The Next Brand, Episode #11

Interesting conversations, diet and behavioral disorders, and launching side hustles

Hi there, and welcome to The Next Brand - my take on health, wellness and brand building.

In the last 4 years I’ve founded 2 health brands (Kettle & Fire and Perfect Keto), which did nearly $100mm in revenue in 2019. I’ve raised ~$20mm to build Kettle & Fire, gotten into 10k+ retail stores, bootstrapped Perfect Keto, launched 80+ SKUs… and have a small portfolio of Shopify apps I run on the side. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC or any other 3-letter industries.

If you missed past episodes, you can catch up here (Episode 08, 09, 10). Otherwise, let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

A few years ago some friends (👋Noah and Mattan!) and I pulled together a list of questions to prompt interesting conversations. Questions like:

  1. If you had someone following you around all the time what would you have them do?

  2. What is something you've never told anyone, not because it's a secret but because you've just never told anyone?

  3. If you could be guaranteed one thing in life (besides money), what would it be?

  4. If you could live life over again, would you sleep with more people or less? Why?

  5. Someone gets a text message from you and for whatever reason they're not sure it's actually you. They're worried someone stole your phone. What could they ask to make sure it's actually you?

  6. What's something you used to strongly believe that you now think you were fundamentally misguided about?

  7. What’s a compliment someone gave you years ago that you still think about?

I pulled together 90 of these questions and have enjoyed putting them to use - they were a big hit with the Kettle & Fire team on retreat!

At the beginning of all this COVID madness, my 15 year old brother had his freshman year cancelled and was bored AF. I shipped him an old computer and recommended he try playing with Sketch or learn to code. Historically, he hadn’t been super motivated… but wow did he start to enjoy coding once he jumped in.

He decided to try and turn my compilation of interesting questions above into an iPhone app: download to get access to all 90 fun questions on your phone.

Just a few weeks ago it was published by the app store! So, I have my first ever ask for readers of this newsletter - if you’ve gotten any value from this newsletter, would you please do me a favor and purchase my brother’s iPhone app? The questions are great fun, and selfishly I’d love to support my high school brother’s first foray into coding and entrepreneurship.

You can find the app here - any and all support would be hugely appreciated 🙏🏻

💪 Health stuff

In 2001, National Institute of Health (NIH) researchers placed an ad in the Washington Post for a study that hoped to help “aggressive alcoholics.” Their hypothesis was that omega-3 supplements might help reduce violent tendencies (which led to a Guardian writeup).

A year after the study, Dwight Demar - who had been jailed multiple times for attacking his wife and trying to kill a person - was sober and employed. After 20 years on the streets, he had won employee of the month and had a new girlfriend.

Another participant arrived “drinking a gallon of rum a day and had 28 scars on his hand from punching other people. Now he is calm and his cravings have gone.”

Finally, a man with convictions for assault and battery “told doctors that for the first time since the age of five he had managed to go three months without punching anyone in the head.”

Soon after, two similar studies were conducted in UK prisons.

After two weeks of receiving multivitamins and omega-3 supplements, prisoners in the first study committed 35.1% fewer violent incidents. In the second study, there was a 26% decrease in antisocial behavior resulting in disciplinary action. Both trials were conducted on 231 inmates.

35% decrease in violent incidents!! From giving people supplements!! Assuming this is true, this has to be one of the most cost-effective interventions out there. The Effective Altruists should come a-knocking to fund this sort of stuff.

Based on these studies + my own experience, I’m coming to suspect nutrition has a LOT to do with mental and emotional health. Could it be that one of the drivers of criminality, violence, and so many other anti-social issues is simply poor nutrition?

After all, when viewed through an evolutionary lens, it makes sense: if your current behaviors aren’t meeting your physical needs, you’ll change your behaviors until those needs are met. Similar to how babies - when confronted with a stone-faced mother - will escalate their behaviors and act out until they get a response (link).

When you have a bevy of studies that indicate changing your diet can help with depression and merely supplementing can drastically decrease violent prisoner behavior… it’s got me thinking that nutrition could be much more of a root cause of behavioral issues than commonly acknowledged. (warning: moving into speculative territory here).

Psychiatrist and biochemist Joseph Hibbeln, who led the 2001 prison experiment, earned the nickname of “The Omega Man.” For over 20 years, he’s conducted study after study that has “linked inadequate essential fatty acids to depression, alcoholism, violence, suicide and impaired brain development.”

Prisons notoriously feed inmates an unhealthy diet, and prisoners disproportionately come from low-income environments — where they often receive poor nutrition. Hmm.

Another study of rural Kenyan schoolchildren found that supplementing “animal source foods” (one group was fed supplemental meat, another milk, another oil, versus a control group) increased test scores dramatically.

Prior to the study, the meat group had the lowest test scores of all the groups. After two years of supplementation, the meat group had the highest test scores. The milk group also saw significant increases when compared to both the oil and control groups.

And it’s not only test scores and violent behavior. At a time when almost 10% of US children have been diagnosed with ADHD (and Autism rates have increased 10% in the past 2 years), some are starting to question the role of nutrition in behavioral disorders.

Take “Does Nutrition Play a Role in ADHD?” from Healthline.

First, they say that “there’s no evidence that diet causes the behavioral disorder ADHD.” Makes sense, but that’s going way beyond the question. Nutrition doesn’t have to be the singular cause of something to play a role.

Next, they mention that “research suggests that for some people, dietary changes can help to improve symptoms.”

But almost nobody goes any further than “dietary changes can help!” because it’s hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt that nutrition is the sole cause of these issues.

Even if it’s not the sole cause, there is plenty of evidence that nutrition plays a large (and potentially massive) role in many mental health issues.

A systematic review of ADHD literature illustrates this well:

“Conclusion: Elimination diets and fish oil supplementation seem to be the most promising dietary interventions for a reduction in ADHD symptoms in children. However, the studies on both treatments have shortcomings, and more thorough investigations will be necessary to decide whether they are recommendable as part of ADHD treatment.”

All of the articles and studies read the same: this could help, but it might not, and we’re not sure what exactly to recommend or why. (As an aside… why it’s so challenging to recommend a 30 DAY TEST to supplement fish oil or eliminate possibly toxic foods that contribute to behavioral disorder symptoms, I still have no idea. TRY IT and if nothing changes, go back to soda and sugar - no harm done. This particular resistance drives me crazy 😤).

There’s also a chicken and egg problem at play.

Studies show that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) “present with multiple eating and nutrition challenges … (and) experience eating and feeding problems at 5 times the rate of non-ASD peers.” Similar conclusions have been made for ADHD, that “ADHD is associated with a ‘Western’ dietary pattern in adolescents.”

This leads to a natural question - do nutrition deficiencies cause autism? Or more likely, if there are a variety of causes, what’s the impact of nutrition alone?

Huh, I wonder if something environmental changed in the last 50 years to drive a 169x increase.

To my read, the data suggests that nutrition at least plays a role (possibly a very large one) in mental health issues. There are some solid anecdotes around diet improving or reversing Autism (links here, here, here, here) and some studies (here and here) that have found insufficient evidence for the efficacy of the Autism diet.

We’re only just beginning to understand the impact from changing the western world’s diet from a paleo-ish one to one full of industrial seed oils, sugars and ultraprocessed foods. I’m interested in exploring (or even funding) studies further examining the negative impact the western diet has had on mental and emotional health, and this seems like a promising area for further research.

I may look at funding research at the intersection of Autism + dietary interventions, so if you know any researchers I should chat with let me know.

🤑 Biz stuff

This past month, I’m proud to announce that I wrote a thing! A real thing! About starting side hustles + making passive income!

No, not the passive income these losers talk about

I published the full post over at the Everything Bundle, so pop over there if you’d like to read the whole thing. Otherwise, enjoy the below where I share what makes for a good side business.

Enjoy!

***

Ah, the side hustle. I've become somewhat of a (self-proclaimed) expert at doing random side things over the course of my life.

In the last decade I've created Udemy courses, launched a self-published book (under a fake name – not proud of this one), done marketing consulting, launched an email course (with a paid back-end), Airbnb’ed my apartment, bought a condo and put it on Airbnb, wrote a book (an actual good one), bought a business (and then another one), put affiliate links on my site(now removed), given paid talks, written book summaries, and built an affiliate site for a basketball dribbling course.

Heck, even my current company began as a side project.

And those are just the ones that worked! I've tried tons of other things – buying motorcycles in Oakland on Craigslist and selling them in SF, starting an affiliate site for people with eyebrow dander (like myself), building an email course for people interested in nootropics… the list goes on.

I've seen firsthand how freeing it is to make even $1-2k a month on your own.

It’s a game changer, waking up with more money than you had when you went to sleep. For too long, I'd start my day by refreshing Udemy’s instructor dashboard to see how much I'd made. Then the Traction Amazon page to see our sales, then Airbnb...

Making money via side businesses (or side hustles) gave me the confidence to quit Rackspace and go out on my own 4 years ago. Having a few thousand a month coming in on autopilot gave me the freedom to charge premium rates as a growth consultant, as I knew I'd be okay if they said no.

Side hustles can grow and evolve, but to work they need to have a few traits. They need to:

  • Solve a problem someone is already aware of

  • NOT require a lot of maintenance or hand-holding

  • Have a no-brainer path to profitability

In my experience, there are 4 ways to build a successful side hustle:

  1. Buy an existing asset

  2. Launch a product on a marketplace with existing demand

  3. Launch a unique, one of a kind product in a new space where you can buy demand (Adwords, Facebook, etc.)

  4. Arbitrage (Craigslist, Airbnb, trading, Uber)

Let’s cover them one at a time.

1. Buy an existing asset

This one is probably the easiest, and can require the most money to pull off. But not always - two of my businesses I’ve bought with $0 down.

It’s also pretty self explanatory. Buying an apartment and renting it out to someone is one of the most common ways to generate income in the US. You buy an existing asset (a house) and rent it out on a monthly basis. After a few years, you’ll have made your initial money back and the rest is just profit. Easy!

Real estate is the easiest example, but you can apply this concept (pay a lump sum up front in exchange for regular payments later on) to all kinds of things.

My partner Ryan and I did exactly this when we bought Fomo. We loved the app, it was growing well and kicking off steady cashflow. So, we bought it.

It’s the way we structured it that’s key. We seller-financed the deal, meaning we bought it for an up-front price and made the payments over time. Amazing!

We’re now applying the same strategy to more apps: buy a Shopify app up front, enjoy the monthly profits into (hopefully) eternity.

Beyond real estate and Shopify apps, there are all kinds of existing assets you can buy. I know one guy who found a watercolor tutorial site with a ton of organic traffic. To monetize, the site was showing Google ads on the sidebar, and using Amazon affiliate links. All told, it was pulling in $500-1000 per month.

My friend then bought the site, developed a paid course around learning to paint watercolor, and was making 10k+ a month in just under 6 months.

I've had other acquaintances buy the rights to unpopular songs or jingles and collect on royalties, others who buy YouTube channels or Instagram accounts, and still others who buy Amazon businesses. The list of existing assets you can buy are practically endless, and if you have 1-2 ideas as to how you can improve an asset, you could have a winner on your hands.

2. Launch a product on a marketplace with existing demand

This is my favorite way to launch a side business: spend time on a marketplace where people are spending money, and figure out how to create a product that people are looking for.

Example – a few years ago, my roommate and I ran the 2nd ranked Airbnb in San Francisco. We were renting out our living room for $250, (or our whole apartment for $500+) and making a killing.

How?

Mainly, by paying close attention to what Airbnb wanted. We realized that – from Airbnb’s perspective – they want hosts who do a few things:

  1. Communicate quickly with potential guests

  2. Accepts as many stay requests as possible

  3. Gets lots of 5 star reviews

  4. Has a listing with great photos and a high conversion rate

A listing with the above qualities is one that will make Airbnb the most money.

We created a profile with TONS of photos of our place, the surrounding area, tourist attractions, fun things to do… basically every photo of our area we could add, we did.

Next, we asked our potential guests to message us the dates they were thinking of booking BEFORE they booked or submitted a request.

This step allowed us to respond quickly to guests (boosting our #1 criteria) and meant that – as long as we verbally approved the requested dates – we had nearly a 100% rate of accepting booking requests.

Just by optimizing these areas, we pretty quickly had a top 3 Airbnb in San Francisco.

Let's take another example. A few years back, I launched SQL for Marketers, a Udemy course teaching marketers how to use the SQL programming language without learning how to code.

I saw a gap in the market, and had friends making Udemy courses and doing well. So, I decided to make my own.

I started by evaluating other courses on the Udemy marketplace, and realized that – from Udemy’s standpoint – their best courses would be those that:

  1. Drew a lot of student registrations

  2. Were highly rated

  3. Had good student engagement

So, odds are if you create a course that fulfills those conditions, you have a Udemy winner on your hands.

Earnings since 2015 when I first launched on Udemy

Once you recognize what a given platform wants, your job as a side hustler is to fulfill that platform’s desires.

If you can find a niche on a marketplace that you think you’ll be able to own with some time, the results can be remarkable. This is the truest side hustle there is, as the marketplace will do the hard work of acquiring and servicing customers for you.

If I were to start another side business now, the platforms I'd look at are:

  • Skillshare / Udemy

  • eBay / Amazon

  • Shopify app store

  • Google Chrome app store

  • Any sort of niche marketplace where people buy stuff: Wordpress themes, Woocommerce themes, Webflow, etc

***

I didn’t want to make this section TOO long, so check out the rest of the post here if interested. Good luck building out your own side hustle!

😌 Dope stuff on the internet

Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):

  • 📰 Article - I’ve talked several times here about how to eat meat in a way that’s both ethical and good for the environment. In true form, my buddy Nat Eliason one-upped me and wrote an excellent piece on how to eat meat while caring about the environment. There is SO much consumers can do to make a positive impact on the environment by making good protein decisions… decisions that do not require you shovel ultra-processed fake meat into your belly on a regular basis. Nat breaks down some of the talking points used in the meat + environment discussion in a way that’s definitely worth the read. For more on this topic, I’d also recommend checking out Sacred Cow.

  • 📚Book rec - A few weeks ago I finished reading The Surrender Experiment. I’m not normally much of a New-agey guy, but this book really resonated. Something I’ve struggled with in my life is trying to over-engineer and control everything: since early in my career, I’ve been very driven and focused on achieving my financial and career goals by tightly managing my life and career.
    The approach the author of this book recommends is practically the complete opposite. Rather than striving, try surrendering: saying yes to whatever comes your way, and working to remove the feeling of needing to control everything. I’ve found it quite useful and it’s been a useful way to dial down stress and be more open to opportunities and doing what feels exciting in the moment.

  • Cool product - As I’ve cooked more during COVID I’ve realized the impact spice has on a meal. Not only can too much (or too little) spice can ruin a dish, but the quality of spices you use matters. That’s why I’m super, super stoked that my buddy Myles (formerly of Hartwood restaurant in Tulum) has launched Mother Tongue - a line of killer spice blends to level up your home cooking. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy Myles’ cooking in ATX and can confirm the man knows what he’s doing around the kitchen.

  • 🎵Music - I know what you’re thinking - this section has practically become a monthly ad for Lane 8. True, but c’mon: you can’t NOT enjoy his latest sunrise set in Colorado. Yes I’m a huge fanboy, but also his sets are straight fire. Enjoy this latest.

  • 🏀Random - One of the things I think is going to become increasingly important + discussed over the next few years is the presence of glyphosate (aka RoundUp, a Monsanto pesticide that’s sprayed on tons of crops) in many of our foods in the US. Well, I’m proud to announce that Kettle & Fire recently became the first bone broth brand to certify all our products glyphosate-free. You can read more about the dangers of glyphosate here, but all signs point to glyphosate being one of the secret killers of Americans’ health over the last few decades, and I’m betting it’s something consumers are going to start to care about more and more in the coming years.

***

The Next Brand subscribers are starting to pick up now, 11 months into this experiment - and I’d love it to continue. If you found something compelling, mind forwarding to a friend (or having them subscribe here)?

Otherwise, thanks for reading and feel free to reply and let me know what you’d like me to cover next!

Enjoy the month,

Justin