A year and a half ago I participated in a startup program with Chiang Mai University. One of the participants was Smith Taweelerdniti, the CEO and Founder of Let’s Plant Meat. In the intervening 18 months, I have thought a lot about the experience of working with the startups that went through the program and I wanted to catch up with Smith to understand the progress that he was making. We recorded this episode while he was sitting in his garden (make sure to watch the video as well!) and you may notice the roosters crying in the background.
Smith Taweelerdniti was born in Bangkok and raised by his grandmother. Smith graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering from Thammasat University and then went into the IT Consulting practice at Accenture in Bangkok. After a few years of consulting experience, Smith ventured to the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina to get an MBA in Entrepreneurship. Living in North Carolina was a great experience and to make his time in the USA even better, he moved to Round Rock, Texas to work in Finance at Dell Corporation. There is always something new to learn when you are living in an unfamiliar environment and Smith learned a ton during his time in the United States.
Living in the US was great, but the call of the family was strong. We noted earlier that he was raised by his grandmother and as he saw her aging, he wanted to come back to Thailand and do his duty as a grandson. He was also enticed by coming back to work in his family’s business, not as an employee, but as an employer. He was also excited about living in Chiang Mai. I joked that if they could do SXSW in Austin, we should do North by North East in Chiang Mai…and it turns out, Smith had already tried to launch his own festival inspired by SXSW.
The meat of the conversation, pun intended, focused on Smith’s transition into his role as the Managing Director of Nithi Foods and then his journey into the founding of Let’s Plant Meat. This conversation covered the challenges of being a second-generation MD and charting your own map. We also discussed the impact of crop burning and the impact it has on Chiang Mai’s environment. The deeper Smith looked the more he realized the chain of events that made the burning necessary. This began his research into the science of plant-based food.