The Next Brand, Episode #17

Why nobody is having sex, regenerative meat and why extremes are good

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 12, 13, 14, 15, 16). Otherwise, let’s dive in!

🆕 What’s new

My junior year of college was the first time I tried paleo. For 2 weeks, I stopped eating my diet of beer, $5 pizzas and pasta with tomato sauce every night. Instead, for two weeks I decided I’d avoid fried foods, gluten, sugars and anything processed. 

My friends thought I had lost it. I distinctly remember going to dinner with friends and having them laugh when I ordered a burger with no bun. It’s bread, Justin: what, you think bread isn’t healthy?

Those 2 weeks of going paleo (and feeling great on it) literally changed my life. It also reinforced an idea I’ve been thinking lately: extreme people have extreme outcomes. 

In a time and place (🇺🇸) where the (literal) majority of the country is sick and overweight, the default mode is to be the same. If you are average, you are sick and overweight. You literally *have* to be extreme in some way to be healthy, as being average will ensure you have average outcomes... you’ll be unhealthy. 

My friend and Perfect Keto business partner Anthony Gustin is one of the most extreme people I’ve ever met when it comes to nutrition and food. Last month he traveled to Tanzania to hunt and live with the Hadza, one of the few remaining hunter gatherer tribes. Extreme, certainly. But his willingness to push boundaries has given him a wealth of knowledge when it comes to health and food. 

I’ve seen this in the Bitcoin community as well. Earlier Bitcoiners were hardcore libertarians, anarchists, cryptographers, people who wanted to build countries in the middle of the ocean… lots of extreme characters. I met one of them when I was in college (story here, though that title should now read “How I almost made $25mm while in college” 🤦). At the time, he was mining and trading Bitcoin, was in a 3-person polyamorous relationship and was building a tool that would scrape dating sites, run profiles through an algorithm and flag the ones he was likely to get along with. 

Yeah: extreme. 

That guy also probably made north of $100mm on his Bitcoin holdings 🤯. 

This concept is also why I don’t appreciate criticisms of founders or artists (like Kanye) that have achieved incredible things. Sure Kanye may be erratic, but he’s also one of the most creative people of our generation. Why would I expect him to have the same demeanor as my accountant? 

Keeping this idea in mind has allowed me to adjust expectations when meeting people in an emerging field. 

Psychedelics are a new and emerging space. They both have a ton of potential and a ton of risks. Those who’ve used them today are mostly individuals with a higher risk tolerance and not what we’d call a DARE mentality. It’s a space very much on the technology and social frontier. 

When I started looking to invest in the space in 2018 (partially via Mindbloom), I went in expecting that many of the people in the space would be extreme. I was right: by setting the expectation of extremes I had an open mind, met some amazing people and made investments I expect to do well. 

The lesson here is that in any area where the average outcome is not good, you don’t want to be average. If you want good health in a society of sick people, expect to do things that feel extreme and out there. Extreme people generate extreme results: that’s often a good thing. 

💪 Health stuff

We’ve talked in a past episode about how studies have shown omega 3 supplementation can reduce rates of violence in prisons, and likely play a role in ADHD and all other kinds of behavioral disorders. 

There’s also ample evidence for what researchers call the “lead-crime hypothesis”: the idea that lead exposure caused the high crime rates seen across major American cities in the 1980s and early 1990s. 

In so many ways, our nutrition (and toxin exposure) drives biology. Biology drives behavior. And behavior shapes society. 

Today, I want to hit on the latest installment of Our Biology Is Screwed Up And Causing Societal Issues Nobody Talks About. 

The issue? Testosterone. Namely that the average 22 year old male today has an average testosterone level roughly equal to that of a 67 year old man in 2000 (1, 2, 3). JUST 20 YEARS AGO 🤯!

This is not good! Testosterone is not just for guys who want to get JACKED at the gym. It’s a hormone that plays a critical role in nearly every function in the body. Energy, mood, muscle growth, libido, cognitive function, fully torqued biceps… testosterone impacts them all. 

Though really, who wouldn’t want to look like this. 

At the same time we are seeing historically low rates of testosterone, we’re also seeing marriage rates at historic lows, birth rates at historic lows, and 18-29 year olds reportedly having less sex than any other age group (with some 23% of them having zero sex in the last year!). 

What does society look like when its young men and women are not having sex, are not getting married, and are not having kids? Well, look outside. It’s hard for me NOT to believe that certain social phenomena are in part a result of this decrease in testosterone. 

And like the lead-crime hypothesis, I strongly suspect that we are only just beginning to see the ripple effects that come from a society of young men with the testosterone of a senior citizen. Though it may be good for Denny’s breakfast business, it’s unlikely to be a good thing for the country overall. A country without young people procreating is one that is unlikely to thrive. 

So why is this happening? 

The core reason is that most individuals today live in an environment entirely divorced from those of their ancestors. As chronicled here before, we get less light, eat more inflammatory foods, are more stressed, sleep less and spend less time outside than pretty much any generation in history. 

We’re also hammered by environmental toxins at every turn. As this post put it:

Environmental contaminants also play a role. Glyphosate (the primary chemical component of Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the United States), has been shown to reduce testosterone levels, alter testicular structure, kill testosterone-producing leydig cells, and interfere with pubertal development. Atrazine, the second most widely used herbicide in the United States, also significantly lowers testosterone, but even more alarming has been shown to cause testicular deformities and hermaphroditism in amphibians. 

As someone who wants to improve your testosterone, what do you do? This post has some helpful points (though maybe save the “eat animal testicles” for one of your last experiments…), but in short I’d focus on the basics. 

Fix your sleep. Lower your stress (meditation, breathwork, time outside). Get sunlight. Avoid vegetable oils and other toxins in your environment. Lift weights. Eat clean. 

And if you’re a parent? Do whatever you can to help your kids buck the trend of hormonal dysfunction. Make American T Again. 

P.S. I’m enjoying the few group health challenges I’ve kicked off over the last year. First was the Wearable Challenge, then group fasting with some readers. If you’re interested in joining a month long challenge to improve your testosterone, plop your email here

🤑 Biz stuff

In the last few years, I’ve started to do slightly more angel investing. There are a million reasons that some (most?) people should not invest in startups, and the below is not financial advice. However, I thought it might be interesting to use this section to detail the reasons why I’ve made some of the angel investments I have.

Let’s start with one of the ones that I’m most personally excited about: Force of Nature. I’ve spoken before about how + why I’m so bullish on regenerative agriculture. Between the increased nutrient-density of regeneratively-raised products, increased animal welfare and potential for massive carbon sequestration, I’m hopeful that regenerative continues to gain steam over the coming years. We need a climate solution, and regenerative agriculture offers one in a way that’s better for animals, people and planet… and doesn’t require $10 trillion to magically fix things.

So, Force of Nature. The team there is building a brand in the regenerative meat space: sourcing regeneratively-raised meat from farmers and ranchers doing things the right way, that they sell under the Force of Nature Brand. 

By building their brand as THE go-to in regenerative, they can invest in consumer education, get into retail channels and sell a lot of product. As regenerative takes off, they can quickly become the biggest and most well-known brand in the very competitive meat market. 

What I love about this business is they nailed the incentives. Today, there’s not all that much demand for regeneratively-raised meat products. That means that for many ranchers following regenerative ag practices, they can sell some - but not all - of their beef at the premium they deserve for going regenerative. 

However, because there’s not enough demand for regenerative beef, many ranchers are left selling part of their supply at normal beef prices. They invest more time and energy doing things the right way, yet are paid as if they’d raised their animals on a feedlot. Not good! 

As Force of Nature educates consumers about the regenerative movement, they have the potential to increase demand for regenerative beef, which ultimately means more and more meat suppliers will switch to regenerative to fulfill said demand. The better Force of Nature works, the more suppliers will be incentivized to use regenerative practices. 

Spiritually, I’m excited about regenerative and its potential. I likely would have tried to support Force of Nature (or something like it) if it was tackling this problem in a non-profit manner. However, what got me excited about them as an investment was the team and the market. 

The meat/protein market is huge: something like $1.2 trillion is spent annually on meat. If Force of Nature can create a premium category in the massive, massive meat market, they can build a really strong business. 

And boy do I think they’re the team to do that. The founders of Force of Nature previously founded Epic Provisions, which they sold to General Mills after just 3 years for north of $100mm. They also were the ones to introduce the concepts behind regenerative to General Mills, and were instrumental in getting Mills to commit to sourcing from 1mm acres of regenerative farmland by 2030. They also are following regenerative practices themselves with a herd of bison they bought a few years back. They are all in on the regenerative movement, and super passionate about making Force of Nature a force for good in the world. 

For all these reasons, I’m thrilled to be involved as an investor. 

If you like these sorts of dives into how I think about investing, let me know + reply to this email. I’d also love to hear about other things you think I should write here. 

😌 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 - This optimistic article on the future of energy and geoengineering got me fired up. I’ve thought for a while that using less energy is not a real solution to our climate and energy challenges. If humanity is to survive and thrive in the coming years, we need to have innovation in energy and climate. This article hits on some cool potential ways we can address our energy + climate issues, and touches on my current pet interest of geothermal. Even though I think he should have mentioned my personal favorite initiative to reverse climate change - regenerative agriculture - it’s still an inspiring and worthwhile read.

  • 📚 Book rec - For all 5 of you long time readers, you may recognize that I’m recommending Nexus again: a sci-fi book about brain-computer interface software and its impact on society. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years, and I find myself thinking about (and referencing it) quite a lot. Check it out and enjoy. If you want more sci-fi, I also really enjoyed 80% of the short stories in this collection.

  • Cool product - I have fond memories of coming home from school as a kid, running to the freezer, ripping open a package of pizza bites and shoving them piping-hot into my face until the roof of my mouth was a bloody mess. Good times.
    Unfortunately, these little nuggets of deliciousness weren’t exactly the best for my health or my acne-prone visage. But damn, they were delicious. That’s why I was excited to see (and invest in) the launch of Snow Days: a clean-label version of the pizza bites I loved as a kid. I’m already on my 3rd bag personally, even without an investor discount code (what gives, Jason). I think you or your kids will love them.

  • 🎵 Music - This may sound too good to be true BUT: this month’s musical feature is not an Anjunadeep or Lane 8 production. Instead, I’ve been digging this uptempo Gryffin mix on work days! Fun!

  • 🏀 Random - I’ve really been enjoying what’s Mario at The Generalist has been putting out there lately. If you’re into tech, startups, or just generally being smarter about what’s happening in the world, I would highly recommend subscribing to the newsletter and/or joining the Generalist community. I’ve recently joined, and found it the most rewarding online community I’m a part of so far.

***

For those who showed their interest last month, we’re kicking off the fasting + no-alcohol April challenge... today! Looking forward to seeing y’all in the group chat I set up, and to staying strong this month. Let’s get it! 

Cheers,

  • Justin