If none of what’s in the above headline makes sense, you probably haven’t been following the biohacking trend for the last couple of years. But Silicon Valley is brimming with tech execs trying to become faster, stronger and smarter by “hacking” their genetic code through various experimental methods called biohacks.
These would be the people drinking buttered coffee, taking cold showers and not eating every other day — not because of some psychological disorder but because they believe caloric restriction will turn on certain genes to help them live longer.
HVMN (formerly Nootrobox and pronounced “human”) has been peddling a form of biohacking with something called nootropic supplements since its launch in 2014. These supplements are meant to help the brain become more productive. Sort of. Think the movie “Limitless” where Bradley Cooper takes a pill that makes him become the smartest man alive. Does it work? Maybe (you don’t gain magical smartest-man-alive powers, but it might help you focus). And there’s some debate on safety right now, depending on the ingredients. But the pills HVMN sells seem to be FDA OK so far.
The startup now wants to go deeper into the matrix by offering more biohacking products and felt a name fitting the change was appropriate.
“The way we talk about the space is we consider the human body is the next platform,” says co-founder Geoffrey Woo. “Renaming our company HVMN is really reflective of that, it’s like a human 2.0.”
His company will start to develop both metabolic performance products and products to do what he calls “closing the loop.” It’s not clear what he intends to do by that as he didn’t want to name any specific products just yet. However, Woo did mention a lot of experiments with sensors.
HVMN’s team of 12, including the two co-founders, also will be experimenting with various methods and utilizing these sensors to get ideas of what to put out in the market next.
Employees already participate in up to 60 hours of intermittent fasting every week. Some start to fast on Sunday, breaking Tuesday evening, while others skip meals on Monday, breaking bread with the team the following work day. Woo and his partner Michael Brandt were actually fasting as they spoke to me over the phone about the changes to their company going forward.
“You really start to see benefits beyond 20 hours,” Brandt explained. “You can track your biomarkers from the things Geoff has mentioned. And it’s manageable. I’ve been fasting every week for a year and a half.”
You can’t sell fasting as a product, of course, but you can sell the biohacker lifestyle through books, podcasts and other methods like Tim Ferris and Dave Asprey from Bulletproof have done. Asprey, for instance, sells his own brand of specialized coffee and other products he promotes through various online channels.
So far HVMN has created a brand around its special pills, but it’s hard to tell right now what the name change and addition of other products will do for the company. The biohacker space is not low on gurus touting their methods, and HVMN may not be able to rise above the din.
There’s also a snake oil stigma attached to the industry, often overlooked by the FDA. The various pills, oils (and coffees) out on the market can get expensive, and a lot of the claims out there need regular Snopes checks to protect consumers from getting suckered.
HVMN says it’s doubling down on internal research and has just hired former rowing world champion Dr. Brianna Stubbs to lead in those efforts.
“We see the opportunity here that we think our express goal is to make everyone a biohacker in the same sense that Nike says everyone is an athlete,” Woo told TechCrunch. “This is the next natural trend and everyone is going to be a biohacker.”