One of the core H.V.M.N. philosophies is that humans are a system. Approaching the human system in a systematic, holistic manner allows us to fully optimize our outputs. Tom Bilyeu, co-founder of Quest Nutrition, which was ranked #2 on the Inc 500 fastest growing companies list, has his own experience realizing and pursuing this philosophy of body and mind empowerment.
Geoffrey Woo: Welcome to this week's episode of the H.V.M.N. Enhancement Podcast. This is your host Geoffrey Woo and I'm really, really excited to have our guest today. His name is Tom Bilyeu, and you've probably eaten his bars before. So he's the co-founder of Quest Nutrition and he's also the co-founder and CEO of Impact Theory, incubator/content platform. I think we have an interesting alliance around the topics that we're interest in exploring. So we're really excited to have this conversation.
Tom Bilyeu: Really excited to be here man. Thank for having me on.
Geoffrey Woo: Absolutely. So Quest Bars, I remember growing up as a kid and ... I guess in the big scope of things they're relatively recent company. I guess it was found in 2010, but I remember eating Power Bars and some of these other competitors as a kid and then suddenly it just became Quest Bars. I'm just curious so rewind and start from there perhaps as a way to kick off the conversation. IT sounds like you guys have built something that is really sort of the definition of what I would say is a nutrition product with Quest. What was your journey there?
Tom Bilyeu: One, it's yeah pretty cool the way that it didn't exist, and then it came out of nowhere. Or at least that certainly what it seemed like to everybody else. To us, it was a lot of hard work that went into making it happen. But it really was about creating something that didn't exist, and we wanted to have a 0 to 1 moment as Peter Thiel calls it where we went into a crowded category but we said what hasn't anybody done before, and nobody had really made a bar that tasted like it had sugar but didn't.
Geoffrey Woo: Right.
Tom Bilyeu: And that became our calling card and unbeknownst to us as to why nobody had done it, it was because the equipment that allowed you to manufacture a bar that didn't have a liquid sugar in it didn't exist. So we had to go about engineering our own equipment and really rethinking the entire process and doing things very differently and that allowed us to get a pretty big jump on the competition and it was how we were able to take the space by storm, even though people thought we were crazy when we went into it 'cause there was so much competition and the category had been declining for years. And so to come in and do that you really have to do something completely new. So not only was the product new, not only was our process new, but the way that we were marketing was new and so we were using social media before that was really a thing for businesses. In fact, in 2009 when we first started conceptualizing the company, everyone was debating whether social media was just a huge distraction. And then quite frankly, nobody was calling it social media. It was just Facebook. Really rethinking how that could be used to build community ended up being a really big win for us.
Geoffrey Woo: Yeah, no I think that was interesting was that you guys were definitely ahead of the curve around the ketogenic diets, low carb. Now, especially in Silicon Valley where we're based in San Francisco, every third person is experimenting with the ketogenic diet or low carb diet. Yeah, 7, 10 years ago, it was definitely at the peak of the low fats craze perhaps and it was just interesting ... I mean I think you just look at the pattern of Atkins diet versus whole foods diet, I mean you see cycles in nutrition, but it seems that more and more data today suggests that there is an interesting underlying change or understanding of nutrition science around ketogenic friendly, or low carb friendly diets. I'm just curious from your perspective, yeah it probably did seem insane that nutrition bar or protein category is crowded, but from a different lens, you also just created a new category in some ways. Right? Like a very low net carb product.
Tom Bilyeu: Yes, interesting. So I'll differentiate between low carb which I feel like was really understood int he bodybuilding circle and that's where we went out and we happened to hit it right where we were ahead of the trend as it was moving into mainstream consciousness. So the timing there was just exquisite. It really, really worked out for us, and I wish I could say that we did that on purpose. The truth is, we were just trying to make a bar that we wanted to eat. So that's low carb. A lot of mindshare around that as were coming into the space and that's why we were able to ride that wave. But the ketogenics on the other hand, when we started the company, we didn't know about ketogenics. We weren't fat guys. In fact, I and speaking for myself, I was very much a low fat guy. SO I was low carb, low fat ...
Geoffrey Woo: High protein.
Tom Bilyeu: ... which means that basically ...
Geoffrey Woo: You just ate protein.
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, super high protein. Exactly. Basically living in a state of rabid starvation if you've ever heard that phrase before where trappers in the winter would be eating, but the rabbit that they were catching was so lean they'd actually starve to death which is pretty weird 'cause you think how am I starving? I'm eating, but you're not getting the fat your body needs in order to have cellular integrity. So it becomes literally a death sentence. And I was like always walking this really fine line because I thought fat was gonna make me fat like pretty much everybody else. It really wasn't until these two guys, one of who ... Both really have just become synonymous with ketogenics and that's Dominic D'Agostino and Peter Attia. Came into the office and had a sit down with my partner who was in charge of the nutrition side of the business and I come in later and he's like, "We're a high fat company now." And I'm like, "What are you talking about? This is crazy." He's like, "No, it's really interesting. We've gotta research and learn about this." And so we did end up getting into ketogenics much earlier than other people, but I spent a lot of years of my life avoiding fat, much to my dismay.
Geoffrey Woo: Yeah isn't that interesting. I guess from your perspective, seeing and perhaps I think really just ... I think pushing the low carb story. Does this feel different than any other diet fad. I mean I think we get questions here. Oh is ketogenic diet, is that just another fad? Is this like an Atkins diet? Is this like the juice cleanse? You know what I mean? I think it's like yes you can look at historical past and see there's like these different waves. Obviously from our perspective, looking deep into the science it seems that there is a fundamental understanding that's different than a fad cleanse or a fad diet. I'm curious from your perspective as someone who's gone through and seen a couple of these fads, is there a distinction? Do you think there's a distinction?
Tom Bilyeu: Well, so it really comes down to how you define fad because I think from a sales perspective, I think ketogenics is gonna be a fad and I think it's gonna go through a pretty fascinating cycle where right now, we're on this uptick, huge high. But I think a lot of money is gonna be made in moving early on ketogenics, and then I think like the low carb craze I think it's gonna crater out and then ... And the reason it's gonna crater out by the way is people are gonna get fat doing it. And the reason they're gonna get fat is ketogenics is about what you don't eat as much as what you do eat. And so I think people don't understand that and we joked at Quest about creating a shirt that says ketogenics, you're doing it wrong. Because we did it wrong. Right?
As you learn about this, you don't even really understand it and so you're making it additive. You're adding fat to your diet rather than adding fat and stripping away carbohydrate and protein. And that's where people get really confused is they don't understand that a ketogenic diet has moderate, to say the least, or adequate protein. And that's a really important part because gluconeogenesis, if you're still a sugar burner, if you're still burning glucose, and you dump a bunch of fat into the system, then chances are that you won't see the benefits 'cause you won't go into ketosis, A, and B, if you're not in ketosis, then you're not metabolizing the fat, and you're probably not getting the fat loss that you wanted.
Geoffrey Woo: Right, it's backfired.
Tom Bilyeu: Right. It's very tricky. Now, I think in the long run ketogenics wins because it's real, and so you're talking about that there seems to be some underlying science. And I would say definitely there's underlying science, and when people do it right, when they do virtually no carbohydrate, moderate levels of protein and then high fat, if they get into ketosis, then your relationship to hunger changes and that I think is one of the biggest wins. Forget all the knock on health consequences which I think are very positive to a ketogenic diet. Forget about the potential implications with anti cancer benefits, and all of that stuff. Even forget just the anti inflammatory properties which I can say change my life. Forget all of that. The way that it changes your hunger is so amazing. It becomes much easier to eat a lower calorie diet which then allows you to burn fat without the cognitive decline. So because of that, I think you're gonna see this trend over time where ketogenics really takes off, but I think that's like a 10 year horizon. So anybody that can survive the inevitable down-
Geoffrey Woo: The spike and crash of any hype cycle.
Tom Bilyeu: Right. Exactly.
Geoffrey Woo: No I think you pick up a good point around ... You probably doing a ketogenic diet wrong. 'Cause I think just even in our office we have people that ate keto, and we're like, "Hey, let's test your blood ketone levels. Let's finger prick you." Then it's like, Hey, your blood is 0.5 mmol ketones." You're likely not doing it not that well. Right? And I think it is like ... And then you ask people what they eat. They're like, "Oh I eat a lot of meats or pork shoulder or something." It is kind of a fattier protein but you're still eating a lot of protein. And I think to properly do it, yes. I'm curious, what were you eating, were you measuring? How rigorous were you measuring to make sure you're doing it properly? Like what was your personal injury into the ketogenic diet?
Tom Bilyeu: My personal journey was pretty weird. I don't recommend that people do it the way that I did it. The way that the ketogenic diet was introduced to me as anti cancer. And so I was like whoa. Even if this ends up not being true, I just wanna try it. The potential upside is so massive that let me give this a shot. So I went into a therapeutic protocol where I was eating 4 to 1. So I don't know how much you talk about ketogenics int he podcast, but for anybody that doesn't know, so for every combined gram of protein and carbohydrate, I was eating 4 grams of fat. So if I hate half a gram of a carb and half a grab of protein, I'm eating 4 grams of fat. I mean it was crazy. It was so miserable and I had what they call keto flu, so I felt terrible 'cause I didn't know how to supplement properly. It was just an absolute number.
Geoffrey Woo: I mean 80% fat from diet. Were you eating sticks of butter, oil ... What were you doing-
Tom Bilyeu: Close.
Geoffrey Woo: ... to hit that?
Tom Bilyeu: A lot of oil, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and then also so on top of all of that, so your meals obviously are ridiculously small. I was suppressing the life out of my calories. So I was eating about 1000 to 1200 calories a day. 'Cause in a therapeutic protocol, at least the one that I was doing, you need a certain ratio between your ketones, which I was trying to keep above three, and your blood glucose. So to get that ratio which now, 'cause this was years ago but I don't remember the exact ratio anymore, but it was crazy. I felt so gross, and I was just starving to death. Everyone was like, "Oh it changes your relationship to hunger. It's amazing." I was like, "Lies. This is horrible and hateful in every conceivable way."
But there was one thing that was so noticeable that it really gave me hope and that was I had struggled with inflammation problems for 15 years. For 15 years, I couldn't play video games which I love by the way. I could not play video games. I had to ice my wrists every night just to be able to continue to workout in the gym. It was crazy. I couldn't press heavy. Nothing. It was an absolute nightmare. And in about three days on a four to one ketogenic diet, my wrist felt perfect. It was so noticeable, I was like this is a drug like effect. I feel like I'm taking some sort of antiinflammatory medication. It was that rapid and that profound.
So I was like, "Hey, there's something here." But I stuck to the anti cancer therapeutic protocol for three weeks. Started with a 732 hour water only fast. There was just so much emotional misery tied up in it that I didn't go ketogenic properly for another year after that. But I stayed high fat and I was like, "Wow, this is really ... Even though now I'm just high fat, I'm not actually ina ketogenic state as measured with my blood." I still thought okay high fat is transformative. It's totally changed my life. So then a year later, everyone was heckling me at Quest and they're like, "Dude, you just did it wrong. You don't need to be 4 to 1, go 2 to 1, try it. And so after we started developing our own stuff, I thought alright I really need to try this again, and started doing 2 to 1 ketogenic and I did that for nine months because it felt so good, cognitively, anti inflammatory. My relationship to hunger really did change. It was just incredible, but I was losing muscle mass.
And so, finally I was like okay I need to do something different. This feels good but my muscles don't feel good, and so I started cycling. So I'd go ketogenic for a week, then high protein, back and forth, back and forth. That's been my journey.
Geoffrey Woo: Yeah, that's interesting. I feel like a cyclical ketogenic diet seems to be more and more ... in our experience to be sort of like the best of both worlds. Right? Like a ketogenic diet is good for certain things but in terms of anaerobic heavy lifting, building high amounts of lean muscle tissue, maybe not necessarily optimal because you want insulin, you want carbs to be repleting and building muscle mass. I think that tends to be where a lot of people end up landing where you start off going super hard into keto, and then you start seeing really god results, and then as sort of the initial gains attenuate out, it's like what is a sustainable thing I can do for the rest of my life. And I think for myself, I do a lot of intermittent fasting, so I'll do a 24, 36 hr fast. I mean I'm curious like a lot of people that eat keto have experimented with fasting as well. I mean you said you did a 72 hour water fast. Do you typically do a lot of fasts, incorporate that into your daily schedule, or weekly schedule, or is that something that you just do on and off?
Tom Bilyeu: So I do at least once a year I do a 72 hour water only fast, and then not every time I go into a keto cycle do I do intermittent fasting but most. And so I'll do 16 hours typically, sometimes a little bit more. If I'm traveling there are times where I'll accidentally do a 24 hour fast just 'cause I can't get the right macros and as you know, when you're really like let's say north of 1 or 1.5 ketones, you're just not that hungry. It's really manageable. You may still experience hunger, but you don't experience the cognitive decline. You don't have a loss of energy. So it's like not eating something if the thing that you would have to eat isn't right becomes pretty easy. So that has been just a huge, huge win. So I do that quite frequently. And the fat loss when you're doing intermittent fasting is amazing.
Geoffrey Woo: Yeah, absolutely. I'm curious from your therapeutic ketosis protocol, was that based on Thomas Seyfried's work? We had him on our podcast. I'm just curious where did that protocol come from? 'Cause I would say that Dom D'Agostino, Tom Siegfried are pretty big into the anti cancer research into ketones. I'm just curious where did that come from?
Tom Bilyeu: At the time, we were definitely way more in tune with Dominic, and since then ... So I've never really dove deep on Siegfried, so Seyfried, but my partner who's like way, way, way into this. He did big time and they know ... So I'm not at Quest on a day-to-day basis anymore, but I know that they work with all the guys int he ketogenic world and they put on a whole conference around how nutrition can be used therapeutically and so they've really dove deep and had him come as a speaker and all that. But for me, it was driven by Dominic and the things that he had been saying and ways that we had been internalizing ourselves at Quest and trying our own protocols. We went pretty heavy on the anti cancer angle with dogs, and were really looking at that [crosstalk 00:17:07].
Geoffrey Woo: The keto pet? The keto pet?
Tom Bilyeu: Exactly. Keto pet sanctuary and really looking at what the implications were there which is really intriguing. And then we were beginning to do things with hospitals and cancer patients and humans which was really, really interesting, and directionally, really fascinating. And I'm really curious to see how far they take that and what that looks like in a couple of years 'cause it's pretty encouraging.
Geoffrey Woo: No, it's interesting. I mean I'm curious like I think my journey into the ketosis space was essentially from fasting, to the diet, to now looking at exogenous ketones. I'm curious as you were exploring and optimizing your own protocol, did you experiment with ketone salts, ketone esters? Sounds like obviously MCT oils, some of the ketone precursors ... Curious about your journeys or experience there as well.
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah. We did. So we were doing ... Or I was supplementing with some exogenous ketones when I was in the therapeutic phase. I hated it. It tastes so nasty. Also, I didn't like the way that it made me feel to be honest, but that may have been just 'cause I was so hardcore. It's four to one plus taking exogenous ketones, having the keto flu. It was just a horrendous way ...
Geoffrey Woo: Too many variables. Yeah.
Tom Bilyeu: All user error. Like I will be the first to admit this. This is all user error. But since then because I have such an easy time now getting into ketosis nutritionally, I have been supplemented with exogenous ketones.
Geoffrey Woo: Interesting. Yeah I mean I think there's a lot of confusion out there in terms of can I just replace endogenous ketones with exogenous ketones. And it's like well no there's pretty separate mechanisms, so it was interesting to ... Yeah, I mean I think one could theoretically bridge and sort of remove the keto flu or keto adaptation period by having exogenous ketones, but you're doing a complete different metabolic pathways. You're not breaking down your fat to produce ketones. You're eating ketones directly essentially. Obviously Quest Nutrition was a big part of your professional career and now you're running Impact Theory which seems to be a very innovative ... And again, a very interesting combination of like a incubation platform as well as like a content platform. What was the genesis? What was the reasoning behind Impact Theory?
Tom Bilyeu: So working at Quest and starting that, it really was a reaction to having been chasing money at that time for nearly a decade, and realizing I was living the cliché of money can't buy happiness. And so I was making more money than I had ever made. On paper, I was quite wealthy and I just thought I'm so unhappy. This is ridiculous. This is back when we owned a software company. And so we decided that ... Long story short, I went and quit and said I can't do this anymore. I'm miserable. I need to go do something that makes me feel alive and my partners ended up agreeing and they didn't wanna do it anymore either and so we decided that we were gonna sell that company and start something that was all about value creation. It was about building community. It was about just being humanity plus.
So that company of course ends up being Quest Nutrition and goes on to just be amazingly successful, and I think largely because we stopped saying what's gonna be more profitable, and we stared asking what's gonna add more value to people's lives. And so that simple reframe just has echoed through my life in a huge way. And I've worked in the inner cities a lot starting when I was 18 years old, and going through Quest, and hiring hundreds and hundreds of people that grew up in the inner cities. Seeing how it impacts their way of thinking, I realized if I really wanted to help people at scale, it wasn't enough just to address the pandemic of the body, I had to address the pandemic of the mind. Trying to get Quest as a brand to be flexible enough to deal with both sides was proving to be very difficult and was clearly going to be a very expensive endeavor.
So we had built a studio inside Quest to create all of this content and I just ended up spinning that out into a standalone company which is Impact Theory which is literally my theory on how to impact people at a mindset level in order to help them really achieve what they want to achieve in life. And so I'm a huge believer that there's a symbiotic relationship and just so much connective tissue, if you will, I don't mean that literally, but connective tissue between the brain and the body where there really isn't a separation. Right? It's an ecosystem.
So if you think of the human as a super organism that is the microbiota in your gut, it's everything that lives on your skin, it's all of your organs working in conjunction with each other, it's mitochondria ... Too much we're trying to separate the two and when people start talking about the mind they get very"woo woo", and so it's like I wanted to really bring the two back together. And so we're creating a lot of content at Impact Theory and we're working with companies. The company that I'm working with right now is a medical device company which is fascinating. I have no idea if it's gonna end up being real or not, but it's just too interesting not to really explore. It's a company called MODIUS Health. They're looking at vestibular stimulation and whether or not that has what seemed to be potentially profound implications in terms of fat storage for sure but I think that it also has pretty big implications with anxiety and depression as well.
Geoffrey Woo: Vestibular, so in the inner ear?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, so you can stimulate it right behind the ear. The nerve actually comes just below the surface there. And so you can stimulate it with a noninvasive device. On paper, it works. It's just that there's always a huge difference between on paper and in reality. They did a Indiegogo account and it ended up ... They were trying to raise 50,000 dollars and they had to turn it off at one 1.5 million.
Geoffrey Woo: Wow.
Tom Bilyeu: And it's just crazy. Right? So but you know. When you're talking about fat loss, and you're saying, "Hey this device that you wear in your head, it's gonna do it for you." But they're very realistic and they told everybody, "First of all, we have a money back guarantee 'cause we don't know if this is gonna work. Here's what we see on paper. Try it and give us feedback. That's really what we're looking for." So far the feedback's really been directionally encouraging, and I think what we're ultimately gonna find there is people that are over a certain ... And I hate to use BMI but I don't know if it's gonna break it just overweight of it's gonna break it obesity, like where that is. But for me, marginal difference I would say to like I'm in the placebo range. So I use it but I don't actually know if it's doing anything for me. We have other people that are overweight to morbidly obese and they're noticing pretty big swings positively, which is incredible. So just trying to get enough data to see if that's real.
But so now combine that with, if you ask me what's the stated mission of Impact Theory, the answer is to pull people out of the matrix. To build traditional content studio that rivals Disney. So we're into comic books, TV shows, movies, like that's what we're trying to do because when I think about real holistic health, it has everything to do with optimizing the body and it has to do with optimizing the mind. And I think the only way to influence that at scale on the global scale is to influence belief system and the only way to do that's through narrative. So that's why we're doing companies, incubating companies that are health focused but then also addressing that belief system through content.
Geoffrey Woo: I mean it's spot changing culture. That's what you're doing. You're defining a new culture for I think is ... It's a very ambitious and cool goal, an aspirational goal. I think in some ways when we talk about fasting, we talk about that as breaking the culture of eating three meals a day, plus snacks, plus happy hour. It's interesting that ... I'm curious for your roadmap there. Obviously ... Are you doing all of them all at once? Or are you just starting with like a podcast and a sort of a video series? Or are you doing comic book, video, movie productions, all at once? What's the roadmap there?
Tom Bilyeu: This is actually something that we put up on our website. It's a three phase approach, and I put it on the website 'cause I wanted 10 years from now I want people to go whoa, he's doing exactly what he said he was gonna do. So it starts with building communities so we're doing a lot of social content, and the reason is if we can build community then we have negotiating power when we go to traditional Hollywood distribution channels. 'Cause the ultimate goal from a financial standpoint for sure and then because of something called self signaling, the ultimate goal is merchandise. We only make one type of content.
So whether it's social content or whether it's a traditional movie, we wanna emulate the Disney model, so Disney's the only studio in history, it's been around since the 1930s, and no one has ever replicated it where they only tell one kind of story and they just approach it from a thousand different angles. So if I say to you, "Hey I'm gonna go see Paramount movie or I'm gonna go see a Sony movie or Wonder Brothers movie, you don't know anything about it. But if I say I'm gonna go see a Disney movie, you already know something about it. So every piece of content that they make feeds into their brand ethos. That makes the brand itself marketable. So if you have a new movie coming out, the most powerful marketing vehicle is just to say it's a Disney movie.
So that's why we're building community. We want to make clear what the ethos is. So Disney is the most magical place on earth. We wanna be the most empowering place on earth, so the social content allows us to make that clear, and then because it just takes a longer time, we're working behind the scenes in essence to create intellectual property. We start with comic book because you can make a lot of them for relatively cheap and it's a traditional path to being made into a TV show or a movie.
Geoffrey Woo: Marvel. Yeah.
Tom Bilyeu: Exactly. Exactly.
Geoffrey Woo: That's interesting. I always though the Disney model was a brilliant business model, right? Again like the merchandising, you have your toys that sell the movie, that sell Disneyland tickets, that sell more toys, and you have like an entire generation of children being sort of incubated or just brought up in this culture around values that sort of Disney is able to sort of be like, "Yeah, we kind of control people's childhoods." Everything makes money all in one. It's like a very interesting virtuous cycle. It's interesting. It's cool. Right? You're on your way which is cool.
Tom Bilyeu: Yes.
Geoffrey Woo: Is there a ... This is like I guess a second or a third ... I mean I guess a second big venture. I presume you've done multiple projects int he past before even Quest, right? Was there a big difference from this journey so far versus Quest? I mean obviously a little bit more battle scars, more resources, a better network. Is this time around easier or is it just completely a new set of challenges 'cause you're just attacking a different space?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah. It's easier because I now more. So my journey is the guys ended up being my partners at Quest. They originally hired me as a copywriter at their technology company. They said, "Look, this is a startup. So don't think of yourself as a copywriter. That's just like your tuition. You can have any role you want. You just have to become the right person for that job. SO it was all about learning, getting better, skill acquisition, improvement, and I worked my way up very rapidly in that company and then as I was saying earlier, ultimately got so fed up and so frustrated that I was just so happy that I went in and quit, but then they felt the same and so it starts this chain reaction where we start Quest. And so that, not only was an amazing battleground because we scaled so rapidly, so I had to go through that evolution of not existing, making the bars with rolling pins, and handheld knives and sealing them three at a time till when I left, we were doing 1.5 million bars a day. So I mean it's just like that growth as a human, as a business leader, as entrepreneur was just incredible.
Geoffrey Woo: So you started off with like a kitchen, like you were making these in a kitchen.
Tom Bilyeu: Literally.
Geoffrey Woo: That's a real hustle story. That's awesome.
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah. That was cool. We were running the software company by day and then making the bars by night. So it was a nights and weekends hustle for probably the first ... God if you count the period where we were formulating the bar, for almost two years.
Geoffrey Woo: Was I scary to do your first contract manufacturer order?
Tom Bilyeu: Well we didn't. It was actually way scarier 'cause we had to buy all the equipment so we tried to contract manufacture it and they couldn't do it. So we had to buy the equipment and do it ourselves. That was like mildly scary, but honestly we were so excited about what we were doing. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about being afraid of it.
Geoffrey Woo: So you were like, "Alright, we're gonna buy some equipment."
Tom Bilyeu: And look, that definitely ... There was a moment there when I remember when my partner first suggested it and he was like, "We're gonna have to manufacture ourselves." I was like, "Get outta here, that's crazy." And then it's like actually that may be exactly what we have to do. So we got over that hump pretty fast, and so by the time that we were actually spending the capital, it was like okay yeah we're emotionally ready for this. 'Cause we said we're either gonna do it right or we're not gonna do it all. And it became very clear to us that every contract manufacturer we spoke to wanted us to change the formulation, so that was the one thing we weren't willing to do. That only left either not doing it or coming up with our own equipment.
Geoffrey Woo: That's probably smart, right? 'Cause then you have a pretty big moat so no competitors could follow you 'cause no one else was willing to buy their own factory essentially.
Tom Bilyeu: Exactly.
Geoffrey Woo: I guess to even have it all food safety certified, you really had to go like pretty hard, right? Like okay we're gonna get a food safe warehouse. We're gonna do all the NSF, whatever, CGMB requirements. You gotta go through quite a bit of planning to even pull the trigger. It's not like oh we're gonna buy like a Quest Bar maker. This is like a six month, year long process beyond the two year process to even formulate the thing, right?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah. It was crazy. And that's why we had to start making everything by hand 'cause you gotta rent a kitchen that's already health certified. It really was crazy and it's one of those where I honestly don't know if I had known how hard it was going to be, would we have still done it. But luckily, we literally had no idea. So it's like, you're just like, "Oh this step, this step, this step." And then you suddenly realize how like I didn't even know all the things you have to do for your GMPs and all of that. Or that you have to ... 'Cause a lot of the equipment we bought, we had to buy from other countries and then bring in and remodify it on our line. Which means now you have to get the equipment certified, and going through that process is a nightmare. So yeah thankfully I did not know.
Geoffrey Woo: I presume along the time, you were basically flipping your hand made artisanal Quest Bars pretty quickly. It sounds like you started with the bodybuilding community and it was just like moving like hot cakes. I guess from that experience, you guys had a lot of confidence, and hey this is something that is pretty unique here and that people want ...
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah we definitely tested-
Geoffrey Woo: ... you were just like ... once upon a time. So it was like a left step-
Tom Bilyeu: Exactly.
Geoffrey Woo: ... right foot, left foot, right foot, and you just kept moving 20,000 steps ahead and then you have this billion dollar plus revenue company.
Tom Bilyeu: Exactly.
Geoffrey Woo: Before flipping the topic there, you were talking about how scaling as an entrepreneur, as a business leader, the first time around, how was that informing your second I guess go around the rodeo with Impact Theory?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, I mean look if you're not learning from your past mistakes, you're just handicapping yourself so atrociously. So going through that, and building something so big and all the lessons that you learned and all the things that you tried that worked, and all the things that you tried that didn't work, and if you've got no ego about that and you're really just looking at the data, and saying okay what was a win, what was a loss, why was it a loss, how could I adapt, not make that mistake again ... So I'm bringing now all of that in, so even though it applies to a different industry, it's like so much of this stuff is universal and that's one thing that I've really learned in doing the interview show and I'm sure you get the same feeling. You hear people in all these disparate industries saying the same things over and over and over, and that's been incredibly fascinating to do Impact Theory the show, and found out like, okay all these successful people, they've gone through the same thing that I've gone through, they've learned a lot of the same lessons. They're using different words but at the end of the day, there's universal principles to success. There's just an effective way to think and it almost doesn't matter who you talk to, whether it's Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or somebody like myself. It's like we're all saying the same thing even though those guys, holy hell, what they've done is, it's pure insanity. But it's like same principles, just carried out on a even bigger scale.
Geoffrey Woo: I think that's true. I think it's like everyone has their own slice of their intuition. I mean it's different experience sets, but I think there's some fundamental truth that we're all learning on this journey. Like yes if you're building rockets or you're building a shoe distribution business, or you're building a nutrition bar business, like there's different visceral fieldings around the specific tactical problem. But yes, there is some strategic deeper truth behind the work ethic, and the strategy, and talking to the customers and also the basic fundamentals.
But I think that one thing that I've always felt is that you can read the blog posts, you can listen to someone like yourself, but you don't intuitively feel the pain of what you had to go through to really internalize that lesson. Do you feel that ... yeah what do you think about that? Can you teach me? Can you transmit those lessons 100% fidelity? Clearly you can't, but perhaps you can inspire at the very least and give some sort of roadmap.
Tom Bilyeu: You're right. I don't think you can do it with 100% fidelity by any stretch of the imagination. And they say a fool never learns, a smart man learns from his mistakes, and a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. It's tough to be wise. It's tough to really read a book, or listen to a podcast, and be like okay I got it I won't make that mistake. But, A if you're going through it it's invaluable to hear how other people solved the problem. It's also invaluable to hear how people think. And so I'm writing a book right now and it is literally about how to think. So don't worry about the specifics of your industry just heres the belief system that I built that took me from scrounging in my couch cushions to find enough change to put gas in my car in my 20s which is a true story, to building a billion dollar business, having the kind of financial success that I've always dreamed of. It all came down to things that I was doing to my mind far more than anything that I was learning specifically tactics wise in any given business.
Geoffrey Woo: That's so interesting. The mind game itself. How is that personal journey ... I guess you'll be covering in your book but are there some top one or two things that really helped you build your mind game around the confidence, and your ability to be like a growth mindset. Right? 'Cause I think a lot of people just think hey this is what I have, and this is what I can do, and that's my limit. Where I think it sounds like from very much from what you preach and what you talk about, you have no limits. One should not set their own limit. Let like the rest of the world stop you.
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, man I so agree with that, and I think that the growth mindset is certainly my primary driver. To give you a couple of things that have been just wildly transformative for me, what you build your self esteem around matters. That's probably ... It was a lightning rod moment for me where I realized I was arguing for an idea that I knew was wrong just because it was mine. And so I thought okay hold on a second, what do I want here? 'Cause at the time, all I was doing was chasing money. So I was like do I wanna be rich? Which is what I tell myself and everybody else. Or do I wanna be right? Because I'm acting like I just wanna be right. And so I realized that being right would make me feel good about myself, which is actually really important.
People need to feel good about themselves. Ego is good. Pride is good. Self esteem is good, if you build it around the right thing. But if you build it around something like being smart, being talented, being right, it's gonna be corrosive. You're gonna piss other people off, you're gonna turn people off, you're not gonna have the open mind that you need to actually get better. But if you can flip it, and take the identity, take the pride, take the self esteem of being the learner, being willing to admit that you're wrong. Going all in on figuring out what's actually working. Being data driven. Always being willing to change your mind even when 30 seconds before, you were arguing really hard for something. Once you realize oh wait this person's actually saying something that's more likely to take us towards our goal, and so now I'm totally on that team. Yup, I get it. I understand it. Now I'll go be the energy for that idea. So once I flip myself esteem to being built around being a learner, that ... that was just wildly, wildly transformative for me. And then just always be reading. So reading, reading, reading is really the foundation of my success. And to your point, I'm not getting it 100% high fidelity for sure, but it gives me context. It's helped me build the way that I think. It's helped me build that belief system that really guides everything for me. So those are two just huge things in my life.
Geoffrey Woo: What are you reading right now? I mean I think the reading point is interesting. Again, how do you learn from other people, learn from other people's mistakes? And I think most ... One thing that always struck me is everyone kind of reads the same crap on social media. But if it's like inputs into the brain, then you have similar outputs. Right? If we're all ingesting the same types of breaking news, CNBC, Trump does this, Trump does that, or whatever happens, then we have the same kind of outputs that are generated. So if you just red from different sources from texts that have stood the test of time, or texts that are just interesting, or scifi novels or something that just like peaks there aspects of your brain, my theory there is like maybe you have just better ideas 'cause you have better or just different inputs than everyone else. How do you get your source or where do you get inspired to read? What are you reading now? How selective are you with your inputs into your brain?
Tom Bilyeu: I am selective but never slow. So for instance, if I like oh man what should I read next? I would sooner read something that isn't perfect than to not read. But I listen to people's recommendations, especially people that I trust. So I'm always asking people like you, what are they reading? What I'm reading right now, I'm going on two paths. So one my wife is struggling with microbiome issues, so the last two plus years of our life has been about learning about the microbiome, trying to overcome that. I tried to work with doctors. It just was not working out. So finally I said you know what? Forget this. I'm gonna become an expert in the field myself, and so I've really now gone deep and just really, really educating myself on the microbiome and what that's about. So reading books along those lines.
We're starting a new show called Health Theory, which is to bring on some of these people that I'm reading about the microbiome [inaudible 00:41:03] are just extraordinary thinkers in ... I mean look I'm pretty sure the [inaudible 00:41:07], but this is about to be the net big wave is people are gonna realize that from antibiotics to our diets over the last 70 years, we've been making catastrophic mistakes, and C sections, and all that like ... We are facing a pandemic of the microbiome and we're just now beginning to realize that's a problem. So I'm reading about that all kinds of stuff.
The specific book that I'm reading on the mindset side 'cause I'm always trying to read about something in mindsets. So right now it's microbiome and then mindset. It's Ray Dalio's book Principles, which oh my God. If you haven't read it, that is a must. Literally an absolute must. That book is just unbelievably good.
Geoffrey Woo: Yeah. No, I think I read the original PDF before he turned it into a book. I think his communication style of just being fully, fully ... I don't know what term he uses anymore, but like it's like that high bandwidth, just tell the truth. Don't hide any ... Misinterpretations that hurt other people's feelings. I think that was very interesting to me. It's a very idealistic goal. Of course, you want to convey your full information, but it's like so hard to do. There's so many cultural norms that you can't like call someone out directly or you're awkward about it. Again, I think that reading something and putting into practice is I think the hardest challenge. I'm curious like how do you test yourself to put some of these concepts to actual practice?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, so I'm intoxicated by his book, so I'm moving rapidly on it. I haven't even finished it yet, and here at Impact Theory we're already beginning to implement some of the strategies, so it starts with getting everyone together in a group and say hey I'm reading this book. If you want to understand the moves that I'm about to make, you should read it. So have many people in the company now reading it just 'cause they really wanna understand my mindset and where I'm coming from. And then finding ways to involve the group in, at a minimum, while cause he outlines it in the book, no one's gonna be like oh my God, this sounds amazing, let's do it. People get really leery about big cultural change. People get leery about calling each other out in public.
So my ask was I want you guys to give me very direct, very aggressive, very public feedback. So don't pull me aside and say that you have a problem. Just tell me straight up in the group. Obviously, if you feel like for your own reasons you can't say it in front of the group, then by all means pull me aside. But I want my feedback in front of everybody else, so if you're not happy with something I'm doing ... 'Cause I need to set the standard for how to respond to that. They need to see me lower my defenses, be open to that criticism, and then make changes based on it.
And then, now in private, and this is where we are as an organization, so I'm getting my feedback in public, and now in private I'm giving people like the no holds barred super direct, like this is where we are. Let's agree on the truth, rather than protecting feelings or anything. :et's agree on the truth. But they have to know that I'm coming from a good place which came from talking about Principles, why I think it's so important to say the hard things to really have the direct conversation, make sure everybody's bought in on the growth mindset, on self improvement that if you don't hear the hard things from outside 'cause you're never gonna be able to see it yourself. If you don't hear it from the outside, then you're never gonna be able to make the changes, and so that's what we're doing in our group, and I'll just believe Ray. He said that 30% of the world can't handle it and you're gonna lose them.
So I'm very open to that because look, at the end of the day, nothing has bitten me in the ass more than people either feeling like I'm moving chess pieces on the board because I'm trying to he;p them get somewhere without ruffling their feathers, or them not buying into the fact that this is how we do it. We're gonna be direct. We're going to be upfront. I'm not trying to be a dick. I just want you to really ... And I wanna know, right? I want the feedback. So if you can create that environment, yes you may have attrition of some people that just cannot hang with that. But I really do believe you wanna talk about something that came through just high fidelity for me like I believe on the other side of that, an organization that can really acknowledge who's good at what, who's got believability where, and then just say the hard things, I think on the other side of that is real efficiency. I am a psychojet about efficiency. That's one thing ... wow ... I'd you really wanna achieve, like you've gotta get deadly efficient.
Geoffrey Woo: Cool. I wanna be respectful of your time here. What other interesting biohacks are you working on or experimenting with at this point? What are some of the most exciting projects that you're hoping to release soon? You mentioned Health Theory as a new project you're spinning up. What should we all be following that you're working on?
Tom Bilyeu: So right now, it's all about creating the intellectual property. I'm obsessively focused on actually building the studio so the last thing I wanna do is be talking about the studio but all you ever see is social content. So I feel like we're doing that. We're doing that well. Our community is growing and very rapidly. That's great. But now I wanna put out the comic books. I want to be making real strides in terms of getting TV shows, films, actually out there and produced. So that's my obsessive focus and honestly take sup about 70% of my time and energy.
So right now, what's visibile to the world is the social content, but that really is relegated to a relatively small part of what I [inaudible 00:46:50] my day on. We've got two comic books right now that are in contract negotiations. One of them is with somebody who is just incredibly famous that we'll be placing as the central character. If we can pull that off, that will be incredible. So hopefully very soon, we'll be able to make an announcement who we're partnering with. To get that done, that would just be amazing. We've partnered with a major Hollywood management company, so I'm really excited about that to package up some of our projects. So more to come on both those fronts. Not at a point yet where I can name anything. Just because there's a very famous British saying, many a slip between cup and lip, so until like a-
Geoffrey Woo: Until it's signed.
Tom Bilyeu: ... contract.
Geoffrey Woo: Until it's signed. I so understand.
Tom Bilyeu: So but getting close on those and yeah I'm really excited about that. But keep your eyes peeled for comics. That'll be phase one.
Geoffrey Woo: Okay. Cool. And then in terms of personal biohacks I know we talked a little bit about keto, a little about cycling, periodizing keto and low fats, and higher protein ... Anything else that you have been playing around with? I was recently talking to folks that were experts in hyperbaric oxygen therapy. I'm curious in terms of ... And the same goals of maximizing efficiency, what else has worked for you beyond the stuff that we've already talked about?
Tom Bilyeu: Yeah, unfortunately the thing that I'm really doing is fasting for me personally that's huge. I play around with that a lot. And then with my wife, it's all about microbiomes. We've been working with a company very closely. It's run by a friend of mine, called Viome, and working with them, the level of testing that they do on your ... They test not only the bacteria, they test viruses, fungus, and they're testing RNA. So what's the actual expression of the genes which is really interesting, so we can really dial in exactly what's going on. So yeah, biohacking our way around [inaudible 00:48:50], that's been our most recent endeavor along those lines which has just been bizarrely all consuming. But it seems like we're really making progress there. Honestly, I'm not a big biohack guy, so my thing is pretty meat and potatoes. Get sleep, eat right, and I mean look that's a whole universe unto itself [inaudible 00:49:11]. And then exercise, and if you're doing those three things and you're protecting your microbiome, those are big wins.
Geoffrey Woo: Alright, we'll leave it there. Thank so much Tom.
Tom Bilyeu: It was great talking, Geoff. Thank for having me on.
Geoffrey Woo: That was a fun conversation with Tom. Super energetic, passionate, interesting character. His story of making his own Quest nutrition bars in the kitchen, packing up three bars at a time really resonated with our story at H.V.M.N. where we were hustling right in the beginning, experimenting with our own hand made nootropics and all of that. So awesome to see him build a billion dollar business and then migrate on to really affecting culture change which I think is something again that we're really interested in doing at H.V.M.N. Check out his content. He's on Twitter. You can check out Impact Theory. I've seen a few of his different programs and shows. They're interesting. He's a high energy guy. He brings on good guests, so another program that I recommend. Until next time, we'll see you then. Of course, any time leave us questions, comments, and also guests you'd like to see on the show. And then if you like this program, please subscribe and give us good ratings and comments. Zhill, our producer would appreciate them. I would appreciate them. Find us on Apple iTunes, Google PLay, SoundCloud, YouTube. Thank you.
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