The Next Brand, Episode #13

Co-living, COVID recoveries, and a side hustle idea

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 each do tens of millions in revenue. 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, 12). Otherwise, let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

This month we have a guest post from my girlfriend Janine. After my last newsletter outlining our summer co-living setup, I got a bunch of questions from others interested in doing the same thing. 

If you’re interested in writing a guest post for this newsletter, it’s relatively simple: just date me for 5 years. Otherwise, take it away Janine! 

60% of Americans say they are lonely, and the average American has one close friend. 

These are signs that something is wrong with our current social structures. 

Hundreds of years ago, living communally was the norm, not the exception. We spent the summer figuring out how to get back to that. 

After 5 months of living with a crew of amazing friends, I wanted to share some learnings from our co-living summer. 

Involving the right friends

The most important thing is finding friends you'll live well with for an extended period. People make the experience, so take your time 'recruiting' your friends thoughtfully and remember that quality far outweighs quantity. 

Before inviting people to join, I’d suggest asking yourself the below questions and make sure each person checks the yes box for at least 4/5 of these questions:

  1. Can I spend 30 days+ with them?

  2. Will they be easy going and self aware?

  3. Will they help with cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning? Or if you're planning to eat out every meal, are they happy to do that?

  4. Will they enjoy the core activities of the location you’ve chosen? 

    1. If not, will you be comfortable with the group dynamic if they opt out of group activities? 

  5. Can you trust they will look out for the good of the group? (if a friend is known for being a big gossiper in a group, you'll likely have to deal with regular gossip issues)

For more on the impact of a quality group, refer to Nick DeWilde's brilliant post on the social architecture of impactful communities.

Figuring out group activities (ie biking) also make regular hangs a breeze. For our group, gravel and mountain biking was the main activity and meant everyone was game for 80+ mile rides on weekends. For those that weren't bikers, we did our best to host fun dinners where everyone felt included.

Once you decide on a few people you’d enjoy living with, get friends to commit to dates and house payments early. Otherwise people change their plans and you're left playing logistics coordinator constantly. I'd go as far as suggesting a cancelation fee (communicated up front) to mitigate potential cancellations. I created a template you can use to track dates of people coming and going, capacity and costs.

Co-living Structure

Next think about how to structure the group: are you going to all live together full-time in one big house? Or get a few smaller houses, with guests joining for various lengths?  

We tried 3 different co-living models this summer. My preference was having a "core group" that lived together consistently in one home and another spot close by for rotating guests that joined for a week here and there. I’ve included details about each set up below.

1st stop - 1 month in Leavenworth, Washington

  • Core crew: 16 people with some visitors

  • Homes: 3 homes (7 people in two homes three blocks from each other and Justin + I in our own spot)

  • Shared activities: Biking (both gravel and mountain), cooking, river cold plunges

Final night dinner in our Washington backyard!

Pros of living separately to the rest of the group:

  • Justin and I still got a lot of one-on-one hang and exploration time

  • Ability to choose when to opt-in to activities

  • Not involved in any of the drama (if there is any)

Cons of living separately:

  • Don't get nearly as close with everyone else living together

  • It's mostly up to you to make the effort to see everyone else and coordinate activities to interact with the crew

2nd stop - 2 months in Tahoe

  • Core People: 2 (Justin and myself)

  • Visitors: 2-6 depending on the week

  • Local Community: 4 (friends from the local community that became part of our pod)

  • Homes: 1

  • Shared activities: hosting, cooking, hiking, gravel and mountain biking, boating, swimming

I promise those are low carb tortillas 

Pros of being the host:

  • Full control over who you have involved and how things happen

  • Flow between being "on" and getting days off

Cons of being the host:

  • Significantly more energy to organize everything

3rd stop - 1 month in Sun Valley, ID

  • Core People: 12 (2 houses, 6 and 6)

  • Visitors: 16 (weekly visitors stayed in a separate home)

  • Local Community: 2

  • Homes: 4 

  • Shared activities: biking, cooking, hiking, hot spring soaking, liars dice

Pros of living with the core crew:

  • Building strong relationships with friends 

  • Sharing the burden of chores (as long as everyone is helpful)

  • Much easier to coordinate and partake in activities

Cons of living with the core crew:

  • Any toxic group dynamics are hard to detach from 

  • If you get annoyed easily, there is a 99% chance you'll be frustrated with how someone cleans or doesn't clean, talks on the phone during work calls etc.

Finding a location and spot

Finding a spot is part science, part art, part luck. Spend time on this because a good spot can transform the experience. Repeatable steps include:

  1. Determine your parameters for what you want to experience in the time and for what price then search for towns and cities that would fit the mold. 

  2. Broadly search home rental websites and craigslist to get a sense of availability in those locations to narrow down towns and then just choose one (don’t get stuck in the world of indecision!). 

  3. Search more rigorously based on your parameters on Airbnb, VRBO, Vacasa, Craigslist and HomeExchange (if you have the luxury of a home to exchange with the local) and message owners to see if they would give you a long term rental discount.

  4. Based on the options you have from narrowing things down, book something

    1. Hot tip 1: prioritize being close to the activity you want to do the most (for us it was distance to mountain bike trails) 

    2. Hot tip 2: go for more space vs less even if you don't have all rooms accounted for ahead of time. You're not just living with all these people, you'll be working with them too! Regardless, multiple people will cancel and others will be added so you'll make up any lost dollars as you go. Just make sure to keep track as you go on your spreadsheet!

House Rules

Decide some general house rules together. We didn't have any formal roles for people in the house but we did have alignment about how we were each going to contribute, help with grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning and taking out trash. Decide when you can start making noise in the morning, how you want to handle loud work calls or noise at night etc.

Shared Finances

When you arrive, set up a splitwise with the core crew to track grocery shopping and house supplies. Establish how you're going to split up payments at the beginning (otherwise you'll have people bickering and feeling hard done by at the end). Determine if alcohol will be a shared expense, what meals will be a shared expense, how do you cover people's "luxuries"? Are they group expenses or not? What grocery stores are you going to shop at etc. 

Bonding as a Group

It is crucial to figure out how to break the ice and make everyone feel comfortable with the group ASAP. 

Looking back, one thing we didn't do early enough in each experience was have a large blow out dinner, like a kick-off party. I highly suggest doing optional family style dinners with your immediate house and doing a big group dinner once a week with all the houses (make these festive and themed if you can).

Prioritize a good team dynamic and make sure you’re showing one another appreciation and minimizing negative talks behind others backs. We even had a weekly Kudos email that highlighted awesome things people contributed each week. In the end, it's truly up to you the type of environment you create and energy you bring to the table. Make sure it is positive:)

All in all, I strongly suggest giving something like this a go if you have the means and flexibility or are looking into creating a strong community. This summer and fall were some of the most enjoyable and rewarding months of my adult life and reminded me just how far our typical lifestyles have veered away from the importance of close knit communities. 

Thank you to the whole crew that made these experiences so special!  

Please reach out if you've done something similar to share your learnings or if you have any questions about how to do something similar yourself! And give this site a read if you want to go deeper on the whole co-living thing. 

💪 Health stuff

It’s Justin again. While driving back to Austin from our last co-living stop in Idaho, I decided to cap the entire experience by getting COVID! 

We had stopped to see friends in Bluff, UT - a town of 300 people that’s one of the most towns in the US. We shared an outdoor dinner and a (very) socially distant conversation inside for a bit before going to bed. 

3 days later, I woke up feeling just a tiny bit off: a scratchy throat I attributed to drinking the night before. But just in case I figured I’d get tested.

Later that day, our friends told us they too had been feeling off that day. And that they’d gotten a call from a physical therapist our friend in Bluff had used the day of our visit, who’d apparently just found out he’d seen a COVID patient earlier in the day. 

Fun. 

A COVID infection and recovery, as told by my Oura ring

Fortunately, my symptoms weren’t too bad. I had 2 days of feeling awful: fevers, sweating at night, low energy, low-grade aches and other flu-like symptoms. 

After 2 days of heavy supplementation, I was back to 85% or so. After 10 days, completely back to normal, with no lingering respiratory or other issues (at least, none that I’m aware of). 

My Oura report 10 days after symptoms

I also think my supplementation regimen helped. Since the day I began to experience symptoms, I was taking the below each day:

  1. 1000mg / day of omega3

  2. 20,000 IU of vitamin D  (I like this one)

  3. 2000mg vitamin C (link)

  4. 60mg zinc with food (link)

  5. 800mg echinacea

  6. 2 of these elderberry capsules

  7. Quercetin

(disclaimer, I’m not a doctor and don’t know what I’m talking about in this area - though I did ask several doctors for their recs and this is roughly what they landed on)

Overall, it’s hard to say what was helpful and what wasn’t. I’m fortunate to be relatively young, in good health and have friends who know enough about nutrition and medicine to give suggestions for how to manage it. 

🤑 Biz stuff

This month, I wanted to share the outline of an idea for an investment / side hustle I shared with a friend in January of this year. The opportunity has only gotten more attractive in a post-COVID world, given many people’s desire to get out of locked-down cities and into nature. 

5 years ago it’s something I would have run at pretty hard. Now, I unfortunately have too much on my plate but still find the concept is interesting (and would invest in pretty much anyone doing a similar play). 

I believe there’s a big opportunity to buy land and set up tiny homes and tent glamping sites. Then, list them on the crop of well-funded sites that are catering to customers who want to get outdoors:

These "Airbnb for camping" platforms are exploding, they're well-funded, they're still super early (ie you probably haven't used them yet). Yet they’re generating material revenue without experienced operators or any sort of platform-focused franchise I can see. 

I see an opportunity to buy land within an hour of a city, create an exceptional experience for people looking to book on these sites (i.e. have streamlined check-in, amenities, include telescopes, etc), and get a ton of travelers into campsites we set up and manage. 

As far as I can tell, empty land outside cities doesn’t yet have these potential cashflow streams priced into their value. Which means you could buy a decent bit of acreage on the cheap and cover the mortgage with just a few bookings per month. 

There are also a few other things that make this idea attractive:

  • CapEx is super low - you could buy a top of the line tent for $5k, and pay for it in something like 30 nights. Tiny homes are $25-50k and are going for $200+ a night, which is an incredible payback period.

  • Maintenance costs are much lower than Airbnb, as are amenities + check-in work required are lower. 

  • You could buy land that's trading at an agriculture multiple (ie a small family farm), put it on our platform and sell it at a hospitality multiple.

  • ZONING! There are almost NO zoning headaches since it's camping and private land. This is a HUGE advantage relative to dealing with short-term rentals in cities. 

  • Lots of opportunity to charge for value-added services (food, transit, RVs, etc).

All in all, I feel pretty darn confident that you could buy a small plot of land, finance 80% of it (via a standard mortgage), and with just a little bit of work on one of these new platforms, have an asset that kicks off monthly cashflow for years to come. 

Let me know what you think of this idea by replying to this email! 

😌 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 - Technology innovation is critical to human progress. Without it, there’d be roughly 1000x fewer people and a lot less of the abundance we take for granted today. I strongly believe that it’s vitally important for democractic societies to figure out how to ramp up the pace of innovation. This article reviews a book (Where Is My Flying Car?) and argues that the pace of technological progress has vastly slowed down.
    This is not good. The world can be so much better, technology can do so much good, and yet society seems to lack an inspiring vision of a better future. The article touches on some possible reasons why progress has slowed, and how we can go back to being inspired by (rather than afraid of) the future.

  • 📚Book rec - MUCH more on this book to come next episode, but I cannot recommend Breath enough. I feel pretty well versed in wellness in general, but this book opened my eyes to the impact breath has on our health. 10/10 recommend as one of the best books I’ve read this year: thanks Myles (Mother Tongue founder) for the recommendation.

  • Cool product - I’ve been trying to spend less time in front of screens the last few months. As more and more of my work and hobbies (like writing this newsletter) occur in front of screens, I’ve valued more and more activities and tools that can get me out from behind a screen. This past month I found (and loved) Walden Pond - a service that prints several of your chosen Pocket articles and sends them to you as a physical magazine once a month. It’s been great to read some of these articles on paper, and to (finally) make some progress on articles that have been in my to-read backlog for months.

  • 🎵Music - I went on a four day elk hunt two weeks ago (more on that in a future newsletter). One of the random lovely things to come out of it was this playlist curated by one of the guys on the trip. It’s an eclectic mix of chill songs with a solid base component. I’m a big fan and it’s perfect music to work to.

  • 🏀Random - Coming back from 5 hours in the 15 degree Colorado winter weather this past month, I have loved coming back from the outdoors and enjoying a warm cup of bone broth. The lemongrass pho and tom yum have been my favorites by far, and are perfect after spending some time in the cold weather outside. Yes this is self-promotional, but hey - we make good products and I’m proud of them 🤠 

***

Thanks everyone who weighed in last month on what format this newsletter should take. After lots of feedback, I’m keeping the current format. 

Looking forward to another year of writing fun. Enjoy the final month of what has been an undoubtedly crazy year!

  • ❤️ Justin