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The Next Brand, Episode #25
Crypto, the new variant, and a new brand 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 3 health brands (Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Surely), 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.
🆕 What’s new
I’ve been into crypto for more than a decade now, and my interest has only grown since discovering Bitcoin in 2011. In fact, one of the first things I wrote online was how I thought Bitcoin would be big!
The promise of crypto is a technology that could coordinate millions of people through low-friction, shared economic protocols. You’re seeing this today with the rise of things like Helium, which built a telecom company by incentivizing users to set up Helium hotspots across the world, run them, and get paid in Helium tokens.
Could this have happened pre-crytpo? Probably. But without a protocol to coordinate economic activity, I can imagine a web2 Helium would have had to:
Open regulatory and compliance offices in each city, state, and country they operate in
Determine if Helium miners constitute contractors vs employees
Understand local tax rules and regulations
Raise hundreds of millions in funding
To name just a few. Instead, they launched and put the onus of tax and regulatory compliance on the user vs the centralized company launching these things. Maybe that’s an innovation alone in a world where regulation has swung too far in the "outlawing / making it expensive to do new things" direction.
I’ve become only more convinced that as a society, we need new tools to address today’s challenges. And over the past year, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about crypto’s potential to address them.
One incredibly unsexy topic I keep coming back to is just how bad current governance is. The country is passing a $1.5 trillion bill that almost nobody thinks will be transformative, nor does it have hard and fast measures of success. The same bill will allocate $3 billion - ie $24 per household, and ½ of SpaceX’s total funding raised - towards “tree equity”, to address “racism and other forms of discrimination [that play] a role in where trees are located”. 🤯
As others have remarked, we are no longer a serious people. And as I look around, many unserious people in leadership roles are in politics, while many of the smartest people are going into crypto.
Crypto is certainly not a panacea, but at this point, I’m here for pretty much anything that’s a counter-force to our historically poor governing bodies. Fixing and improving how we invest and allocate resources is important, and I suspect over the next decade crypto will play a large role in coordinating and investing capital in a (hopefully) far more productive way.
💪 Health stuff
I’ve been struggling with this section as of late. Do I talk about the latest biohack, thing I’m doing, things other friends are doing?
Eh. Health shouldn’t be complicated, and for most of human history, it wasn’t. People lived in concert with their environment, not fighting it.
That’s definitively not the case today, as people are surrounded by toxic food, water that may make them fat, a profession that restricts movement and access to sunlight, and devices that highjack our brains to encourage constant device-checking. For most of us, our environment makes us sicker, not healthier.
At the same time, health can be simple. Often, the path to improved wellness lies “via negitiva”, by subtraction vs addition. Rather than inject stem cells into your penis (really), identify the top 2-3 things you fully know that fixing would improve your health. Maybe it’s late night Uber Eats orders, drinking too much (and sleeping poorly), or intentionally moving some part of your body that’s in chronic pain, or even just breathing better. Pick something, apply the Tiny Habits approach to changing that behavior (or get an accountability group), and improve things one habit at a time.
Food, movement, sleep, stress, sun, and strong relationships: those are the pillars I’d focus on. And ignore the other stuff until those 6 are really dialed in.
Beyond that… it looks like we have ourselves another COVID variant, ladies and gentlemen. That means ensuring your immune system is in tip-top shape (supplementing and following the pillars above), and preparing for the worst. I’m personally picking up some fluvoxamine in case I get COVID, as there are some early indications (funded by FastGrants!) that it may reduce one’s risk of severe COVID. And I’m following Zvi for his takes on Omicron, as he’s been way ahead of other sources for the entirety of COVID.
Lastly, unbelievably, it seems that we may have a drug that decreases COVID hospitalizations and deaths by a factor of 10x… yet it’s currently banned by the FDA. To quote at length from the incredible Scott Alexander:
For context: a recent study by Pfizer, the pharma company backing the drug, found Paxlovid decreased hospitalizations and deaths from COVID by a factor of ten, with no detectable side effects. It was so good that Pfizer, “in consultation with” the FDA, stopped the trial early because it would be unethical to continue denying Paxlovid to the control group. And on November 16, Pfizer officially submitted an approval request to the FDA, which the FDA is still considering.
As many people including Zvi, Alex, and Kelsey have noted, it’s pretty weird that the FDA agrees Paxlovid is so great that it’s unethical to study it further because it would be unconscionable to design a study with a no-Paxlovid control group - but also, the FDA has not approved Paxlovid, it remains illegal, and nobody is allowed to use it.
One would hope this is because the FDA plans to approve Paxlovid immediately. But the prediction market expects it to take six weeks - during which time we expect about 50,000 more Americans to die of COVID.
If some external force came to the US and killed 50,000 citizens over the next 6 weeks, we’d spend a trillion dollars gearing up for war. But when that force is called “bureaucracy”, ho hum nothing to see here, that’s just how the world works.
🤑 Biz stuff
People like all kinds of things: cooking, drinking, hentai… the world is full of humans, and humans are weird.
I enjoy having ideas, writing them down, thinking them through… but only execute on roughly 1/100th of them. At some point, it’d be fun to get more systematic about turning ideas into companies, but that time is not today. Today, I’ll settle for having an idea and sharing it with all of you.
Case in point - I think there’s a big opportunity to build a modern butcher shop and create a Blue-Bottle-like brand and experience in the meat space. A brand that focuses on ingredient quality, taste, and sourcing as a differentiator to other meat purveyors out there right now.
In the 80s, coffee was Folgers: burnt to shit, not optimized for taste, no unique sourcing, quality was all over the place… bad days for coffee lovers. Then Starbucks came along and introduced “2nd-wave” coffee: stuff that was better-sourced and better-tasting. And as Starbucks scaled, they grew and educated consumers on the difference between different beans, grinds, where it was grown, etc. That hasn’t, however, stopped them from still pretending that Pike’s Place tastes good.
I think the meat category is where coffee was in the 80s. Most meat is sold wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam bed at your local grocery store, there’s almost no premium meat category (and very little taste and sourcing differentiation), it all tastes roughly the same…
I suspect that you could build a brand that differentiated itself from other meat purveyors in a few areas:
Sourcing - you could charge a meaningful premium by selling wagyu and meat from regeneratively raised animals. Snake River Farms does great business selling American Wagyu cuts, as does Butcherbox by pushing the grass-fed angle.
Convenience - buying meat at your local grocer is often just not all that convenient. Some cuts should be marinated or seasoned for 2-6 hours before cooking: if they’re not, the eating experience is decidedly worse. I suspect you could sell expertly pre-marinated and pre-seasoned cuts of meat, and charge for it. It’d solve a consumer’s problem, and give you the added benefit of ensuring they have a better eating experience, which will make them want to repurchase. 5 stars, would buy again. It’d also give you nearly 100% ownership of the “oh shit, we’re having people over so what do I cook” customer base.
Brand experience - how hard will it be to beat chunks of ground beef wrapped in plastic and styrofoam from a brand standpoint? Not hard, I’m guessing. People like learning more about things that have complexity, from coffee to wine. And boy does meat have a lot of complexity: it touches health, environment, nutrition, ethics, cooking… almost everything humans are interested in. This complexity makes meat interesting, which also means there’s a lot of latent energy a brand could unlock by going after this space.
Maybe this is a cool idea, maybe not. But at the least, I do think there’s an interesting way to test out new ideas in the physical retail world: use cloud kitchens and modern delivery platforms (Doordash, Uber Eats, etc) to see if there’s demand in a given city. Rather than invest in a year-long permitting process and spend hundreds of thousands to build out an idea, why not pull together a cloud kitchen food brand, invest $10-20k to test the concept and get consumer feedback, and then decide whether or not to move forward? It’s idea validation in a whole new way.
Whether or not this specific idea for a modern butcher concept is a good one or not, I’m not sure. But if I were to test the idea today, I’d for sure validate it using cloud kitchens.
😌 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 loved this article on government spending and skin in the game: as I mentioned above, I believe this is one of the least sexy yet most important problems we have in society and am grateful others are talking about it. As a bonus, this Twitter thread is a new and interesting perspective on what may have happened with the Polio vaccine in the 20th century.
📚 Book rec - Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality is a thought-provoking reflection on humans and our relationship to tools. The book is somewhat of a Fight Club argument for being thoughtful about how we engage with our tools: if we’re not careful, our tools can end up using us vs us using them. I can’t help but think that Illich would question my relationship to my computer: I certainly spend a lot more time sitting than I would without out it, so am I using it or is it using me 🤷
⌚ Cool product - I’m really excited for this one - Surely just launched a non-alcoholic pinot noir! I can confidently say this is the first non-alcoholic red wine that doesn’t suck. I’ve written before why I’m so excited about the non-alc category, and am thrilled with how this turned out.
🎵 Music - This Cercle set by Monolink is one of my favorites this year. I’m a big Monolink fan and am pumped to see him in just about a month!
🏀 Random - I’ve been getting more interested in Urbit, both philosophically and in their product. When Bitcoin came on the scene, the community had the perspective that self-sovereign (ie having custody of your) money is an important thing. Urbit has a similar perspective but applied to computing. They’re building a software tool from the ground up that allows anyone to manage the software and apps they want to run and use. The Urbit rabbit hole goes deep so I’ll leave it there, but just know it’s a project I’ll be digging more into (and writing more about) in the near future.
Next month, I’ll probably re-name this newsletter and enter a new phase for this 25-month experiment in publishing that I’ve been running.
To that end, I’d love to know - what have you enjoyed about reading this newsletter?
If you just reply and let me know, I’d hugely appreciate it. Enjoy the month!