The Next, Episode #27
A rebrand, is Botox killing you, and ideas for a better food system
Hi there, and welcome to The Next - my take on health, wellness, and wealth creation.
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 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 24, 25, 26). Otherwise, let’s dive in!
🆕 What’s new
Since I started writing this newsletter 27 months ago, there’ve been a lot of changes. Kettle & Fire has doubled in size, Perfect Keto has navigated a crazy 2020 and launched a bunch of new products, and Surely has gone from not-even-an-idea to a real company with millions in funding and revenue. Hence, The Next Brand: when I started this, I thought I’d write about building the next generation of consumer brands.
Since fall of 2019, I’ve found myself less interested in the next brand: looking around, I see far too many derivative, me-too brands with good packaging but no soul, and no core consumer need they’re solving. At the same time as I’ve been disenchanted with consumer brands, I’ve never found myself more interested in what’s next. What’s next in the form of consumer trends, technology, society, culture, health… I’m fascinated so often by what’s coming and what’s next, and no longer as interested in narrowing that scope to just consumer brands.
So, as of today, this newsletter is getting a rebrand. Goodbye The Next Brand, and hello… The Next.
Why re-name the newsletter? Well, since getting into startups a decade ago I’ve been fascinated by the question of what’s next? What new and interesting products, solutions, and trends are bubbling up? How can we live just a little bit better, happier, healthier lives?
At one point in my life, the answer to “what’s next” was entirely focused on health and wellness trends. Though health and wellness is still compelling (and a huge problem), I find myself more and more thinking about megatrends that go beyond food. Regenerative agriculture, remote work, crypto, the fertility crisis… these are the topics and trends I plan to spend more time digging into, learning about, and sharing with all of you.
I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter of this newsletter, and thanks for hanging out in this corner of the internet the last 26 months.
💪 Health stuff
Try as I might to stop, I can’t help myself: I continue to get older. And - though this wasn’t something that was even on my radar a few years ago - friends have now reached the age where looking younger becomes a topic of conversation.
All these conversations got me thinking - what, exactly, is the health impact of all the “look younger” interventions? Specifically what’re the possible health ramifications of injecting the BOtulinum TOXin (Botox!) into your face on a regular basis? What I found will shock you, whether your face moves or not.
So, Botox. This toxin is, well, toxic - one of the most lethal known to humans. A lethal dose of botulinum toxin can be as low as 1-2 nanograms per kilogram of body weight. It works by blocking the chemical signals from your nerves that cause muscles to contract. This causes something called “flaccid paralysis”, which is a medical term that I hope I never have to utter in the bedroom.
Wrinkles are caused by repetitive movement of muscles in the face. Over time, your skin loses the ability to bounce back from the foldings caused by facial expressions, which creates wrinkles. By limiting the movement of those muscles (via flaccid paralysis - expect to see this word as many times as I can work it in), botox can prevent wrinkles for 3-4 months before the effect wears off.
If you laid in bed for something like two months, without moving, the muscles in your legs would atrophy so badly that you would be unable to walk. Similarly, overuse of botox to paralyze the muscles of the face can cause the muscles to become so weak that they can’t support your skin, which causes it to sag and droop.
Extreme case of botox gone bad, but still a case
Far more likely is that over time, the muscles in your face will start to atrophy, which will cause the face to lose volume and the skin to be more flaccid. In fact, a recent study found that using Botox over time can accelerate the breakdown of facial bone mass, causing even more volume loss and saggy skin.
A 2015 review of the research found that there have been very few long-term studies done on the effects of Botox, even though there are an estimated 5 million injections done each year. Though the jury is still out on the long-term impact of regular Botox usage (does it make your skin sag long-term?), the studies that have been conducted point towards cosmetic Botox being pretty safe.
However, something the studies don’t cover is the potential impact on emotional blunting. You may remember a famous psychology study on the still face experiment: effectively, parents would refuse to move their faces in response to their baby, and the baby would get more and more frustrated as they were unable to generate a reaction in their parent’s faces.
Interestingly, this “facial mimicry” is important to human bonding even as we get older… and there are signs that losing the ability to mimic another’s face could cause emotional blunting, as this NYT article discusses.
To be honest though, after a fair bit of research on this topic I expected to find more damning evidence of the perils of Botox. After all, it fits my worldview that as silly humans introduce a toxin into their bodies en masse, that toxin has real negative effects. Much like vegetable oils, I expected there to be ample evidence that Botox is bad for you, and that few people are talking about it. But, I just didn’t find that: the stuff seems pretty darn safe.
Yes, there are some potential concerns about emotional blunting and facial expressions. Yes, I’m not super stoked about the potential muscle and bone density loss from long-term use. But at the same time, it just doesn’t seem all that bad - millions of injections a year for decades, and there’s very little evidence (that I could find - feel free to tell me I’m wrong!) that this is obviously, clearly all that bad for you.
That said, there are other ways to keep your skin looking young. Diet-wise, staying away from inflammatory foods (ie vegetable oils) should help. As should supplementing with hyaluronic acid and/or other collagen-rich foods.
Otherwise, a daily sunscreen should go a long way. And if you really are concerned about wrinkles and chances of Botox long term effects, I’d try red light therapy, microdermabrasion, microneedling, cryofacials, and rolling your face (I guess?) before going the Botox route. But please, whatever you do, do not get a frownie.
If you know one of the 4.4 million Americans who got Botox in 2020, send this their way! And if you want to dig deeper into the anti-Botox side of the argument, I learned quite a bit from this podcast and this article.
🤑 Biz stuff
600 years ago the Protestant Reformation challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, and started the multi-century process of challenging the western world’s view of a Christian God. The Church of 1517 had gotten too unwieldy, too corrupt, and too costly to continue, and the people and kingdoms under the Church’s rule revolted.
Every company, belief system, and ideology has tradeoffs. And when a movement, institution or company becomes powerful, those tradeoffs become only more obvious and more damaging. Billions flocked to Facebook over the last 18 years as they promised to “connect the world”. Now, Facebook connects you with people on the opposite political team and you hate it. Connection sounds great when the internet is a bunch of atomized individuals. Now, we pine for a way to disconnect, to reclaim our mental health from a world that’s going mad.
Much like a teen rebelling against their parent’s way of life, this pattern plays out over and over again in history. And right now, I’m pretty confident that we’re seeing a similar macro shift away from centralized institutions and towards decentralized organizations. Trust in major institutions has never been lower, and I don’t see that reversing. Congress can legally insider trade, healthcare + housing costs are only going up, and practically the only debt you can’t discharge in bankruptcy (college tuition) is the debt you’re most encouraged to take on. Why would trust suddenly turn around?
As the flaws and contradictions inherent in our centralized institutions become more and more obvious, people will turn more and more to decentralized solutions. It’s already happening in crypto, and I think will happen in other areas of society. More homeschooling, less school. More freelancing, fewer 401ks.
I suspect the same thing will happen in the food system, and that in this shift lies a lot of opportunity. Specifically, I think there’s a major opportunity to build decentralized food brands, and to re-imagine what a food system could look like outside of the 10 companies that control every calorie you buy.
One opportunity I think is quite interesting is building decentralized versions of food companies like Blue Apron. Blue Apron is a horrible business: for every dollar they make, they lose about $0.25. Their model is also wasteful (though, to be fair, what in the current food system isn’t), as they source all ingredients to one of just a few centralized warehouses. Then chop, portion and wrap each ingredient in little plastic baggies, pack said ingredients in dry ice, and spend $20+ to ship it all over the country where it inevitably expires in my fridge.
I think we’ll soon see a future where a brand like Blue Apron exists at the national level, building consumer awareness, attention, and loyalty, but the products of that brand are fulfilled at a more local level: often using locally sourced ingredients, and possibly cloud kitchens for assembly and fulfillment.
Now, this isn’t a totally new model. Applegate farms already does this (they contract with the farmers that raise their meats, yet own and manage the Applegate brand, marketing, and grocery relationships). But what is new - and what I find exciting - is the potential for more and more producers to participate in the creation of these kinds of brands. Imagine our decentralized Blue Apron simply emailing food producers (or part-time chefs with extra time on their hands) a weekly meal prep list, along with customers to deliver to within a 25-mile radius. It’s hard for me to imagine this wouldn’t be far superior to the current version of Blue Apron that already exists.
What’s stopping someone from launching a more localized version of Blue Apron, or (for that matter) a version of Kettle & Fire that’s made from all local ingredients? Right now, the answer is better tools. Centralized organizations can have employees or internal tools do sourcing, hiring, and quality control for them. Distributed orgs, not so much.
That’s why I’m bullish on tools, marketplaces and software that make it as easy for brands like mine to source food locally as it is for us to buy from national food brokers. Much how Shopify has “armed the rebels” in the fight against Amazon and other retail behemoths, I believe there’s a LOT of opportunity to build brands that take advantage of local supply chains, and tools to make that easier.
I’m bullish on a more local food system, and the tools that would enable it. If you’re building anything in this area, please do reach out - would love to chat.
For more reading about localism + decentralized brands, I’d recommend checking out these articles:
😌 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 - Of everything I read this month, Tucker’s article on doomer optimism got me thinking the most, for reasons good and bad. Though I don’t necessarily agree with the problem identification (I don’t think the response to COVID has been a well-coordinated psyop as much as it’s a bunch of not super capable organizations trying to fulfill their institutional imperative), I DO agree that there is a lot that feels wrong, fractured and off in the US right now. Though I wouldn’t bet on civilizational collapse, I do think (and hope) we’ll see states rise in power as the federal government continues to struggle to do, well, anything. That said, regardless of your belief in the likelihood of US collapse, taking the actions Tucker talks about (investing in community, having a plan in case things go south, investing in resiliency, etc) are good ideas with no downside that will almost certainly make you happier.
📚 Book rec - As I mentioned in my 2021 review writeup, I’ve long struggled with meditation. After a conversation with a friend, I realized that one possible reason I struggle is that it’s just not all that enjoyable for me right now. I long resisted working out, and it was only once I found something I enjoyed (biking, pickleball, etc) that I found myself working out regularly. It was only once I figured out how to make delicious paleo food that I started eating paleo. And I suspect that it’ll be the same with meditation: only once I find it enjoyable will it be something I regularly do in my life. To help here, I’ve been making my way through The Mind Illuminated, and will report back on how I like it and whether or not it helps me enjoy meditation more. Until then, I’ll also be doing breathwork (with Othership) as I find that more enjoyable than standard concentration meditation.
⌚ Cool product - The Apple Airpods Max are just fantastic. The sound is killer, they sync well with my phone, I can take calls on them… just all-around a great product. If you’re looking for a new set of over-ear headphones (like I was), I can’t recommend these enough.
🎵 Music - About once every 3 newsletter episodes, I get bailed out of this section with Lane 8’s seasonal mixtape. Well, here it is - enjoy! If you’re looking for something with a bit more base, I’ve also been enjoying Patrik Khach’s set here - I saw Patrik at a music festival in Costa Rica over the holiday break and really enjoyed his stuff.
🏀 Random - I am SO stoked to finally be able to share the work that Zero Acre Farms is doing (disclosure: I’m an investor). I’ve talked before about the health and environmental issues with seed oils, and Zero Acre Farms is one of the only companies I’m aware of tackling this huge problem. ZAF uses fermentation science and microbes to create a healthier cooking oil that’s not environmentally damaging or bad for your health. Rather than microbes that ferment things like beer or cheese, ZAF is using the same technology to create a cooking oil that’s not bad for health or the environment. Stay tuned - a lot more to come from this super interesting company.
👔 Careers - If you’re looking to break into CPG and/or work with me, Surely is hiring for retail sales and finance roles. Would love to chat if you (or someone you know) would be a good fit for a fast-growing company in a big category!
Even more random… my friend Nick Gray has a newsletter that is good and just the right amount of weird. He also just turned 40 and this + my friendship is my gift to him - HBD Nick!
That’s all I got friends! Enjoy the month and let me know your thoughts on the new direction. See you in The Next… month 👋