Not people.

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Will Soylent Be Green?

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Is there community in a smoothie?

Yesterday, Soylent, the startup that offers a powder mixture claiming to be a replacement for food, got a $20 million investment from venture-capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Index Ventures.

Soylent offers a subscription service for a beige drink that has been heralded as the "end of food" and marketed as a nutritious, affordable and simple solution to the exigencies of preparing a meal and chewing it. Yet apparently it's so much more.

Chris Dixon, who works at Andreessen, explained the investment decision in a blog post, comparing the company to personal-camera maker GoPro and saying that he was impressed with the community Soylent has built around its product.

Soylent is a community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition. The company makes money selling one version of that improved food (some users buy “official Soylent,” others buy ingredients to make their own DIY Soylent recipe). If you look at Soylent as just a food company, you misjudge the core of the company, the same way you would if you looked at GoPro as just a camera company.

No, Soylent is not just a food company. It's also receptacle of our romanticism about technology and scientific disruption. How else do you explain a brand based on a fictional dystopian food source made from human remains? If you're selling high-tech, however, a sci-fi superfood sounds more consumable -- and marketable -- than nondescript creamy gloop. 

So far, the Soylent "community" mainly consists of a discussion forum and a DIY Soylent site where customers exchange recipes under tags such as "bodybuilding" and "weight gain" and "weight loss" and even "tasty!"

A product designed to enable us to spend less time thinking about food has, inevitably, attracted a group of people joined together by their desire to … talk about food. Will this virtual community be enough to keep Soylent profitable?   

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg View, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net