While pointing to a $300 million valuation and high-profile investors such as Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin, and Salesforce CEO and founder Marc Benioff, makers of eggless mayonnaise and other food products Hampton Creek have crafted a "cult of delusion." That's according to former employees interviewed by Business Insider in a piece of terrific condiment journalism.
Since it was founded three and a half years ago, Hampton Creek has been a media darling. Just hours ago it was named a "technology pioneer" by the World Economic Forum according to Business Wire. Popular food personality Andrew Zimmern predicted a Nobel Prize in the works. The brand, which has been expanding its line of products, is even the mayo of choice in 7-Elevens. But CEO Josh Tetrick, a vegan from Alabama and a graduate of Cornell might have a bit of imitation egg on his face after a number of complaints and allegations of unsavory behavior
For starters, some employees claim Hampton Creek whipped up the number of plant samples it analyzes from hundreds to thousands in its quest to disrupt the egg industry, or whatever. "When they were saying 4,000, it was probably closer to 400," said one former Hampton Creek worker. "At least 5x less than it was claimed, and that's conservatively."
The initial "breakthrough," others note, actually came from outside Hampton Creek's Lab. The company's headline-making product, Just Mayo, was according to several sources an innovation instead crafted by a food-tech company in Silicon Valley. "We just threw money at them, and they came back in the first week with a formulation. It's just food starch with pea protein," a former employee said. "Josh [Tetrick] got this, and he promoted it like it was an amazing invention."
It also sounds as if facts about the product were vague even when it was sold. "We didn't know how the product was going to react to being on the shelf," one employee said, but the company shipped its products and promises regardless. "It was unsettling. The last few months I worked there I wouldn’t sleep very well. There were certain projects that made me uncomfortable on ethical ground," an employee also remarked. "The idea that we understood how it worked was completely off base."
Part of the problem: One former employee said that "Any pushback that we gave about his choices being illogical and unfounded in science ended up putting us on shaky ground."
A further illustration of the issues and misdirection, as if one were necessary: When an investor, Ali Partovi, joined the company as chief strategy officer, he left after just 9 days. Though Tetrick told the Wall Street Journal he would stay on as an advisor, Partovi later told The New York Times that he "resigned completely." because, according to a former employee, he was "ethically uncomfortable with the false representations about its finances and its technology."
On a personal level, Tetrick was also reportedly having a relationship with a female employee whom he felt he could not fire, and instead promoted according to former staff. This is substantiated by evidence in text messages obtained by Business Insider. "[I]t is a huge lawsuit" one of Tetrick's texts hinted.
In another but related point of possibly deliberate confusion, a former employee called Hampton Creek, which is deeply invested in being understood as "startup" nothing more than a "food company masquerading as a tech company." That image was achieved in part by hiring former Google employees and featuring Bill Gates on its website. Anecdotally, the tech aspect of Hampton Creek has been a factor in its success.
If Hampton Creek really is a tech company, perhaps its CEO will have a Silicon Valley non-apology ready for us soon. Perhaps something about how to make an omelette?