altruism, you must look where there aren't enough solutions yet. These areas can be seen as white spaces, representing opportunities for innovation. The degree of importance and underutilisation should determine your priority in addressing them.

I firmly believe that pursuing a venture driven by intrinsic motivation can be immensely beneficial. In times of difficulty, your passion will propel you forward and help you overcome challenges.

For me, completing the spreadsheet with 120 impact areas provided a sense of clarity. Knowing that whatever I do will contribute to this space is reassuring. Any time invested here is not wasted.

It is crucial to critically evaluate solutions that truly make a difference rather than mere marketing tactics. Striking a balance between being discerning and avoiding superficial strategies is essential.

One challenge in the startup space is that startups eventually get acquired by mid-sized companies, which, in turn, may be bought by corporations. As a result, these well-intentioned teams with clear missions find themselves confined within existing massive systems that prioritise efficiency. If we want to bring about real change, we need to transform the way corporations operate.

In my opinion, two underutilised aspects in the food industry and media are: firstly, startups taking a slow but systemic approach, securing funding from family offices, collaborating with other companies, bootstrapping, and gradually building a mid-sized business; secondly, individuals who are making positive changes within corporations or devising strategies to incentivise corporations to do the right thing. Being able to effect change within a corporate setting can significantly impact you, making you a secret agent of positive change within the system.

If one lasting message could reach everyone on this planet, what would that message be?

I really love a concept that I call "passive impact." Perhaps you've heard of Tim Ferriss and his book, "The 4-Hour Workweek," which discusses passive income— earning money without trading hours for cash— by creating systems or products that work on their own. However, I believe this movement sometimes focuses too much on personal gratification and lacks depth.

Therefore, what I primarily seek is passive impact. How can one create something that has a positive impact without investing excessive hours? For instance, participating in a beach cleanup and spending four hours picking up plastic trash is great. However, what if you identify unnecessary plastic packaging within your community or the corporate system you're a part of?

Let's say you work at a food manufacturing company, and they individually package teabags in small plastic wrappers on top. You recognise it's unnecessary and propose alternatives like paper packaging or eliminating it. Once your suggestion is implemented, every time a package is produced without the additional plastic, it accumulates positive impact points. You don't have to manually remove the plastic each time; it becomes a set-it-and-forget-it situation. This creates a sustained positive impact. I find this aspect of change in corporations and production to be truly beautiful.

I apply the concept of passive impact to content as well. For instance, people are still listening to the first season of Red to Green, which was released in mid-2020, because the content is evergreen. It focuses less on current startup trends and news but rather on the technology itself and how it can be beneficial. Content can also be a means of generating passive impact.

Imagine if everyone followed this approach— it would make a significant difference, surpassing what we can individually achieve in our personal lives. However, we should still be mindful of our own carbon footprints and avoid being hypocritical. I've been guilty of that myself, and I'm working on improving. We must consider both personal and systemic aspects to create real change.

I think we can all benefit from this advice. Thank you so much for your time and, frankly, for being so interesting. I hope your podcast continues to be a success, and that you’re able to create a truly incomprehensible extent of good passive impacts with it.

If you’d like to know more, please see www.redtogreen.solutions. The Red to Green podcast can also be found on Spotify and iTunes.

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