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Caffeine—coffee, specifically—might be the lifeblood of achievers, but it doesn’t always agree with them
In the age of wearable tech, a partnership between a Harvard dropout and a venture capitalist has a wearable solution to the drawbacks of normal caffeine consumption: Just spray the stuff right on the skin.
In theory, this eliminates coffee’s stained teeth and nausea and mitigates the added sugar or cold-medicine-like flavor associated with energy drinks.
With four to six sprays, Sprayable Energy delivers an energy boost comparable to a cup of coffee. It alleviates coffee’s drawbacks while helping with the energy peaks and valleys associated with other ingested caffeine products.
Many are buying in.
Weird Business Inspiration
Co-founder Ben Yu was sensitive to caffeine’s side effects. This put Yu, a Harvard biology major, at a major disadvantage for studying because he didn’t have many options to stay alert throughout the night. So he set about changing that.
Yu and his dad, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, did some research and found that caffeine can be absorbed through the skin.
Yu had been experimenting with the product’s formula when he met eventual co-founder Deven Soni on a 12-day Antarctica cruise for entrepreneurs.
“We became really good friends and shared a lot of the same values,” Soni says. “It wasn’t so much a shared vision of the product as a shared vision of wanting to work together on something.”
They teamed up, and Yu dropped out of Harvard to focus on the new business, a four-person Palo Alto, California-based start-up.
Small Business Growth
The startup came pretty naturally, Soni says. He and Yu shared business ideals. They were excited about the product because their research indicated many were overly sensitive to caffeine. And they didn’t like other market options.
“We found that the energy drinks market is one of the fastest-growing consumer categories ever, growing 15 percent a year for the last 10 years,” Soni says. “And we didn’t like the direction the industry was going.”
Sprayable Energy, they thought, could serve as an alternative to an energy drink trend toward more sugar and more caffeine—even leading to hospitalizations.
The co-founders launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign on Aug. 7, 2013, hoping to raise $15,000. By the time it closed on Sept. 30, 2013, they had amassed $169,891.
The first orders shipped in late January and early February. The bottles, which hold about 160 sprays or 40 doses, cost $15 and retail online.
“The consumer response has been much better than we could have expected. People have loved it,” Soni says.
Weird Small Business Naysayers
The biggest initial questions Sprayable Energy faced, Soni says, were: Does the product work, and is it safe?
The patent-pending formula contains a mixture of caffeine, water and an amino acid derivative. While their product isn’t something the FDA regulates, Soni says every ingredient they use is recognized as safe by the agency.
“We’ve done lots and lots of testing,” Soni says. “The human skin is kind of designed to keep stuff out. Our challenge was much more to get stuff in than the dangerous effects of having too much in there.”
While evidence suggests that caffeine has difficulty getting absorbed by the skin, Sprayable Energy consumers love the product. “More than 90 percent of people we surveyed said they would buy it or use it again,” Soni says.
On the horizon for the company is a polar-opposite sprayable product to help people sleep more naturally. Go figure.
But for the time being, Soni and Yu are focused on growing Sprayable Energy.
“We know people like the product now,” Soni says. “So it’s a matter of getting it in the hands of as many people as we can.”
Or on their necks.