Building a Quality First Supplements Company – Ben Esgro of Elemental Formulations

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 51:10)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

Ben Esgro of Elemental Formulations shares the story of building a supplements company focused on quality ingredients and rigorous testing and differentiating in a highly competitive market.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: The Elephant in the Brain; and When We Cease to Understand the World.

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Ben Esgro of Elemental Formulations

0:00Intro
1:08Company and Products
4:30Differentiation
8:46Supplement Benefits
12:29Product Development Process
15:18Financing
20:06Lessons Starting a second company
21:45Business Partnerships
25:41Marketing
28:12Manufacturing
34:14Getting featured on Tim Ferriss blog
36:33Supplement industry
42:30Failure
44:34Rapid Fire Round

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Ben Esgro of Elemental Formulations

  1. One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2021 and why? (Response: The Elephant in the Brain; and When We Cease to Understand the World)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Amazon)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Shopify)
  4. An entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Elon Musk)
  5. Best business advice you ever received (Response: To buy the book E-Myth)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Shawna and welcome to Dropbox. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Ben escrow to the show. Ben is the co founder of elemental foundations. Elemental foundations is a supplements company which prides itself in creating products that are formulated and peer reviewed by industry experts. And third party tested to prove they are drug free and contain the ingredients and doses you pay for. And today, I’m going to ask them a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey, and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks.

Ben Esgro  

Thank you for having me.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Was that the correct description of your product? Can you share a little bit about your company and what kind of products you’re selling?

Ben Esgro  

Yes. Only real quick question I’ll make is it’s formulations. I don’t know if you said foundations or formulations. But basically, this will this will bleed into my answer as well. The reason we call it elemental formulations is largely because it’s chemistry inspired. You know, a little bit of our branding sort of utilizes the breaking bread, bad s branding with periodic table inspiration. And it largely comes from both the approach we take or I take in formulating the products, and then a lot of my academic background, kind of having a hybridization of nutrition, sports, nutrition, education, and then pharmacology and pharmaceutical chemistry. Now, I’m sorry, I forgot the questions. I can route back to

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

that. So that’s that’s a good overview of the company. What products actually are you selling? I think on your website, I thought it mostly like protein based supplements.

Ben Esgro  

Yeah, so right now we sell, we sell a protein, whey isolate protein powder, we sell a few different forms of pre workout. And then we have a cognitive enhancer nootropic, which is a fairly new category. And then we have a few of the basics like, like creatine. So we, we launched the brand. Last year, we were founded, and we just started, so we are still building out the product line. And right now I’ve considered we really just have the bare essentials. And we’re trying to sort of expand the flavor options. And some of the, you know, sort of finding what what’s our best product mix right now, and really just trying to really dig, dig into what what’s hitting and working best. But, you know, since I had come from a prior company, and had run it for a decade, called de novo nutrition, I had some of that idea going in. But the reality is the supplement supplement industry is evolving so quickly now with bigger and bigger playing players coming into it. Large food corporations like post and large supply chain. Players like Glanbia, and even some pharmaceutical companies who are having supplement arms of their sort of umbrella companies, or cosmetics companies getting into it. So that’s all to say that, you know, what may have worked even three years ago, you can’t necessarily rely on working now. Even you know, even with the way marketing is changing social media marketing and all that stuff. But I won’t get too far into that for fear of tangent intended tangent being way too far off for five minutes. Yeah, so I’ll leave it there.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So yeah, I mean, it seems like this industry supplements industry is really just a very competitive place. Like, I think there’s a lot of players. And so how do you actually differentiate your product, like if someone is going to buy, let’s say, a whey protein? And, you know, either they go online and search for it, or they go to a retailer, there’s so many different options? How does How do you bring bring a customer to your brand, as opposed to them just going and buying something that is tried and true, or? Or you know, have been in business for a long time?

Ben Esgro  

Sure. Yeah. I mean, from the customer perspective, I totally understand that it’s overwhelming, the amount of choices now are overwhelming, and to stand out in this market, the windows closing like it’s getting harder and harder and harder. And that’s something I’ve noticed over time. So the fact that we don’t, you know, we are still bootstrapped. We don’t have this enormous marketing budget because many companies, you know, very large companies 70 80% of their budget for operations is marketing. We just don’t have that. So finding really organic strategies that we can utilize that really separate us. Of course, I’d like to think since I am the product formulator, I’d like to think that it’s our formulations that make us stand out. And it’s because we either, you know, find novel ingredients that aren’t necessarily being used or underutilized, or they’re being utilized for the wrong purposes, and putting them in, in not just the correct doses, but for a better a better purpose than they have traditionally been used for. And then not just marketing so heavily, but backing up everything we say, with objective standards, meaning like, when we finish a product, there is no requirement necessarily to third party tested for potency. There is no requirement to ban substance test, you just have to do the basics, which are, you know, do a micro bio screen, heavy metals testing, make sure it’s not going to hurt anybody. But a lot of that those extras are optional. So, you know, what the position we’re taking is, since there’s no external requirement on us to do that regulation, we’re self regulating. And that does come with added cost, but it gives the consumer a much, much greater comfort in that this isn’t just this marketing machine, like we, we will make claims, but there’s a lot more comfort in the claims we’re making. Because we know our product is good. And we are, you know, it’s not just we’re doing the testing, we’re actively putting it out there for you to read. So one of the things we have on our labels a QR code, and it’s not just you know, a pass fail, we actually show the quantities of where every all the materials in the supplement test out. And, you know, to kind of explain how things have evolved. That’s, that’s a large aspect of the evolution of supplements is I hate to use the generic term evidence base. But you know, I think large companies have caught on to the fact that there’s much more demand for quality supplements, there is a much more educated consumer base where they’re not just going to buy into a proprietary blend, especially as you get into these niche markets like powerlifting, which, which were largely in drug tested, powerlifting and bodybuilding. There’s a lot more demand for a lot more skepticism towards the marketing, and there’s a lot more demand for doing higher quality things and not just, you know, Pixie dusting, as they call a bunch of ingredients and and saying it does all it does 10 things at once. But no one thing great. So, yeah, it’s you know, as that continues to take over the industry, like I said, the window starts to close, because what may have been a competitive advantage for us before, which would just be not using terrible ingredients. Now, most even the big companies have kind of caught on to that. And I think a major separating factor now is, I’d say most companies are using higher quality ingredients. But a big separating factor is the potency testing. And then the second one is the dosing where, you know, they’ll say they’re using proper dosing, or they’ll say they’re using a certain good ingredient to make a claim, but they put it in there at half the dose that it should be.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Okay. And for the user, the benefit is when they are doing a certain sport or certain kind of bodybuilding activity. It really just enhances that performance. I mean, protein is protein, right? But I am assuming other supplements are really meant to give them that leverage to go the extra mile, I guess, how do you describe this? I mean, this is not steroids, right?

Ben Esgro  

No, no, no, no. So we we do really cater to drug tested athletes. That’s why we do. And I didn’t make that super clear. So we do the potency testing. And then we do another testing, which is the banned substance free testing as well, to have that validity because you know, whether or not you’re super involved in these markets, I think it’s pretty obvious that you know, there’s been a lot of high profile, athletes testing positive, and then blaming a supplement and saying it was a tainted supplement. So you know, we do our best to even just remove that as being an option because that that has happened both in more mainstream sports but even in our community with the the drug tests of power lifters that that are bodybuilders that that happens a lot as well. So if you can rein me back in, please. Oh, you as you asked about the purposes of the products, so, so yeah, largely, you know, whey protein. It can be used just as a convenient protein replacement. So you don’t always have to be carrying around, you know, a hunk of meat with you or, you know, like yogurt or foods you can conveniently get a really high dose of protein. Ah, that tastes good in a very convenient, you know, way, way, pun intended. And you know, a large angle that we take on it is that there’s still many, many products that they’ve hung around, because I think marketing has been so effective on them. But in reality, the evidence just isn’t there for them. And it continues to sort of not indicate that they’re, they’re beneficial. One of them being branched chain amino acids, they’re very important, it’s just there’s three essential amino acids in the diet, they’re really specific to starting the the it’s called muscle protein synthesis of starting the response to a meal to building muscle. Now, it’s important to note that they start the process, they don’t continue it going. So if people just relied on branched chain amino acids in their diet, and they didn’t complete proteins, then they wouldn’t gain gain muscle, it’s important to note that. So one of the angles that that we’re taking with our way is that, you know, people justify using branched chain amino is by saying, Well, it’s good tasting flavored water. So it’s almost like they accept that, you know, they’re getting placebos, and they’re paying, you know, $50 for this, this jug of not really getting what they’re being promised, because it tastes good, and flavors, their water good. So basically, our angle is, well, if we can match somebody on that really good fruity flavor taste, and give them a complete protein, we can check both boxes. So we take a different angle on making our protein where it’s actually watermelon, way flavored. And I’m pretty proud, like, we’ve been able to really mimic like watermelon candy flavors, in a way that people can’t even believe that they’re drinking whey protein. So we really tried to find ways to reinvent products that might be boring, otherwise, in a market where you can get vanilla and chocolate protein, anywhere, you can get it at Walmart now. So, you know, finding, again, even if they’re tiny areas for relatively tiny areas for competitive advantages, I’m always looking for that as the formulator.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And what is your product development process? Like, you know, what is? How do you go about making sure that you have the flavors and the quality product coming together and working for the customer.

Ben Esgro  

So honestly, a lot of it comes from testing. I mean, I have been a self described supplement junkie, since I got into fitness, which was like I was 18 years old, like as a senior in high school. And of course, you know that marketing is very, very effective, where you almost believe that you need supplements in order to make progress. I think I’ve been fascinated by the chemistry, the botany, the, the nutrition, all of the angles that come into producing supplements. So a lot of it is being a supplement user having a lot of experience in having used supplements that I was interested in working, and then taking the academic end of reading the research and finding things that are potentially interesting leads, testing them out and myself doing small batch doing my own quality control testing. So you know, if I’m going to buy a raw material, and we’re going to we’re thinking about putting it into a product, I’ll actually do the analytical testing myself, I have a machine called a an FTR, which is an analytical instrument, it’s a quick and easy way to test the identity of a raw material, assuming that it’s pure, I’m able to do that first bad off, where, you know, I’m not just relying on the manufacturer saying this is creatine monohydrate. Because that does happen where you know, it’s not as common as it may have been 10 years ago, but it does still happen where quality control can be an issue. So I’m doing that I’m testing, you know, raw material ingredients individually seeing, you know, if if they seem to have, you know, the effect that’s promised, or at least some of the research has indicated, and then I’m building that into usually using a pathway approach from pharmacology of, okay, well, if this agreement works on this pathway, how can I use another complementary pathway to to enhance the effect of that? So instead of just selling, let’s say, a caffeine pills, I know that something else that works on neurotransmitters that’s complementary to caffeine like Huperzine A, which works on acetylcholine? If I combine that in some type of matrix alongside caffeine, and Huperzine, and maybe another source of choline, I can create a whole different effect and experience than just caffeine itself. Okay.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And so when you started this business, what was Um, can you share a little bit about you know, what kind of it seems like you started boot started, Boots bootstrapped your business. Can you share a little bit? You know, what kind of investment went into the process? I know you have co founder also, can you share the story of you know, what, what made you actually start this business?

Ben Esgro  

Sure. So I’d have to go way back to, you know, like I said, Lenovo was the initial company, and that, that was founded in 2011. And that was just me. That was me, like I said, being a supplement junkie, and being really just, I’d say, passionate and curious about how these companies were developing supplements. And I was working a job at the time I was right out of undergrad, I was working a government nutrition job, and living at home. And basically, I took all of my extra money into finding out how to source raw materials and make my own blends. So I had a food chemistry book that I use to start make my initial formulations. I’d say they were a lot more alchemists. And then they were chemist meaning like, you know, I build them in a very iterative process. And then just play, and I think play, you know, I agree with almost the Einstein quote is like play is the, is the mother of creativity. And I guess I was kind of lucky, where I stumbled into getting my first wave formula. Right, in terms of sweetness and flavor, and mouthfeel. And experience, I had my parents try it for the first time and my, both of them, like, swallow the whole thing down, you know, without even putting the glass down. And my dad just looked at me as if you’re going to be a millionaire. Now, that hasn’t happened. But But yeah, I mean, I always had a lot of support from my family. And the reality is, I started, like I said, you know, self funded, I wasn’t trying to make a profit, I was just trying to make make products and, and see if people liked them. So I really didn’t turn profit for the first year or two, probably losing money. And I found ways to make it work. Now, this was an environment that would not fly anymore, because there wasn’t a GMP regulations. Basically, I was small batching mixing using a cement mixer. So obviously, not a cement mixer, that was mixing cement, you know, I bought a new one, I sanitized it, I had known how to do sanitation and food safety from doing my rd and my nutrition undergrad. And I just applied, I took all these things I learned from these different areas and use it to, I would say against the odds start a supplement company on a very, very low budget. And then just figure it out. So basically, what started selling in the beginning was what sold best were proteins. So I would just keep making new protein flavors. At like, at year two, when we did start to you know, make a little more money, I had like 20, some protein flavors. So I found vendors that were willing to work with somebody who was small scale, who we still use today for things like flavors. And yeah, just sort of took it step by step. And I think what kept me in and I totally agree with the Steve Jobs quote is like, you have to be a little bit insane. You know, it’s not logical at all, it wasn’t rational like I was any any spare time I had, I was mixing products, packaging them, trying to make new formulas. And I just did it because I loved it. And I still do. So again, you know, I’m sorry for always dragging on but there’s, there’s so much, you know, over 10 years, there’s so much so many different things to talk about. It’s almost like talking about it just brings it all back and it’s just sort of flows, you know,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

are you are you a bodybuilder yourself? Is that the reason you originally got into it?

Ben Esgro  

Yeah, I don’t I don’t compete anymore. I did compete in bodybuilding. And then transition to powerlifting because I was more interested in being judged on what felt like an objective skill rather than you know, like, how my muscles insert to each other. Like, it’s either you lift the weight or you don’t in powerlifting. So I did compete in both. And that’s really what sort of got our, our, our grassroots start from being involved in bodybuilding forums back in the day before Facebook and Instagram and major social media was a thing. But I don’t compete any longer. I still lift and love lifting and I still, you know, Coach powerlifting and stuff and do nutrition but my, let’s just say the sport of powerlifting didn’t love me back as much as I loved it, and I’m just a little too tall for it. So I’ve had some joint issues that have stopped me from being able to pursue it competitively still.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you started off with one company and now you’ve started a second company. What made you two Did you sell the last company? Did you close it? How do you transition into this new?

Ben Esgro  

Yeah, I wish I wish it was a positive, it was largely COVID induced things that were very difficult to survive. One of them being supply chain. You know, it was just a lot of factors. So it just seemed like at that time, the best move was dissolve and start fresh. I mean, there’s a really long story to that. That’s the short version. The slightly longer version is like, you know, I think one of the interesting ends of businesses. It’s a challenge, especially when you’re in partnerships. So I started the company, I started Dinoco, myself, I had a partnership with two partners, kind of from year three to year five or six, that partnership dissolved, I went back to running it myself for a year or two, had another foreign partner for two years, and then COVID hit and that just, you know, made everything that much more difficult. And in that dissolved, so yeah, I mean, there’s so many things involved in running a business beyond just making products and supplements. So again, I realized I’m getting off the original topic of your question. But

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

yeah, let me ask you this. Lots of I know, you know, business partnerships are challenging, like, what how they’re in. And I know you have a partner right now, also with the new business. I mean, what have you learned about being being or having a business with other partners? And what can other entrepreneurs learn from your experiences?

Ben Esgro  

I think I’m constantly humbled by it. I think I’m still learning. I think you really have to learn how to be a team, in all scenarios, I think you need to be able to see things from multiple perspectives, not just your own. I think I’ve I’ve also seen very difficult scenarios where you know, when things become too much about a single person’s success, or it being about less about the company, and more about an individual, that gets very dangerous. And I think it’s difficult, like, I think, I think it’s very true what what people like Elon Musk have said, which is like, you know, being an entrepreneur is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss, I think there’s, it’s very lonely at the top meaning like when you’re, when you have the weight of everything of the business on your shoulders, and you’re responsible for other people trying to hold it together. I think it’s very, very challenging. And I would never dissuade somebody from trying it because I know, you know, how, how much more popular it is for people to start their own business and do their own thing. But I think you should come in with a healthy level of understanding what’s involved in the challenges and the challenges don’t start, I think, as you move up, you know, when we’ve grown, and had these inflection points in growth, it’s like, the rapper quotes, like more money, more problems, you just like, the problems scale up as well. And it’s, it’s difficult, especially when you’re bootstrapping and there’s not money to pull from and doing it, basically, for much, much less than your, your effort, your time and your value entails. I think those are all recipes for frustration. And I think one of the things for me that I’m constantly it’s always a work in progress is don’t let that frustration bleed out into things that are unrelated. Like you always, like I said, you always have to find a way to have the positive angle and keep the motivation and keep keep everybody you know, in it, and that’s, that’s a challenge, especially when you have your own personal life, you know, like one of the things that happened, when, in de novo, and in the second partnership is, you know, I had a lot of major health things going on where like I said, with powerlifting, you know, I had some joint issues like I had trouble just getting around day to day because of my back there and it changed my life. You know, it changed it largely and it’s impossible for those things not to infuse into the day to day of the business and like when you’re in pain, you’re not the happiest person and the most pleasant person to be around it’s then when you have you know everything on top of that with customer issues, supply chain issues, trying to scale a business. Yeah, it’s a lot. So I think I think if there’s anything to say, it’s when you need time, take it and do everything you can and need to to have Have your balance because it can be a very imbalanced life if you allow it to be. And as a person who kind of needs work and feels almost panicked if I don’t have enough work to do, that can be a very dangerous roulette to play, I think, as an entrepreneur, because there’s always going to be work always.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Yeah. So can you share a little bit about, you know, you’re starting your new business? What kind of things have you done to really launch it and attract customers? And really, you know, how are you getting your first customers and getting traction?

Ben Esgro  

Word of mouth has always been big for us. It wasn’t the beginning. And I’d say it still is obviously, you know, with social media having athletes, I don’t love the term influencer, but we’ll use it because it’s sort of appropriate here. You know, having the right people keeping the right people, which is difficult, because now, like I said, bigger players are getting into the space. So there’s larger marketing budgets, budgets. And, you know, the, the bottom line like the, the blunt reality of it is, no matter how much of a personal relationship, there may be with people, if someone could offer to pay them double what you’re able to offer them, it’s hard to keep them, you know what I mean? And I’m just doing our best with that to survive in that landscape. Trying to find unique ways to incentivize, beyond money, doing things, the best we can with money. Trying to keep people involved in a business that is not just us so much running the show, like, trying to like one of the things we’re trying to do now is collaborations with our athletes where, you know, they can do like signature products, where we give them creative influence on the label and the flavor and stuff like that, where I can, it’s more collaborative. And yeah, I’d say, always trying to find, like never thinking we nailed it always trying to find a new and unique angle to take on things. But I think if I was to pin it down to a few things that would be trying to always have some type of social presence. Word of mouth, in in communities, that that you know, you’re actively involved in, or you have any type of name in. And then I think the big one is, from a formulation perspective, not just doing what everybody else is doing, like finding a way to keep things unique. And last one is regular launch cycles. Because in supplements, I’m sure this is true, more universally, not just in supplements. But if you’re not launching something new routinely, there’s a lot, there’s a lot of attrition, there’s a lot of fall off, people get bored, people look elsewhere. So this, there’s always got to be something to keep people excited about.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you you manage your own manufacturing, I’m assuming a few do you? Do you have to keep in mind that if you create a batch of products, you don’t create so much that it goes bad after a certain time. How do you how do you how do you manage that?

Ben Esgro  

Yeah, that’s a great question. So it’s largely just on, you know, historical data that we have, knowing that we’ll be able to sell a certain amount within, you know, the time that’s well, before expiration, we’ve never run into that where we’ve had on hand a product that’s expired. We, you know, we do have inventory software where we can have predictions of you know, what number what’s our average number of sales, we run, we use Shopify as a platform. So we use an app, some I forget what it’s called, but it’s an inventory app that, you know, that projects, certain things. That does help. You know, the interesting part of that challenge is, there’s always this need to scale up to enhance or improve your your profit margin. And that’s the challenge because, you know, you need to have enough cash flow to buy that next tear where you get, you know, the per unit pricing improvement, but you need to make sure you’re going to sell it. And one of the interesting things that exist in the supplement space, or the consumable space is the minimums that exist for manufacturers. It’s not you can’t like let’s say you need to run 5000 units, you have to run in one flavor, you can’t spread that across multiple flavors. So that takes a big budget. I mean, it takes money very much to make money in supplements. But so largely, we’re not we never get too aggressive with buying bigger runs. But I think the the issue and the drawback of that is it does keep us sort of locked into an area of profit margin that over time needs to improve.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you’re focusing mostly just on the direct to consumer on selling through your website. Are you selling on Amazon? Do you want to be in retail?

Ben Esgro  

So right now we deal with the only retail we have is we deal with smaller are, you know, independent supplement stores, my local gym here cares of stuff as well, we have a gym in Canada or a distributor chain called supplement world that carries us there. In the past, we’ve had some, some worldwide like on Australia, some chains of supplement retailers that have carried us, but for the most part we are we’re direct to consumer. We find that sort of works well for us right now. Just on a management thing, because we’re a small team, you know, it’s really just the two, the two co founders, and then we have an employee team of like, three, so it’s not not this, you know, mega mega team. We’re not on Amazon right now. I was with Lenovo. But man, we had so many nightmares of experiences with them that it’s just hard to go back when they have our customer data. Don’t like that part, I get it, you know, they’re a huge retailer, they’re, they’re a huge platform, but you don’t have your customer data, it’s theirs. And when they when they have your inventory. Again, you know, just to be blunt about it, they just don’t give a shit about it. Like, you know, we’ve had to pull inventory from them, they sent it back to us and 30% of it was destroyed. And they did nothing to compensate us for that. That’s really hard to, you know, come back with a new company and be willing to eat a chunk out of your margin because your your drop shipper doesn’t care about about your product. Like we’re just not in a position where you know, we can justify that right now. So yeah, we’re largely we’re largely b2c And really trying to work more so with smaller Mom and Pop supplement supplement retail stores.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So when when you had the opportunity to start this business a second time around? Did you ever think, you know, maybe not. You know, I’ve learned everything that I wanted to learn about the supplements, maybe now I should try a different industry or a different business? Have you? Have you ever had that thought?

Ben Esgro  

Yeah, that’s a, that’s another great question. And the 100% I have. I mean, again, the reality is, you know, in something like coaching, it’s all time investment and intellectual overhead. So you know, your margin of that is nearly 100%. So when you’re talking raw business, it makes more sense to do that. But I think what keeps me in is like, I’m just so fascinated by like, everything I said, before, you know, the pharmacology, the all the nuances of supplements, it just, I think it keeps me intellectually engaged. But I’ve definitely had a lot more stress than than necessary in doing it. I’ve danced back and forth, about going into other things. But I think the problem is, you know, whenever I’ve looked or you know, sort of dip my foot in, I think the issue is, you don’t have that creative freedom to make the types of products that that we make, and that we’ve shown there’s a demand for in the market, you’re usually, you know, given these very, very firm boundaries of what you can create. And there’s already more than enough products out there doing that. So I think if I wasn’t gonna go anywhere else, I probably try to either go back into academia or go into Pharma. But that’s just not as, it’s not as exciting for me. Because, you know, I know a lot of people. As much as I like being a lab rat, I don’t want to be a lab rat, in that sense. I like to be tied to the end product of what I’m making, and being able to infuse a very, you know, big part of my passion and creativity into the product. And I think that gets lost when it’s like, more of a big box thing. You know,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I think I read somewhere that you were featured on a Tim Ferriss blog or something is that

Ben Esgro  

yeah, so can you share that theory? Sure. So one of one of my my friends and honestly someone I really look up to is a he’s a researcher at USF. He studies ketogenic diets and ketone supplements for really for medical therapies, largely for cancer, and, you know, certain other conditions sort of related to that, like medical interventions with with ketosis. And he was on Tim Ferriss because because of that, talking about that topic, and he mentioned our product, so at that time, we had just launched a new product called utopia, which we still sell under elemental, and it was, it was really pretty new and innovative at that time when you know one of the categories, really the main category of caffeinated products that were sold in the fitness space were pre workouts. So if it was caffeinated, it was usually a pre workout. And that’s it. And we were really one of the first brands to launch a caffeinated product that was geared towards really a pre work not pre workout. So you could use it, you don’t have to be using it for the gym, you could use it to study, you could use it to do anything where you need to really get kind of tunneled into the work. And it’s not going to make you agitated, distracted that all the traditional things that you get from you know, too much caffeine alone. This doesn’t happen from this, this product and formulation. And he had used it, he really liked it, he mentioned it on there. And then that kind of got re reblogged and shared within within Tim Ferriss sort of inner circle. And that was really a major inflection point in growth for us, like we sold out almost completely within a couple of weeks of our inventory. Yeah, that was that was a big inflection point of growth for us.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So since you you’re so passionate about supplements, can you share like any tips or any thing? Anything that works really well in the in the supplement industry that that could be beneficial for people? I know you had mentioned, you know, there’s like placebo effect and those kinds of things. Yeah. But is there something one or two things that, you know, actually worked really, really well?

Ben Esgro  

Yeah. So I mean, it’s not going to be the most exciting answer in the world. But really, the thing that we have that’s most established both in the research and in the supplement industry is creating, you know what most companies are trying to create the next creatine so to speak. And just because it continues to be validated, through research, it’s got the most human studies in it, for strength and power. So basically, anybody who’s trying to improve muscle mass or strength, pretty much across the board, I’d recommend creatine and what’s great about it is you can use it pretty much from you know, adolescence into old age, you know, that it’s because it’s been so widely researched, it’s been looked at in all those populations. You know, there’s a lot of misconception still about it, you know, it’s not an anabolic steroid. It’s, it’s a component of proteins, like if you eat meat, you get some creatine just not a high enough dose. And it’s something that exists in your muscles. There already, the only thing you’re doing by taking creatine is maximizing that store and having more of that available to utilize. Because how it’s used in normal physiology is anything that’s a short burst of energy, like if you needed to go sprint as hard as you could for 10 seconds that’s using, you know, anaerobic pathway, which first is creatine and then it’s done as glycolysis. So, so creatine is really, you know, we’ve just found an area to exploit in physiology with creatine. And, you know, it really took off in the 90s. And it’s stuck around and nothing fancy is required, like plain old creatine monohydrate is super effective, and it works and it’s great. I think, you know, the basics, I will always harp upon. So, you know, a good form of whey protein is going to help you get enough protein in it’s also a high source of one of the most important amino acids, leucine for starting that process of growing new muscle muscle protein synthesis. So that’s very good. I think you know, caffeine is tried and true. Everybody knows about it. I think what has really blossomed now as the market has expanded and sort of new ingredients have come in is some additional products alongside caffeine, you know, things like Huperzine like cholinergic ingredients Huperzine Silkolene Alpha GPC. And then it’s, I guess, if I was to really refine it down, I’d say certain amino acids are very beneficial certain nonprotein aminos, like creatine, certain amino acids like citrulline things like nitrates, which are in beetroot juice, and you can get supplements for it as well. And then some of those sort of stimulant area ingredients that that work on neurotransmitters are beneficial. There’s, I mean, there’s there’s so many ingredients in the space, it really depends on what purpose you’re talking about. Like, if you said blood glucose regulation, I probably have a whole other list of supplements, but I’d say the basic list is right there of you know, someone’s just getting started in supplements for fitness goals and trying to improve body composition. I start with those ones.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So I have been a vegetarian all my life, right? So I’m assuming my creatine levels are relatively low. So if I start taking that supplement, what can I expect to see maybe like three months, six months down the road? Like what effect do you think it’s going to make for

Ben Esgro  

me? Yeah, so again, I think that’s a that’s an excellent, excellent practically routed question. Because I think most people come in and because marketing exists the way it does, people have completely inappropriate expectations of what they’re gonna get. Now, I think the first preface to that answer is you got to be lifting if you’re expecting to get, you know, the best results from from taking any any type of supplement. If you just took creatine alone, you probably would have a minor change in lean body mass, maybe a pound or so if you lifted and you took creatine long term and you saturated because you’re definitely would not be, you know, you would not have saturated muscle creatine content as a vegetarian because you’re not getting any through your diet from from meat. And I think realistically, you’d probably first notice better, let’s say you already were lifting, you first noticed some improvements in strength and ability to do more reps at certain weights. So that would be the most apparent thing within a couple of weeks. And then over the course of a few months, you’d probably notice, I hate using these terms, because they’re so loosey goosey, but your muscles looking a little fuller, if I was to try to quantify that into into weight gain in terms of muscle weight, or lean tissue weight, I’d say a few pounds. But I mean that that is significant. Because most people like imagine walking through the grocery store and looking at, you know, a pound or a kilo of tissue, that’s a lot of lean tissue. And your body really doesn’t want to do that. So to get that any additional on top of what you get from exercise alone. Is is beneficial. I mean, even anabolic steroids, you know, they can create growth. But it’s I don’t think it’s to the magnitude that the the common person expects, you know, you don’t go from average Joe to Mr. Olympia by using one one round of anabolic steroids, you know what I mean? Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So, final question before we move on to our rapid fire segment. I know in every entrepreneurs journey, there’s always, you know, mistakes, made failures, lessons learned. Can you share maybe in your journey, entrepreneurship journey? Maybe a big failure a big mistake made? And what was the lesson for you? And what can other entrepreneurs learn from it?

Ben Esgro  

I think the biggest one, for me, it’s almost like I’m looking in the mirror saying this, too, is you know, running a business. It’s, it needs Passion, Passion is an important component of sticking in when things get tough. But I think you need to be able to be adaptable to what the customer says they want. And as much as that’s, it’s, it’s your business, and you need to make the business decisions. You can’t be too stubborn in the business, you want wanting the business to be the way you want it to be, you know, you have to find a happy middle ground. And I think, you know, certain things I love to be a certain way, just aren’t that way, like marketing is a requirement, people aren’t just going to knock down the doors, because you’ve built a great formula. If no one ever hears about it, then you haven’t built you can’t build a good business on that. You know, it’s not just about the theoretical. So, you know, I love the Elon Musk model, but the reality is, you know, like, where he says we don’t have a marketing budget, you know, it’s all r&d. I mean, he was a billionaire before he, you know, he started those things, he made a great product and a different sector that does reward, you know, that type of innovation where supplements aren’t that so? I think, yeah, I think you always need to keep stay as humble as you can. Because if not, you’ll be humbled by your business, grumbling. And taking outside input, and not automatically shutting it down, because it hurts. You need to be willing to digest the data and see it, I think, realistically, and neutrally, and make better decisions based upon that, because if you avoid it, either for fear or to emotionally, you’re not going to make great decisions. And I think those are all threats to survivability and sustainability of the business.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So now we’re going to move on to the rapid fire round, and in this round, I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you have to answer them maybe in one word or two words.

Ben Esgro  

I’ll do my best. Okay,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

so the first one is one book recommendation that you would suggest to entrepreneurs or business people in 2022 and why?

Ben Esgro  

I’m gonna give you two. One of them is called the elephant in the brain. I think it’s very fascinating. I already already failed to many. The second one is when we cease to understand the world. They’re not so much business books. But I think they’re very fascinating, especially for anybody who wants to understand things about the human psyche. And when we cease to understand the world, it’s a lot about innovation, scientific innovation, people who have pushed things forward, like Einstein and others. Throughout history,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

an innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce, retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

Ben Esgro  

Oh, that’s tough. That’s real tough. I gotta admit, I’m not an enormous techie.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I mean, you could miss something related to something that you use in your ecommerce or marketing that you find interesting.

Ben Esgro  

I think what’s fascinating is the stuff that Amazon continues to do as a business owner, the way that they are taking over everything like pharma supplements, video games, movies, TV, I think, you know, what, however you feel about Amazon, and, and Bezos, you it’s undeniable. Like that speaks even more if you hate them, but you still have to use them, that speaks even more that they’ve built something unbelievable. So like, if I was going to choose one, like, the fact that Amazon now has a gaming thing that’s on the cloud that you don’t even need a gaming system for, you just need their remote like that blows my mind,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

a business or productivity tool that you would recommend or a productivity tip.

Ben Esgro  

I love Shopify. I think things that keep you better organized are always helpful. So you know, we have a Slack board. It’s not as used as I’d like it to be. But that’s good. And then just utilizing as much, you know, simple technology, like a lot of our communication now what stuff is done through things like zoom or WhatsApp, and using those platforms and social media platforms best you can. I do agree with people like Gary Vee where content is king. I mean, it’s still is and I don’t think that I don’t think that equation is changing anytime soon.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to, or someone who inspires you,

Ben Esgro  

very inspired by Elon Musk, pretty much from from every perspective, and I think his approach is really, if I was to distill it down, like how he discusses taking a first principles approach towards building things, engineering things. That’s very much something that I tried to infuse into our product development as well.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I think Elon Musk is, is wired a little bit differently. Also. He’s also described that I think on the Joe Rogan podcast, so So yeah, he’s he has worked his brain as a little bit different. Best business advice you have ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs. Oh, boy.

Ben Esgro  

I don’t think I have a soundbite or a clip, I think what I can best give people practically is I was encouraged. And this is gonna be another book recommendation, I was encouraged to buy the book, E Myth. And we did a little bit of E Myth coaching. And I think that was very valuable. I think having a business coach can be valuable, especially when you’re in a partnership, because it’s an independent outsider where it doesn’t just become two opinions that can’t reach a resolution. So I think having an arbitrator or a business coach, if you can afford it is great. If not, there’s something called score, which is people who have established successful businesses and they they offer free mentoring for businesses. So I think utilize that. I’m sorry, I don’t have a better answer. But I think at least if I can give, you know, resources for other entrepreneurs, I think those are incredibly valuable.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

No, no, that’s great. And last question, do you believe in luck? And if yes, why?

Ben Esgro  

I do. I wish I had more. Okay, um, I think you can enhance your luck through hard work, for sure. But I do believe in luck, because I’ve seen a lot of people fall into things that seem to defy the laws that are traditionally taught on what will get you success. So I do believe in luck. Perfect.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Well, thank you. Well, that those were all the questions that I had today on my podcast, so really appreciate you sharing your story, your business insights and and helping other entrepreneurs learn and grow also. So thank you so much for joining today at Red Rocks. Would you want to share like if someone wants to buy your products or wants to wants to get in touch with you? How can they do that?

Ben Esgro  

Sure. So first, I’d like to thank you for having me as well. Well, this was this was almost like therapy with some of those questions. I love those questions. They were great. And I think it brings out really good answers and self analysis as well. So yeah, so our website is elemental dot fit. If you do have international listener listeners, we do have a an E website for the EU, which is elemental formulations.eu. A little more of a mouthful. I’m on Instagram, that’s probably where I’m most active at Ben as grow. And then I if I have a purely educational channel on Instagram as well called subside, s u p, p, s. Ci, so supplement science. And that is if people are interested in the science of supplements and how to better think and approach making supplement purchases. I run that just as you know, almost Pay It Forward type thing. So yeah, I’d say those are probably the best channels to reach me get in touch or support us.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Perfect. Thank you. Thank you so much, Ben. Really, really appreciate it. For sure. Let me

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