Serial teen tech entrepreneur Ben Pasternak made his fortune creating social apps and games that, he now says, wasted people's time and contributed negatively to the wellbeing of humans.
Now the 19-year-old, Australian-born high school drop out - who lives alone in his New York high-rise apartment - has turned his focus to reinventing the chicken nugget.
Not content with the way the nugget is now, Pasternak believes he's created a snack that tastes as good, if not better than McDonald's McNuggets - but with no chickens harmed in the process.
Backed by Canadian food giant McCain Foods to the tune of $US7 million ($10 million) as a lead investor, as well as by a slew of other traditional tech investors who include a who's who of Silicon Valley, Pasternak's latest venture NUGGS uses pea protein, spices, and food-based technology.
Other investors include founder of MTV and chief executive officer of iHeartMedia, Bob Pittman; former president of Tumblr, John Maloney; Casper founder and chief operating officer, Neil Parikh; Bask co-founder Ryan Metzger; Rainfall Ventures; Greylock Discovery Fund; Maven Ventures; NOMO Ventures; M Ventures; and ACME Capital.
Its creation comes after he sold his former social media ventures Monkey (a video chat app for teens that matches them with other random people with similar interests) and Flogg (a buy and sell platform leveraging Facebook connections), and iPhone game Impossible Rush.
He says, after a period of "going back to first principles", he realised what he was initially told by tech venture capitalists wasn't necessarily the right thing to pursue. That advice, he says, was connecting people using social apps designed to keep people engaged for the most amount of time per day to make the most amount of money.
"As soon as I raised money [when I was 17], I was told that the best way to have an impact on the world was to connect people and that's why I got into social apps in the first place," he says.
"And that's very heavily focused on DAU, which is daily active users and the amount of time people spend on an app, which is actually optimised by these companies."
But after pursuing this for almost five years, his thinking changed after he saw first hand the negative impact these apps were starting to have not only on his own life, but that of his friends.
"I felt like not just with Monkey, but with all social apps, the metric [of] daily active users [a figure heavily focused on by venture capitalists, advertisers and chief executives] is one thing, but how much time people spent on an app a day makes very bad outcomes," he says.
"These large companies have huge teams of people who are essentially brain hacking [people].
"They are finding out what animations and what content to show people that will essentially release serotonin [an important chemical in the brain believed to help regulate mood] to make them addicted to these social apps and I think ... that it's [creating] a lot of brain pollution.
"Especially on Instagram and Facebook products, the content that comes through is just truly unbelievable what a waste of time it is to consume."
Especially on Instagram and Facebook products, the content that comes through is just truly unbelievable what a waste of time it is to consume.Ben Pasternak
Pasternak, in a moment of reflection, later clarified that he didn't believe his Monkey video chat app was a "massive time waster". But his first app Impossible Rush is exactly that - a game where the player taps a wheel to match colours against balls which fall faster and faster.
"People have met best friends, partners and even have gotten married through Monkey," he says. "Monkey has created tens of millions of meaningful relationships.
"My negative views on social apps are entirely towards the larger companies. There are many great smaller social apps that are connecting people in positive and meaningful ways."
He has a dire warning if we keep going down the path we're presently on with social apps.
"I do think it's going to be the end of human consciousness as we know it," he says, "and I think the very first mainstream artificial intelligence - Facebook's News Feed algorithm across Instagram and Facebook - has as a result been extremely negative.
"Social companies that were once connecting us are no longer doing that. They are now no different to, I'd put it up there with negative drugs or negative substances."
The son of wealthy Sydney property developer Mark Pasternak, the tech entrepreneur, who now has a thick New York accent ("Really? That sucks. Don't write that, don't write that in the piece," he laughs) says he doesn't use Instagram himself and has switched his iPhone to grey-scale mode, which some believe makes a smartphone less addictive to use.
A vegetarian, Pasternak says he hopes to encourage people to take up more sustainable eating not by using alarmist language but by creating a better rival to animal-based meat to lure people to buy his plant-based nuggets, which cost $US24 ($34) for 50 or $US29 for 80 and only ship in the US at present, though there are plans to eventually take them global, including to Australia.
Demand for plant-based protein has surged in recent years, with manufacturers and takeaway chains constantly introducing new products to keep up, according to IBISWorld research. Alternative meat has become so popular, it's threatening the local market for meat and dairy producers.
Research group NPD Group says 2 million Australians are vegetarian, which equates to 8 per cent of the population. Females make up almost two out of three of those seeking more plant-based options, and Millennials more than half.
This has led to a boom in stock market valuations of plant-based meat companies, with stocks in some, such as US-based Beyond Meat, soaring 600 per cent, and local Australian venture capital firm Blackbird backing similar companies, such as Sunfed, which now sells to Coles.
McCain Foods' chief growth officer Mauro Pennella said NUGGS had developed an "incredible product that uses plant-based technology to uniquely simulate a high quality chicken nugget".
"We believe the combination of the NUGGS approach and McCain's production and commercial expertise will accelerate the brand's growth and deliver market scale."
Neil Parikh, the co-founder of sleep company Casper, who also invested in NUGGS, said he did so because he thought Pasternak had "an incredible vision for how to help people live a plant-based lifestyle".
"They have a totally unique approach - making the choices cool, rather than guilting people into eating less meat," Parikh said.
Another investor, Ryan Metzger, 23, said NUGGs was creating something "magical" and "epic".
"I think they are going to change the world."
- SMH/The Age