First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mark Alan Effinger: Surprisingly good, Kossi. We’ve been vigilant with masks and hand washing. As much as possible, we have limited interactions with immediate family and a very small pocket of friends. Thanks for asking. And I hope you and yours are making it through these strange times intact.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded WebNutrients
Mark Alan Effinger: I’m a serial entrepreneur, beginning in 1986, with the founding of my first tech firm – a Laser Display technology company.
While in 8th grade, my Step-Dad (a Ph.D. in Microbiology, with stints at NASA, Aerojet General, and a large clinical lab) negotiated his way into a failing clinical laboratory in Portland, Oregon.
He turned it around within a year and went from making $40k a year to $500k a year. That same year, he told me (as I returned from my paper route), “Mark, you’ll never make it working for The Other Guy.”
I said, “Jack, who’s the Other Guy.” He followed with, “He drives a Cadillac, Porsche or Mercedes.”
Near my route was a tennis club (tennis was as big then as Golf is now). The parking lot was full of Caddies, Mercedes, and Porsches. I begged for a job. I cleaned the courts and bathrooms, strung racquets, and hit the ball with random players who lacked a partner. I quizzed every one of them about their careers, life, and successes.
That was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
Fast forward to 1982. I was enlisted in the USAF, stationed in Central California. A neighbor of mine asked me what I was good at or something I had done as a kid that I found interesting.
My response? “I made a laser when I was 9 and a half years old.”
He said, “you should do that. Make lasers.”
After my term, I left the USAF and launched a laser display company out of the back of a health club. I sold it 11 months later, and we became an Inc 500 company the following year.
The rest has been launching startups in the technology and health sciences fields since that time. I’m currently on #18 (WebNutrients.com) and about to launch #19 (O2GOGO).
How does WebNutrients innovate?
Mark Alan Effinger: We act in two seemingly opposing ways, and one very customer-centric mode:
- We try not to follow our competitors in nutritional supplements. I believe it puts you in a defensive mode, rather than creating the solutions our customers need.
- We use available research (NCBI/PubMed/Examine.com/SelfHacked.com/Nature/etc…) and find unique, unintended overlaps between novel extracts and compounds. Then we test like crazy (from 150 to over 1,000 different beta testers). And find the low to high scale for each compound we use in our final “stack” of nutrients. That becomes a new product new can customize for our clients.
- Most importantly, we have every client complete a Medical Intake Form/Customization Form. We have enough granular insights into the customers’ neurology and physiology that we can custom blend them with the ideal version of our stack just for them. Then we use their Feedback Forms to optimize each solution for that customer further.
This aggregate data is in our databases, providing us a roadmap to fine-tune customer’s products. And their data provides a guide to creating new products to serve them.
We also create custom blends as private label products for larger clients. This gives us an interesting and valuable look inside the industry from a very different perspective. And helps us master production processes and improve production challenges.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mark Alan Effinger: This is the weirdest issue we have ever faced. My greatest worry is the artificial propping up of the economy.
Thankfully, we are in the health, wellness, immunity, and performance nutrition sectors. So we are particularly fortunate to be able to proactively help with the situation.
Our sales have experienced some crazy spikes and unexpected troughs since the first announcements of COVID-19. Thankfully, we keep innovating new solutions that address various issues around the virus. And we’re deep into the research, developing stacks to meet the needs head-on.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mark Alan Effinger: Yes – Both in hiring (finding new folks who take the virus seriously, and maintain safety measures both inside and outside of the office. (NOTE: Hire loners and germaphobic nerds!)
Second: Scale-up in anticipation of the next wave of issues or scale back and settle in for the long, cold winter. We’ve opted for the former. Growth is in our DNA.
In this pressure-cooker environment, we’ve come very close to changing focus to almost purely immunity solutions (a regular request from former business partners and some clients). But we’ve constrained ourselves and continue to serve our customer base. And use this time to improve both existing products and packaging updates. While also innovating on the formulations.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Mark Alan Effinger: I meditate twice a day, 17-22 minutes each, using the Pzizz app (since 2004). That’s enough to reset my stress factors back to zero. So it’s like starting a new day, twice a day.
One area we specialize in is anti-anxiety formulations. We have two capsules intended for Yoga practitioners that work very well to reduce stress and enhance GABA receptors in the brain, which does a number on stress hormones. While also dampening the “fight or flight” reactions, many of us experience while under duress.
We also have a sublingual spray for anxiety that works within minutes to tighten awareness and presence, while immediately reducing anxiety. That solution does exceptionally well these days.
I also Trikke (Trikke.com) almost every day. Train with weights while my dog Elliot forces me into aggressive walks, with nearly constant detours, depending on how his sniffer is doing.
How do you project yourself and WebNutrients in the future?
Mark Alan Effinger: We’re in it for the long haul. We have a 100+ year horizon and this allows us to think and work long-term. We’re committed to making a major impact by helping folks move from Sick to Superhuman. And we’re working on a succession plan that expands the vision we’ve set since the beginning:
“To make a monumental improvement in every life we touch.”
Who are your competitors?
Mark Alan Effinger: We don’t think in those terms at the moment not because we don’t have competitors (we track market share and customer insights pretty closely) but because we found that it’s pretty easy to go down the rabbit hole of chasing competitive solutions. Instead of innovating from collaborative research and experimentation.
We also supply a handful of companies that would be considered competitors. Instead, they’ve become coopetition as my good friend, Rex Eads, would say, “Everybody Wins” in this scenario.
We also customize and personalize every capsule, powder, drink, and spray. So we don’t just ship a boxed product. We custom make a solution that is uniquely formulated just for you. Based on your age, sex, meds, supplements, exercise level, health, and performance objectives. Even your eating and sleeping habits.
We are an answer to people seeking to make it through the COVID pandemic with their minds and bodies intact, and performing at a high level.
And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mark Alan Effinger: We’re continuing to get better at robotics, to improve throughput (if you get a chance, I highly recommend The Goal by Eli Goldratt. It’s the bible of improving production processes via the applied theory of constraints).
Since we make everything personalized for the client, mass production technologies are out. So we’ve been designing robotics that have inherent customization built-in to their programming. (Leveraging a little-used degree in robotics I picked up while in the USAF). We’re also working hard on what we call Plant2Pill and Plant2Powder.
Basically, tracking every facet of the plant growth process and harvesting and coupled with a series of unique, non-toxic, organic extraction processes. This gives us confidence and clarity in the complete supply chain. It engages our suppliers in the process, so we receive higher quality extracts. And our relationship with suppliers gets ever tighter.
Lastly, by combining our own branded solutions (WebNutrients.com, CBDStacks.com, LimitlessHere.com, etc.…) with our custom branded manufacturing for “competitors,” we distribute our sales load across a number of channels. This and expanding into Alibaba, Walmart, and other established markets should help ensure we have something to talk about in a hundred years.
Your final thoughts?
Mark Alan Effinger: Years ago, George Gendron, the former Editor in Chief of Inc magazine, published his email in the final issue he presided over. Inc was my touchstone in business. George and I spoke a few times about my goal to someday create an entrepreneurial interview show.
What you’re doing with Startup.info is so similar in look and feel. That I’m excited to see you rocking’ this platform. You’re living my dream!