Harvard Drop Out and Former VC Team Up to Create Sprayable Energy [INTERVIEW]

Harvard Drop Out and Former VC Team Up to Create Sprayable Energy [INTERVIEW]Harvard Drop Out and Former VC Team Up to Create Sprayable Energy [INTERVIEW]
Benny Luo
October 28, 2013
Last month, we told you about about an indiegogo campaign for Sprayable Energy,  a cool alternative to coffee and energy drinks. The campaign was a huge success, raising over $169,000 when their goal had only been $15,000. Not too shabby!
For those that don’t know, Sprayable Energy is a spray that allows caffeine to naturally enter your body through the skin by passing through your cell membranes. Two to four sprays on your neck is all it takes and users should see an effect after a couple minutes.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of Sprayable Energy Ben Yu and Deven Soni. Ben is a Harvard drop out (Mark Zuckerberg status yo!) and Thiel Fellowship alumni, Deven is a former VC investor with funds including Goldman Sachs and Highland Capital Partners. Here, they talk about how they met, the challenges they’ve faced building their startup, and addresses claims that their product doesn’t work.

To both of you, please give us a brief introduction of yourselves and background

Ben: I took a leave from Harvard to pursue a Thiel Fellowship, which is a program founded by PayPal cofounder/first Facebook investor Peter Thiel to give 20 young entrepreneurs under the age of 20 $100,000 to pursue open-ended projects for two years. I met Deven in Antarctica on a trip set up by one of our mutual friends I met through the Thiel Fellowship network, and we really hit it off from there and decided to start working together after taking another trip to Australia.
We then joined the Startup Chile program, which is an initiative run by the Chilean government to kickstart internationally minded companies with $40,000 in equity free grant funding, and it was there we developed Sprayable Energy and really got the ball rolling.
Deven: I grew up for the most part in California.  Studied finance at UC Berkeley, and then started working in tech Investment Banking for a few years.  Then joined a startup called NexTag which kind of pioneered the online lead generation & comparison shopping spaces and was acquired for ~$1.2bn.  Then joined Goldman Sachs in their venture capital practice – where i focused on investing in software and consumer startups.  Then joined VC fund Highland Capital partners – but never found myself truly happy investing.  Wasn’t sure if it was the job or the geography, so i moved to Europe (Bulgaria) for a couple years where I helped manage an early stage VC fund called NEVEQ that focused on emerging markets.  Really got the itch to start something and at the same time knew i wanted to move back to the bay.  Met Ben during that transition (in Antarctica as mentioned) and we tossed around a few startup ideas before spending the last year building Sprayable Energy.


Congrats on raising $169,862 on your indiegogo campaign! You guys were initially looking to try and hit $15,000 as your goal. How do you guys feel overshooting by so much?

Ben: It’s honestly incredible and I still have a hard time believing it – we had pretty much zero idea what we were doing the entire time, but the support was just overwhelming, and it was incredibly relieving to be validated after almost a year of working heads down on developing Sprayable Energy and getting it ready for the market.

What do you guys plan to do for Sprayable Energy with the extra funding?

Ben: The bulk of the money is going towards fulfilling all the orders we’ve gotten. Beyond that, we’re working hard to figure out ways we can make our core product better – such as developing an app that will help users track their energy throughout the day and maximize their productivity, rest, and health. A ton of attention has come from overseas as well, so this extra funding really enables us to heavily explore moving globally and establishing a presence for all our international customers. We’re also pushing hard to figure out a way to bring Sprayable offline and into brick and mortar stores such as convenience stores and gas stations, though there’s a lot of work to be done there still and it’s a bit of a ways off.

What was your guy’s process for figuring out how to market your crowdfunding campaign?

Ben: We really didn’t have much of one. We pinged a few reporters before the campaign launched, hoping they’d find it interesting, and luckily, a few of them did. And then it really took off from there and blew up – other reporters came on, and on the second day ABC’s Good Morning America decided to film us and do a segment, and then NPR, The Atlantic, and a ton of other publications came on board as well, and it really took off from there. We’re very excited for the day we actually get good at marketing :).


To Ben, did you have any reservations at all dropping out of Harvard at such a young age? What did your parents think?

Ben: I was actually really impatient to start doing something meaningful at the time. To have been stuck in school for the vast majority of my life, never having really done anything of actual value to the world – I was really excited to get out there and start doing things. And after a bit of initial convincing, my parents have been incredibly supportive the entire way through, which I’m extremely grateful for.

To Deven, you are a former VC and have advise startups before this project. What is it like working with something less experienced and younger than you?

Deven: I really enjoy working with Ben and very rarely even notice that he’s younger.  He’s really quick, rational, and we share many of the same business-centric values so it is great having someone to bounce ideas off of but still has a unique perspective that comes from taking a fresh look at things.  We definitely have our strengths – Ben is great at tackling new problems and putting his head down and just figuring things out..  I spend more of my time working with vendors, investors, and suppliers who may feel more comfortable dealing with someone w/ a “few”more grey hairs and that speaks the same language in terms of business terminology etc.

To Ben, because of your age, have you ever ran into issues with business-folks not taking you seriously?

Ben: Surprisingly, almost never. I think in recent history particularly the entrepreneurial space has become very accepting of younger people starting up, since it’s become much more popular to do so and there’s been quite a history of success with young people doing pretty impressive things. This is pretty tame in comparison to some of the crazy successes way younger people have had, so my experience has always been people taking us very seriously and being very supportive. It’s actually a great place to be, because it’s much easier to get invaluable mentorship being young and there’s no downside to not being taken seriously.


To both of you, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned from each other thus far?

Ben: A good cofounder makes a world of difference. There’s an absolute zero chance I could have done even a minor fraction of this by myself at all. That said, a bad cofounder is way worse than having no cofounder at all, so definitely don’t get a cofounder that doesn’t mesh well, or it’ll make things much worse than just going solo, which is totally fine until the right cofounder comes along. From working with Deven, I think what really does work best is both people have to be friends apart from the business – we’re both huge on travel, minimalism, read all the same books, and have random similar aspirations, like going to Antarctica and climbing the 7 Summits (someday), and so we really hit it off as friends before we ever thought about working together.
Deven: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to find someone to work with that is equally driven and motivated to succeed on the project you’re working on.  When you’re starting something from scratch it is really important that everyone around the table is super committed to the product/project.  When that languishes things can fall apart really quickly.

There has been some critiques recently — specifically coming from Business Insider that your product doesn’t work, what do you say to that?

Ben: To start, there are far more examples of people who’ve loved the product:
Honestly, we’re really surprised at BI’s reaction – we don’t know how they went about testing it, but it’s possible a number of things happened:
  1. They didn’t spray enough/sprayed incorrectly
  2. They were expecting the jolt that comes with a ton of caffeine like from energy drinks/coffee, which is exactly what we’re not giving people, and you’re definitely not going to get that
  3. The users were by and large very heavy caffeine users, and if you have a really high caffeine tolerance built up, you’re going to have to deal with that first before Sprayable starts helping you out

Right now, the spray is odorless, have you guys thought of having different scents to choose from in the long-run?

Ben: Absolutely – we’ve gotten a lot of feedback here, and it’s certainly something we’ll explore in the future once we get our initial product out there and rolling :).

Follow Sprayable Energy

Twitter: @sprayable
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