I wasn’t at Trinity when we invested in Starbucks. It’s part of our firm lore — the stories we learn in the first few months after joining that contribute to our culture and shared history. It’s a great story. I enjoy hearing my partners Noel and Larry recount it to new team members and portfolio CEOs. I smile most when they talk about the contentious conversations they had on whether or not Americans would pay $1 for a cup of coffee. Reflecting on investments years later often reveals stark changes in both technology and consumer culture. It’s a regular reminder that in this business, the only thing we can predict with accuracy is uncertainty.
In the mid 90s we intentionally shifted our consumer investment practice from focusing on brands and physical retail to digital media and eCommerce. Today we’ve extended the practice to include mobile commerce, on-demand services and social media. But the Starbucks lore runs deep, as does a shared passion for health and personal improvement across many of our team. So despite our evolution it always seemed inevitable to me that we’d invest in more consumer brands.
I first met Dave Asprey almost 16 years ago. Back then, we used to have varied discussions ranging all the way from data center automation to mindfulness meditation. Regardless of the topic, Dave consistently would bring intellectual rigor and depth to the conversation. After working at a portfolio company, he later joined us at Trinity as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. This is a role imbued with an experimental ethos: question, learn, share, and hunt for possible ways to create value in the world. Dave had already started his biohacking and Bulletproof coffee experiments at that time, though most of us viewed that as an interesting personal passion — a side-project outside our domain of interest or expertise. But perhaps the Starbucks lore kept it alive for me, and Dave and I started spending more and more time together.
What struck me most about Bulletproof was the intellectual rigor of it. For sure there are many points of view on how to explain the complexities of the human body. But I found Dave quite data driven in creating a clear framework to explain how to improve one’s health and well-being. I also appreciated his message of self-empowerment: Here are research-driven guidelines that have been helpful for others. Test and decide for yourself if they’re helpful for you. Especially in the area of diet and nutrition, the key is to to find personal approaches that work rather than unforgiving one-size-fits-all programs that become impossible to follow.
At our 2012 annual CEO dinner we invited Dave to come talk to all our CEOs about his research and the changes he had made to his own life. I’d guess half the audience might have been skeptical, or questioning at best. But the other half listened closely, perhaps because they sought answers to the challenge of sustaining peak mental and physical capability in a high stress environment. Some forgot about the lecture and moved on, but several dug deeper, started making changes, and began experiencing improved mental and physical performance in their own lives. They were converts, and had the evidence to show in themselves.
It’s hard to invest in a movement, but investing in Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof enterprise is about as close as one can get. We’re supporting the growth of a business that publishes blogs and books, sells coffee, supplements and gadgets, runs coffee shops, and organizes conferences and events around the world. But we’re also supporting the growth of a transformation, much like the one that brought us out of our homes and into the classic “A Third Place” that is Starbucks and every other comfortable, welcoming coffee shop in this country. Howard Schultz changed the face of America by putting cafes on every corner. He gave us somewhere to go to connect, socialize and relax with our local community. His experiment was a success, and we are proud to have supported it.
Dave’s experiment has the possibility to shift how we think about what we put in our bodies, manage our health, and tune our performance. If successful, it will represent a new story within the walls of Trinity: How Bulletproof extended who we are and what we do. And how Bulletproof empowered us to nurture the capacity and capability within us. It’s an exciting story, and I look forward to recounting it.