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The Next, Episode #34
Time outside, my new company, and doing things you don't like
Hi there, and welcome to The Next - 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 recently completed my first 6-day bike trip, going from Telluride, CO to Moab, Utah, camping out the whole way. A week without devices, where all we had to do was wake up and bike, was incredibly refreshing. Sadly, this was probably the longest I’ve gone without a device in the last 1-2 years. My fiancee remarked a few times how she felt I was present and relaxed in a way that I’m often not when I’m tied to my phone and laptop all day.
View from the top after a 5k foot climb, biking through the Utah canyons and the CO aspens
I felt the change too: I laughed more easily, my mind felt less frenetic and felt much more at ease. This trip (plus Burning Man the week after it) certainly has me thinking more about just how much time I spend on my phone and computer in a given week.
It’s tough, at least for me. On the one hand, I’d love more presence, more time outside, more time off devices. Yet at the same time, being online has given me so much. Every business I’ve started has been internet-native, remote-first, and comes with a lot of time, location, and financial flexibility. Many of the investments I make, the work I do, the people I connect with, and the friends I have stem in some way from being online. Heck, even writing this newsletter and connecting with all you lovely people requires I sit down for a few hours each month at my laptop, and crank away.
There’s so much more I want to do, things I want to write, people to connect with… yet I also don’t want a life where every year I spend increasingly more of it online. My vision of success is not one where at 60 I’m still tied to a desk all the time.
I’m planning to invest in an outdoor desk setup, take more walking phone calls, and schedule more regular outdoor adventure trips. But other than the above, I’m not totally sure what else I’ll do, but it’s an area I’m actively researching and thinking about.
💪 Health stuff
I wrote in Episode 30 about the broken incentives in our food system:
Players in our food system are incentivized to create the cheapest, most addictive products possible, ignoring any potentially negative impact on consumer health and wellness. Thus, you see an explosion of chemical additives, highly processed “food”, sugar, vegetable oils, and corn syrup added to nearly everything.
In healthcare, you see the same. Almost no money (2.9% in fact!) spent on preventative health or staving off chronic disease. Almost every dollar in western medicine is focused on treating symptoms, not addressing underlying conditions. And thus you have millions of people getting treatment after treatment, pill after pill, looking for a solution the system is structurally not incentivized to provide.
For years, I’ve been thinking about how to improve the incentives in our food system, and how to get closer to a healthcare system that heals and a food system that doesn’t make everyone sick. Wouldn’t that be nice?
If we are going to change healthcare, we need to look at the incentives of the health insurance plans that nearly 20% of GDP flows through. After digging into this over the past year, I believe there’s potentially an interesting way to reform the healthcare system via HSA accounts.
Health Savings Accounts are accounts you can contribute tax-free money to during open enrollment (which normally occurs in September-October). Basically, instead of making money, paying taxes on it, and THEN spending that money on your gym membership or truckloads of bone broth, HSA funds allow you to bypass Mr. taxman and use pre-tax funds on health expenses. For most people, these tax advantages mean savings of 30-40%.
In essence, HSA accounts allow you to sock away $3,850 per year ($7,750 for families), all in a tax-free manner. Additionally, many employers contribute to HSA accounts which means that HSAs are full of what economists like to call “free money” 🤑.
Now as amazing as this sounds, here’s where the system gets you. Most Americans in their 20s-40s don’t use HSAs because they’re extremely confusing. Most use HSA funds for catastrophic medical expenses, or to pay for medications once there’s a disease diagnosis. For many young healthy people like all of you, that’s boring: why save thousands of dollars per year just to help pay for a medical issue in 30 years?
In their current form, HSAs aren’t going to transform healthcare. In my opinion, the problem with healthcare today is that 95% of spending occurs after someone gets sick. We need to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, and fix the bad incentives in the food + healthcare systems. And a way to do that is to make it cheaper and easier for Americans to use their medical funds on preventative care, healthy food and medicine.
That’s what I’ve been working on: a company to allow HSA funds to be spent on everyday health and wellness activities. Think groceries, gym memberships, an Eight Sleep, Peloton, or your favorite bone broth brand 😬.
The (extremely in beta) company is called True Medicine, and our goal is to make it possible for consumers to spend pre-tax HSA funds on fitness and foods that are proven to prevent and reverse disease. The process is simple:
Take a six-minute health survey
A medical practitioner will review and issue a prescription plan and letter that allows you to pay for healthy food, gym memberships, etc.
This letter makes it compliant to simply swipe your HSA card wherever you normally buy food or exercise: Whole Foods, Safeway, Instacart, Equinox, Peloton, Tonal, yoga class, CrossFit, whatever. You never even have to log into a healthcare website.
True Medicine handles all back-end compliance work to ensure you can use your HSA funds in a tax-compliant way.
We’ve validated True Medicine with major HSA providers and guarantee it works. In the past month, we’ve tested this on hundreds of purchases and have a 100% success rate.
The purpose of the company is simple: save you money on healthy food and exercise. But my hope is we are forming a community that understands habits are the key to health - and will eventually nudge healthcare policy in that direction.
For most Americans, open enrollment is happening in the next three months. If you can contribute money into an HSA (or similar FSA) account during open enrollment, and want to save 30%+ on food and fitness spend, check out True Medicine. We’re just starting to open it up to a few people, and if you use invite code THENEXT you can sign up for a year of savings for $79 at www.truemedicine.care
If this is interesting to you, please check it out or drop me an email with questions. Would love to get y’all’s feedback on the idea and product, as I’m getting more and more excited about the potential role HSAs could play in fixing the food + healthcare systems.
🤑 Biz stuff
One of the larger things I’ve learned running Kettle & Fire is that there are a LOT of things I hate doing. Bookkeeping, accounting, reading contracts: pretty much anything that doesn’t grab my attention. Dealing with Amazon inventory. Calls with agencies. Legal stuff.
At times - especially early in the company’s history - this aversion to doing stuff like the above has had painful consequences for Kettle & Fire. Worse, avoiding stuff I don’t like up front has on multiple occasions meant I’ve had to spend 5x more time fixing the issues I first “avoided”. Like the time I practically ignored financials for years and had to work overtime to build them before closing a funding round… not fun.
I’ve now realized the importance of understanding what I hate doing, and taking steps early on to build a system that ensures I am not the one doing those things.
For example, Amazon has some nitpicky stuff you have to follow to send inventory to them: applying labels an inch from the side of the boxes, adding very exacting paperwork to each shipment, sending orders within a tight delivery window, etc. In 2016, after digging into what it’d take for us to get our products listed on Amazon and realizing the complexity and attention to detail here, I decided that I wanted nothing to do with Amazon.
The result? We spent months without a brand-owned presence on Amazon, all while other players (resellers, digital nomads, whoever) went HAM on our Amazon listings: selling products for 2x above retail, racking up tons of 1-star reviews, and creating a horrible brand presence and image on the most popular shopping site in the US.
When we eventually had to fix this and manage our own Amazon listings and inventory, it took months of listing management, active support and sending legal notices to unauthorized resellers to get our listings back under control. All because I ignored the channel for no other (real) reason than I just didn’t want to do it. Idiot.
This situation repeated itself with bookkeeping, legal matters… basically anywhere I didn’t feel competent, comfortable, or interested. And it led to the same consequences every single time, along with a lot more cleanup work to be done.
Hopefully, I’ve learned. Now, when I come across something I don’t like doing that will also be an ongoing part of the business (bookkeeping, Amazon management, etc), I’m getting better at working with my team and the relevant actors to pull together a detailed process that gets it right the first time… or just hiring someone more talented than me (note: it’s not hard) to come in, build and own a new process.
The truth is, when you’re running a company you have 1000+ things you can do. Stuff you aren’t good at and don’t want to do will never - literally never - make it to the top of your to-do list. And because they never reach the top of your to-do list, these things have a tendency to just… sit. Sit and slowly bleed you, hurt the business and cause larger and larger problems until you can’t look away and now have to deal with it. This stuff is the business version of Jordan Peterson’s dragon.
I’m now of the opinion that – as soon as you find something you don’t like doing, or something that’s stayed on your todo list for weeks – you should do one of two things. Either, you should (1) do it right, immediately, and create well-documented process that you can share with others who can take that thing off your plate in the future. Or, you should (2) hire someone to figure out and take this dreaded thing off your plate forever.
In essence, look for things you hate doing. And use that hatred to get them off your plate once and for all. Doing so has made me happier, more productive and drastically improved the business. But boy did this lesson come with a lot of pain.
😌 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 - The most interesting read I had this month was this one on the perils of audience capture. Basically, the more one builds an audience online, the greater the temptation to become the persona the audience best responds to. Though it can certainly grow an audience, it can also lead to a strange dynamic where a content creator (or “influencer”) is beholden to a character they’ve created. It’s how smart carnivore influencers go from having thoughtful criticisms of the food system to now pretending that vegetables (and watermelon?) are now problematic foods, as they’ve been captured by the carnivore cult. Definitely a thoughtful read, and made me extremely happy that I’m only doing this newsletter on the side for funsies.
Also, if you’ve enjoyed my previous recommendation to read The Surrender Experiment, I think you’ll really enjoy my friend Scott Britton’s new Substack focused on his spiritual journey. I got a lot out of his post on how to practice surrender in your everyday life, and am excited he’s writing about a very complex, nuanced, and important topic.
📚 Book rec - I’ve been loving The Great Bridge by David McCullough. I’m just blown away by the incredible engineering feats built during this time in American history, and McCullough makes the story of the Brooklyn Bridge come alive in a book that reads almost like fiction.
⌚ Cool product - Surely just launched what I think is our best product yet: a coconut passionfruit spritz that’s perfect for end of summer. It’s light, refreshing, and a great alcohol replacement. I think you’ll love it, and if not I’ll personally refund your purchase.
🎵 Music - Got two recs for y’all this month. The first is more my standard vibe, and been loving this set by Cornelius SA on the Anjunadeep label. The other is a Boiler Room set by Fred Again.., which is just super fun to watch and a high-energy set I really enjoyed.
🏀 Random - I’ve posted about this before, but I’ve been loving Myles and his Mother Tongue Cooking Club. This past month I made tangy flatbreads he recommended, chicken parmesan, and some killer homemade tortillas. It’s been a fun way to cook more and I’m learning a lot following the monthly recipes 🧑🍳.
🙋♂️ Ask - As mentioned above, we’ve been making progress with True Medicine and think it could be hugely useful to companies with high-deductible health plans. If you know anyone we could chat with about breaking into the small-company benefits market, I’d love to chat with them!
Well, summer is basically over: be sure to get outside, take some time off, and enjoy the time you have on this planet. By the time you get this, I’ll have just finished my first extended bike ride (6 days and 200+ miles!), riding from Telluride to Moab. Excited to get back into the swing of things this month.
Catch you in 30!