The Next Brand, episode #12

The secret destroyer of American health, side hustles, and communal living

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, 11). Otherwise, let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

This summer has been a blur. Since June, my girlfriend and I have been on a mountain town tour of the US: Tahoe, Bend, McCall (Idaho), Sun Valley, Leavenworth (WA)... Each time we’d choose a town with 10+ other friends, get AirBnBs near one another, and enjoy the biking, communal meals and camaraderie through what has been a very strange year.

It’s been awesome.

The dream for my parent’s generation was to move to the suburbs, get a stable job and build a family. In today’s more ossified society, the dream for myself and many of my friends is living communally: by buying land somewhere, purchasing every house in culdesac, or settling in a small-ish town with 10-15 other friends.

This summer has been a great way to beta test that dream. After giving it a go, we’re sold: figuring out communal living is now a major goal of our 30s. In a world (and a generation) where loneliness is a literal epidemic, communal living is one of the best antidotes. It’s the lowest-friction way to spend lots of time with people you love. I can imagine the benefits get even more compelling as friends start doing the whole family thing.

Yes there are downsides (like anything) - less privacy, alone time, and sometimes people are just not good guests or housemates. But overall, I’ve made new friends in 1/10th of the time it would take in a normal city environment. And I’ve experienced more fun group dinners, more laughter and more adventures this summer than in almost any one I can remember. I wouldn’t trade this summer for anything - major shoutout to my girlfriend who made the whole thing happen.

Now to figure out how to make this permanent and fully entrench ourselves as hippies…

💪 Health stuff

Something bad is happening with American health. And I’m not talking COVID.

Chronic disease in the US is up nearly 8x since 1940. Obesity is up 4x since the 70s, and healthcare costs have never been higher.

Yet these health issues come at the same time as people are eating fewer animal products and less saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

People are also exercising 25% more since the 90s, and smoking 3x less than they were in the 60s. Yet the bad graphs continue to climb.

What gives?

Obviously, there’s more than just one thing going on here: broad measures of societal health cannot be anything but complex. But today, I want to hone in on something I’m convinced is silently killing you and your compatriots: vegetable oils.

Which - did ya know! - now make up roughly 20% of American’s daily caloric intake.

Vegetable oils are highly processed fats made from various veggies and seeds: soybean, canola, sunflower and corn oils being the most common ones. They’re made following the time-honored traditions of our ancestors: by heating (then crushing) seeds, extracting fats using a hexane solvent, then refined using water precipitation + an organic acid to remove gums, filtered to remove color, and deodorized with steam distillation. Just like grandma used to make! 👵

Never before in history would humans have encountered these highly-processed foods in their diet. Definitely not in such large quantities.

For something that’s silently replaced 20% of our daily caloric intake, there have been relatively few studies done on the health impacts (positive or negative) of vegetable oils.

And those that have been done are… not promising.

  1. In a 7 year Sydney Diet Heart study, researchers found the group consuming more vegetable oils had a 62% higher rate of death compared to the group eating less vegetable oil.

    • This same study found that vegetable oil consumption was the 3rd most lethal lifestyle factor, just after heavy smoking and severe obesity (but less bad than heavy drinking).

  2. Another study (the Margarin study) found that after two years of tracking participants, the number of strokes, heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths was SEVEN times higher in the group eating the vegetable-oil-rich margarine than in the group eating the same margarine made with less vegetable oil. Still margarine, just… less. And still - 7x difference in cardiovascular events.

Sorry your bagels gave you a heart attack. We’ll use butter next time.

  1. Another study (in rats this time) found feeding rats identical diets (ie same protein/carb/fat ratios) but switching the source of the fats led to a 12.3% increase in total body weight for the rats eating vegetable oils vs the rats who had traditional fat sources.

    To put that in perspective, with a similar 12.3% weight gain, the average American would gain 23lbs on a diet that included vegetable oil, even with total calories and carbs/protein otherwise the same.

Besides these telling studies (and far more, as my man Jeff Nobbs details here), increased vegetable oil consumption has been linked to dementia, depression, Alzheimers, cancer, bad skin… nearly every chronic and inflammatory condition that’s plagued American health for the last 60+ years. And inflammatory bowel disease, just for (literal) shits and giggles.

Why are these so bad for you?

For one, you’d never be able to consume the amount of oil present in these little dangers if you just ate normally. Not even Kobayashi is crushing 98 ears of corn in a sitting.

So these are bad for you because they’re being consumed in amounts totally new to human biology. Not only that, but they’re high in omega-6 fatty acids, which drive inflammation.

These toxic little buggers also oxidize more easily, which causes all kinds of nastiness. This oxidation creates free radicals, which then bounce around your cells doing all sorts of damage. This cellular damage is what underpins disease and leads to inflammation and all sorts of chronic disease.

And - unfortunately for anyone who’s ever eaten at a restaurant - this oxidation process only gets worse the longer these things are cooked.

Worse, in the US (unlike Europe) there are no laws around when restaurants have to throw out oils they use in their fryers. Thus for many of them, they’ll keep the same batch of veggie oil bubbling away for months or even years 🤮.

Fortunately these toxic oils are easy to avoid. After all, they’re only in a select few foods, like anything fried, all chips, salad dressings, plant-based butters, pizza, condiments, oat milk, Beyond Meat, ice cream, sauces, mayo, cheeses….

Oh wait. Vegetable oils are literally the most consumed foods in the world (after rice and wheat). More of this stuff is produced globally than poultry, beef, cheese and butter combined.

Ugh.

All this, and yet we’re told that sugars + red meat are driving the American health and obesity epidemic? Not a chance.

I highly suspect that 20 years from now, we’ll look back and realize that vegetable oil consumption was one of (if not the) leading contributor to the chronic disease and obesity epidemic the US currently faces. Until then, I plan to do everything I can to avoid consuming the stuff. Buy local + organic, check packages to see if they include vegetable oils, and spend money with brands (like mine 🤩) that don’t use ‘em.

Most images, graphs and references taken from the great Jeff Nobbs and his posts on the evils of veggie oils. I highly recommend checking out his blog for some original thinking and deep research.

🤑 Biz stuff

Looking back on my life, I’d say 2014 was the year of peak side hustle. That’s when I was consulting, launching my first Udemy course, renting out my place on Airbnb, flipping bikes on Craigslist, and my favorite…

Getting loads of free Uber credits.

Today, I want to share a side hustle I did in 2014. Not because this technique works today (it doesn’t), but because it reflects a way I thought about side hustles at a time in my life, before I started running real businesses.

Back in 2014, Uber had recently(ish) launched in San Francisco and was expanding as fast as they could. A key part of their strategy was giving referral credits to existing riders: for every new rider you referred, Uber would plop a $10 credit in your account.

After referring my parents and grandparents, I naturally ran out of people who (1) wanted to ride Uber and (2) didn’t already have an account.

So I had an idea. Rather than push the Uber app to a bunch of my friends, why not try to reach people who were already looking to download Uber! Especially in cities where Uber was expanding (Raleigh, Toledo, etc), but where they hadn’t yet saturated the market.

I tried using AdWords or Facebook ads, but those were too expensive. Then I hit on a way to - for free - get my referral code in front of thousands of people looking to download the Uber app.

I’d figured out 2 things:

  1. One of the highest-intent searches would-be Uber customers were searching for was “Uber discount code”. Naturally, people took to the Google machine to search for these coupon codes.

  2. When they did, RetailMeNot was one of the top-ranking results for “Uber discount code”.

This meant that - if I could get my Uber referral code to the top of RetailMeNot - I could get my code in front of thousands of people… for free.

RetailMeNot was pretty simple: users submitted discount codes, and site visitors would upvote the ones that worked. The ones with the most upvotes floated to the top of the page, where they’d get a ton of eyeballs.

If I could get a few people to upvote my referral code on RetailMeNot, my odds of ranking well for that search term (and of getting several hundred in Uber credits) were high.

One morning, I woke up early to submit my code to RetailMeNot. After bugging a few friends to upvote my code, my code still wasn’t quite at the top of the page. And I’d only made $20 or so.

Time to call in the big guns: Amazon.

I then hired 30-40 people on Amazon Mechanical Turk and paid them each 15 cents to upvote my code. Within 2 hours, I was ranked in the #1 spot on RetailMeNot!

I spent the next week or so paying Amazon workers to upvote my code, until it finally got removed and I couldn’t re-submit it (due to RetailMeNot rules). But hey - when it was all said and done, I walked away from this little side hustle with a little over $2000 in Uber credits for a few hours work.

I later applied this tactic with a few other sites that had referral programs (Airbnb, Zirtual and Sprig), but never with the same success. I guess RetailMeNot caught onto me 😉. But it was fun while it lasted!

So there it is: a story with no actionable payoff. Hit me up for more ways to scam the system 🤣.

😌 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 - Ray Dalio (founder of Bridgewater, the largest hedge fund in the world + author of one of my favorite books Principles) has been writing an epic series on the changing world order that I highly recommend. If you’re curious about where the world is going, US-China relations, and the (possible) beginning decline in the US empire… this is well worth the read and very thought-provoking.

  • 📚Book rec - I was SO STOKED when I saw the trailer for Dune come out, and even more excited to see it in December. Given that, I started re-reading the book and forgot just how good it is. Now that the movie got delayed to next year (ugh), I’ve started this book again for no reason. But that’s okay, because it’s great.

  • Cool product - I started reading Breath recently and have been totally loving it. Between that and some friends having literal life-changing breathwork experiences, I’ve wanted to give it a go myself. Fortunately, my friend Robbie just launched Inward - easily the best breathwork program and experience I’ve ever had. I’ve been doing several of the exercises pre-sleep, and the nitric oxide one to get a quick boost of energy during the day. I highly recommend checking it out - it’s made a huge impact on my HRV score and my sleep.

  • 🎵Music - If you’ve thought “I would really love to watch music being played from a squadron of hot air balloons floating over Turkey”, well - congrats. Your highly improbable wish has been granted with the release of Ben Böhmer’s Cercle set in Cappadocia, Turkey. Lane 8 also dropped his Fall 2020 Mixtape, but since he still refuses to sponsor this newsletter I figured I’d give something else a link.

  • 🏀Random - Perfect Keto just launched 2 new keto bar flavors, pumpkin spice + chocolate chip peanut butter (which is my new fav). If you’ve been wanting a healthier snack around the house, or a post-workout bar… I’d recommend giving this a go. And if you hate it, send the rest of the box to me and I’ll buy the lot 😘.

***

When I started this newsletter last November, I figured I’d give it a year and see what happened. The response has been good, but what’s more, I’ve really enjoyed writing it!

I have however been feeling like the topics in the newsletter are a bit disjoint. I’m thinking of either:

  1. Splitting this newsletter into 2 parts (1 business, 1 health) and sending 2x/mo.

OR

  1. Keeping the current format, but switching to bullet point updates for ⅔ of the sections each month.

Which would you prefer, or something else entirely? Just reply and let me know, and thanks for checking out this 12 month experiment in writing again.

  • ❤️ Justin