Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Michael Brandt, Co-Founder and CEO of HVMN and Ketone IQ. We cover the basics of ketones, iterating on product, and the company’s $6 million contract with Navy SEALs. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
“Your human body is the most advanced piece of technology you'll ever own.” – Michael Brandt
Michael Brandt is Co-founder and CEO of HVMN and Ketone IQ, which makes the world's first drinkable ketones. HVMN stands for Health via Modern Nutrition, and in 2017, they launched version 1.0 of their drinkable ketones product. After landing a $6 million contract with the US Department of Defense to study how ketones could improve the performance of our special forces warriors, they launched version 2.0, called Ketone-IQ, in November 2021.
Ketones are likely a word that you've heard of. It's a type of energy that your body produces when you're in a state of ketosis, by breaking down fat. Everyone from Tim Ferris to Ben Greenfield has been raving about the benefits of ketosis for years. HVMN's innovation was creating the world's first drinkable ketones, which are ketones that can pass through your digestive system, which they brought to the market in 2017. And today, they're used by everyone from Navy SEALs to Tour de France cyclists, hedge fund investors, athletes, and executives around the world.
In this episode, we cover ketosis and ketones 101, including what ketones are, how they work, and why they're so helpful for boosting cognitive and physical performance. We compare and contrast ketones with sugar, covering everything from how ketones pass the blood brain barrier to why they provide energy with less oxidative stress. We dive into how drinkable ketones are used by the Navy SEALs and Operation Metabolic Dominance.
Transcript – #116 HVMN and Ketone IQ: Next-Level Metabolic Health with Ketones for the U.S. Navy SEALs and The Rest of Us | Michael Brandt, Co-Founder & CEO
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:05):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of our Outlier Founder Series, where we dig into the ideas, frameworks, and strategies used to build the world's best startups. I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today I'm joined by Michael Brandt, Co-founder and CEO of HVMN, which makes the world's first drinkable ketones. HVMN stands for Human Via Modern Nutrition, and in 2017, they launched version 1.0 of their drinkable ketones product. After landing a $6 million contract with the US Department of Defense to study how ketones could improve the performance of our special forces warriors, they launched version 2.0 called Ketone-IQ in November 2021.
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:44):
Ketones are likely a word that you've heard of. It's a type of energy that your body produces when you're in a state of ketosis, by breaking down fat. Everyone from Tim Ferris to Ben Greenfield has been raving about the benefits of ketosis for years. HVMN's innovation was creating the world's first drinkable ketones, which are ketones that can pass through your digestive system, which they brought to the market in 2017. And today, they're used by everyone from Navy SEALs to Tour de France cyclists, hedge fund investors, athletes, and executives around the world.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:15):
This episode is one of my favorite conversations ever. In it, we cover ketosis and ketone 101, including what ketones are, how they work, and why they're so helpful for boosting cognitive and physical performance. We compare and contrast ketones with sugar, covering everything from how ketones past the blood brain barrier to why they provide energy with less oxidative stress. We dive in how drinkable ketones are used by the Navy SEALs and operation metabolic dominance. And we dive into all the work that HVMN has done around bioengineering, manufacturing, and testing to produce their latest product, Ketone-IQ.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:51):
You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/116, it's 116, and you can learn more about HVMN and Ketone-IQ at hvmn.com. With that, here's my conversation with HVMN's Co-founder and CEO, Michael Brandt.
Daniel Scrivner (00:02:11):
Michael, I am so excited to have you on Outlier Academy to talk about HVMN and the latest product that you've created called Ketone-IQ. Welcome to the podcast.
Michael Brandt (00:02:22):
Daniel, thanks so much for having me, and thanks everyone for listening in. It's going to be a fun one.
Daniel Scrivner (00:02:26):
Yes. There's a ton to explore. We're going to explore, obviously, the nutritional aspect, get into a little bit of the science of how ketones work, and then we're also going to talk about the business of HVMN and how you've iterated on that product. To start, and we're going to cover a ton of ground, so I'm going to try to squeeze in as much as I can into this interview, but to start, can you just share a quick bit about your background? I know you're a marathon runner. I don't know if that was part of the impetus to focus on ketones and building HVMN, but share, if you can, a little bit of your origin story and the origin story of the company.
Michael Brandt (00:03:02):
Sure. I am a marathon runner. My PR for the marathon is 2:42, so around six-minute miles for the marathon.
Daniel Scrivner (00:03:10):
Michael Brandt (00:03:10):
So run in Boston and not winning the Olympics or anything like that, but I'm finishing top 1% in any given marathon as a serious hobby, and it definitely dovetails with my interest in human performance and everything that we're building at HVMN. The community and business and everything we're building here, it definitely connects. As I'm sure a lot of other entrepreneurs can recognize that it's nice when your personal and your professional dovetail together.
Michael Brandt (00:03:43):
My background, I'm from Chicago, went to public school in Chicago, was an international baccalaureate student, had the good fortune to get into Stanford. That's what brought me out to the West Coast. Studied computer science and product design there. After graduating, got really into biohacking and essentially applying engineers systems thinking to human body. Your human body is the most advanced piece of technology you'll ever own. We're at this really interesting period right now where we're learning a lot about the body. There's a proliferation of consumer devices, sensors that let us understand and observe what's going on in our body. We are pushing a lot of innovation on the nutrition component of what can you do to drive meaningful output changes in your body as a system.
Michael Brandt (00:04:37):
I started getting really interested in biohacking, performance optimization. My co-founder and I started a business called Neutro Box. We were one of the first to take the concept of nootropics. This was in 2014. We took the concept of nootropics and really made it mainstream. We got covered by everyone, VICE, Wall Street Journal. We were on Shark Tank. We were one of the first ones to say, "Hey, look, caffeine is cool. A billion cups of coffee are being drank every day. What if you stack things on top of caffeine? There are things you can combine with caffeine to improve the performance profile." And so, we followed that along a really interesting path and then began broadening out our interest. I got really into marathoning. Can talk more about that. We got really into intermittent fasting. My co-founder and I did a seven-day fast. We're doing regular weekly fasts and had a big fasting community in San Francisco, got a lot of coverage around that and talking about metabolic health. And hey, it turns out that the human body is not supposed to be eating three meals a day plus snacks of Slurpees and Snickers bars and all that, that that's-
Daniel Scrivner (00:05:42):
Michael Brandt (00:05:44):
... that's not true to our human evolutionary context and how we're supposed to operate. And then we had this insight around ketones where in 2016, '17, this is when Bulletproof coffee was taking off. Anyone who's anyone or in and around biohacking has at least tried bulletproof, tried taking black coffee, put butter and MCTs in there, and the whole point of that being instead of fueling with sugar, you fuel with fat, which your body turns that fat into ketones. Bulletproof coffee was trending. A lot of people were trying the ketogenic diet. We were leading this movement around intermittent fasting. All of these activities, including also endurance sports, all these activities, they are intentionally reducing your body's carbohydrate store and intentionally inducing your body to create ketones and to fuel off of ketones.
Michael Brandt (00:06:42):
My co-founder and I, we asked the first principles question on it, which was, "Hey, we're going through all these hoops to have our bodies make ketones." We asked that kind of dumb smart question which I think a lot of entrepreneurs can identify with of, "Hey, if ketones are so cool, why can't you just go to the store and buy a ketone." Pulling on that thread led to the years of deep work. We started uncovering early work that DARPA and the USDOD had done. We took that work and translated that and manufactured it at scale. We reengaged with the USDOD and secured a $6 million contract with Special Operations Command around our version one of our keto drink. We worked with elite operators all over the board, and then we'd just been cracking at it for years.
Michael Brandt (00:07:31):
Earlier this year, we launched a major update, version two of our keto drink called Ketone-IQ, where we brought down the price considerably. The Navy SEAL version was a little bit more expensive and crazy tasting, and we brought it down to spot where it's $4 a serving. I want to get it down to 40 cents a serving, so there's still orders of magnitude to work at, but we are at a spot where it's about the cost of a latte or a CBD drink or other functional beverage like kombucha, other beverages that people are used to. So we're in the ballpark where high performers can have access to this really cool fuel that has previously only been available to high performers or you can only have it in your system. If you do keto diet and fasting and induce your body to make this magical ketone molecule. So we're not at a spot where it's accessible and we're in stores and gyms and cafes.
Michael Brandt (00:08:27):
IT's been a fun journey translating from DARPA lab to consumer movement. It's not an overnight thing, but it's been a really fun journey, and I think it's flexed a lot of different muscles for myself as a founder, my co-founder, and our team across the board. It's been a a fun journey.
Daniel Scrivner (00:08:47):
Yeah. Well, and as we're going to explore, there's a lot more left to go and there's a lot that's already happened. I remember first, I think it was maybe two years ago, when I first discovered HVMN, I remember that version one. We'll talk about it a little bit later in the episode. Before we started recording, you described that as a science fair version of what you're building and we'll get into what that is. And is a ton to explore. The one question I wanted to ask just before we go on, I was asking this before we hit record, but obviously the name of the company is HVMN, which you look at and immediately think you fill in the missing letters. You're like, it means human, but it also has a second meaning. Can you talk about what each of those letters stands for?
Michael Brandt (00:09:29):
Yeah, HVMN stands for Health Via Modern Nutrition. A lot of people are maybe familiar with the quote, "Let thy food be thy medicine," where before you go and take a battery of pharmaceuticals, you're already eating something every day, and what you're eating is directing the course of your life. You are improving or worsening your biomarkers for health. Your food is putting you into a certain state. It's spiking your blood glucose and inching you closer to diabetes, or it's not. It's making you feel better or it's making you feel worse. It's the step by step, brick by brick. Oftentimes, when we think of medicine, it's this major thing. You're introducing a antibiotic or you're introducing a statin or you're introducing some major abrupt change into your life. But in reality, day by day, brick by brick, step by step, what you're eating, that's the stuff of life. That's what's leading you towards a larger or smaller number of total healthy years on the planet. And so being mindful about that is what was the driving factor behind the company and Health Via Modern Nutrition. How can we be have better health, how can we perform better through the food that we eat every day?
Daniel Scrivner (00:10:51):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that background. I want to first start by talking about ketones, and then we'll talk about ketones as a substrate, which is this interesting idea you introduced to me when we were talking about how we might cover in this interview, and then we'll go into version two of the product. But I want to start with ketones because, at least from my perspective, I feel like ketosis is something I've heard a lot about. Obviously, ketones are a key part of ketosis, but I don't know how familiar people are with either ketosis or ketones, so I want to start out with some basics. Can you start by just sharing your explanation or your best attempt at an explanation of what ketones are and talk a little bit about how they're naturally produced in the body?
Michael Brandt (00:11:32):
Ketones are the oldest form of fuel. Our body has always made ketones for 300,000 years, as long as there's been humans, or even prehuman, homo erectus, like pre-humans were even making ketones. What a ketone is is it's a metabolic substrate. Your body makes it when you have low levels of circulating glucose, carbohydrates in general. It is a super efficient metabolic substrate. We evolve the ability to make ketones because glucose crosses the blood brain barrier, fat does not. So if you haven't eaten something with glucose in the last couple of days or if you've been moving around a lot and burning off that glucose store, your body's running low on glucose. You can only store a couple of days worth of glucose. Your body can store a month worth of body fat. Even if you're a lean individual, just to give some numbers around it, you can store around 2,000 calories of glucose, and you can store around 200,000 calories of fat. So we're talking two orders of magnitude.
Michael Brandt (00:12:42):
One analogy is it's like RAM versus your hard drive. You can store a little bit of glucose and you can store a lot of fat. The issue with fat is that it cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Humans have a very large brain, so what happens when we are on the Savannah X, 10, hundreds of thousands of years ago and we're running low on blood glucose, we haven't eaten something with carbohydrates, or we're been moving around a lot, and we have these large brains, humans famously have largest brain for our body size of any animal, that's part of what makes us special, and what do we use to fuel this brain? Our body creates ketones, and ketones are this super efficient substrate. Substrate has a specific meaning, where they contain calories. They're a metabolic substrate. They enter your mitochondria and they produce ATP, the energy currency of our cells.
Michael Brandt (00:13:40):
Ketones exist to power our brain, they power our muscles as well, and our body naturally produces them when we're low on glucose. And so, fast forward to modern times, in the early 20th century, researchers started looking at this idea of a ketogenic diet, where how do you make your body make a ketone? Well, if you deliberately reduce your intake of carbs, your body will start making ketones. The first application of a ketogenic diet or ketosis is in the early 20th century. There was this study done around children who were having seizures. The hypothesis was that these children have some malfunction in their brain's ability to metabolize glucose, so let's put them on a ketogenic diet and see if by powering with ketones instead of glucose are we able to reduce the instance of seizures? It turns out the answer is yes, that they were able to significantly reduce the amount of seizures that these kids were having by applying a ketogenic diet.
Michael Brandt (00:14:46):
Ketones have these really interesting properties. They're super efficient. They are an alternative to glucose. Whether you're inclined towards seizures or not, ketones can power the brain, they can add functional capabilities. We've been seeing a lot of science pan out over the last 100 years where fast forwarding to the 21st century, we've been looking at ways to actively create a ketone. We discovered a lot around what can happen when you induce your body to make its own ketones. And that just led to the question of, okay, what if you go and drink a ketone? And that's where our part of the story picked up, is, yeah, what happens if you have a direct ketone drink?
Daniel Scrivner (00:15:32):
Yeah. Thank you for that overview. I mean, I think it's just enormously helpful. I want to go one level deeper and just compare and contrast a little bit of ketones versus glucose. Because as I was thinking about this, you shared this example, which is obviously really resonant, of ketones being the oldest form of fuel. And you can think back, obviously, 50, 100, thousands of years and our diet was very, very, very different. And today, obviously, we have an obesity epidemic generally, we have a diabetes epidemic generally. And so, just even in the food that we're eating, I'm always surprised, I look at nutrition labels all the time, I'm always surprised, it feels like literally every product has sugar added to it or glucose added to it in some shape or form. And so, one of the questions I want to ask is, it seems like over time our diet has become much, much more glucose-rich, or glucose is in almost everything, so help people understand the difference, both in the quality of energy and some of the other pros and cons of a ketone versus a glucose. I know, for instance, ketones provide energy with less oxidative stress. I'm sure there are other things. How do you think about the pros and cons there?
Michael Brandt (00:16:42):
Yeah, sugar's really interesting because in the ancestral context, there wasn't an abundance of straight sugar. There's was not table sugar. Table sugar, actually, came up in the last few hundred years where it actually drove a lot of the slave trade as well where there was this discovery around sugar plantations and, hey, we can extract sugar from sugar cane and we can make this really refined, pure table sugar. But for hundreds of thousands of years before that, you didn't have straight sugar. There's no sources in nature of just straight sugar. The closest would be honey, but honey's really hard to come by. It exists in certain regions only, and you got to climb up a tall tree and battle off a bunch of bees, and it's really hard to access.
Michael Brandt (00:17:38):
We've bred a lot of our fruits to be very high in sugar. If you look at ancient bananas, ancient apples, they looked very different. We've intentionally bred them to be much more palatable, but palatable means a lot of times higher in sugar. Sugar's very tasty, it's very addicting, it's very palatable, and we've done a lot to make our food supply taste yummier, but it's not necessarily a good thing. It's backfired in a lot of ways where we now have... There's a study that showed 88% of American adults are metabolically unhealthy. We have skyrocketing race of obesity. A lot of people are prediabetic, diabetic. I think diabetes is not this black and white switch where one day you just have diabetes, it's similar to noise-induced hearing loss where if every day you're listening to loud music, slowly over time you're going to decay your ability to hear things. Same thing with your metabolism. If you're constantly barraging it with high levels of sugar, your body can only respond to it so much.
Michael Brandt (00:18:50):
What happens when you eat sugar is your blood glucose rises, and then you release insulin to address that blood sugar. And then over time, if you do that habitually and you're constantly spiking, the insulin stops working. You develop insulin resistance, and that's diabetes. Again, it's not this black and white thing where you're completely normal and then one day you have diabetes. It's a decay function over time. It's something a lot of people should be thinking about. I think a lot of people are thinking about not just because of what we're doing, but if people are familiar with continuous glucose monitors-
Daniel Scrivner (00:19:26):
Michael Brandt (00:19:27):
... companies like Levels are doing great work here where you're able to see how your diet and life's other lifestyle factors are affecting your glucose levels with the mission being, hey, have less area under the curve of elevated glucose, avoid really steep spikes, and it'll be better for your metabolic health in general. You'll feel better day by day. And you'll avoid some of the largest issues that are causing mortality in the country. It's all through your diet.
Daniel Scrivner (00:19:57):
Yeah, I love that description of it being a decay function because I think it's a really clean, interesting way to think about it. We'll link to it in the shown up, we had the team at Levels on previously and we did a deep dive on Levels. One of the things that was most interesting there too, is that what any customers that use Levels find is, yes, it is about what you eat, but there's also a really tight, interesting coupling between what you eat and what you're doing from a physical activity perspective. You can actually eat things that are great for you, but if you couple it with the right physical activity, like if occasionally eat a pizza or have a big bowl of pasta, but you then couple that with a immediate walk or exercise for 30 minutes, what they find is you almost have no spike in glucose. And so anyways, the only reason I'm sharing that is I think for me it's always fascinating to learn too, that it's also just very, very complicated. It's a complex system and there's all these factors that are influencing it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:20:52):
One of the things that I found doing research for this was looking up people's testimonials and just their general experiences of using drinkable ketones and using HVMN. One of the things that was fascinating is, and this goes to the quality of energy I want to talk about for a second, is the way people describe how they feel when their body's being powered by ketones was really interesting. They talk about, one, feeling hyper-focused, two, feeling like they're in a flow state both physically and mentally. And so to me, it almost seems like there is literally a quality of energy difference. Do you feel that, and do you find that customers commonly feel that when they switch to and start using drinkable ketones?
Michael Brandt (00:21:34):
Basic mechanisms of action around ketones, they're very different from glucose where you can think of them as cousins. They operate opposite to one another where high glucose is low ketones, low glucose is high ketones. One way to think about it is you want to spend your life with less elevated glucose. An equivalent statement is you want to spend your life with higher elevated ketones. You want to use more ketones as a fuel. The mechanism of action on it is that when ketones turn into cellular energy, so ATP, if people remember their high school biology, the mitochondria is the power plant of the cell, you have substrates that come into the mitochondria, and there's something called the Kreb cycle where the substrates interchange with other different factors and they create ATP, and ATP is the energy currency of your cell.
Michael Brandt (00:22:43):
When ketones turn into ATP, they do it more efficiently than glucose. They use about 30% less oxygen to do so, and in that conversion process, they create less oxidative stress. You can think about your metabolism in general is this engine where if you're putting fuel into an engine and that engine is running for years and years, there's going to be some gunk build up. An engine cannot run just indefinitely for a thousand years, engine is going to have some build up. But you can use cleaner fuels that cause less damage to the functioning of that engine over time. So straight table sugar, like straight, pure sugar is going to cause a lot of oxidative stress. You can measure free radicals, reactive oxygen species. You can measure that, hey, there is a increase in this bad byproduct of... It's like running off of coal as opposed to natural gas.
Daniel Scrivner (00:23:46):
Michael Brandt (00:23:46):
You can see certain types of fuel have a dirtier outcome than other types of fuel. So ketones are really efficient on those aspects where they use less oxygen to begin with, and then they create less oxidative stress as you are metabolizing them. And it has all sorts of downstream effects where, subjectively, you feel the lights are more switched on when you have ketones circulating and they're crossing the blood brain barrier and your neurons are using those. For a lot of people, it feels a certain type of way or when people stack it with other compounds like caffeine or functional mushrooms or other plant based things that people are into, that those are all creating a increase in brain activity. And that increase in brain activity is creating an increase in brain energy demand. Where is that energy coming from? Well, again, it's like, are you using coal or are you using solar power? What is providing that brain energy?
Michael Brandt (00:24:43):
So subjectively, a lot of people feel switched on when they're drinking ketones, when they have elevated ketone levels. Again, rolling back to what the insight was, a lot of people feel really sharp when they're eating low carb. They feel really sharp when they're doing an intermittent fast. They feel really sharp when they're on a run and they feel runners high. In all these contexts, they're inducing their body to elevate ketone levels. A drinkable ketone isn't meant to replace those. It's meant more as another tool in the toolkit of, hey, if you like the way it feels when you have elevated ketones, this is another way to get there that you can use and compound with the other lifestyle and diet things that you're doing.
Daniel Scrivner (00:25:25):
Sure. Yeah, it's fascinating. I want to talk for a second about ketones as a substrate because one of the analogies you used when we were first talking about ketones is that ketones are similar to hydration. You talked about that water is another substrate, helps everything. One, during the day if you're hydrated, you think clear more clearly. You have higher levels of energy. At night with water, you actually sleep better. And so it's this fascinating thing that it's not like it's only beneficial at one time during the day or in one state, it benefits everything. It sounds like ketones is very similar to that. Talk a little bit about other substrates, I know maybe caffeine is one, maybe CBD is one, and what a substrate is and then how that relates to ketones as a substrate.
Michael Brandt (00:26:09):
To draw the line there, caffeine is not a substrate. Caffeine is a-
Daniel Scrivner (00:26:12):
Michael Brandt (00:26:13):
... is a drug that's really specific where caffeine is an adenosine blocker. Adenosine is your sleep hormone, so if you have caffeine, you're blocking your sleep hormones. You're going to feel less sleepy. You're going to feel more alert. It does this really specific thing. Drugs in general tend to be very targeted. They activate a really specific pathway and they hit it with a sledge hammer. That's either good or it's bad. Usually you're doing it for an intended effect, and it does that intended effect really well.
Michael Brandt (00:26:45):
Substrates on the other hand, they go anywhere where there is a demand. So they are not inherently targeting a single pathway with a sledge hammer, they're just widely available. So hydration is an interesting analogy if we're thinking about what a substrate is, where if it's 11:00 AM and you're dehydrated and you drink some water, you're going to have better energy level, you're going to be better at focusing on what's in front of you, whether that's work or exercise or whatever. If it's 11:00 PM and you're thirsty, you're not going to be able to fall asleep. You're going to be tossing and turning. If you have some water, water is necessary for pretty much every bodily function, and you're going to have an easier time going to sleep if you're well-hydrated. So, okay, how does this magical water seem to help you with energy during the day and then it helps you sleep at night? It's because water is not a drug. Water is also not a substrate. There's no calories in water, you wouldn't consider it to be a metabolic substrate. So this is an analogy, but that hydration is so fundamental to everything that you're doing.
Michael Brandt (00:27:54):
The way to think about it is your circadian rhythm. So throughout the day, you have an energy rise. So if 11:00 AM, your energy is rising or peaking, your body is going to be pulling what it needs in order to do that function as dictated by your circadian rhythm. At 11:00 PM, you're going to be dipping or at the bottom of your energy levels, you're going to be activating your rest and recovery, parasympathetic nervous system, and your energy's going to be pulling what it needs in order to do that. That's where caffeine's going to be really helpful at 11:00 AM. It's going to be very antagonistic-
Daniel Scrivner (00:28:29):
Michael Brandt (00:28:29):
... at 11:00 PM. But something like water or something like ketones where it is broadly helping your body do what it is trying to do at that given moment, it's more broad and dynamic than a drug. So when we say substrate, it's that it goes to wherever your body needs. Like whatever function your body is trying to accomplish at the time, your body's requiring some fuel, there's some energy expenditure. Sleep requires energy. Exercise requires energy. All the things that we're doing require energy. And so, having a more efficient fuel to provide those energy needs, that's what we're talking about here when we talk about ketones.
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:08):
Yep. Yeah. So just to maybe flush that or put a point on that, it seems like ketones... The analogy is similar to water but only in the sense that your body always needs energy. And if it needs energy, then ketones versus something like glucose, as we talked about earlier, is a much, much, much cleaner form of energy, at least from my understanding and from we've talked about, it seems like it has. Whereas with glucose, there are a lot of cons like oxidative stress and spiking your glucose and causing insulin. None of that really happens with ketones. And so, it's a substrate in the sense that it's energy that goes anywhere when your body needs, it can cross the blood brain barrier, and it's also very clean. Am I getting that right? Anything to add or change about that?
Michael Brandt (00:29:48):
Yeah, that's right. That's why there's so much interest around it. What really clicks for us was in 2016, '17 when we were looking at fasting, ketogenic diet, hey, can you drink a ketone, when we started looking through the literature, we saw that in the early 2000s, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency... A lot of people know that because DARPA created the internet and they generally investigate frontier technologies that decades later see the light of day. So DARPA in the early 2000s had this program called Operation Metabolic Dominance. Pretty badass-
Daniel Scrivner (00:30:30):
Michael Brandt (00:30:31):
... in that they were looking at ketones because of a lot of what we've been discussing here, where they had these hypotheses that, hey, ketones are substrate, they can help with all sorts of things. What happens if we give them to soldiers in these different contexts? What about in hypoxia, low oxygen? What about when they're sleep deprived? What about here or there? We know that they're really interesting, their dynamic as a substrate, what happens if we supply them in these different contexts?
Michael Brandt (00:30:56):
DARPA did the foundational work in early 2000s with the National Institute of Health. And they created... It was extremely expensive, it was $20,000 a drink, and tasted absolutely insane, battery acid crazy. But they did some of the basic science around it where they showed some of these key findings around the efficiency of ketones. They proved out that, hey, you can make a ketone. You can pass it through your GI system, it's safe. So they did some of the core, basic stuff. And then as DARPA tends to do, they established that it was feasible, but then left it up to the reader to complete the exercise. They basically left it on a shelf until we in 2016, '17 started looking at it and we said, "Hey, okay, ketones are clearly having a moment. A lot of people are doing all these fasting, ketogenic diet, Bulletproof, all that, all those things that we've been talking about. Why don't we figure out how to actually scale this out?"
Michael Brandt (00:31:56):
We were the first to make it at scale, bring it out to the market. You tried it out, the HVMN Ketone version one. It was so pretty expensive. It was $30 a dose. Still tastes pretty crazy, but it was like you could drink it. For us, that then unlocked a $6 million contract with US Special Operations Command where once we were able to make it at scale, we were able to reengage with the DOD and say, "Okay, let's try this in a broader context where we're getting hundreds of people in these different contexts that we're really interested in studying." So we got that going, and we started making it broadly available to...
Michael Brandt (00:32:38):
I mean, at that price point, we say it was broadly available, you'd buy it on our website, but realistically, $30 a drink... The people who were having it were all extremely high performance. Tour de France athletes was a big market for us. Super baller execs were drinking it here and there. It was still a very upper echelon product. Our first big customer on it was the DOD. And then as that progressed, that's where we had the light bulb moment of, okay. the way that Peter Thiel frames things up like, "What's the big secret that you know that no one else knows?" It's like, "Okay, either we are insane, and we're out on this limb, and we are just drinking our own Kool-Aid, drinking our own ketones-
Daniel Scrivner (00:33:23):
Michael Brandt (00:33:23):
... or this is big, like the way that collagen has proliferated or the way that CBD has proliferated or the way caffeine has proliferated, like ketones-
Daniel Scrivner (00:33:33):
Michael Brandt (00:33:33):
... either we're insane or ketones are the next caffeine or CBD. I don't know, [inaudible 00:33:40]. The only way to know is to observe. My co-founder and I and our team, we had enough conviction around it based on what we were seeing from our work with SOCOM, based on what we were seeing with elite performers that, hey, like, there's something here. If we continue marching down the cost curve on this and make this broadly available, make it more palatable, make it more accessible, do the hard work of just educating and helping people understand this and how this relates to making metabolic health, which is scary or complex or not like your typical cocktail conversation around metabolic health, if we can broach that and get people thinking about it... People were not always thinking about personal computers, now everyone has a computer in their pocket. So if we can cross that chasm, if we can take the big secret that we know that no one else knows and make it mainstream, that seemed really interesting.
Michael Brandt (00:34:32):
It seemed very hard and challenging. And as an entrepreneur, it's been interesting seeing other companies succeed and fail and move as we've been focused on what we've been doing. It's been fun. It's been a challenge but we've turned this corner in the last, I would say, six months where basically everything that we've been building towards for the last four or five years is coming true. We are crossing the chasm. I would say we're still in the early innings, but we're maybe in inning two, no longer in inning one. We've crossed some threshold where it seems like it's actually taking off in the mainstream way.
Daniel Scrivner (00:35:13):
Yeah, no, you've moved on to the next level of the game. You've said this, and I want to underscore this because it's big, but anytime you see a company able to reduce cost by order of magnitude, that is huge. I mean, we're talking about a literal 10X reduction in cost or going to a 10th of the cost of what you had previously, which obviously opens it up. To your point that you alluded to earlier, if it's $4 today and you can get it down to $40 in the future and then-
Michael Brandt (00:35:38):
40 cents. 40 cents.
Daniel Scrivner (00:35:39):
Sorry, 40 cents, yes. We've talked about adaptogens as a comparison collagen, CBD. You see these things now, like CBD I think is an interesting example, where that now you can buy snacks with it. You can buy desserts with it. You can buy sparkling water with it. And so, it truly is this... One, it's seen somewhat mass adoption, but, two, now it's made its way into all these different kind of intake mechanisms, which is really fascinating.
Daniel Scrivner (00:36:08):
I want to talk for a second about the performance benefits of ketones, and I want to double click a little bit on the Special Operations piece that you talked about there. Well, just to walk that back a little bit. You won a $6 million contract to be able to sell this V one version of the product to the Department of Defense. It sounds like that was testing and maybe some in-field use, but talk a little bit about exactly what conditions they were operating under, whether that was a test or in real life. Because it's somewhat staggering, and I think it makes it really clear why they were willing to have a $6 million contract specifically for using ketones as energy.
Michael Brandt (00:36:51):
Yeah. We went through the process via SBIR, STTR. Those acronyms might mean something to folks who have been looking at government contracting in some ways. The government is the enterprise of all enterprises. As far as developing your business in there, there's a lot of work to do to get it done. But in doing that, the US government's a very big customer and they have a lot of intent behind what they do. And when they're into something, they're into something in a big way.
Michael Brandt (00:37:25):
So you're right, it was not the case that they just bought $6 million of ketones and we shipped it over on a pallet. It was $6 million contract to advance the research and understanding around it. So some component of that $6 million was for ketones per se, but there was also significant amount of that was around, "Hey, can you take those ketones and do X, Y, Z research." So there's seven different subtasks that we have around ketones where they're being used for different in-field applications, some in the lab, some out in the field.
Michael Brandt (00:37:58):
One of the most interesting findings, the Special Operations Command was really interested in pushing people to their limits and then seeing how ketones can negate some of the detriment, a double negative where... Okay, if you're at hypoxia, if you're at 20,000 feet of altitude, you have a reduction in blood oxygen. At sea level, you're at 100% oxygen saturation. At 20,000 feet of altitude, you're at 65% blood oxygen. When you have elevated ketone levels via a drink, you are able to increase your blood saturation by 10%. So you're able to bring it up into the mid seventies at that altitude level. And then on the actual performance component, what we're doing at altitude, so we're simulating a 20,000 feet of altitude level of oxygen. And then participants, they're all military members, they're rucking, so they're wearing like heavy weight and they're marching at incline for a period of time, 30, 45 minutes. And then they're doing target practice, so a battery of cognitive tests.
Michael Brandt (00:39:13):
And as expected, right, if you're at altitude and you're doing something really physically challenging, you're going to expect to see some decrement. At T equals zero, before you do the rucking at altitude, you're going to be at 100% performance. After the physically demanding work, you're going to have some decrement. You're going to be a little bit more tired, a little bit less sharp. Ketones in that context, where they're also increasing blood oxygenation, they're also increasing cognitive sharpness.
Michael Brandt (00:39:43):
So you see a significantly less of a decay in cognitive performance. People are shooting more accurately. People are able to have better short-term memory, short-term reaction time. So it's really cool. It's like when pushed to your limits, how can you recover cognitive performance? And that's where we're seeing ketones step in. There's a couple different follow on hypotheses for it. Is it due to the fact that ketones require less oxygen to turn into ATP? Is it due to some signaling effect of ketones that just by having ketones present... Ketones do provide a form of calories, but they also provide a signal to the rest of your body that can turn on different systems. So there's follow-on hypotheses from that. We are in phase two of our work with SOCOM, and we're going for phase three, which is the final phase. It's basically further exploration of a hypotheses, bigger budget, larger deployment, and seeing how things pan out there.
Daniel Scrivner (00:40:45):
To ask the obvious or dumb question, I'm guessing what this is leading to is at some point in time, there could be a world where special forces soldiers are literally given ketones as just part of supplements before they go and do very challenging tasks. Am I understanding that right?
Michael Brandt (00:40:59):
Daniel Scrivner (00:41:01):
I think it would be interesting to talk about... With your back with your background as a marathon runner, I guess it would fall into the realm of a long distance sport. I know people that also do runs that aren't marathons, but they'll literally run for 2, 5, 10 hours and do these courses overnight. You talked about Tour de France, which is another incredible endurance sport. We talked about the benefits of taking ketones at altitude and raising your blood oxygen level. We talked about the benefits of doing very strenuous physical tasks that would typically give you mental degradation, and yet ketones don't degrade or at least are able to boost both your physical and your mental performance. Does the same thing show up in endurance sports, and do you find commonalities across running and biking? And if not, what are you seeing there, and what do you think that ketones are really delivering for endurance athletes?
Michael Brandt (00:41:59):
It's interesting for endurance because you're basically inducing hypoxia where when you're running really hard or biking really hard, you're getting out of breath. You're reducing over time. You're not at full oxygenation level. Your body's getting tired. You're not getting enough oxygen to everything. So basically inducing hypoxia, which is the exact same thing that is happening when you're at altitude. Altitude is just an outside factor that directly reduces the amount of oxygen you have available. But yeah, if you're panting, if you're out of breath, you're getting less oxygen than your body wishes that it had.
Michael Brandt (00:42:41):
We're also seeing some other interesting effects with cyclists and runners. I mean, I don't think there's a meaningful difference parse between cycling versus running. It's all endurance.
Daniel Scrivner (00:42:53):
Michael Brandt (00:42:53):
We're seeing something really interesting not just in the performance context but also in the recovery context where there's such a thing as over training, where if anyone's ever gotten to a certain level of sports where you're training for an Iron Man or where you're serious college athlete or you're just really into CrossFit or whatever and you're doing it all the time every day, there's such a thing as over-training where it backfires, where you basically train so hard that your body flips on this stress mode, where you actually get reduced appetite. It's counterproductive because you're training so hard that your body's not getting enough time to recover, so you're not able to go and do it again the next day.
Michael Brandt (00:43:39):
That becomes a really important facto. When you look at something like the Tour de France or military missions where it's not just that you're running a marathon, it's that you're running a marathon every day for 21 days. I mean, the Tour de France, it's three weeks long. It's actually coming up in a month here. In July, we're doing a ton of work with our teams. We're doing partnerships with great cyclists and doing some interesting stuff. I'm actually flying out to Colorado in a month and linking up with Lance and some of the former United States Parcel Service, like the G.O.A.T team from back in the day.
Michael Brandt (00:44:20):
There's really interesting study done around cycling. This is part of why cyclists are so particularly interested in this is that there's a study done a few years ago by this Belgian researcher where they showed that, okay, we know that when you overtrain it is counterproductive. They had two groups of participants. One had ketones, the other did not. They had the participants biking twice a day for three weeks, so it was meant to simulate Tour de France conditions. One of the groups had ketones, the other did not. Aside from that, they were able to eat ad libitum, so as much as they wanted of anything else. What they saw over that course of three weeks is that by week three, the ketone group had a 15% higher training load and also had a 5% increase in final time trial performance.
Michael Brandt (00:45:14):
And then when they looked further into it, they were saying that the ketone group was having less symptoms of that overreaching, over-training, that basically ketones were helping people to recover faster. So not just drinking it and acutely immediately helping performance, but when they were having it three times a day mixed around with their training and then training every single day, they had less of... There's few hormones that are indicative of over-training. You can measure GPT 15, and it shows that you're over-training. In the ketone group, they had less of that. And then on the actual performance, the cyclists that were having the ketones were just performing better. So it's really interesting. This is where it starts having some interesting dimensions to it where it's, okay, it's not just ketones as a source of energy, it's also ketones as signaling. It's basically signaling to your body to activate a parasympathetic rest and recovery mode, and it's helping people to recover better.
Michael Brandt (00:46:17):
There's a few other interesting studies that have been done around this where if you have ketones with your post workout protein that you increase muscle protein resynthesis. So if you work out really hard, you get a lot of micro tears in your muscles. You go and drink protein, the idea is rebuild the muscle bigger and stronger. If you have ketones with that protein, you accelerate the rate of muscle protein resynthesis. So basically, today's recovery is tomorrow's performance. You're able to recover better today and then go out and do it again tomorrow. So that is a angle to ketones that people are getting really interested in, even more so than just acute performance, but the more chronic, hey, if I'm spending more time with elevated ketone levels, seems like my body's recovering, bouncing back faster.
Michael Brandt (00:47:06):
A lot of interesting stuff there, a lot of interesting stuff with cycling in particular. I think cycling, it happens to be the tip of the spear because I think cyclists are nuts. I say this as a cyclist. They're very dialed-in on their nutrition and their wattage and their wattage per kilogram, and so they tend to be much more dialed in on performance specifically than... Basketball player cares about this, but they also care about 16 other things, court IQ, ball handling, teamwork. They care about a lot of other things, but cyclists tend to be really, really dialed in on just abject performance. And so, it's been an interesting test group for us.
Daniel Scrivner (00:47:50):
Yeah. I mean, even the results that you shared there, like a 15% higher workload or capacity is staggering. That's not small at all. That's a very sizeable difference. Not to mention the 5% in the improvement in recovery. So none of that is small. It seems very significant in terms of the difference.
Michael Brandt (00:48:10):
Yeah, those are real numbers. People are familiar with that level of performance. Gains of that magnitude are hard to come by when you're at performing at that level. It is very tight margins at that level.
Daniel Scrivner (00:48:23):
I feel like most people are chasing single digit percentage gain, so you can get double digit in that, it's much, much larger. I'd love to talk about the development of the kind of V1 of the drinkable ketone product you had, and then the latest version of Ketone-IQ. And where I wanted to start with this first version... For anyone that wasn't familiar with HVMN when you guys produced that, it was a super cute, tiny, little bottle and had a nice little form factor to it. So try to find a photo and include that in the show notes just for fun. But where I wanted to start off is it sounds like the origin story in part is finding this DARPA research that basically did quite a bit of foundational research around, yes, it can go through the GI track. It's relatively safe. You can produce it on its own.
Daniel Scrivner (00:49:07):
So it sounds like, or maybe I'm guessing, you take this and then you decide, okay, now we're going to go and try to figure out how to manufacture this. How much work did you have to do to figure out manufacturing and get that off the ground? And then just talk about what it was like to work on this version one of the product and when you thought you had something that you were ready to release to some subset of customers.
Michael Brandt (00:49:30):
It reminds me of when you read the early Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak soldering computer parts together in their garage. Steve Jobs, they sold their first 200 computers and then had to run back to the garage and solder some circuit boards together. It was that kind of mode where it was at scale, so it was not just being done by a chemist at a lab bench, it was more professional than that. It was being done at some level of scale. There's scale, and then there's scale, right? There's the ability to make 10,000 units. It's very different from the ability to make a million units. In the abstract when we think about systems design, I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with the principle that every time you 10X the system, you rebuild it from scratch.
Michael Brandt (00:50:20):
That's true in computing. That's true in production. That's true in a lot of areas. Like Moore's law, it doesn't just happen incidentally. The way that computers are getting quicker, the approach is radically changing. It looks like this nice smooth curve, but behind the scenes, there's some really paradigm shifting step functions that are happening. It was that for us, where we figured out a way to get it out at the order of 10,000 to 100,000 bottles, but it was very hard and expensive. What [inaudible 00:50:59] say, there's no regrets on it. In hindsight, everything's 20/20 yet, it's like in hindsight, oh, yeah, Apple should have launched the iPhone in 1992. It's like, well, you had to do what you had to do-
Daniel Scrivner (00:51:10):
[inaudible 00:51:10]. Totally.
Michael Brandt (00:51:11):
Yeah. There's no regrets on it. We just had a expensive process. Even just the core blueprint of what we were building was overly complicated, so it was a little bit of addition by subtraction, right? Like shaving off parts of it to make it simpler and more direct to what we were trying to do, bringing in capital partners, right. Andreessen backed us in our seed round, and we've gotten some amazing investors that have joined the ride. But being able to get great investors, it helps to be able to show, "Hey, we have this imperfect product, not quite ready for the mainstream, but good enough to secure a seven-figure government contract, good enough to unlock the core elite operators and athletes." We had this vision that we can bring it down and make it everyday collagen level. But it's all connected. So it's like, okay, you get your version one, it's the best thing in the world until you have your version two out there. We're working hard on what version three looks like. There's always evolution to it. You cannot let perfect get in the way of good enough. You got to get something out there as a proof of concept and then roll into the next thing and the next thing.
Daniel Scrivner (00:52:35):
Yeah. Well, especially with what you guys are doing, where you're literally pioneering something that's brand new, that doesn't exist in any other, at least not that I'm aware of, in any other form factor that's similar to what you guys have done, that's meant for the purposes that you guys have built this for. I'm guessing this move to Ketone-IQ was maybe that 10X order of magnitude redesign or rethink. Am I getting that right?
Michael Brandt (00:52:58):
Daniel Scrivner (00:52:58):
Can you talk a little bit about what you innovated on and changed as you moved from this V1 to V2? Because I know part of it was taste, I'm sure there's other things.
Michael Brandt (00:53:07):
Yeah. There's a lot of innovation going on in biosynthesis where the cutting edge of making any molecule, pharmaceuticals, flavors, any kind of targeted molecule is... The old way of doing it is petrochemical where petroleum products are very dynamic because you have these long carbon chains. You can make into them anything. You can make into all sorts of plastics, pharmaceuticals. There's a reason that we use fossil fuels. They're very flexible and robust, but they're also fossil fuels, they're limited, the production on it can be dirty. There is clearly not the way that things will be made in 100 years from now or 200 years from now.
Michael Brandt (00:53:57):
What we're seeing and what we are doing and one of the big innovations that we had was switching our supply chain to a more biosynthetic way where state of the art of making target molecules instead of using petroleum basis is you make genetically modified yeast. So you specifically change the genetics of that bacteria. It can be yeast, it can be E-coli. It can be specific types of bacteria. You genetically modify it such that when you feed it something normal like a feed stock, you feed it sugar, that because of how it has been modified, it produces as a byproduct the target molecule. This has its own cost curve to it. When first doing this, it's super expensive. First time people mapped out the human genome, it was extremely expensive. And now you have 23andMe. The first instances of doing bacteria-generated pharmaceuticals and other molecules, super expensive, but it's coming down to a spot where it is on par or even lower than the petrochemical way of doing it.
Michael Brandt (00:55:07):
So that's been a big innovation that we've made. We've also made innovations on the ketone itself where... Trying to think the best analogy here. But in a way, our first version was really complicated where we had a couple of different similar ketones that were stratified together. It was very complicated. I think people familiar with product design or engineering in general have this sense of this. Sometimes your first concept is too complicated, and then you shave it off. It's like Tinder was like simpler than match.com, Uber simpler than calling a taxi cab. We had that same dynamic where our first version was this like really complicated thing. We almost did it because we could, it was really scientifically crazy and interesting. And then the insight was like, "Hey, this can be much simpler and work as good or better and be dramatically cheaper."
Michael Brandt (00:56:12):
It sounds so obvious when I say it, that's why I'm thinking hard about it. It seems so obvious, yeah, do the simpler thing, but I was just saying, for our version one, we had something that was more complicated that felt correct at the time. But then as it was on market and as we learned more and just wisened up, sometimes the smarter thing is to go in a simpler direction, and that's a big part of what led to V2. So yeah, updates in manufacturing technology, shifting away from petrochemical towards biosynthesis and then simplifying on the formula itself and then just like, yeah, good old-fashioned product development work, formulation work, figuring out how to make it taste well.
Michael Brandt (00:56:55):
One of the subtasks of our work with the DOD is around organoleptics, which is fancy word for saying how your body senses things that you're eating at the molecular level, not just sipping it and swirling around in your mouth, but at the molecular level, what is happening? What is making this taste the way that it tastes? And then, what can we do to address that? What can we do on the formulation to make it taste more palatable? So a lot of deep science around how to make it taste better. The very early versions of ketones are crazy tasting, what can we do to make it taste better? So a lot of blocking and tackling, a lot of biochemistry, a lot of formulation development that has yielded, I think, really good results.
Daniel Scrivner (00:57:45):
I mean, listening to you describe that process in V1 being hyper complicated, but you're not thinking it was hyper complicated at the time, and then we're finding it over time. Anyone listening that's been a designer or an engineer completely understands that use case. With the background in design, I know that experience myself of you don't know how to design it any simpler until you know how to design it any simpler. So you have to go through that progression to be able to get there. So, no, it makes total sense.
Daniel Scrivner (00:58:12):
I'd love to change with just a few simple closing questions, and one of the ones I wanted to start with was, clearly what we've talked about a couple of times is, and this is why I find what you're building and working on so fascinating, is one, the implications of this. To make maybe a weird analogy, I'm a big fan of adaptogen. I think if you can have... Well, I'll just talk about myself rather than proselytize. I've tried to make the intentional switch, it is about 18 months ago, of cutting out coffee during the middle of the day and drinking adaptogens. The brand that I drink is [inaudible 00:58:49] just because they have really high quality adaptogens and herbalists and stuff. And that's another example of I just feel like it's been a massive quality of life improvement just by changing one simple thing I'm doing during the day.
Daniel Scrivner (00:59:00):
And so, when I think about what you're building with ketones and bringing the affordability down and more people being powered by ketones as opposed to by glucose, I mean, massive, massive implications. You're doing that and bringing the cost down in order of magnitude and you're trying to get it to 40 cents as long-term goal is fascinating. So what I want to talk about for a second is, when you think five years out, and feel free to share or not share as openly as you might want to, what might we all see from HVMN in terms of products? You have a drinkable ketone now, what does this future roadmap look like? And/or what state of the world do you hope to have in five years?
Michael Brandt (00:59:38):
Yeah, that's a great question where right now what we've created is the primitive. Always considered a nutritional primitive, and meaning that in the computer science or mathematical sense where it's a fundamental building block. What we're doing right now is we're selling just the primitive and we've been iterating on the primitive of what is the best ketone delivery mechanism. And so, right now, Ketone-IQ is the best. As we continue to innovate on that, that's the more short to medium term. The more medium to long term is you're asking is, and I think you touched on this with where we see collagen today, whereas it's in bars-
Daniel Scrivner (01:00:18):
Michael Brandt (01:00:19):
... different drinks, you get collagen in your coffee. It's in all sorts of different formats. Without giving too much away, that's how we're thinking about it, where, hey ketones, it's interesting primitive. How does that start looking if we build on top of ketones as a platform? So Ketone-IQs is primitive. Okay, well, what if we use Ketone-IQ specifically for an endurance product, like a goose shot that you can take on your bike? It should have things besides ketones in it that complement that use case, where it's powered by Ketone-IQ but it also has an array of different carbohydrates in it, because if you're biking, you want all the substrates that you can possibly have. You might even want BCAA because that's technically a protein, but your body can turn it into energy really quickly. You want as many different types of energy as possible. That's just for the endurance sports use case.
Michael Brandt (01:01:17):
We also have a lot of people that are using Ketone-IQ as a alcohol replacement. So totally different use case. But it's because you feel a little bit of a lift from drinking ketones. A lot of people know alcohol's not great for you, so it's cool that there's other non-alcoholic options out there, but a lot of times those are just flavored water. Okay, I can make a nice little cocktail out of Ketone-IQ, and it's not alcohol, so I'm not getting ethanol and [inaudible 01:01:47] buildup, but it's also not this inert flavored water. It's healthy for me. It makes me feel pleasant. So what about if we make a alcohol replacement that is more decidedly alcohol, where you think about a nice glass bottle and partnering with a premier chef or sommelier, like you really build into that use case? So you take this primitive of Ketone-IQ and you draw out the line to, okay, the endurance sport subbrand or sister brand looks like this, the alcohol replacement subbrand or sister brand looks like this.
Michael Brandt (01:02:26):
That's an area where we almost have... I'm chomping at the bit, we have too much creativity on it. There's so many ideas to do there. One of the challenges as an entrepreneur is to really focus where, okay, as exciting as all those things are, I want to be a little bit patient and continue to push on the primitive right now. It's allowing people to go and make what they want. So if someone wants to go on a bike ride, you got to mix Ketone-IQ with the rest of your stack, make your witches' brew, make your water bottle of your special concoction that works for you. If you want it as an alcohol replacement, cool, we're providing you with the primitive. You can go and mix it with soda water and lime. You can do that. And pushing and just keeping really focus and getting the primitive out there and holding back just a tick before launching all of the secondary, tertiary extensions off of it.
Michael Brandt (01:03:21):
This is going into just business mode. This is not a biochemistry answer, it's just from a business perspective, need to focus. A lot of people need to just know what basic nutritional collagen is. You got to just repeat it until your voice is hoarse of just basic nutritional collagen, until the level of awareness around it is at a point where you go and launch all the other fun derivatives off of it. So it's taking a lot of patience and discipline and co-founder, executive team conversations around when is that right moment, when do you fractal it out? I think we're right, we'll see how it pans out. But I think that there is something to be said for you got to get your MacBook sales up to a certain point before you release the iPhone. You got to focus, and I think that can be one of the most painful things as an entrepreneur where we're really creative, we have all this spark, we see all this opportunity, all these use cases. But the right answer, I think, is to focus on the primitive and buy our time-
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:31):
I think you're totally right.
Michael Brandt (01:04:36):
... you can always extend it later on.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:38):
Yes. I think Ketone-IQ is a massive step function improvement over the previous version of the product. And so, one, kudos to you for persisting and your team over the years that's taken to iterate on that. I think, from here, my guess is in five years, we'll probably see many different form factors, and I love the way you describe it, as fractal out. It's a amazing visual to think about what that is. One of the use cases you shared earlier that I would be really excited to see is a post workout protein shake that takes Ketone-IQ along with it. For now, especially after hearing you say that. I'm going to start taking Ketone-IQ after workouts because it seems incredibly helpful.
Daniel Scrivner (01:05:17):
I want to ask just a couple of quick closing questions. I guess one of the questions I wanted to ask, and this may be hard to put an answer on, when I talk with founders and I think about what you and your team have done over the last few years to push forward Ketone-IQ, it's very difficult. You're working in a space without a ton of competition. You're pioneering on something that my guess you can't really triangulate, there's not that many other people that are pioneering on ketones. What do you credit with your success in building HVMN so far, and what do you think you've gotten right to get to this point in time? Because clearly, I would think you've gotten a lot right.
Michael Brandt (01:05:54):
Well, thanks. There's always different ways to see it. It's always like, hey, we are at the top of the mountain. We've finished the hero's journey of everything that's brought us here today, but we're also at the very first steps of the next cycle of the hero's journey. We're at the top of the next inning. I appreciate the compliments on getting to where we are today. Jeff Bezos likes to say, "Every day is day one." I don't know if he still says that now he's retired, maybe he is done with it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:06:21):
No, he's got no more days.
Michael Brandt (01:06:23):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's like day one until you're a bajillionaire and then, okay, I guess now we're done. But it's always day one. There's always the whole mountain out in front of us. What do I credit it to? Yeah, there's no one else doing what we are doing. As an entrepreneur, it's up to you to find the things that rhyme with what you're doing though. In any entrepreneur's journey, no one was doing exactly what Stripe was doing, but you have to be creative about it. So I think what we're doing rhymes with what a lot of functional mushroom companies have done. It rhymes with what happened with collagen. It rhymes with what happened with CBD. A lot of those examples that I've mentioned. It rhymes with what Gatorade did in the 1970s, when they worked with the Florida Gators, and they said, "Hey, water is great, but you're actually sweating a lot and you need electrolytes. Let's make Gatorade that has electrolytes in it." Electrolytes at the time, it was this... How many syllable? Four syllable word or three syllable word. It's a SAT word. Not everyone knew what an electrolyte was.
Michael Brandt (01:07:39):
They had to beat people over the head with the education around it for decades. So we're doing with ketones what Gatorade did with electrolytes. So yeah, it's a matter of being creative on where you are drawing inspiration from, in your space and nutrition space as well as more broadly in technology in general and try to pattern match where you can. I think it can be dangerous to say, "Oh, what we're doing is totally unique, totally unprecedented." If you're entrepreneuring on something interesting, it should be different from what anyone else is doing, but you do yourself a disservice if you think that what you're doing is too special and unique. Because you can steal like an artist. If you find the other patterns to match to, the other comparables, you can see what worked for them and what didn't and learn from their lessons, so you have to occupy both states. What we're doing is completely unique and special, and it's a holy grail, no one's ever done this. And at the same time, hey, this rhymes a lot with these other innovations that we've seen. What did they do that worked for them? Let's copy that playbook.
Daniel Scrivner (01:08:50):
Yeah, no, I think that's really well said. I have many more questions. At some point, I would love to have you on for a round two, maybe when you start getting into that fractaling out mode. This has been a fascinating conversation. My hope is that, one, people listening have a much better understanding of ketones, how powerful they are as an energy source, how much better they are than glucose, and how people can be incorporating them into their daily life or the sports that they do or the physical activities they do just to reach peak performance. Thank you so much for coming on, Michael. I really, really appreciate it. It's been so much fun.
Michael Brandt (01:09:25):
Daniel, this was a lot of fun, and really appreciate the background research you did and coming with informed questions. I feel like we covered a ton of ground today. It's a lot of fun.
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:32):
I hope so. I feel like we did. Okay, thank you, Michael.
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:37):
Thank you so much for listening to this episode. You can find the show notes and transcript at outlayacademy.com/116. It's 116. You can learn more about HVMN by visiting hvmn.com, and you can follow Michael Brandt, @BDM_runner on twitter.
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:54):
At outlieracademy.com, you can find all of our other founder interviews, profiling incredible companies like Eight Sleep, Commonstock, Varta Space Industry, superhuman, Primal Kitchen, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK? among many, many others. In every interview, we deconstruct the ideas, frameworks, and strategies they use to build these incredible companies. You can now also find videos of all of our interviews on YouTube at youtube.com/outlieracademy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full-length interviews as well as our favorite short clips, including some of my favorite quotes and segments from every episode, including this one. So make sure to subscribe. We post new videos and clips every single week. And if you haven't already, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn under the handle Outlier Academy. Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you right here with a brand new episode next Wednesday.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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