Assume the person you’re talking to knows more than you. Listen to them. Some of the biggest game-changers for me have been because someone else shared their thoughts/criticisms/ideas with me. Being open-minded, I took their words seriously and used them to improve my business. For example, I attended a networking event where someone whose specialty is email marketing. We talked about what I was currently doing and he gave me some constructive criticism. It’s never fun hearing that you suck at something, but I knew in my heart that what I was doing wasn’t good enough. I called him a few days later and he recommended a new email marketing software and some campaign ideas. I signed up for the new software that day and started building out email marketing flows and lead generation ads, per his advice, that immediately started generating more sales and a better ROI.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Curtis, Founder & CEO of NeuRoast. Alex is an entrepreneur with a background in digital marketing for food and health start-ups, who learned he could hack his favorite daily ritual, coffee, with medicinal mushroom extracts to promote longer-lasting energy and clearer focus to keep up with work demands. In 2018, six months after creating his first mushroom coffee blend, Alex brought NeuRoast to the market, using pre-orders promoted on social media to fund the initial round of inventory. Like many start-ups CEOs, Alex is a jack of all trades, directing everything from branding and advertising to operations and R&D.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istarted getting serious about health and fitness at around 17 years old when I got into weightlifting. I went down the sports nutrition rabbit hole, learning how to eat to maximize muscle growth and performance, and along the way learned two really important things that sort of laid the groundwork for what would later be my career. The first being, food is an incredible resource that we can use to optimize our health and performance. The second being, there’s an art to cooking that shouldn’t be overlooked (but often is) when it comes to trying to achieve optimal health.
My academic work in college was a combination of food-service management, nutrition sciences, and physiology. It’s where I learned the basic culinary skills and diet planning techniques that changed the way I look at food.
After college, I was fortunate enough to work with industry-leading start-ups in the meal-kit industry and in the sports nutrition space, which taught me how to build an online store, branding, and digital marketing best practices that all helped me start NeuRoast. I knew I would one day launch a line of products, so during this time, I became a sponge, trying to soak up any bit of advice or direction that I could apply later on.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think the most interesting story that happened to me is my story itself. I realized by the beginning of my senior year of college that I didn’t want to go down the very limited career path that my degree was setting me on. I wanted to work in sports nutrition. The problem was, there weren’t many jobs in the sports nutrition field that called for a Dietitian (or they didn’t pay much).
To break into the world of sports nutrition, I created an Instagram account (Instagram was pretty new at the time) and started sharing my favorite recipes, recipe hacks, fitness advice, and health tips. That caught the eye of a few brands in the sports nutrition space, who I ended up collaborating with. My following started to grow fast and I realized that we were in the very early stages of social media becoming a legitimate career path.
After a few years learning as much as I could about digital marketing and social media marketing, I landed a marketing job for a food company and later, a side-job managing digital marketing campaigns and branding for a sports nutrition company which essentially showed me what I needed to start selling products online.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
NeuRoast offers a unique, long-term way to improve a variety of issues that we encounter all of the time. Whether it’s putting off tasks due to mental cloudiness, skipping gym sessions due to mental exhaustion, or simply not consuming a large enough variety of nutrient-dense foods to support your body’s daily needs like immune system support, our products offer an unexpected solution: medicinal mushroom extracts, disguised as everyone’s favorite daily ritual, coffee.
Americans alone consume over 400 million cups of coffee per day making it the number one consumed beverage in the US by a landslide. In sharp contrast, mushrooms are some of the most nutrient-dense and nutritionally unique foods on Earth but have been historically neglected in the average American’s diet. By adding medicinal mushroom extracts in coffee, I created a way to hack my coffee so the focus and energy benefits last longer, and the less pleasant side effects of caffeine (jitters, anxiety) were diminished. The best part is, you don’t taste the mushrooms. All you taste is artisan-roasted coffee.
It’s sort of like when parents sneak vegetables into their kid’s dinner. They don’t see them or taste them, but they are there.
And as crazy as medicinal mushrooms sound, fungi make up 25% of the Earth’s biomass and many species of mushrooms, including the mushrooms we use in our blends, are used in Eastern and Western Medicine. By bridging the gap between a beverage that’s arguably over-consumed and mushrooms, with significant health benefits, that are typically under-consumed, we’re providing people with a seamless way to optimize their health in a way they already love: drinking coffee.
How do you think this will change the world?
For decades, we’ve got the answer to lack of focus and energy wrong. More and more products are coming out with jacked up caffeine levels and artificial ingredients. It’s like we’re content with sacrificing our long-term health in exchange for the immediate gratification of short-term energy, and we are because there aren’t any better options.
If we can help people perform optimally mentally and physically, they can accomplish more and feel great at the same time. We can be a pillar of support in the lives of people looking to increase their productivity without sacrificing their health simply by hacking their diet with superfoods. I truly think that has the power to change the world.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
The only thing I can think of is if the brain-boosting power of mushroom coffee gets in the wrong hands. How health conscious do you think evil geniuses are?
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The revelation that I could start a superfood-enhanced coffee brand hit me late one night in early January 2018. I couldn’t wait to get into the office, have my morning cup of mushroom coffee because I always felt incredible after (and because I love coffee but it was too late to enjoy a cup at that time).
It sort of hit me all at once. I was drinking 50% less coffee than usual, but my productivity skyrocketed. I was more present in my workouts and at home. My brain didn’t feel foggy in the afternoon anymore and I was sleeping great every night. The ONLY thing I started doing differently was adding these medicinal mushroom extracts to morning and afternoon coffee.
I decided I wanted to test the waters and see if this is something that anybody else would be interested in. If it went well, I promised myself I would go all in.
By the end of January, three weeks after I had this idea, I launched NeuRoast with a friend from college and it started to take off faster than I expected.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
There are a fair number of hurdles to jump in regards to growing a mushroom coffee company. Just tell someone you’re drinking mushroom coffee and watch the expression change on their face. Working with influencers and popular brands on social media has helped us tremendously in terms of gaining people’s trust. When someone you follow (and trust) says “Hey, I tried this crazy thing called mushroom coffee and LOVED it”, it sparks conversation and people get super interested.
I’ve centered the branding of the company on indulgent coffee shop-inspired drinks with enormous health benefits versus our competitors, who tend to steer hard in the direction of mushroom education and leave coffee as a secondary or tertiary focus.
To me, it comes down to making the product attractive on a packaging level, then, making sure it tastes and smells incredible, and of course, sourcing the highest quality ingredients possible to ensure it works.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Be more prepared for success and less afraid of failure
Throughout the process of growing a business from scratch, I’ve been hedging my bets and preparing for doomsday scenarios. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want to keep yourself out of hot water but you need to also be prepared for the problems that come along with success like managing cash flow, staying ahead of inventory, and preparing for tons of incoming messages from customers every day. Being prepared for success is just as important as being prepared for failure.
2. Automate what you don’t have time for (or aren’t good at).
You can’t do everything and even if you think you can, you probably won’t do it as well as someone who specializes in that thing and can dedicate their time to it. Get it off of your plate and put it in the hands of someone competent. For me, this started by hiring an accountant to get our books in order. I could have done it myself but it would have taken 10 times longer and I wouldn’t have been fully confident that it was done right. Now, I have a team that handles logistics, copywriting, PR, photography, etc. and I was doing these things by myself when we started.
3. Sometimes the opportunity comes to you, but usually, it doesn’t. Take action quickly.
Things never change if things never change. Take action and don’t wait for opportunities to fall in your lap. Get yourself and your brand out there. Make the opportunities come to you. Seek them out. Sometimes, patience turns into complacency and if you aren’t at the right place at the right time, you’re going to get overlooked.
4. Keep the people working with/for you motivated.
When people like you they don’t want to let you down. When you empower them, put your trust in them, and reward them, they’ll be motivated to keep working with you.
Try to understand what their endgame is too. Why are they freelancing for you? Why are they working on a Saturday morning when they could be binge-watching shows on Netflix? Sometimes, it’s because they’re saving money for an engagement ring or to pay their grandma’s rent.
When people open up and tell me what they’re doing it for, I’m even more motivated to help them achieve their goals while I try to achieve mine.
They’re helping you grow your business, after all. Take care of them.
5. Assume the person you’re talking to knows more than you. Listen to them.
Some of the biggest game-changers for me have been because someone else shared their thoughts/criticisms/ideas with me. Being open-minded, I took their words seriously and used them to improve my business.
For example, I attended a networking event where someone whose specialty is email marketing. We talked about what I was currently doing and he gave me some constructive criticism. It’s never fun hearing that you suck at something, but I knew in my heart that what I was doing wasn’t good enough.
I called him a few days later and he recommended a new email marketing software and some campaign ideas. I signed up for the new software that day and started building out email marketing flows and lead generation ads, per his advice, that immediately started generating more sales and a better ROI.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
a) Start by looking at jobs you might want in the future, preferably a few levels above your current pay grade. Look through those job postings and take note of what employers are looking for in order to find out exactly what you need to meet their criteria. That should give you a few years to hone the skills you’ll need to be competitive when the time comes to apply for that job.
b) That said, I think it’s even more important to “future proof” your life. Build the foundation of your financial house so you can withstand a few months of financial insecurity if some bad luck comes your way. Auto-deposit 10–15% of your paycheck into a retirement account until it can generate enough passive income to offset your expenses and grant you financial freedom in the future. Put “future you” in a strong financial position.
You can do a and b simultaneously.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
We’re still a young start-up so that million dollars would go a very long way and would help us build a strong foundation for our core business. Once that’s taken care of, we would be able to invest in some of the new product ideas I’ve been mulling around including eco-friendly pods, cold brew bottles, and a handful of other ideas I can’t share at the moment.
Another thing I would want to invest in is content. Content creation is a personal passion of mine and it’s probably the single best way to grow a community around your brand when done right.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
“We each have two lives, and the second one begins when we realize we only have one.”
It’s a good reminder that whatever your idea is, start NOW. It’s time to let go of insecurities and toxic relationships. Stop wasting time on things that aren’t making you happy, say “no” to things that won’t bring you happiness, be more present at home, and spread some more love. Every day counts.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
- “Treat yourself like someone you’re responsible for helping.”
Take ownership of your happiness and set yourself up for success financially, physically, and emotionally. Get yourself together so you’ll be strong enough to help your friends and family when they need you.
2. To find the solution, reverse-engineer the problem.
Let’s say you want to make $10k per month. Ask yourself, what would that look like? Well, if you sell your product for $50, you would divide $10,000 by $50 to find the number of units you have to sell each month to reach $10k sales. In this case, it would be 200 units. Then, you might ask yourself how many you would have to sell per day. You keep doing this so you know what you have to do, at least on a macro level, to reach your goals. Maybe you bundle two units together for $75 to increase your average order size and decrease the number of orders you need to reach $10k.
3. Embrace an abundance mentality.
If someone else’s success doesn’t immediately bring you joy for them and hope for yourself, you’re doing it wrong. I don’t care what advantages they may have had and I don’t question if they deserve their success. I’m happy for them because I want success for myself. We can all win.
4. Have faith that things will work out
When in doubt, have faith that things will work out. It’s the only thing that’s going to get you through the rough days, and there will be rough days. Then, when things work out, you can juggle gratitude and introspection, asking yourself what made it work out and what could have caused the alternative to happen.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
At NeuRoast, we believe we can help people achieve optimal health simply by putting a superfood twist on the foods (and drinks) we consume every day, like coffee. We do it like no one else on the market — by infusing medicinal mushroom extracts, used in Eastern Medicine for centuries, with indulgent coffee shop-inspired products.
The result: a superfood coffee that promotes better focus, longer-lasting energy, and a blast of antioxidants for long-term wellbeing, all while naturally cutting the caffeine content and acidity found in regular coffee that can lead to unfavorable side effects.
Come see how we’re turning coffee haters into coffee snobs and coffee lovers into mushroom coffee fanatics!