414. The Science of Optimum Performance with HVMN Co-Founder Michael Brandt

Aug 21, 2023 | 0 comments

Are you on a quest to optimize your body and mind for ultimate efficiency? It’s a critical question, especially when setting ambitious goals and working towards them with purpose and intention.

Today, we’re thrilled to bring you a conversation with Michael Brandt, the co-founder of Health Via Modern Nutrition. Not only does he offer fascinating products and insights into sustaining health for the long term, but he also provides a fresh perspective on treating our bodies and minds as finely-tuned machines. In today’s fast-paced world, aligning our health with our goals isn’t just beneficial—it’s essential.

As we delve deeper, Michael unfolds his vibrant entrepreneurial journey, emphasizing how his experiences as an endurance athlete readied him for the roller coaster of business and leadership. Plus, get ready for a deep dive on brand-building, reaching your target audience, scaling, team management, and the inevitable challenges along the entrepreneurial journey.

Too often, aspiring achievers falter before reaching their dreams, largely due to a lack of clear planning, goal-setting, or accountability. If you’re gearing up to chase a significant goal—be it a thriving business, a health milestone, or any dream close to your heart—join us for a foundation workshop. Let’s explore the three P’s central to ‘The ONE Thing’: Purpose, Priority, and Productivity. Equip yourself to not only set your vision but to navigate the journey productively.

For an enriching workshop experience that will illuminate your path to success, head over to the1thing.com/foundations-workshop and don’t forget to use the code NIKKI200 for an exclusive $200 discount.

To learn more, and for the complete show notes, visit: the1thing.com/pods.

We talk about:

  • Seeing the human body as a technological platform
  • The science behind ketones and how they affect your body
  • What most people get wrong with their diet and how to fix it
  • Trying the body as a system and optimizing your metrics for success

Links & Tools from This Episode:

Produced by NOVA Media


Chris Dixon:

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to The ONE Thing Podcast. I'm Chris Dixon.

Nikki Miller:

And I'm Nikki Miller.

Chris Dixon:

We are excited for you guys because today we had Michael Brandt on the podcast. And Michael is the Co-Founder of Health Via Modern Nutrition, and he's got an amazing product and amazing company. And we had an excellent conversation about health, and your body, and thinking about both your body and mind as this sophisticated machine that needs to operate at high levels of efficiency, and his products are in consideration of that.

And when you think about setting goals and achieving at a really high level and being in some place off in the future to actually have the ability to appreciate your goals, I think it's really important that we consider our health in the long term, and I think Michael has a lot of great things to share about that.

Nikki Miller:

I especially love, Chris, when he was walking us through his very colorful entrepreneurial journey and how his history as an endurance athlete really prepared him for a lot of the challenges that come your way when you're building a business or leading a big team. And I also loved his perspective on how to build a brand, and how to reach your customer, how to scale, how to manage a team, the challenges that have come his way in this journey and many others, it just was an incredible conversation.

And I know and you know that we experience so often with people who are in the process of building businesses and their big lives, whatever big goal that they're trying to achieve, that they so often don't get there because they don't have, to Michael's point, a clear plan or clear goals or there's a lack of accountability there. So, if you're someone out there who's looking at achieving a big goal, whether, again, that's building a big business or hitting that health goal, whatever it is, and you want support to be able to get there, join us for a foundations workshop where we're going to be walking you through at the highest level the three P's that we focus on in The ONE Thing, Purpose, Priority, and Productivity, how to create purpose and cast your vision for your life, how to define your priorities, and most importantly, how to stay productive on the way to that goal. So, visit us at the1thing.com/foundations-workshop and use the code NIKKI200 for $200 off. Let's listen to Michael.

Chris Dixon:

We are lucky to have Michael Brandt on with us today. And Michael is the CEO and Co-Founder of Health Via Modern Nutrition, H.V.M.N. for short. Michael, he studied computer science and product design at Stanford. He was a professor of brand strategy at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. He is a co-founder that's been awarded the Forbes 30 Under 30, avid endurance athlete, triathlete. Pretty impressive marathon split times, from what I understand.

In 2017, his company, H.V.M.N., launched the world's first ketone drink. And now V2 called Ketone-IQ, released in January of 2022, based on learnings from working with SOCOM, U.S. Military Special Forces. And we're lucky to have him on today. Michael, thanks for being here.

Michael Brandt:

Hey, it's great to be here, Chris and Nikki. Thanks for having me on.

Chris Dixon:

Yeah. Tell us a little bit about how you got into this world and what motivated you to start to look at this area of business before we dig into the details?

Michael Brandt:

I've always been a curious engineer person. And in undergrad, I studied computer science and saw that a lot of technology, a lot of the smartest people I knew were developing apps on smartphone. The guy a couple years ahead of me at Stanford started Instagram. Evan Spiegel, a year after me, started Snapchat. Just being in Silicon Valley, seeing Uber, Facebook, Twitter, all these companies crop up and they're all on the smartphone as a platform.

And I was thinking I was next. Like, okay, well, that's a very mature platform, we saw it come about, and we're on iPhone 14. It's kind of plateaued in a lot of ways the technology innovation there. A lot of the most meaningful breakthrough apps that are going to happen have happened there. You've got your Uber, Snapchat, deliver meals to yourself, you can do all that.

And thinking out ahead for the next decade plus, what's the next exciting platform for innovation? Realizing that it's actually the human body and that the human body is the next platform for innovation. And what we're seeing is that API-ification of the human body or we're seeing the human body start to be treated as a system where you have all these hardware sensors now. You have your Whoop, your Oura, your Apple Watch, you have all these continuous glucose monitors, measurement devices.

We're able to see in real time what's going on inside of our body. We're able to directly read the metrics of our body. Instead of going once a year to the doctor, you get this constant look at your HRV, your glucose levels, your heart rate, when you're running you can see your cadence. You can measure your calories in, your calories out. You can see all of the metrics that affect your body.

And so, the human body is the most advanced piece of technology that you'll ever own. And we're seeing the platform-ification of it with these sensors and hardware. And it follows from there that if you're tracking your body, you're seeing your sleep score, you're seeing your blood glucose, it follows from there that you're going to want to move the levers on your inputs. And you're going to want to change the things that you're eating. And you're going to want to see a direct effect from it. But that's happening at a massive scale.

It's not just me saying it. It's me saying that, like, tens of millions of people are doing this. And that's just the early adopters. It's like continuing to expand where, okay, like, you have a bad sleep score, what are you going to do? You're probably going to stop having caffeine after noon. You're probably going to cut back on your total caffeine intake throughout the day. You see your blood glucose is higher outside of the ideal range and you're able to do something about it before you're pre-diabetic, so maybe you cut back on your sugar intake or turn to other sources of fuel that are not sugary and not insulin spiking that are metabolically healthy.

So, seeing the human body as a platform and seeing that this is here to stay, that there's this fundamental sea change happening. Then, I got thinking like, well, what are the basic building blocks in this new world? What are the primitives? What are the fundamental units that are going to matter in this new world?

And connecting a couple of dots where a lot of people were doing things like bulletproof coffee, or intermittent fasting, or ketogenic diets, or other intermittent fasting, longer term fasting - I did a week long fast once to see what would happen. Actually with my co-founder, we led a one of the largest intermittent fasting groups in the country out of San Francisco - and seeing that people were jumping through all these hoops to get their ketone levels up.

One thing in common across a number of things I just mentioned is that when you're fasting, when you're eating low carbohydrate, also when you're doing endurance sports, whenever your blood sugar is going low through any of those activities, your body starts to make something called ketones, which are really efficient energy source that you make whenever you're low blood sugar and you make ketones to fuel your brain.

And so, seeing the human body as a platform, seeing that a lot of people from kind of different approaches were trying to get their ketone levels up inside of their body, kind of the light bulb of entrepreneurship went off to me of like, "Hey. If ketones are so cool, people are jumping through all these hoops to get their ketones up, that seems to be like a primitive fuel source that a lot of people are benefiting from. Well, what would happen if people could just go to the store and buy a shot of ketones without having to jump through those hoops? Or in addition to jumping through those hoops, they just had another source of that really efficient fuel that they liked the feeling of?"

And that was the kind of entrepreneurship light bulb moment for me. And from there, I connected some dots seeing that actually the Department of Defense was really interested. We were able to get a $6 million contract with the Department of Defense to create at scale the first ketone drink, because they were interested, again, for brain fuel, for physical cognitive performance in stressful missions. They were really interested in exogenous ketones.

So, once we had a really big customer, there was this idea, then a really big customer, and we were able to kind of connect the dots there and get it rolling, get some investment money behind. And then, over the last several years, figured out a way to scale it up to where it could be ready for the consumer world.

And a-year-and-a-half ago in January, we took that technology and launched it to the consumer world as Ketone-IQ and it's been off to the races. Like, we're in Equinox, we're nationwide in grocery stores, and Sprouts. We've been on Andrew Huberman's podcast. We've been sponsoring a lot of incredible athletes. We work with most of the teams on the Tour de France who are using ketones. We work with Olympic gold medalists. We're working everywhere we can to get ketones out there into the world. We're still very early on all of it too.

Nikki Miller:

Michael, you do such a great job of explaining something that I know is not so simple very simply, so thank you for that. And thank you, we both had the opportunity, Chris and I, to try the actual product itself. And I told Chris I went for a run after it and felt like I was absolutely flying. And when I take it just during the day, I feel a sort of a sense of mental clarity that I would feel maybe after a run or after a workout or when I'm really feeling my best. So, walk us through what is the actual science behind that? Why do I feel so good when I use the product?

Michael Brandt:

Your brain can use glucose, sugar. And your brain cannot use fat. So, in an ancestral context, when you run low on blood sugar, which will happen any time there's not carbs available, your body needs to turn fat into something else. It needs to turn fat into something called ketones. Because fat doesn't cross the blood brain barrier, it's too large, you have this semi-permeable blood brain barrier that protects your brain from a lot of different molecules to get in. So, fat can't get in, glucose can, so your body needs to turn fat into ketones.

So, fundamentally, ketones are this brain energy source and it's actually really common for humans to be using ketones in their brain. Because in an ancestral context, we just didn't have that much carbs available. There was no peanut butter cups on the Savannah. There was often long periods of time where you wouldn't have access to carbohydrates. Your body can't store that much carbohydrate. I'm using these terms, carbohydrate, blood, sugar, glycogen, I'm using that all relatively interchangeably.

You can only store, like, a day or two of glycogen, stored carbohydrates. You can only store, like, a day or two of that so it's very easy to run through. Like, if you run a 50K or marathon or even a half marathon, you'll start to just deplete your carb stores and your body will have to start using fat for your brain. It'll have to start turning that into ketones.

And the human body is really unique in this. I think an important point to highlight, because we have this large brain, the largest brain for our body size, our brain uses a massive amount of energy that the ability to make and use ketones is a fundamental human thing that allowed us to support this large brain size in a context where you don't always have carbohydrate availability. And so, ketones are this fundamental super fuel for our brain.

And so, that's why to answer the question, when you drink Ketone-IQ and you just immediately have an elevation of ketone levels circulating through your blood, through your body, especially into your brain, you feel the light switched on.

And it's the same thing that's going on when you get runner's high. Like, if you're ten miles into a run, your body is starting to ramp up its own ketone production. Or if you're a day into a fast, your body is starting to run low on carbohydrates and starting to make ketones. So, that's why a lot of people will describe it as this, like, runner's high type of feeling or you just feel really dialed in, not in like a super stimulated caffeinated way, but you just feel like your brain has more energy to it, not in a nervous, anxious way though.

Chris Dixon:

If ketones are such a better source of brain fuel and just energy in general, when you look at the average person's diet and the distribution of where they're getting their calories from, we've got some challenges there. I mean, what else are people getting wrong with their diet that you could speak to when it comes to creating the space for ketone generation?

Michael Brandt:

Generally, what you want to avoid is high spikes of blood sugar, so very processed sugar, carbohydrates. So, basically everything inside of a convenience store, like a Pop-Tart or gummy bears, all that stuff is highly processed. It direct spikes your blood sugar.

Not all carbohydrates are the same, right? Like, if you had 50 grams of carbohydrates from steel-cut oats versus from gummy bears, or Skittles, or sweet potato, or something starchy or fibrous, it's going to be a lot slower. Literally, the fibers inside of it are slowing the uptake. It's like you have this more gentle curve to it. The spike is what's really harmful.

And then, you can think about it like if you're listening to loud music, if you listen to something really loud, like really loud for a minute, that's a lot worse for you than listening to something at medium volume for an hour. Even though the total sonic energy hitting your ears would be the same area under the curve, if you do it all in a minute versus spreading out over an hour, you'll probably go deaf. You'll probably explode your eardrums. There's a limit to the sensitivity.

If you're spiking your blood glucose too much, too often, you develop what's called insulin resistance. In order to address those spikes in blood glucose, your body has to release a lot of insulin and eventually that stops working. Eventually, you get insulin resistance and then your body's not able to process blood sugar anymore. And then, you have a hard time getting energy to do anything. You just have ambient high blood glucose, which is known as diabetes, and that interferes with all sorts of cognitive functions, cardiovascular functions. Diabetes itself is really bad, and it also contributes to things like Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease. So, you don't want to develop that insulin resistance.

For a lot of endurance athletes, it's like I have a hard time saying, "Hey, don't ever eat carbohydrate." I definitely have carbs. I'm running a lot. I'm running 80 miles a week. And a lot of my fueling does come from carbohydrates. But I'm very careful on going for lower glycemic index, meaning the starchier, more fibrous. So, getting the amount of carbohydrate that you do need to fuel, but doing it in a way that is a more gentle, less spiky curve in your blood glucose so that your're not causing as much metabolic stress at that time.

Chris Dixon:

Makes sense, your body doesn't know what to do with that, right? When you get those heavy doses of sugar, it's like, "Whoa." It's not found anywhere in nature, just like a flood of sugar, so it's got to process through that. And the stress it puts on your body, I can imagine, it's just horrible time.

Michael Brandt:

Like, if you know someone with diabetes or when you get late stage diabetes, you have to start amputating, right? You're not able to get energy processed where needed in your extremities, so sometimes they have to start amputating fingers, toes, feet. And the difference between a healthy individual and someone who's late stage diabetic is like a teaspoon of sugar. The difference is that, that late stage diabetic, they have an extra teaspoon of sugar circulating through their whole body that they're not able to regulate.

So, it's this very finely tuned knob that if you disrupt it too much, like if you spike your glucose too much, if you spike your blood insulin too much, over time, it stops working. And it's just this very finely tuned instrument where it doesn't have to stop working drastically in order to cause a big effect.

Nikki Miller:

Michael, I have to imagine one of the challenges I see in anything that's food or health related is that it's such a big industry with so much noise. Walk me through how you've been able to cut through that, because I know that you very much sound like you have a specific niche in who this is for, and yet it sounds like it could also work for the everyday person. And with so much noise around what to eat, what not to eat, which diet is best, is it ketone, is it low carb, is it high fat, what is it, how have you been able to cut through the noise and share with people, not only why this is important and get them to actually try it in a space where there's a lot of things that they could be trying?

Michael Brandt:

Yeah. That's a really good point. On the entrepreneurial side, it's really important to me to attack a problem that would make a really big dent in the world. Like, I'm not really interested in making $1 billion or something. I think that that will happen inevitably or it may or may not happen. Like, for me, the point is to make a big dent in a global outcome.

To me, it's really interesting that ketones give you energy. It's very metabolically efficient, very metabolically healthy, does not spike your insulin, does not spike your blood sugar, low oxidative stress, very good. A lot of the longevity doctors and experts are into getting more of your fuel from ketones versus other sources.

So, the way I frame it as an entrepreneur is like, okay, this is a really big problem to solve and we have a really unique answer on it. And we're kind of diet agnostic. Like, I don't do the keto diet. I think a lot of people know about the word ketones because in the ketogenic diet, you eat such low sugar all the time, such low carbohydrate all the time that your body is constantly creating ketones.

And that works well for some people. It can work well for aggressive weight loss, if that's interesting. It can work well for people on very specific diet for medical reasons. It can work as an adjunct for certain types of cancer treatment or Alzheimer's treatment. There's specific reasons why someone might want to do a ketogenic diet. Some people just really like the way that they feel. They have no problem cutting out carbs.

But most people, I do not think a long term ketogenic diet is the answer. I do think that reducing carbs in general and finding other sources of fuel, especially that spiky form of very sugary carbohydrates, like we were just talking about, I do think that's generally better for people.

But the point is that I'm not pushing any kind of diet in particular. I'm agnostic to vegan, or meat, or keto or not keto. I don't really care. My point is that ketones themselves are a really efficient form of fuel that feel really good. And we're all doing metabolism all the time, all 8 billion of us, and we could all benefit from a better fuel source.

So, it's been really interesting as an entrepreneur because, in a sense, you need to start with a niche. You can't just start a business and sell to 8 billion people tomorrow. You've got to get your first 100 customers, your first 1,000 customers, first 10,000. You've got to kind of stair step it up. And so, I do think it benefits. The advice I always give to other entrepreneurs is find your niche.

Like for us, we started getting really big in the cycling world because cyclists are just absolutely dialed. Every cyclist you know, even at the amateur level, knows their watts, their watts per kilogram. It's very easy to see if something is moving the dial as a cyclist because you're on this machine and you can directly measure what your output is.

So, does it also work for a soccer player? It sure does. But a soccer player is also thinking about 16 other things, their ball handling, their strategy, their team tactics. All of that stamina is just one piece of the pie. Whereas, for cyclist it's mega important.

So, the way I've unpacked the problem is like, okay, start with your niches. Even in endurance sports, like we started with cycling and now we've broadened into marathoning. We work with Sarah Hall, who has the American Women's Masters Record for the Marathon. We work with Cam Wurf, who's the only pro cyclist who's also a pro Ironman. He came in fifth at Kona and he's on Team Ineos in the pro cycling world. So, we're branching out into triathlon, running, ultra running, marathoning, and continuing to broaden out from there.

So, it's this duality of I think ketones are for everyone. I think ketones will be, like, 10 percent of global calorie intake, whether I do anything about it or not. I think it's just one of those things like if Phil Knight hadn't invented Nike's, running shoes probably would have taken off. If Steve Jobs didn't make the the MacBook and iPhone, computing probably still would have taken off. Ketones are going to take off whether I do something about it or not. That's, I think, a good thing as an entrepreneur is that we have the wind at our back. This is going to happen either way.

If Gatorade hadn't created electrolytes, and they made Gatorade for the Florida Gators, they made the first electrolyte drink for the sweltering Florida heat and called it Gatorade, if they hadn't done that, probably electrolytes would have cropped up anyway, which is a fundamental innovation upon just having just water when you're trying to hydrate.

So, I think ketones are going to be 10 percent of global calorie intake, whether I do something about it or not. But as an entrepreneur, like hands on the controls, I think about starting in what are the niches that have the quickest pickup, because you've got to make your first million dollars to make your first $10 million, to make your first billion dollars. You got to sequence it out.

Nikki Miller:

I say often, Michael, for most great entrepreneurs, it's not the actual business idea that's what's great about them. It's how they deliver that idea, and then how they scale that idea, and how they stick with that idea. Because most ideas at this point are not anew. To your point, all of these businesses probably would have propped up in their verticals at some point, maybe not at the same scale or with the same notoriety that we know, but we'll never know. Somebody would have probably come up with the idea in that space.

And yet I do know that venturing into the world of entrepreneurship as an entrepreneur myself and as people and an organization that coaches a lot of entrepreneurs and consults with a lot of very large businesses, there's a skillset there to seeing the vision and then executing on that vision. And I'd love to hear how you've evolved in that space because I know before you were a professor - and that's a totally different line of sight and skillset than building a business from the ground up - what have you learned? How did you have to change? Tell me about that entrepreneurial evolution that you've had.

Michael Brandt:

I've always been really interested in the intersection between where technology becomes culture, where you can have an interesting revolution in technology, like processors can do something really interesting, or computers, we have the internet. It's all connected. Then, it takes the innovation of making Google or YouTube or Instagram. Oftentimes, the technology alone is not sufficient to solve the problem. It's actually a product or user experience that wraps that technology that makes it frictionless and makes it easier than whatever the incumbent solution was for people. So, that's where I've always been fascinated, that seam between technology and culture.

And for me, that's been common across everything that I've done. Because I actually worked at YouTube for a while as my first job for a couple of years, like early days of YouTube. I don't know if you remember Gangnam Style, that era.

Chris Dixon:

Oh, yeah. Of course.

Nikki Miller:

How could we forget?

Michael Brandt:

That was the first video to ever cross a billion views and we had a big celebration. And not like a random Taylor Swift song. I mean, Taylor Swift's great. But a lot of random videos --

Nikki Miller:

Be very careful, Michael, especially as an Angelina. I don't think you want to venture down --

Chris Dixon:

That's a line.

Nikki Miller:

... of anything against Taylor Swift.

Michael Brandt:

Oh, no. Taylor Swift, if I could have three dinner with people alive or dead, she's a genius, she's great. She's, I think, one of the most interesting people alive right now.

But anyway, so the point is that, to me, it's not that different looking at a computer system versus a human body and just seeing technology innovation and then thinking about the user experience around that. Like, how do you tap into the technology, but then also tap into the culture around it?

Like, YouTube's whole innovation at its core was they figured out how to deliver videos at scale. But that's not how a consumer thinks about it. The consumer thinks about it in terms of like Gangnam Style or whatever your favorite viral videos are, like you follow Mr. Beast or you follow this person or that person, you think about it more the cultural level, experience level. You're not thinking about like, "Wow. They really figured out their video codecs and how to deliver."

That's important, but I don't expect people to think about their blood ketone area under the curve. That matters, but what I want people to think about more it's just fueling fantastic throughout their day. Like, "Wow. I just feel really great. I feel nice when I do this. I don't have to understand the deep details as to why."

The best products, the technology kind of melts away. Like on your iPhone, you don't feel like there's a lot of technology going on. It just works. So, I've always thought about that, which is across my career from being a product manager at YouTube.

Then, I taught brand strategy at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and it was very much the same thing, just working with students on how do you take a brand and communicate the magic of what the core offering is of the company, but communicate that across all of the surface area that a brand has.

And then, at a certain point I felt smart enough at it. I was teaching enough, but I was like, "Hey. Okay. I feel like I really understand what Nike did, or what Apple did, or what Expedia did," or what all these great companies did. If I'm actually so good at it, let me stop teaching it and actually do it. And then, maybe in a decade, I'll teach it again, but I can actually say I went and did it. I felt, in a way, imposter syndrome because I was teaching it and I felt like I understood it well. But it was time to really go in and --

Chris Dixon:

Practice what you preach.

Michael Brandt:

... yeah, practice what you preach. So, did I answer the question? I know there was a lot to the question.

Nikki Miller:

I think it does. And I'd love to hear in that evolution of, obviously, you went from talking about brand strategy to executing brand strategy, so what was the branding strategy when you started and how has that evolved?

Michael Brandt:

When we started the company, I didn't know exactly what we wanted to do. That's why the company is called Health Via Modern Nutrition, which is that we didn't know where we would go with it exactly. It was started as this concept, like incubate, venture scale concept inside of human nutrition. And then, I tried a few different shots on goal. And when I launched Ketone-IQ, it just started going so well. The feel to it, it's like a different pole.

I think, in a way entrepreneurship is really hard, right? You got to grind. You got to fight for your first ten customers, fight for your first 100 customers. You really got to grind it out. But in another way, there's a duality to it where it shouldn't be hard. Or you want to find the area where the ground is soft, where you don't have to literally bleed for every dollar. Like, is there an area where the product kind of sells itself? Or people are really inspired to go tell their friends about it and you get some viral coefficient behind what you're doing because it's interesting.

There's definitely a duality to it because I don't think entrepreneurship is easy. But I also do think there's such a thing as grinding too hard, where it shouldn't actually hurt, like, for years and years on end. Eventually, the best ideas, like if you start the next Uber or something - Uber got to a certain point where it was just an obvious pull. Everyone wanted to open their phone and have a car show up, and that was just clearly a better user experience than trying to hail a cab in most cities. It just went viral.

There's a certain point where the pole, it shouldn't feel like you're trying to convince the world of why your product is a good idea. There's some of that. You can't lose that. You can't be arrogant about it like, "Oh. Everyone needs to love my stuff." You got to still try hard. I think, basically, it's both. You want to find a business concept where you have product market fit and the pole is fundamentally there. And then, on top of that, hustle your ass off to tell everyone about it, but have that compound with the fact that it's got fundamentally good product market fit.

Chris Dixon:

How do you recognize that early that you're starting to see signs of gravity that there is some pull for your product? What signals do you look for?

Michael Brandt:

One thing I would say is it's helpful to have just tried a few different concepts out, because then you intuitively have the feel. You know how it is when you're putting up social media posts, say you post every day for a few months, you have an intuitive sense which posts did better than others. There's this voting machine of just the internet of like, "Okay. This one did really well. This one didn't do so well." It's like you just kind of know.

That's what I would say is the, probably, highest level advice to say, is you'll know it when you see it if you've done enough types of shots on goal. And I think that as an entrepreneur, you have to be strong headed but not too strong headed. I think you got to be strong headed on your concept for, like, three to six months, believe fully it's going to work. And then, at some point, have that come to Jesus moment of is this really working or not. And if it's not, try something else out.

And then, you do that a few times and eventually you'll have some internal comparison of like, "Okay. This one just felt a lot smoother. Like, I had reporters hitting me up asking me about it. My problem was I was running out of inventory." Not the problem of, "Oh. My previous thing, I had too much inventory and I couldn't move it." They're both problems to have. It's not awesome to sell out. But it's better to sell out of inventory than it is to have too much inventory.

So, trying a few different shots on goal and you just intuitively will have a sense of what actually it has a pull to it versus not. So, I would just say, don't fall too in love with your first idea. Take it seriously, but not too seriously is maybe another way to say it.

Nikki Miller:

I'm hearing, Michael, that there's such a dichotomy in entrepreneurship. And I always say in companies or in startups, whatever it is, we just can't be bound by the way that we've always done it or the way we've always thought about it. So, what I hear is you're just challenging people to think again, think through it again, think a different product or a different strategy, or whatever it is, with the ultimate goal to end up where you want to be, which is to serve the customer at the highest level in whatever vertical you're trying to do that.

Michael Brandt:

Yeah. Yeah. It's really well said. I think another pattern I've noticed with a lot of entrepreneurs is that there tend to be two types of businesses, just broadly speaking. One is where you have a technology, you created a technology and you're trying to figure out a problem to solve with it. You see that a lot with people with PhDs or deep engineering backgrounds, like, "I created lightning in a bottle, what do I go solve with this?" That's its own type of problem to solve.

This is very broad strokes, but the other generally type of entrepreneurship I see is that people, they know the problem that they want to solve. They're really good at need finding. They have high empathy, high EQ. They know busy moms have X, Y, Z problem or people driving in cars. You know the problem but you don't know how to solve it in a unique way with good technology, you don't know the solution.

Both of these are problems. Fundamentally, every good business has to solve both. Fundamentally, you need to have something that's interesting, effective, differentiated, that's solving a real need, that's compelling, that makes people act and take out their credit card and buy it because you're solving a real problem. Fundamentally, you do need to solve both.

I would say, usually as an entrepreneur, you have some advantage in one ballpark or the other. And then, it's your job to keep that advantage, but you also have to solve the other half of the equation. And it's good to be self-aware of which side of it you're on.

I can say with ketones, for instance, I was definitely like, "Okay. This is really cool technology. We made a ketone, who wants a ketone now? This is very interesting, how do we position this? Who is this for? How do we explain the benefits? It's clearly technologically novel, how do I explain that to someone in, like, 0.5 seconds on a shelf at a grocery store?"

Chris Dixon:

Yeah. The elevator pitch. I think you do a great job at it. Like, even early on, you can tell you've got that dialed in, in our conversation. I mean, you make a great point though, because ketones, it is early in the awareness around them. And for sure it makes sense why you went to athletes because they're super tip of the spear on where these sources of energy, nutrition things are.

And you talked about wearables, I mean, more and more now see somebody with the trifecta, like Apple Watch or Garmin, Oura Ring, and Whoop all simultaneously, and I'm like, "Look at you. There you go." And I don't know what it's called, but the thing, it's like a glucose measuring patch or something.

Michael Brandt:

Glucose monitor, like the level.

Chris Dixon:

Yeah. Yeah. You see all that. But I think there's some growing awareness, right? And the challenge, I guess, now is how do you get the broader population aware of this thing. And it could be that that's where wearables and more biohacking, if you will, opens that up for you, right?

Michael Brandt:

Yeah. A lot of good design happens in the extremes, pro athletes, or special forces, or other extreme groups, elderly people, or disabled people, or people with poor eyesight. A lot of times designing for the extremes, it really accentuates what the need is.

One of my favorite examples of that - like, we're doing that - when we first started with ketones, it was $30 a shot and it was just very raw tasting. We hadn't really formulated it. It just tasted really stringent. It still tastes kind of crazy, but if you can imagine, it tasted really crazy. And that only made sense for special forces, who were at 20,000ft of altitude, who their life is on the line, they're tough as nails, they don't care. It's like, "Hey. Do I get some gains out of this? Cool. I'll take it."

Nikki Miller:

Yeah. They're not going to complain about the taste.

Michael Brandt:

Exactly. They don't have the privilege to complain about taste. And then, the Tour de France is pretty gnarly, right? Those guys are riding, like, 100, 200 miles a day every day for three weeks straight. It's a 23-day long event with two days off. It's absolutely insane. If you make the wrong wiggle on your bike or something, you crash and break your face. It's one of the most hardcore events that exists. The Super Bowl takes place on one Sunday and it's over in a couple hours. Tour de France is a whole different can of worms and so that group made sense.

One of my favorite examples just outside of what I'm doing is, there's this brand called OXO. You maybe have seen it. They make kitchen appliances, can openers, spatulas, that kind of thing. And if you can think about the most defining characteristic of the brand, they always have these big ergonomic handles to them. And their origin story was that they started by designing for older folks with arthritis, and they're like, "Okay. Well, let's make a really adaptive set of kitchenware that is really easy to hold if you don't have good grip strength."

And then, it turns out, everyone likes a big friendly handle. Even if you don't have diminished grip strength or whatever, it's like I like an ergonomic handle. It turns out that by designing for these extremes that you can often more quickly see what a pain point is. And that that pain point exists in the population in general but it's more exaggerated in the edge cases.

Everyone wants to sell to everyone. Everyone wants to be in Target and 7-Eleven and everywhere, but you can't really start there. A lot of times the insights come in the more niches of like, "Hey, I'm going to make this really specific solution for this specific segment of society." And you're going to learn really quickly there, and then you may hone in on something that can then be generalized out to the general population as you scale out larger over time.

Nikki Miller:

Michael, we have the privilege of getting to talk to a lot of really exceptional people like yourself, people who have built huge businesses, have amazing minds, have done incredible feats of athleticism and beyond. And there's a commonality that I see in a mindset of someone who believes that they are capable of achieving this thing because so many people have great ideas.

One of my favorite books I've ever read is a book called Big Magic, and it's effectively around this idea that ideas are bestowed upon us. And whether or not we choose to go and manifest that idea is entirely up to us. And if we don't, somebody else will go and do it.

So, to your point, if Steve Jobs hadn't created Apple and Steve Wozniak, somebody else would have created the equivalent. And yet it takes a certain type of belief in one's self, a certain type of grit to be able to go and achieve those things. So, believe that we're capable of achieving those things.

And I do find a commonality in all of those people that they typically, almost across the board, are also the type of people who do physically challenging things. Which you do, you run marathons, you're doing Ultras, you're doing triathlons. Both Chris and I are are distance athletes. And we know that that is not something one does purely for the fun of it. It's a really challenging thing to do.

So, walk me through how you found a commonality in that, because I know you're also talking to a lot of other people who own big businesses and have big lives, where do you see a commonality in that, and how do you take what you learn in business or in your distance sports or vice versa, and how do you use them alongside each other?

Michael Brandt:

I love that question, Nikki. It's something I think about a lot. I'm getting ready for the Chicago Marathon in a couple of months here, and posting 80 mile weeks, and just getting after it every day. And I think about it a lot because I'm like, "Okay. Well, is this a distraction from work? That's, you know, 10, 15 hours a week that I could be working instead."

And I actually have a very strong answer to that, which is no. That it's actually very inspiring. I actually feel more dialed in and aggressive now than when I'm in off season mode where I'm still running but I'm not as targeted on my workouts. You know, "Oh. Today, I'm doing a VO2 workout. Saturday, I'm doing a long run. I'm doing a recovery run the next day. I'm doing weights." The amount of dialed in that I have to be when I'm really doing a marathon build, it's very inspiring to what I'm then doing at work.

And to me, it's just a very direct analogy, especially with endurance sports in particular, because there's no one day that makes or breaks your final time. In theory, like you can miss a day here and there. I don't or I really try not to. I don't think I have at all in this build. You try not to, but you know your six mile recovery jog, if you didn't do that, you're probably okay. There's rarely any one day in business that's make or break, but you keep cracking at it every single day and amazing things can happen.

Like, no one day makes or breaks it, but it's so beautiful the compounding effect that you get out of all of it. And it always feels like everything is just like training for the next thing. I'm in way better shape than I was a month ago and now I feel like I'm really training. And now, I'm training at a level where, okay, a month from now, I'll be really, really fast. You train to get better at training, to get better at training to, eventually, there's a race.

I think business is the same way. You figure out your first 1,000 customers so that you're in a spot where you can figure out your next 10,000 customers. And now, we're figuring out how are we going to do a T.V. spot during the Olympics next year and the Tour de France next year. I remember it was a big deal when we paid $10,000 for our first athlete partner or something. And now the budget is, like, 50 times bigger now for what we're thinking about in a given period.

But it's still day one. We're still tiny. We're still nothing compared to a Nike or an Apple or any of the goats. So, you just keep doing it. You got to take it seriously at each level for the opportunity to go to the next level. And the analogy to running is so direct and visceral that I think that all the running embeds in me a visceral sense of how compounding daily progress goes. And I think just makes me a better intuitive leader for myself, for my team on just keep getting after it every single day.

Nikki Miller:

Well, it's one of the --

Chris Dixon:

Beyond the --

Nikki Miller:

Go ahead, Chris.

Chris Dixon:

Oh, sorry, Nikki. I was just going to say, beyond the big application, which makes total sense, do you find any value in the smaller just mental clarity you get head time from some of the, call it, easier runs or the longer runs, just having time to think and process? Do you use any of that for reflection?

Michael Brandt:

Yeah, it's huge. Reflection is a big part of it. I think, also, just venting - I don't know, it's a double edged sword because I'm, I would say, a very aggressive person and it's helpful to have a steam valve on that. It's helpful sometimes --

Chris Dixon:


Michael Brandt:

Yeah. You get the purge and you put things in perspective. And maybe it's better to leave that out on the track, leave that sweat puddle on the treadmill, or whatever, versus yelling at your chief of staff. Keep it civil in general. But I'm just saying that it's helpful to have that outlet in you, like you have that perspective. It's helpful to have that steam valve and then you're able to see it with a different vantage point, de-emotionalize, get the pressure out and then to see it more flat, I think, is really helpful.

Nikki Miller:

Well, I think to your point earlier, Michael, about sort of you create this habit that you are the type of person who does what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it. And I think that carries so much in business and in life. And I love your idea of you compounding the interest, because I always say my favorite thing about this law of compounding is that the law in and of itself is neutral.

So, you're either the type of person who creates compound interest on positive behavior, i.e. you are the person who does that six mile run even when you probably be fine if you skipped it. Or you are the type of person who doesn't do it and you'll create the compound interest therein, because that obviously bleeds into other areas of your life too.

So, what are the things that you are doing or have done that have created the most compound interest in your life? The habits, the actions, whatever it is.

Michael Brandt:

Yeah. I would say aside from marathoning, which we talked about, which I love a lot, I think generally as a leader, it does give you a lot of ethos to be a fit person with athletic goals. I happen to be in the nutrition space, we sell a lot to athletes. But I just think in general, you command a lot of authority when you've shown the ability to control your monkey mind and direct yourself physically at a goal and deal with pain. I think on an animal level, it's inspiring to other people. I think people trust that type of character.

In terms of other type of compounding, one thing that's jumped out a lot is building a platform. I think it's really interesting, it's something I've started to take a lot more seriously even just this year. Prior to this year, I put a lot of work into building the company following, like our company social media handle, our company email list, making the H.V.M.N. Brand cool.

And January this year, I just started posting everyday personally. And the light bulb had gone off, like, a little bit before then to where I realized the brand matters, but people really like buying from people. And it's not an either or thing, right? Goop has Gwyneth Paltrow. Apple had Steve Jobs. Tesla has Elon Musk. And you can have both. You can have the strong brand itself and then you can have the strong figurehead on the brand.

And platforms, in terms of your question, Nikki, on what compounds, I think platforms compound really well. Having a following, if you think about it - this is always advice I give to people that are starting out with entrepreneurship - build the community, the platform, build that first. Because a lot of times you can actually keep your day job or you can do it while you're still a student. You can go and get your first 10, 25, 100,000 followers before you start your business. And then, you have that test bed to go try your first, second, third different idea. It's going to be that much easier to get your first 100 customers on a given concept.

And it's worth taking seriously, because the one way I think about it is that, in terms of compounding, I really like the concept of if your goal is to get 100,000 followers, you can do that over five years or you can take it really seriously and do it in one year and you're going to compound on top of it.

Imagine you buy some real estate and you're developing a restaurant. You could spend five years doing it or you could spend one year developing the restaurant and then spend four years operating the restaurant and profiting from the restaurant and learning things inside of the restaurant. And I think the same thing with building a platform, I think front loading a lot of that, like making a platform first and then you get that compound interest. If every day by posting, you're going to grow your following one percent, it's better to do that on top of a larger following than a smaller one.

I guess the example is, if you're trying to save up, you're better off getting a good pool of money at the outset so that the compounding kicks in further versus putting in a nickel every day for a year, you're still not going to have that much at the end of the year. Is there a way you can start off compounding with a larger base and applying that specifically to community building, I think is an interesting way to think about it and it's something I advise a lot to entrepreneurs who are getting started.

Nikki Miller:

I don't think that people put weight in that. I think in this day, especially, it's so important. I always give the example of when I'm working with a young person or coaching a young person and I might suggest a business to them, literally the first place they go is Instagram or TikTok to see if that business has a presence there or that person has a presence there. It's literally their way of deciding whether you're valid or not.

And I don't think enough people put weight in how important it is to have a presence there. And beyond that, for an entrepreneur, I always just say it's free. Like, you can reach hundreds of thousands, to your point, of people for free by doing that, and I don't know why anyone wouldn't take that opportunity.

Michael Brandt:

That's such a good point. And especially in a digital world where you don't have the store on Main Street where people can come and window shop, the Instagram feed for your brand is the window shopping. It is the try before you buy or kind of sniff out if this is for you. So, yeah, I think that's good advice that you just said there.

Chris Dixon:

Awesome. Well, Michael, there's a lot of great takeaways from the conversation today and thank you for being on here. We like to always close out and narrow the focus for the audience, if you could give us what's one thing you'd hope the listeners took away from the conversation today?

Michael Brandt:

We talked about a lot of interesting things. I would say that think about your body as a system. Including all of your business goals, fitness goals, happiness goals, think about it as a system. Make an effort to measure the outputs as best as you can, as objectively as you can. And then, truly think about what the inputs are into your system across everything, across where you're putting your attention, across how you're getting your calories, across whose advice you're listening to or not listening to. Be really mindful about the inputs. At the end of the day, you're just a machine that's processing these inputs and then creating the outputs out of it. So, think about yourself as a system, measure the outputs and be mindful about the inputs that you're optimizing in.

Chris Dixon:

Awesome. If listeners want to check you out, they want to learn more, buy some ketones, where can they do all that? Where can they find you?

Michael Brandt:

Yeah. Check us out at hvmn.com, that's Health Via Modern Nutrition. And we're on social media, @hvmn. I'm on social media, @michaeldbrandt. So, drop me a line. I love hearing from people. I love hearing what people are trying from training point of view, entrepreneurship point of view. Say "What's up?" I love to hear from people.

Nikki Miller:

Thank you, Michael. We love learning from you today. This was great. Thank you for being here.

Michael Brandt:

Thanks, Nikki and Chris. This is a lot of fun. We got to do this again.

Chris Dixon:

For sure. All right. Bye, everybody.


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