“Computers have been the innovation platform of the last decade. The human body will be the innovation platform of the next decade.”
Those were the words Geoff Woo, CEO & co-founder of Nootrobox, who recently spoke at The Economist Events—Innovation Summit 2017. Nootrobox is a San Francisco-based nootropics company funded by Andreessen Horowitz, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, among others. The company is best known for GO CUBES, its chewable coffee nootropic (a compound you take to enhance cognition).
Woo’s area of expertise is the rapidly growing trend of biohacking—treating the body as hardware which can be improved through constant tweaking. Think everything from fasting to “smart drugs,” to implanting glucose monitors under your skin, to microdosing LSD and you’ll see why the human body is the next platform for innovation.
Basically, what started as a trend among techies in Silicon Valley is becoming more mainstream, with people drinking bulletproof coffee and taking nootropics to try to get ahead at work, at school, in athletics, in gaming, etc… And Woo is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs who want to hack the brain and the body—improving everyday performance through nutritional supplements called nootropics.
Better Brains, Better Society
Nootropics are a broad classification of cognition-enhancing compounds which have shown to produce minimal side effects and seem suitable for long-term use. They are designed to heighten productivity, memory, mental function and overall physical energy. These compounds include those occurring in nature or ones already produced by the human body (such as neurotransmitters), and their synthetic analogs. We already regularly consume some of these chemicals: B vitamins, caffeine, and L-theanine, in our daily diets.
To better understand how this “under 30” CEO is changing the face of cognition-enhancing compounds, Paste interviewed Woo about Nootrobox, his business philosophy and why he thinks millennials have an edge when it comes to start-ups.
Why did you start Nootrobox?
Geoff Woo: As a competitive person by nature, I’ve always had the drive to tap deeper into my full cognitive and physical potential. So a few years ago, I dove into the world of biohacking and nootropics, and I really absorbed the science and theories behind nootropics and also the practical necessities like safety and quality control processes to enhance oneself safely. I had access to some of the top researchers and academics in the space (some who are now my colleagues and friends), and I thought that what I had learned might be valuable to other people. That’s when I decided to launch Nootrobox as a service for high-quality, science-validated nootropics.
How did you get the funds to start the company?
Woo: At the very beginning, I started running the company off my credit card and savings. We were very scrappy and didn’t pay ourselves anything besides rent money. That scrappiness allowed us to be cash-flow positive from Day 1.
As the business started scaling, we realized that Nootrobox could really be special. We then invited some great friends and mentors to chip in to give us a working capital base. It snowballed from there. Now we have a great group of investors from VCs like Andreessen Horowitz to legendary founders and operators like Marissa Mayer.
What is the best part about running your company?
Woo: Our time is the most valuable asset we have, and I get to spend it in the trenches with some of the smartest, most driven people I know in the world. It’s a real luxury to choose the team I get to work with!
Do you think millennial CEO’s have an edge?
Woo: I think any CEO with the energy and fearlessness to work on what might sound like a crazy idea has an edge. Often times, these CEOs are millennials because they’re younger, fresher, and have less to lose.
Why do you think millennials are more likely to take risks and follow their passions?
Woo: They have less to lose. It’s very scary to float your life savings on a crazy idea when you have a family and mortgage. The bar to pull the trigger to go is now that much higher, and often times the best ideas are what seem like the riskiest at Day 0.
How do you achieve work/life balance as the CEO of a high-growth startup?
Woo: I don’t see a tradeoff between work and life. If there’s a tradeoff, then you’re doing it wrong as a CEO. There’s just one life. If I didn’t thrive off what I’m working on, I’m doing my job as CEO wrong. I have the luxury to focus on a space that excites me intellectually. My style is to go all-in when I’m in San Francisco, and then when I have a week or two to take a breather, I’ll travel and try to totally unplug.
Why do you love what you’re doing? What’s next?
Woo: Unlocking human potential is such an awesome opportunity. There’s so much blue sky to work in. I feel like we’re at the very start of the biohacking revolution just like how in the 70’s and 80’s was the start of the computer revolution. We get to make the future!