What's in this Stuff founders Tymon Johns and Chris Smith

Ever wonder what’s in your Frosted Flakes or Fritos? A new Seattle startup is looking to provide answers to those questions, allowing users to get the scoop on the ingredients that make up their food. The company — aptly dubbed What’s In This Stuff? — includes a directory of thousands of food products commonly found on your grocery list.

We chatted with 36-year-old co-founder Tymon Johns, who received his MBA from the University of Washington last year, for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We let you learn more about the ingredients in the foods you eat by scanning a product’s UPC with your phone or typing it in the website. If you want to track certain ingredients, say that you are allergic to, we allow you to do that as well.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Working on a food related project in an MBA course I realized I couldn’t understand half of what I was reading and that a little information made easily accessible could revolutionize the way we make decisions regarding our food purchases.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Definitely bootstrap. We aren’t working our butts off to have somebody else own our souls. We like the way we are doing things and want to be able to look at the long term solutions, not just make a quick profit.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We have lots of secret sauces…but they’re secret. Seriously though, I think what is going to make this thing great is our willingness to listen to the customer and quickly adapt, and have fun while doing it.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Using the plethora of resources out there to get to where we are as fast as we have. There are a lot of great apps and sites out there giving incredibly powerful services for very low prices. We’ve been able to leverage many of those to our advantage.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not realizing how huge of a project this is. We’re approaching 100,000 products in our database and expect to add tens of thousands more on top of those. There are thousands of different ingredients making up those products and we have to get it all organized in a way that is simple, yet helpful for our end users. With just our team it would take years…we probably should have started looking for help sooner.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “They’re all great men and I would love to have parts of all of them. The brains of Gates, the perfectionism of Jobs, the work ethic of Zuckerberg, and the personality of Bezos. Just give me GaJoKerZos!”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “It has already started. Just very few people know about it yet. But they will…oh they will.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We’re not afraid to give the facts, even if it means some people won’t like it. I think those people, or those manufacturers, or whoever, will eventually respect us though. I once heard a quote that it is better to be trusted than liked. I think the trust factor is going to keep people coming back.”

We are truly unique because: “We are giving people the facts and then letting them make their own decisions. Other sites claim to “educate” their users, but then they make the decisions for them. We’re not doing that. We’re teaching them to fish so to speak.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Getting the data organized is a way that is manageable and useful. That has been our challenge from the beginning. There is still work to do, but I think we’re doing it a lot smarter now that we’ve fallen down a few times trying to figure it out.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of people out there more than willing to support you and help you through the journey because there are a lot of people out there that have gone through what you’re going through and know how hard it is.”

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send  photos of the founder(s) and company logo to tips@geekwire.com. Past profiles can be found here.

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