A Startup with Big Backers Has Products to Jumpstart Your Brain

3 min read · 6 years ago



It’s a clever entrepreneur who figures out how to turn his college experiments with mind-altering substances into a viable business. That’s what Stanford computer science and engineering grad and biohacking enthusiast Geoff Woo hopes to do.

Woo is CEO of Nootrobox, an 18-month-old San Francisco-based purveyor of cognition-enhancing compounds sold in “stacks,” such as a “daily nootropic” to enhance clarity and focus that is comprised of an herb, a flowering plant, and a natural choline compound. The company is backed by $2.57 million funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, and Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, as well as 1,500 IndieGogo supporters.

As a biohacker, Woo sees the brain as software that can be improved through constant tweaking. He’s among a growing movement of people who are trying to assess and enhance their own health and abilities through self-experimentation. But he says the field is something of a Wild West, with methods ranging from fasting regimens to ingesting unproven doses of research chemicals and prescription drugs. Biohackers have been known to seek cybernetic implants, stimulate their brains with electrical currents, and inject their own eyeballs with a substance to enable night vision.  

“People are importing bags of chemicals from Alibaba and measuring powders with a drug scale,” Woo says. “It’s something I was interested in, but the lack of legitimacy and protection [prompted] me to deep dive into regulation and controls.” Nootrobox, he says, deals only with ingredients that are generally regarded as safe or acceptable as a dietary supplement compound by the FDA. Compared to injections and implants, its offerings are tame: cognition-enhancing formulations that it claims have been proven safe for long-term use with minimal side-effects.

Within a few days of launching a landing page for presales of its first product, RISE, Woo and his cofounder Michael Brandt got 34 orders. “That gave us the kick in the butt to set up a supply chain and manufacturing,” he says. They packed their first batch of product in Brandt’s living room and rented a Zip car to drive to the post office with their shipments.

Today Nootrobox relies on certified manufacturers in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and the Bay area to move what Woo calls “decent volume to tens of thousands of customers” and rents two warehouses for storing its inventory of RISE, SPRINT, and YAWN bottles. The company is approaching 60,000 presales of its newest product, gummy coffee bites called GO CUBES, scheduled to launch this month.

The long term business proposition for the e-commerce platform? To do for nootropics and biohacking what Airbnb has done for couch-surfing. Though Nootrobox presently offers just four ingestible products, Woo says the company is also collecting data with plans to offer tech tools for optimizing life. For instance, he says, “The way we schedule meetings with a calendar today is arbitrary.” Instead of organizing a business meeting at a time when your energy is typically low, he says, with better insight into your cognitive patterns you could schedule a walk or mood-boosting activity immediately before a meeting.

Woo says the funding that the 6-person company has raised will go into product research, developing self-tracking and other personalization software, and clinical trials. He envisions a possible future in which Nootrobox offers customized stacks based on individual users’ software-assessed needs. “It’s far off, but that’s a mental model of how we see the future. The science is there. Everyone should be taking different stuff. How do we get there, and how do we do it safely and responsibly?”

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