Startup Q&A is an interview series showcasing health, fitness, and wellness companies.
In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Michael Brandt, co-founder & CEO of H.V.M.N., a metabolic health company known for its drinkable ketone drink Ketone-IQ. Michael discusses optimization through exogenous ketones and how his biohacking mentality toward human performance led to a contract with the US Department of Defense.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at H.V.M.N.?
Michael Brandt: H.V.M.N. is a metabolic health company on a mission to redefine the limits of human performance, metabolism, and longevity.
In 2017, we launched the world’s first drinkable ketone. Since then, we’ve been back in the lab reengineering the product, and earlier this year, we unveiled Ketone-IQ™. It elevates ketone levels with one serving to optimize metabolic health and also has the power to enhance mental clarity and performance.
The ultimate proving ground, in 2019, we received a $6M contract from the US Special Operations Command to continue research into the benefits of exogenous ketones — so, in that sense, it hardly feels fair to compare us to any other ketone drink on the market. The rest are just imitations.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
MB: When we were based in Silicon Valley, I realized that everybody was looking for ways to increase their productivity, and soon I was too.
I tried everything from nootropics to optimizing sleep to tracking my blood glucose with a CGM — you name it, I’ve tried it. Perhaps it’s my instinct as a computer scientist. Trying or testing the latest version of everything around me, including my own body, has always guided my curiosity.
That commitment to self-improvement via experimentation became a core part of our brand philosophy. With a hacker ethos, I wanted to make products that help other people feel awesome — with the benefits backed by science and data.
And when we commercialized the world’s first ketone drink, everything just started rolling from there.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
MB: When we launched H.V.M.N. Ketone 1.0 back in 2017, our first big customer was the US Department of Defense.
Our seed round was led by Andreessen Horowitz. Then, the former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace (ret.), joined as a senior advisor.
We always knew ketones were super efficient, or “a magic molecule,” which is why [co-founder] Geoff Woo and I recruited a world-class team to bring ketones to the market. Gaining the early traction and support from such heavy hitters confirmed to us that we were onto something revolutionary.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
MB: Our mission at H.V.M.N. is to be the leading brand in ketones as a nutritional primitive — akin to collagen, omega-3, CBD, etc.
These other “nutritional” primitives have market sizes ranging from $1–10B+, and we see ketones as having that level of impact or more.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
MB: We believe that everyone can benefit from spending more time with elevated ketone levels. We are all “doing metabolism” all the time.
Our customer is anyone obsessed with ascending to the top of their field, setting a new world record, or simply cultivating a long, happy life.
Many people don’t know what ketones are, so the key challenge to growth is education and building trust. To address this, we’re leaning into channels that activate trusted third parties like PR, affiliates, selected retailers, and athlete partners to help spread the word and validate the effectiveness of Ketone-IQ™.
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
MB: A key focus of ours is to evolve the perception of drinkable ketones; they’re a super-elite sports drink that can be part of regular people’s everyday routine.
The newest iteration of our signature product is one way we’re doing this. Ketone-IQ™ is 66% cheaper than our inaugural Ketone 1.0, making it more accessible to a wider audience. Our goal is to get the most ketone elevation per dollar to our customers.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
MB: We’re constantly working to innovate on our groundbreaking products.
Our goal with the new Ketone-IQ™ version was threefold: First, to produce the best tasting drinkable ketone out there; second, to reduce the cost per serving; third, to improve the efficacy of the beverage.
By investing time in the lab, we’ve hit and surpassed each of these goals. We’ve lowered the price, we’ve improved the taste by removing the harsh ester bond, and we’ve extended the time in ketosis from two to three hours to approximately six hours.
Our commitment to continued improvement doesn’t stop there. Beyond our $6M contract with US Special Operations Command, we’re also supporting research into TBIs, cancer, performance under hypoxia and other stressors, and other therapeutic and performance uses.
Related reading from Fitt Insider:
Issue No. 98: Cashing in on the High-Performance Lifestyle
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