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The Next, Episode #48
Olipop, the benefits of writing, and investing in yourself
Hi there, and welcome to The Next - my take on health, wellness, and company building.
In the last few years I’ve founded 3 health brands (Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Surely non-alc wine), which collectively do $100M+ in revenue. I’m now working on TrueMed, which allows health and wellness brands to accept HSA/FSA funds. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC, or any other 3-letter industries.
If you missed past episodes, I recommend checking out Episode 42 on finding work you love and why I’m worried about environmental toxins. Otherwise, let’s dive in!
🆕 What’s new
This episode marks the fourth year that I've been writing this newsletter.
I’ve been shocked by just how many interesting people have come into my life as a result of just writing online about stuff I find interesting.
I met my co-founder through TrueMed by writing online. I've connected with hundreds of new and incredible people, met other founders of companies, and kept in touch with friends who read this regularly. My mother-in-law even will forward the occasional episode (only the good ones, she tells me) to my wife’s side of the family.
More than anything, sharing my thinking has brought new and interesting rabbit holes into my life. When I write about something, readers will send me more info about Topic, which leads to further digging, which leads to new rabbit holes…
It's this piece that has actually been most useful. I spend most of my time building and running companies, and almost no time doing “creator stuff”. I don’t tweet, I don't post on LinkedIn… I pretty much only write this newsletter. And even doing just this one thing has been a magnet for interesting people and opportunities. As my friend David Perell says, writing online is how you make the internet work for you.
Thanks for those of you who’ve been reading for a while. I’m excited to keep doing this for, well, as long as I can imagine.
💪 Health stuff
Today, we have a new episode of “Justin ruins a thing”! Previous targets have included decaf coffee, sunscreen, Ozempic, and Botox (though, as far as I could tell, that last one was basically fine).
Today, I’d like to talk about Olipop.
Olipop sells hundreds of millions of dollars a year of their better-for-you soda. You’ve almost certainly seen it on grocery store shelves, as they’re everywhere. On their packaging, they make claims about supporting digestive health, lower sugar, and make a big stink about being a “prebiotic”.
The digestive health and prebiotic claims stem from the fact that they use a special blend of fiber (cassava root fiber, chicory root inulin, Jerusalem artichoke inulin, nopal cactus, marshmallow root, calendula flower, kudzu root). Now, cassava root fiber is plausibly a probiotic (as this study would suggest).
Bacteria in your microbiome like fiber. Olipop has chicory root fiber in it, and a whole 9g of fiber on the label. What’s the problem?
The problem is, there’s no actual fiber in Olipop! If you don’t believe me, buy a can and pour it out - there’s nothing solid or fibrous in there!
What is in Olipop are liquified fibers, but none in their root-y and fibrous form. As it turns out, when you melt down a fiber and liquify it, those starches turn into something that quite resembles sugar. But - due to the fact that there’s no fiber present to blunt the blood sugar impact - this liquified fiber hits your blood much in the same way that sugar does!
This is very similar to what happens with high-fructose corn syrup (and why it’s so bad for you). High-fructose corn syrup takes a starchy, fibrous corn, liquifies it, and creates a franken-product that has a greater blood sugar impact than normal sugar. Liquified chicory root fiber is not quite as bad, but it’s similar in principle.
This is a problem for many fibrous or starchy foods. Take juice for example. Many people can eat an apple and experience minimal to no blood sugar impact. That’s because they have a bunch of apple fibers to balance out the sugar that’s in each apple when you eat it whole. When you juice it, there’s no fiber to blunt the glucose impact, and so you see a huge spike (and a similar crash) after drinking a “healthy” green or fruit juice.
Olipop (and other companies like Smart Sweets) are relying on the FDA’s silly regulations around how macros appear on labels to get consumers to think they’re not consuming sugar. According to the FDA, if a product has the word “fiber” in it - even if you melt it down and remove all the fiber - you can still call it fiber.
What’s worse, brands that use these fiber-but-really-sugar ingredients get to both avoid adding sugar to their labeling and also get to make claims about the amount of fiber they contain. See mom, it’s good for you!
This stuff really frustrates me. Big Food is really doing a number on the American consumer. A few customers decide to try and make healthier choices, and get sucked into buying fake products like Smart Sweets that are candidly not that much better for them than a standard thing of candy.
Sure, Olipop is better for you than a can of Coke. I’ll grant you that. And if that’s all they were claiming, to be a healthier option to a Coke, whatever. I just get a bit frustrated when I see brands like these making health claims that have no basis in reality. But until the FDA reforms its labeling guidelines, well, I guess that’s what we have to deal with.
🤑 Biz stuff
Recently, I’ve started to feel like I’m growing again.
In college and for several years after, I felt like I was growing all the time. I read books on startups and entrepreneurship, tried (and failed!) to get my own company off the ground, practiced social skills, worked with a mentor, moved to San Francisco…
Life was nonstop learning. At some point, that shifted. I moved from learning to execution. I went from reading blog posts and theories about how to do X, to doing it. I went from reading 70+ books per year to less than half that.
This was absolutely the right move, don’t get me wrong. The companies did well, and I learned a LOT from being heads down. But for the last few years, I’ve missed the high-energy feeling of growth and development.
This year, that’s started to change. I joined a men’s group in Austin that does a flavor of what my friend Johnny calls “men’s work”. I got married, and have been experiencing the growth that comes from being in a committed partnership. I started a new company, and have been confronted (yet again!) with the ways inadequacies show up in the workplace. And lastly, I started working with coaches again: one on understanding my emotional patterns and how they show up in life and work, and an executive coach.
Working with 2 coaches simultaneously has been an amazing learning experience. It’s quite something to have Emotional Patterns Guy point out things that I’m doing unconsciously, and then to have Exec Coach Guy point out how those emotional patterns are showing up in my work. Today (very occasionally), I’ll go through my day and notice emotions coming up, notice stories I’m telling myself, and notice patterns coming through in unproductive ways.
Investing in 2 coaches (which I’m paying out of pocket) isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s been so worthwhile. I’m becoming more and more convinced that as an entrepreneur, you should be way more willing than your average cat to invest aggressively in yourself. That means coaching, therapy, trainers, chefs, assistants… whatever you need to buy back your time and invest that time in self-improvement and learning.
It’s why for years I didn’t contribute to a 401k, didn’t save for retirement, and did nothing but invest in myself and build up runway that’d allow me to do my own thing. And when I had the opportunity to invest in Kettle & Fire, I had 80k of savings I could dump into a bone broth production run and kick off the business.
Having those savings liquid and accessible changed the course of my life. For anyone thinking of starting their own thing, I think over-investing in yourself and ignoring conventional financial advice makes all the sense in the world.
😌 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’ve been asked several times for explanations as to just why seed oils are so bad for you. My friend (and founder of Zero Acre) Jeff Nobbs has done a fantastic job breaking down why it is that seed oils are unhealthy. I also found this resource by Really Tan Man (the founder of Masa tallow chips) a great summation of the current research around why these little buggers are so darn toxic.
Elsewhere on the internet, I sat down with my longtime friend Charlie Houpert to talk about the health crisis, religion, and a bunch of other stuff. If interested, check it out here.
📚 Book rec - A few months ago, a friend pulled together a dinner with a chef and mushroom forager. She cooked an amazing meal and talked about mushrooms and fungi at a depth I hadn’t heard before. After that dinner I watched Fantastic Fungi, which also blew my mind… and I’ve since been fascinated by fungi and their role in health and the environment. These things seem like magic: they can induce psychedelic states, eat plastics and oils, influence plant nutrient density and yields, and are both everywhere and incredibly mysterious. In my quest to learn more about them, I picked up Entangled Lives and have been really enjoying learning a bit more about these fantastic, strange life forms.
⌚ Cool product - I’ve been a customer of Daily Harvest off and on for several years now. And as of this month, I’m excited to announce that you can now buy many of their products using HSA/FSA funds (through Truemed)! This is a really exciting partnership and fits perfectly with my belief that food is medicine, and should be treated as such.
🎵 Music - I’ve been in a bit of a musical drought, I’ll be honest. But this month I found myself enjoying this funky mix by a pretty wild couple who rents Airbnbs with a rooftop view, DJs, and makes charcuterie while playing 😂. Thank you internet, you always deliver.
🏀 Random - I love seeing the anti-seed oil trend taking off. Just this past month, we saw Hopdoddy (a local ATX burger chain) announce they’re going seed-oil-free (and using Zero Acre), Shake Shack is removing seed oils in test locations, and Sweetgreen is getting in on the trend! I’m hopeful that these are just the first restaurants to remove seed oils, as they’re definitively better for both human health and the environment. Look for this trend to accelerate 👀
🔥Hot take - Adderall (and other similar ADHD drugs) have been shown to be emotionally blunting. At the same time, many people I know who work demanding jobs in tech, startups, or finance take Adderall. I find it kind of strange that many of the humans making decisions at the highest levels of tech and finance are operating with slightly blunted emotional systems, and wonder how that impacts decision-making.
🙋♂️ Ask - Truemed is looking to make our 4th software engineer hire. If you (or someone you know) are interested in joining a small team to try and fix the broken incentives in our food system, we’d love to chat!
It’s hard to believe we only have 2 months left before the end of the year. Enjoy the next 30 days, and I’ll see you in December for the last episode of the year!