Introducing Axon Labs
On November 28th, 2012, I published the very first episode of Smart Drug Smarts, interviewing Dr. Ward Dean — a doctor who had literally written the original book on Smart Drugs. I figured then — and looking back, I can’t really fault my logic — that as a computer programmer with no particular medical background, if I was going to do a podcast about smart drugs, I’d better have some unimpeachable guests come on as experts.
In the time since then, over two-and-a-half years, I’ve been lucky enough to conduct over 80 interviews with some of the world’s top experts on some of the world’s coolest stuff.
And sometime in the past year — I never really stopped to notice when it happened, but by now it’s definitely true — Smart Drug Smarts has become the longest-running single project I’ve ever worked on, period.
I’ve got to say, I’m very proud of that… and I have every intention to continue building from here.
One question I’ve gotten asked a lot is…
“So why did you start the podcast?”
I feel like people expect one overriding answer, but it was more a smorgasbord of semi-related upsides…
- I love media production and was looking for a creative outlet.
- I’ll take any excuse to talk with smart folks.
- I’ve had a lifelong interest in brains, physical health, and psychology.
- This felt like a way for me to participate in science fiction.
Smart Drug Smarts has ticked all of these boxes for me.
And of course: I was, and I am, a fan of cognitive enhancers.
More broadly, I’m a fan of cognition.
That’s either an obvious or a profound statement, depending on how charitable you’re feeling. But I’ve personally found that the moments in my life I’ve enjoyed the most — contrary to what we’re taught to expect — weren’t often moments of public praise or physical pleasure…
They were instead moments of intellectual insight.
- Wow, is that really true?
- I think I figured it out!
- Wait, this changes everything…
I wrote about this in my post The Physical Sensation of Epiphany — and these types of internal thrills are still the primary carrots I find myself chasing.
It’s funny, because I’d pay good money for a moment of new insight. But what actually happens is — when I have a moment of insight, that’s often something people pay me for. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
For me, smart drugs are a booster rocket along that course.
They’re a multiplier on my odds-of-insight on a given day.
There are those who will tell you that such-and-such chemical will triple your IQ, allow you to see through walls, or rewire your hippocampus with a direct feed to Google while you sleep. I’m not that guy. And I haven’t yet seen, or taken, such a drug.
What I have experienced are a variety of chemicals that allow me to fine-tune my state of mind… to consistently direct myself into ways of thinking, seeing, feeling, and behaving in line with what I’m trying to accomplish. Sometimes that is enhanced focus. Sometimes it’s expanded creativity. Sometimes it’s a solid night’s sleep.
Smart Drug Smarts has become the longest-running single project I’ve ever worked on, period.
I have learned so much since starting the podcast.
Rubbing shoulders and sharing conversations with an amazing group of bright, curious, and deep-thinking people, this should come as no surprise.
And here’s the fun part: I’m not just talking about the show’s guests.
I’m also talking about the listeners.
Podcasters don’t know exactly how many listeners they’ve got. People come in from iTunes, from YouTube, from random web-searches… Some press Play and might jet after they decide they don’t like the intro music; others go back to the first episode and listen to everything you’ve ever done to get caught up. I never know from week to week how many people will be listening, and whether those people are first-timers or long-timers…
But what I do know, is that of the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet — on email, on Twitter, and in a few dozen cases, in person — the level of amazing-ness among the people who have elected to become part of the Smart Drug Smarts community is truly phenomenal.
It’s a group I feel privileged to be part of…
- Academic researchers
- Man-machine interface do-it-yourselfers
- Highly competitive business professionals
- and a new generation of bright, vigorous university and grad students
All of us united by a deep curiosity to know where the cutting edge lies.
So What’s Next?
As our community has grown, people from the retail end of the cognitive enhancement world have taken notice, and we’ve had more than a few offers to promote products on the podcast, on the web, etc.
And as you know if you’ve been listening for a while, we’ve demurred on those offers. Some seemed overtly sketchy. Some probably weren’t sketchy, but I didn’t have the time or resources to feel 100% sure about going to bat for them.
And of course, a major concern has always been maintaining the trust the podcast has earned as an honest broker of information about cognitive enhancement: what works, what doesn’t, what’s safe, what isn’t, and what we just don’t know yet.
By late 2014, I’d decided a few things:
- I loved the podcast. I loved doing it. And I wanted to put even more time and focus into doing it.
- Doing that was going to incur more hard costs, in addition to my own time, and I ought to find a way to make Smart Drug Smarts profitable.
- I didn’t want to be like a TV channel with 300 commercials for 300 different products, some of which might be great, but many of which are crap.
I decided that I wanted Smart Drug Smarts to create products of its own — things that I wanted, I would use, I would trust, and I could fully endorse — both from the standpoint of sound science, and also of safe, rigorously-tested manufacturing processes.
I also knew there was a lot that I didn’t know.
I knew the effects I was hungry for, and I knew chemicals I was interested in, but I didn’t know a whole lot about supplement manufacturing, pill-pressing, shipping and fulfillment, or the logistics and legwork involved in setting up a nutraceutical business. It sounded like then — and I can confirm now, it is — a lot of work.
So I did the same thing I’d done back when I created the podcast and needed my first interview guests… I began chasing down experts.
On Episode #21, I interviewed Roy Krebs and Abelard Lindsay. Abelard did most of the talking, and this was appropriate; he was the citizen-scientist of the two, the biohacker and self-experimentalist who had devised and refined the two-compound cognitive enhancer now known as CILTEP.
But it was Roy — the quiet one, who didn’t really talk much during the episode — whom I realized late last year was another kind of expert I’d soon be needing. Because what Roy had done, in the time following Episode #21, was turn CILTEP from a mix-it-in-your-kitchen recipe for do-it-yourselfers into the flagship product of a successful company. One with manufacturing, purity-testing, bottling, shipping, and customer service running like clockwork.
I knew Roy and his partner Ben Hebert. I knew that they knew their stuff in the running of a supplement company. They know how to get things done, and how to keep customers happy and supported.
And also — I knew they were a little bit hamstrung.
Their company’s name is Natural Stacks, and they take the “Natural” seriously. Products under their brand don’t contain any man-made ingredients.
And as you might have guessed, this restriction cuts out a lot of “the good stuff.”
Axon Labs is born.
Early this year, Roy and Ben and I began talking about forming a new company based around cognitive enhancement. A “house brand” for Smart Drug Smarts — one where man-made compounds are A-okay, but where we would hold ourselves to the standards that matter: science-backed efficacy in our products, safety and purity-testing, and a great customer experience.
And once again, we reached out to Abelard Lindsay — whose enthusiasm for diving into the medical literature and looking for compounds with unrecognized complementary benefits was undiminished. We told him now the handcuffs were off – man-made chemicals were on the table.
By the time you hear or read this, Axon Labs will be unveiling its first products.
It’s been almost a half-year to get the first batch ready, but all of us involved would agree it’s really been much longer than that. Cooked into the mix are two-and-a-half years of my study into cognitive enhancement through Smart Drug Smarts, almost as much time on the business-end of nutraceuticals by Roy and Ben, and nearly a decade of study and self-experimentation by Abelard.
We’re immensely proud of what we’ve put together. It wasn’t easy. Biochemistry, bureaucracy, multiple time zones, and very busy people. But nothing worth doing is easy, right?
I’ll be talking all about it in an episode soon.
And yet, it’s important for me to emphasize: I don’t want the fact that Smart Drug Smarts will have a product line to impact what got people listening in the first place. My initial goal and the show’s de facto slogan remains unchanged: To help you improve your brain, by any and all means at your disposal.
Axon Labs is just going to be one new set of means. 🙂
PS: Now, with all that as preamble, it is my pleasure to present…