Dr. Gerald Horn is the Founder of Breinfuel – the cerebral, better-for-you beverage designed to fuel the brain to respond effortlessly with focus, alertness, and productivity. Currently the Co-Medical Director at LasikPlus Chicago, Dr. Horn’s background lies in ophthalmology, pharmaceutical science and disruptive drug development. Having committed his 40+ year career to maximizing the health benefits of modern science and medicine, Dr. Horn invented the eye-whitening drop “Lumify” that in one year became #1 sales ($100M) and #1 doctor recommended, and developed a disruptive eye drop “Liquid Vision” (PRX) to temporarily restore reading vision without glasses or contact lenses. Dr. Horn is an innovator in the ophthalmic drug development space, a 4-time pharmaceutical Chief Scientific Officer, and holder of over 80 patents.
Where did the idea for Breinfuel come from?
As a Lasik surgeon with 11-hour surgery days and as co-founder of four pharmaceutical companies, I noticed my energy starting to fade towards the end of my day, especially as I got older. After trying dozens of caffeinated beverages to stay at the top of my game, I began thinking about my frustrations with caffeine – its tantalizing potential as a molecule versus its compromised reality. The aha moment was when I realized that, from my perspective, the beverage industry has largely compromised caffeine, not vice versa, with zero calorie and high-fructose, high-carb drinks. To truly utilize caffeine and reap its benefits, we must recognize that caffeine is not energy and it is not fuel. Rather, caffeine is a stimulant that must be supported with metabolic fuels and potent antioxidants to help the brain respond to its stimulus.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The evolution of various professional interests was based on my passion and love for each of them. I view the knowledge that we stand at the pinnacle of today as if we are standing on the precipice of an expanding, infinite tree. We select which branch or branches to concern ourselves with, and if we are really curious to get near that divide between known and conjecture there is a lot of credible data to decipher and learn from. I spend most waking moments trying to satisfy that thirst. Then there is my basic understanding that health requires some attention to nutrition, working out, and enjoying family. I’m not alone in saying there are not enough hours in the day for all I hope to experience and accomplish. In my view as we go from “dust to dust” nothing we personally “accomplish” matters at some point, but our legacy – what lives beyond us to make a positive difference, that is the best most satisfying goal. So, each day is filled with the passion to feed and support my one weird attribute, a high level of free association and creative thinking. I try to approach key problems I have some understanding of while still living a full and reasonably well-rounded life.
How do you bring ideas to life?
At this point I have a certain knowledge base on areas of science, particularly medicine, that interest me. I have decades of experience inventing and patenting pharmaceutical products, from prescription to over-the-counter. By pure coincidence, the same approach in my DNA – that our health is best served by iterations of individual elements – led me to find that if excipients in a drug or nutritional components we ingest create a positive benefit when used regularly, they can be more potent synchronized together than any single active ingredient can be on its own. So, I tend to think along those conceptual lines and a host of opportunities seem to emanate. If you think of what could make a difference in any target of prescription, over the counter, nootropics, coffee, energy drinks, vitamins, antioxidants, sugars, proteins, fatty acids, fat – you realize just like in drug development every aspect of what we ingest may impact every other. A lot of scenarios evolve across those lines from Rx to OTC to future opportunities for better nootropics in particular. Just like the pharma space, the CPG space is a fascinating and evolving area of opportunity.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The ability to positively impact our aging with better cognitive health to me is that “precipice on the tree of knowledge” that is about to explode. It is such staggering opportunity that it will in my view overflow into extremely exciting areas that are now controversial and debated:
Is oxidative stress the fundamental deviation from the problem that makes our aging clock tick faster and cumulatively accelerates our loss of quality of life and eventual demise? The fact at least four societies typically live to be 100 plus with few health issues is a clue. We could do even better.
To me caffeine was a miracle molecule stigmatized by confusion as how to best support it and bring out its true efficacy. As I began to think about it, and evolved what I believe is an evolution in how we experience caffeine, I was essentially trying to answer the question – how do we best support elevated metabolism?
The answer to that would imply to me the staggering realization that oxidative stress might be a “paper tiger”, better resolved by a host of nutritional combinations found in nature, nootropics, coffees, teas, and even energy drinks that if we learn from them will mean we could truly decelerate aging. No wonder there is not enough time in the day – I’m 68 and need to figure that one out soon LOL!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Well my real strength is a blessing and a curse. Most of what creates commercial success, the blocking and tackling, is a distraction for me. Keeping my brain free to be creative is in my DNA. I never focused on using my memory for anything that most consider important to be successful – names, mundane details, etc. Even typical everyday parts of life most take for granted. I need infinite tiles attached to my possessions to stay organized. On the other hand, in areas of importance to me I’m weirdly “rad-organized,” as if I created an intellectual divide where all the organizational file cabinets are restricted to that side! Keeping my brain free from what I perceive as clutter works for me. It takes a great wife, great friends, and great professional partners to put up with that and allow me to make that work.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s the age-old mantra: find your passions, develop them, fail over and over, and make sure you’re not doing what you do because your goals are materialistic. Once that happens and it’s not about the money it becomes possible to put in the time to really cultivate those passions, and without even thinking about it, you become an expert, to a degree, in that space. Months later, more likely years later, even decades later, everything about you emanates from that conviction. Not advice for the faint of heart, but maybe helpful for anyone who wants to make a difference. I’m not there yet by any means, just enjoying the ride to try.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The world of CPG (consumer packaged goods) products will one day prophylactically prevent virtually all but genetic disease far longer than our current average lifespan.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be brutally honest. I don’t have the time to waste fooling myself on pursuing bad ideas. Some of the best run into obstacles that outstrip the opportunity. Even the ones that don’t will hit brick walls. Learn to pivot by remaining steadfast in following rules of objectivity – science, data, the opinions of experts have to be the paradigm by which you evolve your ideas and “pivot versus punt”.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Once you “know” you’ve got something potentially special, a difference maker, take a step back, and respect how society evolves. At that precipice of today versus tomorrow are a virtual armada of experts, most of whom are steadfast in their great knowledge of what will soon be yesterday’s news. And justifiably so. Because for every 100 ideas about what’s next on growing that “tree branch of learning” are branches that die off, wrong turns on the road. Expect it, be patient, and prove, prove, prove as you recalibrate to make sure you are on that right track. It’s like turning an ocean liner to track to a new direction. Can be done turning on a dime. That delay is overcoming human objections and proving your assertions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Breinfuel comes to mind. It was originally a coffee base. I loved the effect, but I gave it to a KOL (key opinion leader) advising us in one of my pharmaceutical companies, and the first thing he did was chill it with ice cubes. This was supposed to be good enough to be ready for prime time. To my horror, the ice cubes would barely even dent the surface – there was this “hole” where they sat there like an island on top in the ocean of coffee. A smart intuitive thought leader and guru who I shared this with simply said – instead of fixing this problem in a coffee base what if you tried to get the same efficacy with your caffeine and tea derivatives etc. in a non-coffee base. I respected him enough to back off from thinking I was “done”. I then realized there could be unintended benefits of going in a water-based direction. That pivot turned out to be a big one, though a coffee-based product could easily be in our future!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Water and electrolytes are a placeholder for water’s future value 🙂
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Purchasing my mushroom supplements. Ask my idol Paul Stamets (who probably has no clue who I am). Billions of years of their evolution are somehow the architects of the neuron circuits of our brains. Eat ‘em, take them as supplements, liquid and capsules. The former gets the good stuff in the mycelium (the roots), the latter from the fruit body (the bulbous portion above the ground).
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Our team uses Asana to manage all tasks through to completion. It allows us to prioritize, delegate, manage, and track timelines on all activities happening concurrently in our company.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” This chilling story really put things in perspective for me as far as what really matters in life.
What is your favorite quote?
“The only constant is change.”
or said another way:
“The day you stop embracing change, you’re old!”
- Find your passions, develop them, fail over and over, and make sure you’re not doing what you do because your goals are materialistic.
- Learn to pivot by remaining steadfast in following rules of objectivity – science, data, the opinions of experts have to be the paradigm by which you evolve your ideas and “pivot versus punt”.
- The ability to positively impact our aging with better cognitive health to me is that “precipice on the tree of knowledge” that is about to explode.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.