Michael Brandt wanted to “bio-hack” his health. And that’s where his entrepreneurial journey began. He went down a rabbit-hole of research, examining the drivers of performance, cognition, and recovery and discovered nootropics—a class of “smart drugs” that allegedly boost brain performance. In 2014, alongside his co-founder Geoffrey Woo, he started Nootrobox. The company sold nootropics blends with ingredients like ashwagandha and L-Theanine, appearing on Shark Tank and in outlets like The Wall Street Journal. But that first business was just a precursor of what was to come.
Their continued research soon introduced them to ketones—a naturally occurring compound in the body produced when following a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet or during periods of intermittent or prolonged fasting. They discovered the compound’s ability to enhance performance and focus and asked themselves this question: “Why can't you just go drink a ketone?”
Michael and Geoffrey followed this curiosity and expanded beyond nootropics, rebranding the name from Nootrobox to HVMN (short for Health Via Modern Nutrition) in 2017. Its premier product is Ketone-IQ™, a daily ketone supplement drink that promises drinkers heightened energy, focus, and endurance. Once a niche supplement for fellow bio-hackers to purchase online, the company is taking Ketone-IQ™ to broader heights, pursuing placement on store shelves and promoting the value of ketones more widely.
On this episode of the Shopify Masters podcast, we sat down with Michael Brandt to discuss HVMN’s growth strategy, including perfecting their market positioning, brokering partnerships that pay off, and educating customers through marketing.
Perfect your positioning through messaging, customer feedback, and pricing strategy
Michael half-jokes that the first version of Ketone-IQ™ was “extremely expensive,” “extremely technical,” and “tasted like a research chemical.” But this early iteration of their product, and the positioning and pricing strategy that accompanied it, was fine for early adopters of the ketone ester drink—Iron Man athletes and elite operators.
Since then, HVMN has sought to improve its product, bring down its price, and revise its positioning. Version one of its ketone drinks was launched in 2017, while version two was released in 2022. They’ve also iterated on messaging, helping potential customers understand the value of ketones more quickly, without wading through research papers. “For reaching a bigger audience…your audience gets an order of magnitude larger and your story has to get an order of magnitude simpler,” says Michael.
Here’s how Michael and his team have worked on getting their market positioning right:
- Create “category entry point” messaging: Michael suggests that building a ritual around your product is key for product messaging, also known as a category entry point—KitKats are enjoyed on coffee breaks while Corona beer is sipped on the beach.The category entry point for Ketone-IQ™, is having them first thing in the morning to start the day strong. “We want to be part of that moment in people's day,” says Michael. “So then we develop all of our onboarding, all of our creative messaging, all of that packs into that.”
- Solicit feedback from super customers and churned buyers: HVMN speaks to its top promoters to learn how to make them happier and acquire more super customers. They also prioritize speaking to one-off customers, who can be harder to find. Michael recommends incentivizing these conversations with future discounts or gift cards. By asking the right questions, these conversations can help entrepreneurs see patterns they can apply to win over customers.
- Get your pricing right by considering your LTV: The lowest price point for Ketone-IQ™ is $120 for 30 servings. While relatively high, it’s lower than the cost of their initial formulation, a price that biohacking enthusiasts are willing to pay, and is a figure they arrived at through data-driven analysis. That set price point also factors in their financials, acquisition, and free US shipping for orders over $50. “Could we convert more if we chopped the price in half? Yes. But I don't think we'd be converting twice as much,” says Michael.
Broker useful partnerships with company-aligned partners
With a novel product like Ketone-IQ™, winning over customers requires trust. “It's a lot of relationship building,” says Michael on the partnership strategy HVMN has used to grow the reach of their product. “Just buying straight ads on social media is not the way for us, that's maybe a small sliver of what we do.”
Instead, they’ve partnered with health coaches, doctor's offices, weight loss clinics, and subject matter experts with reach. They’re also pursuing partnerships with companies that have a similarly health-conscious customer base. More recently, they’re in-talks with retailers about carrying Ketone-IQ™ on store shelves.
Here are some tips that HVMN has used to build partnerships that pay off:
- Find value-aligned partners: Michael and his team have worked to inspire confidence in their products by partnering with researchers, athletes, and medical professionals that can speak authoritatively about both the science behind Ketone-IQ™ and its effects on performance.
- Prove yourself with data: Having been on Shopify since launch, HVMN has an endless pool of data about its sales and performance. They’ve used this information when going into talks about partnerships with retailers who are less familiar with ketone products.
- Deliver on your partnership terms: HVMN’s first partner was an unlikely one—the U.S. Department of Defense, who had done their own research into ketones. After signing a multi-million dollar government contract to deliver the drink to the agency, Michael and his team got to work on bringing the product to life, which required breaking down the project into discrete deliverables and staffing each component of the project appropriately.
Educate potential customers through a multi-pronged marketing strategy:
“Ninety-seven percent of people I meet in real life ask, ‘What the heck is a ketone? Why is this for me?’” says Michael.
HVMN has a strong marketing presence across the web, building out multiple marketing channels for educating customers about ketones. That includes their blog, library, podcast, YouTube channel and social presence across platforms including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. These channels serve to build trust, dispense education, and provide social proof.
Here’s Michael’s advice on building an audience across the internet to educate consumers:
- Start building an audience before you need one. “You can build up a following, a community, a content base, before you even start a company, before you even know what company you want to start. You'd rather be in a spot where you have 25,000 followers, and then you figure it out, you test out a few different concepts and you see what resonates with your community. You'd rather be in that spot than have the “perfect” product and, and no one's around to sell it to.”
- Be the first on emerging social media platforms: “People were not talking super seriously about TikTok, that's come up in the last couple of years. Right now…instead of focusing on SEO or email lists or a podcast—[which] I think those are all really solid pillars of a good content strategy…look at the new frontier. There's always Gold in being new on a new platform, provided that that platform continues to grow really well.”
- Experiment with new facets of existing platforms: “Instagram is really leaning into reels right now, that specific format within Instagram. Or LinkedIn launches a new thing, or Twitter launches a new format. Find a new surface area. If you can be one of the top people on that new surface area, you're going to get a lot. All ships are going to rise and you're gonna rise with the tide of that platform or that feature within a platform growing.”
Building a growth strategy is just one subject covered in this week’s Shopify Masters episode with Michael Brandt. Tune in to learn more about the following topics:
- The right questions to ask in customer feedback sessions to inform product development and positioning.
- Building a waiting list of 33K email subscribers before launching their second iteration of Ketone-IQ™.
- The process behind productizing a technological breakthrough.
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