Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Joining me is an entrepreneur or whose company is way different from everything else that we’ve done here at Mixergy.
Usually I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their companies, and there is an end to the story. We know how it turned out, but Stephen Clausen is, or is running a company called forever labs. That is on the path of changing things on the path of changing, changing our lives. This is a little too cryptic.
Don’t you think? Stephen, let me be clear. He is the founder of forever labs. They will store your STEM cells so you can live healthier longer. I invited him here to talk about what that means and we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first is top towel. The second is HostGator top-down for hiring developers, HostGator for hosting websites, and, um, Steven.
I want to ask you about what you’ve done so far, what your vision is for the future, how you can maybe keep people. There’s a lot of people who think that you guys are going to keep us from dying, but we’ll talk about, um, what you actually think you can do and what you can, but I’d also like to ask you about this company that you started a long time ago called hips, uh, Husky.
And what happened with hubs? Oh yeah. Look at that riff recognition. All right. And, uh, for credibility, he is wearing his Y Combinator hoodie, Y Combinator backed, um, Forever lab. So we know that there’s substance to this company, Stephen. Good to have you here,
Steven: Great to be here, Andrew. Thank you. I can’t believe you brought Husky up. That’s great.
Andrew: dude. I went back into hub ski. It’s still alive.
Steven: it’s going, yeah, we have people all over the world that use it. So for people listening, Husky is a social aggregator it’s been described as what a child of Reddit and Twitter would look like.
If they had a thoughtful child, the tagline is a thoughtful web people go there. They discuss politics, religion, news of the day, art, science technology, but all in like a thoughtful way. Um, I love it. I’m very proud of it.
Andrew: I bet I want to. Talk about that in a little bit. And how ambitious even that is. You’re not just going to you. You’re not just going to let people share links. You have this vision of creating a more thoughtful web, but let’s talk about forever labs. I read the inc article about you guys in the article.
There’s a patient who’s going into the doctor.
Steven: uh, and to have a bone marrow aspiration, which sounds very scary. It’s not, it’s typically a 15 minute outpatient procedure, a little bit of lidocaine. Um, and what they’re doing is they’re pulling out this patient’s bone marrow, uh, because it’s going to be sent 60 CCS of it’s going to be sent to forever labs.
Uh, our laboratory in Ann Arbor, where we processed out all of the amount of nuclear cells. From that bone marrow, which is say the STEM cells from that bone marrow so that we can preserve that person healthy bone marrow, uh, for future use. So, uh, for example, I’m 43 years old, but I have access to my 38 year old STEM cell.
Every year I get older, I have less of these cells and the ones that are in my body are less efficacious than they were. This decline accelerates with age. So that person that you’re referencing was storing their STEM cells. I believe they were around 30 years old. Uh, so they could access them later in life when they’re 60, 70, 80 years old to either treat age-related diseases or perhaps, and this is what we’re most excited about.
Perhaps even prevent age related.
Andrew: And so if he had a heart attack, let’s say 30 years from now, you’re imagining that what would be possible with what he’s just banked.
Steven: Well, 30 years from now. I mean that, that client of ours is so young that hopefully 30 years from now, she doesn’t have a heart attack because he has access to this, but I’ll, I’ll get to that. Um, right now there are over a thousand clinical trials. Using the same types of cells that we store mesenchymal STEM cells.
Some of them have themselves as well. We store both, uh, to treat age-related diseases. So cardiovascular disease, there are phase three clinical trials using these cells to treat, uh, patients after they have a heart attack. So they’re able to reintroduce himself, um, into the infarct area of the heart and help, uh, with, with, uh, tissue regrowth.
So. That would be my hope. First of all, is that 30 years from now? He doesn’t have a heart attack because he’s been re-introducing these cells on a schedule, thereby reconstituting, um, damaged tissue with healthier tissue that will,
Andrew: can infinitely copy these STEM cells and your belief is, and then from what I understand, the STEM cells
Andrew: no, go ahead.
Steven: Well, not infinitely, so I just want to be there. They can’t infinitely divide. I always like to use the, I think we’re probably, um, you’re probably old enough, like I am to remember when we had cassette tapes and VHS tapes. And you may recall when you would make a copy of a copy of a copy of that movie.
And put it in that VCR. Eventually the degr there’s degradation of the integrity of the picture and the sound STEM cells are similar. There’s this thing called the Hayflick limit, um, which basically States that as you start growing these cells, eventually as they divide the, they have errors that. Or replicated, uh, during that division process.
So the next generation of the cell carries the errors from the previous and they expand upon them. So eventually you get cells that are damaged, um, but we store enough of your cells that forever labs. So you have an almost unlimited supply. You can grow these cells from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions.
Uh, a therapeutic dose is typically. No, uh, anywhere from 50 to a hundred million of new cells, um, we can grow that. Uh, and then some, so the idea I think for our clients is in the future, they’ll grow these cells, expand them by the way, culture expansion process is getting better year over year, too. We’re just getting better and growing cells.
Andrew: so for now we know we could, we, we expect that we’ll be able to duplicate enough of them and do what to prevent, say, heart disease, a heart attack, a stroke to do what.
Steven: Yeah, sure. So what we’re interested in is can we reintroduce, you know, younger Andrew self I’ll use you as, how old are you by the way? Okay. So can we take your 46 year old cells grow them to large numbers by the time you’re saying 60 years old, 65 years old, perhaps, and start reintroducing them on a schedule.
We’re not sure what that schedule is exactly yet. When we’ve been able to do that forever labs is take these cells and reintroduce them. Into animal models. So in mice, um, cause you can get away with this in mice, you can have syngeneic mice, which are essentially like genetically matched mice. So it’d be like taking young Andrew cells and giving them to 65 year old manager.
Right. We did this in mice. We’ve been able to extend the healthy lifespan in my significantly one group was able to extend healthy life span by doing this by 30.
Andrew: Just by having more of these younger cells in the body, the, the being that, whether it’s a mouse or you expect a human in the future will end up being healthier. But also you’re saying if we have talk to me about a heart attack, that’s the example that I read. If there is, if someone has a heart attack, what are we looking at that they’d be able to do?
Steven: Well, these cells, um, these cells, they, mental time STEM cells. They, uh, Did you a couple of things in the body. One is the decrease inflammation. Naturally when you reintroduce them, they hone into areas of injury and inflammation in the body. When they get there, they start coordinating the healing efforts.
Um, so that’s one thing they could do. Preventatively, whether it’s for cardiovascular disease or stroke is decreasing the inflammatory process in the body. Another thing that these cells do is that they, um, regrow healthy tissue. So part of what they do is, um, Uh, let’s do, uh, Support vasculature grow vasculature bones.
They create osteoblasts that grow healthy bone, uh, your HSCs, which we also store your metaplastic STEM cells control your immuno response. Um, and so if you have all of these things in a younger state, And we don’t have this age-related decline. Um, you know, it’s very uncommon for a reason that people in their thirties and even forties really have cardiovascular disease.
So we get older and these cells start to replicate and accrue this damage that our vasculature gets compromised. Our tissues internally get compromised. Um, and we have age-related decline. So. What we’re saying is like, what if we could take these younger cells and on a schedule re-introduce them. But we, we have discovered at forever labs, there’s actually a problem with that process too.
It’s not. Yeah. Perfect. So when you start re-introducing, um, you know, hundreds of millions of cells, like let’s say we were to take yourself out right now, grow them and just start reintroducing them. Uh, so you would burn a little brighter and be a little healthier right now. What ends up happening is when you’re 65 70, all those cells you introduced when you’re a younger.
I ended up going to senescence. So, which is to say they, um, they sort of turn off and your body, it’s a natural part of the aging process. Part of the problem when you’re old is you have all these senescent cells in your body, which are basically like use a non-scientific term. They’re like zombie cells that turn off, but don’t leave your body.
They’re just in there in the pro-inflammatory. And they’re, they’re a big problem, which is, this is, uh, accepted in science and medicine. Like senescence is a big problem with aging. All these senescent cells. What we do. If we introduce millions of cells at a young age, is we increase that future senescence burden when you’re older, which is bad.
So what we’re trying to figure out for forever is how can we take young Andrew cells when you’re older? Remove senescent cells and replace them with your younger self. Instead of taking, I’ll use an analogy, an analogy. You wouldn’t take oil in your car when you’re changing your oil and just take new oil and pour it over the old oil, right?
It wouldn’t work too well for the automobile. What we do is we take the old oil out. We replace it with the young that’s what we’re interested in doing. Uh, at forever labs now that’s sort of the moonshot of the company. That’s why we started it for ourselves and for our families and people we care about.
And that’s genuinely why we started this company was for ourselves to store our own cells. It wasn’t to go out and make a ton of money. We were interested in solving a problem. That’s the moonshot. The pragmatic reason is if you’re, um, you know, seven years old and you have a stroke instead of using someone else’s allogeneic STEM cells to treat them, and there are phase three trials.
Doing that you could use your own you’re young, healthy self. There’d be no rejection. Um, your body will take them in, and it’s far more likely to have a positive outcome than using a donor cell line. So there’s a really pragmatic reason to do this. And there’s also the really exciting sort of moon shot.
Does that answer your question?
Andrew: It does, um, I’m with you now. I get it. We should say that right now, people can go and have their STEM cells the same, the same, uh, operation that you talked about, that 15 minutes situation with their doctor that you talked about earlier. People can go and do it right now. They’re their, their cells will be shipped over to forever labs and still, uh, for what a price of $1,500 plus how much is it?
What’s the price. It’s actually more than that.
Steven: that’s right. Yeah. So $1,500. And then it’s $250 once a year for a storage fee. So it’s very similar to the cord blood industry. If you’re familiar with that, when you had your kid, um, you had the ability to
Andrew: I should have done
Steven: cord blood,
Andrew: People do that with their kids, with their kids. Uh, what, what, what does with the STEM cell? From the, from the, from the white. Okay.
Steven: the umbilical cord. So, um, it’s actually remarkably similar to the, the, um, cell population. And there is similar to that in, in your bone marrow right now. And so when you and I were born, we didn’t have that option to store. Our parents didn’t have that option to store the cells from our umbilical cord. Um, but we have forever labs.
And so you can go to forever labs.com, sign up to do this, and, um, we’ll send you to a physician near you and you will have access to. Um, a story of your own STEM cells that are no longer biologically aging and it’s $1,500 to answer your question, then $250 once a year. Um, you typically don’t share that info, but, uh, it’s right around a thousand.
Andrew: A thousand people have done it. And so you’ve got like this ongoing recurring revenue for the most part. I think there’s an option to pay $7,000 and have lifelong storage, but you’ve got ongoing revenue already. Not, not enough to run the business, but enough to, to show that there’s traction
Steven: there is there, there actually is. There’s enough to run the business. So one of the, uh, Mo more astute clients that we have, it’s one of the first questions they ask is, you know, what happens if forever labs goes out of business? I mean, this is a precious, you know, material that we’re holding and storing for you.
I would ask that question. Um, we’re beyond parody in regards to having the ability to keep the company running. Um, you know, uh, just with the ARR, from the recurring revenue, we can keep the lights on.
Andrew: You know what I, I thought that your, a frequently asked questions section of your site didn’t really address it. It basically said, don’t worry. We have a solution. I wish that you were as clear as you are with me, which is the payment that you make is enough to cover. I wasn’t so worried about, because it can be that hard to pass, to pass my, my cells onto another storage facility.
Steven: yeah, you’re right. It’s not you’re right. And in fact, we don’t hold that. We don’t hold them hostage refill. We’ll send them anywhere you want. So we charge $300 to send yourself anywhere that can receive them United States, which means. It has to be a bio repository or a physician requesting them. We want you to send them to someone’s house.
Um, but, uh, they’re yours. They belong to you. And if let’s say your friend has a, uh, you know, an LN two tank and they work at Stanford, we’ll send them there. Um, they belong to you. We just, we haven’t had anyone really do that, but, um, they can anytime.
Andrew: You and your co-founder have started companies together. I read that he actually, with one of his ideas, tried to get into Y Combinator and failed. I couldn’t figure out what that idea was. I even went to his LinkedIn profile. What was it?
Steven: That’s a great question. Um, I think before we even started Husky, Mark was working on something called go code. I think that’s probably what it was his idea. I think it was to, uh, put one of those cute QR types codes, like everything in the way in the world to have it all mapped out and have some sort of.
I don’t know. You’d have to ask him about that, but yes, we’ve been, I mean, we were fans of, um, of YC and certainly a Paul Graham and, uh, hacker news and PR users for quite some time. Yeah.
Andrew: The two of you met, I guess, through your wives. Am I remembering that right?
Steven: yeah, that’s right. So, um, I know exactly when we met, because it was at my wedding. I was 16 years ago, October 2nd. I met Mark and his wife at our wedding. I hadn’t met them yet. My wife was friends with. Mark from college. Um, and then shortly thereafter, we just spent a lot of time together, the four of us, and, um, Mark had an idea for Husky.
He started cutting it up and invited me to join. And, um, it was one of those classic hacker, hacker, hacker, Hagler relationships, rather wherein Mark is of course the hacker. Uh, there’s it’s not a stretch to say that there’s nobody on the planet that knows more about mesenchymal STEM cells and Mark.
That’s true. Um, And, uh, I’m more of the Hagler I’ve been running, uh, you know, sales teams and working with sales organizations for the last prior to starting with like 15 years.
Andrew: I, I read his hacker news posts, where he went on and said, I taught myself to code. I knew a little bit of HTML, a little bit of Fortran. I learned, I taught myself to code and basically what I did, he said was. I copied the hacker news news aggregator software. And I started update it for my own idea. And you could see him, I think like six weeks into it posting what he’d created six months into it, posting what he’d created, looking at his feedback, uh, looking at customer feedback, actually not customers, but audience feedback.
His basic idea from what I saw, the one that you bought into was. The that he wanted to take hacker news and read it. And all these sites where people spoken posts, links into section into categories, but say maybe I don’t just care about categories. Maybe I want to feed of all the different people who I follow of all the different topics that I care about and see all the links that way, instead of the links that happened to be voted up for everybody.
Right. That was the general
Steven: that’s right.
Andrew: Okay. Why did you buy into that? You were working at American express. You know about money. There’s not money to be made from this.
Steven: No, no. So, I mean, I’m an artist too. So I’m a musician, a singer, a songwriter I’ve been doing that forever. Released several albums. It’s like, there’s more than just making money, you know? Um, oftentimes what happens? You follow your passion and the money happens, right? It’s just, you see it time and time again, we created Husky because we wanted it to exist.
Mark invited me to use it, but basically beta version of it. I loved it. I just loved it. And, um, because I loved it and believed in it. I joined, it’s funny only one time have Mark and I started something because we wanted to make money. And it was, um, I don’t know if your research brought this up, but what happened was, uh, after Husky, we built Husky, spent a lot of time on it.
We still do spend some time on it. And, um, we created something we were really proud of, but like, to your point, it didn’t make anybody still doesn’t. Um, And we were both really into crypto and Mark in particular was really into Bitcoin. And we started something called coin amp, which I was working at American express at the time.
And I found that there was a, a hack in the terms of service of America express gift cards, which treats them like cash. Basically, you can’t contest a transaction. Um, and back then there was no way to purchase Bitcoin using a credit card. And so we created coin app. Dot com, which was the ability back then to purchase Bitcoin, using an Amex gift card.
We were having really, this kind of ties right into forever labs who were having success with it. And we basically got a letter from the financial crimes enforcement network that said, Hey guys, you can do this, but you need to be a registered money transmitter in all 50 States. And so we’re on a phone call.
I was on a call with Mark discussing this and saying, what do you want to do here? You want to raise money? I can do that. Like let’s figure out an out of nowhere. Mark started talking about his research, um, at Henry Ford hospital in Detroit, um, Mark was a staff funded research. They’re using STEM cells to treat various neuropathologist like stroke and TBI.
So we’re on this call talking about whether or not we’re going to get our money transmitter license for this startup. And you started telling me about how he applied for a grant to take STEM cells from young mice and put them in genetically matched older mice, because he was sure they would live longer.
And he, and then he starts telling me about how he wanted to do that for himself, but he can’t find like I’ve been looking for a company that will take out my bone marrow and store it for me. Cause I know I’m going to want it. And he started telling me all of this. And by the end of the conversation, we weren’t talking about money transmitter licenses anymore.
We were talking about STEM cells. We were talking about banking, our own. And it had nothing to do with building a company. We just, we, we started after that call looking for someone that would do it for us, it didn’t exist. I reached out to a friend of mine, his name’s dr. Lace bar, Joe. He said, wonderful orthopedic surgeon.
Um, and I said, lace, I have a strange question. Will you take out me? And my friend’s bone marrow? And he was like, it’s not that strange. I’m doing it all the time to treat people. And, uh, and I said, um, He said to me, this is what made the business light bulb go off. He said, I’ve had people, other people ask me for this too, and ask me if they could store some of it for future use.
And that’s when we realized it might not just be us that wants this other people do too. And there’s an infrastructure of physicians across the country that are already trained to do this procedure. And that’s how we started forever lab. So you can trace it back to, you know, Husky coin amp, and then forever labs.
That’s sort of the trajectory of Mark and I working together.
Andrew: Talk about my first sponsor and then come back and ask you about what were, what was an orthopedic surgeon doing with this? Um, but first, if anyone was listening to me who says, you know what I do buy into this idea of just experimenting the playing of trying different ideas, and maybe one of them goes somewhere that is maybe it becomes a big business idea that you always wanted, or maybe it just becomes this big thing that is not a business, but actually has a lot of impact.
I remember, uh, the founder of Wikipedia telling me that. That’s kind of what happened with Wikipedia. So if you’re out there and you want to experiment, I urge you to do it on host Gator and go and do that. By going to hostgator.com/mixergy, when you do, they will let you create an unlimited number of pages, unlimited number of domains, all hosted.
If you pick that middle option, which is under five bucks a month. And you can do it. You can play, you could see where it leads you, and maybe it leads you to this idea that becomes your life’s passion, or maybe it leads you to another idea. And another idea and another idea which then becomes your life’s mission.
Get email@example.com slash Mixergy. They will even give you a hundred dollars of ad credit. They’ll make, you know, what. I can list all the features instead. I’m just going to tell you, go get the lowest price by using this URL and get started right now. hostgator.com/mixergy.
So many people I’ve interviewed have done exactly that to get started. All right. What was an orthopedic surgeon then doing with, uh, with taking STEM cells out?
Steven: Yeah. So that was one of the great surprises when we started down this path is that there are orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine, doctors, and now increasingly like pain management and also plastic surgeons all over the country, uh, that are using bone marrow to treat, uh, people at point of care. So what they will do is they’ll take out your bone marrow.
They’ll put it in a tabletop centrifuge right there, concentrate. It takes like eight to 10 minutes to spin down the cells in a centrifuge. All the mononuclear cells separate from the platelet poor plasma. And you reintroduce those that play their rich plasma fraction from the bone marrow into areas of injury.
And what it does is it helps promote healing, as I mentioned earlier, decreases inflammation. And so, um, that’s what he was doing. Uh, he and others, what they’ll do is this process adjunct to surgery. So if you’re having a knee surgery, they’ll do this as well to help speed up recovery times. They’ll all often do it if possible, um, in lieu of surgery.
So if they look at your, your knee or shoulder, whatever ails you, it could be that a STEM cell therapy could help decrease inflammation in the area, um, help with tissue regrowth to, um, either stave off that surgery for some time or perhaps, um, you never need it. So what they’re finding in medicine right now is that this whole biologics approach like leveraging your own biology.
It’s pretty remarkable, but the problem is, is the older you get. The less likely it is to be successful because the cells in your body artists’ effective as they were when they were younger. So what we’re offering it forever labs is actually really conservative. If you think about it, like the claims of living forever or things like that, um, those are, uh, obviously.
As I said earlier moonshots and see what we’re, when I’m seriously interested in, but it’s really pragmatic reason for doing this. As you age, you lose these cells in number and function. It’s just a fact we can preserve that. Now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, your cells right now are the best they’re ever going to be, period.
So we can store those right now. Um, so that’s what they’re using for in orthopedics is to treat people at point of care.
Andrew: I almost feel like what you’re doing is. It’s almost too conservative or it feels like super simple because you’re not pulling the STEM cells out of people. Doctors are doing this already, right? You’re storing it in a way that’s been done for years for babies, frankly, forget about babies. Anyone who wants to get pregnant or wants to preserve a woman who wants to save her eggs or a couple that wants to save their embryos, they’re freezing it.
This has been done. What’s that’s the basic model, right? You’re just saying ship it over, pay one time for us to take it in and then an annual fee for us to store it. It’s being done all over the place. You’re nodding. This makes sense. Basically, frankly, at this point you can build a model. You can build a business off of this today that you don’t need to do anything more than that.
And let the scientists that the researchers of the world figure out what to do with this. And then when it’s figured out you’ve got the STEM cells or people who’ve already banked with you, and then. Future people will do it because it’s, it’s been proven by others. And so you’ll, you’ll get more and more business.
Is that essentially it, or are you also doing original research?
Steven: yeah, it’s essentially it, but we are doing original research. So the way I see it, the analogy I use specifically when I’m talking to investors is who got rich during the gold rush. Um, it wasn’t just the people, you know, finding the gold, it was the people selling the shovels, right. Um, and at forever labs, the STEM cells are the gold.
Right. We have that stored. Other people could do this though, and they will. And, um, There will be competitors popping up. We, we want the shovel. We want, we want the ability to apply these cells in the best possible way in the future. So we’re developing IP around that. We’ve filed three patents now. Um, one of which we’re very two of which we’re very excited about.
One is launching right now, actually. Which was which we call super shot. If anyone’s interested, they can go to super shop prp.com to check it out. Um, I can talk about that in a minute if you’d like, and the other is, um, the ability, as I mentioned earlier, the Hayflick limit, right? When we grow these cells, they get worse and worse, uh, in future passages.
Uh, we want to own the ability to culture, expanding cells. We want to own the, the, the standard for that. Um, and we’ve, we’ve developed a patent that we believe. It’s just that. So if I could take, you said 46, if I could take your 46 years old cells and grow them in a way that preferentially selects for the healthiest among them, perhaps what we’re doing for you.
Andrew is growing the ones that express like they’re 30 years old because all of our cells in the body and our body aren’t biologically the same age. I’m 43. All my cells in my body, aren’t expressing 43. Right? Some of them are healthier. Some of them are less healthy. We want to, we want you to expand the ones that are the healthiest and the way we do that is, um, and it’s surprising that no one’s doing this, but the way you do it is very akin to the way we do it in our bodies.
So right now, um, you look like you’re in pretty good shape. I’m sure you exercise, you eat healthy. Um, and we don’t grow cells in the lab. That way, what we do in the lab is there’s a standard. Um, temperature standard, um, uh, CO2 rate when the cells are grown and it’s static, we don’t live that way. When we exercise them, stress out ourselves, the weakest dye, the strongest proliferate.
When we intermittently fast, uh, we stress ourselves the weakest dye, the strongest proliferate to put it in very simple terms. We’ve developed a process called self fit. Well, we essentially do that while we’re growing the cells. We stress them so that the weakest I am the strongest survive and proliferate.
So we want to grow, uh, as a company, a portfolio of patents that we can apply to these cells 10 years from now, when you want to start putting them back into you, we want to own the processes, uh, and the devices that are going to be used for that. So, um, the answer is yes, we are. Absolutely.
Andrew: for $2 million. That’s all you’ve
Steven: We can file that in for it.
Yep. No, we’ve raised more. So we’ve raised to date, um, $9 million.
Andrew: Okay. Even that, that doesn’t seem like it’s a lot of money considering the price of research.
Steven: We have a very good team in the lab. Um, we have, we have a great lab. We have the first ISO certified, uh, biobank in the world for, um, uh, human bio repositories. Um, We have been very conservative with our money and it goes a long way. I mean, we’re not out there living life in the fast lane and we’re putting our money to work.
So I think our investors will be very pleased with what we’ve been able to develop with that nine minute million dollars we’re in 20 markets now across the us. Um, yeah, I mean, we’re, we’re in a good position, um,
Andrew: talk about how
Steven: with the limited amount of capital.
Andrew: I see where the idea came from. The two of you decided you were going to figure out a way to do it for yourselves. Your doctor said, people are asking for it. I can do it for you. Did your doctor do it for you? The orthopedic surgeon?
Steven: Uh, we were there. We were the, we were the first two for our last client. Um, our friend Ben, who’s a scientist as well was in there. So we were the first three to do it with that. Dr. Farr, Joan Anarbor. Mine’s on video. I have, we have it somewhere.
Andrew: Uh, that’s pretty cool. Actually, I was, I told you going through some old photos and then I saw the people who are working with you and how they’re doing it. And I got a sense of what’s going on. Let’s let’s continue. So you had this idea, your orthopedic surgeon, uh, did it for you, you stored it. Where did you store your, your cells?
Steven: We store them in a, with a bio repository called Brooke’s life sciences. Um, they’re in Indianapolis. Um, it’s a state of the art facility. They’re amazing, uh, FDA compliant by repository, the cells when they’re stored in liquid nitrogen, they’re literally no longer biologically aging. So, um, the only thing that can really disturb them is if they’re in like research facilities, we’ll go and we’ll take cells out of the, um, The tank, uh, when you do that, you’re really disturbing, like all the other cells in there and you’re opening it this place, like you call up sample number, let’s say four or five, seven, eight.
Um, and it’s the only one that comes out. Like they take it so seriously. It’s phenomenal. So Brooks life sciences is where we store them in Indianapolis.
Andrew: then you decide you’re going to start a company. I’m assuming the next step is to incorporate. Right. And then to figure out how you can w where are you going to create your own version of Brooke’s life sciences, where you are going to start yourselves or was the first version? No. What was the first version?
Steven: no, we never had wanted to do that, to be honest. Um, you know, that’s, uh, ethic in the company in and of itself and, um, comes with a tremendous amount and rightfully so, um, of diligence and, uh, we feel very comfortable working with Brooks. They’re great. Um, I think maybe in the future, that may be a vertical that we would, um, go after.
But right now the economics just don’t make sense for
Andrew: then the first version you took was what, what did you, what were you you partner? Did you partner up with Brooks? Am I understanding that right?
Steven: But actually the first company that we partnered with for storage was, uh, Fisher Bioservices. So we used, um, but we transitioned over to books just because we liked there. We liked them better as a
Andrew: Okay. So you’ve you partner, you made a partnership where someone was going to store the cells for you. You then incorporate it. And then did you need to go and get permission from 20 different States to be able to do this? Did you know that that’s what you needed to do next?
Steven: We have, so we have our tissue transfer licenses and in every state that we’re in, not every, some of them don’t need them. So some States don’t require tissue transfer licenses, others do, but in every state that, um, we need to have those licenses in. Yes, we have them.
Andrew: And then at that point, did you go to Y Combinator and try to raise money?
Steven: Okay. Um, it’s funny, you mentioned Mark and making a post on hacker news. We did put, Mark made a postmaster news. Someone was talking about STEM cell research. It was a post I think about research. A guy named Gary Steinberg at Stanford was doing in stroke. And Mark made a comment underneath that. I essentially just said, Hey, this is why I started forever labs and a link to, for evidence.
And before we knew it, we had like 20, 30, you know, prospects calling us interested in banking. Some of them signed up it’s it flew into Michigan. We had one doctor dr. Pardo at the time, flew into Michigan to have the procedure, um, on the heels of that. One of them invited us out to his home in San Francisco to give a talk.
We did that. Um, people started investing, um, it became clear that San Francisco was a place that, um, Would be excited about this product. And so we opened up shop in, uh, a doctor in Orinda at first, um, great doctor, dr. Chad raga and a number of people in the Bay area. I started thinking there STEM cells with us, and some of them were Y Combinator, alumni.
And we got on Sam Altman’s radar and Sam reached out and asked us to come in and meet with them. And we did. And, um, then we were nominated.
Andrew: Well, then it was basically from what I I’m gathering, it was. A virtual company, right? Where you’re, you’re not extracting the cells. You’re not shipping them. You’re not storing them. You’re just facilitating
Steven: We’re processing. No, we, we, we process all the cells. So if, if there’s one, hands-on part of it, um, it’s cell processing. So you go to dr. Ragnar in Orinda, you have your STEM cells drawn, um, and their shifts to Anarbor. Michigan, like just whole bone marrow is shipped. So to Ann Arbor and then in Ann Arbor, we take the bone marrow, put it in a centrifuge process out the cells.
Um, it’s kind of cool. We, we take a small amount, we call it a micro aliquots, a small little, um, six ML. Of your whole bone marrow, we set it aside, your mononuclear cells. We set them aside and we grow them and we actually take a picture of your cells. So we’ll take a picture of Andrew, yourself, culture expanded, and we will, uh, send that picture to you to show you that you have cells that survive the process of shipment and can grow.
And. We call it a selfie, actually, C E L L F I E. Um, we share the selfie with you and you can actually see a picture of yourself. It’s pretty cool, but we do process all of that on site and that’s not a small thing. We’re very good at it. Um, we’ve never had any complications or problems with that, um, which I’m very proud of.
We have a phenomenal lab, so it’s not just it, a big part of what we do is going out securing top tier physicians in every market, um, marketing, uh, the product for, for sure. Um, but we also process itself too. So we have a lab that does that. So it’s not as if they go, we are the conduit between bone marrow STEM cells that goes through a
Andrew: before Y Combinator, you had that lab yourselves.
Steven: So actually before Y Combinator, we were processing on site. So we would go to every, it was super labor intensive. We would go to every single procedure on site and process the cells in the clinic. Um, so that centrifuge would be in the clinic. We would process them, put them on dry ice and ship them directly from the clinic to the buyer repository.
So, um, Now, because that’s not scalable in any way, shape or form. Now, the doctors are shipping whole bone marrow directly to forever labs. Does that make sense?
Andrew: It does. All right. I’m going to come back in a moment. If no one asks you, then what you do in this process. You’re not, you’re not the, the scientists. I want to understand what your part of it is. I also have to tell you, your co-founder is incredibly prolific online and he’s, he’s out there and all the different things that he’s, that he’s involved with, then you have a blog where he was, uh, imagining that he would, that somebody’s on Odysseus boat.
Right. You know what I’m talking about? Somebody, I know this is boat had a blog and it was
Steven: I got to give you. Mad props. I mean, like I’ve done so many of these types of things over the no one is ever brought up under Odysseus. That is amazing, Andrew. Yeah, he is incredibly prolific. You should see his visual art. He’s an amazing oil pager. I mean, Mark is, I think he’s a true Renaissance man. Like he.
He does many things very well and has a passion for all of them. Um, and I do think that I genuinely believe that Mark is going to help extend health and human lifespan. I really believe that he is a, he is a prolific.
Andrew: I wonder these guys for real, considering all the different things that Mark was doing his, at one point, he said, I’m stopping this blog because I’m going to write a book about this. And I don’t think he ended up writing the book. It’s just like, he’s doing that. He’s doing coding.
Uh, he’s buying lawnmowers using his old Gmail address on some random. It’s like, there’s always this stuff that he’s doing. And I
Steven: I don’t know anything about that, but
Andrew: I’m telling you I’m hunting
Steven: that’s interesting. I, I, yes, he’s getting a little creepy, I think, uh, the, the, um, underlying current throughout all of that. So you mentioned all of these things. He’s passionate about the underlying thing he has done consistently for the past 20 plus years is STEM cell research.
So Mark started, uh, researching these cells before, um, There was any clinical work. So when Mark first started his research with a guy named dr. Michael job at Henry Ford, who was sort of like a preeminent stroke researcher using these cells, um, when Mark started with him, there was no clinical applications for these cells.
There was zero clinical trials using the cell. So he’s really been there from the Genesis of. Um, work in the lab to the clinic, and then I’ve seen, had seen this explosion and it, it really is an explosion in the STEM cell space. So he is a prolific dude that is extremely passionate about a number of things, but the one thing that’s been constant throughout, all of that has been in research.
Um, Uh, using MSCs, mesenchymal STEM cells. So, uh, I think that plays to its strength though. I, I think that if you look at any of the people that have been able to dynamically change the world, uh, for the positive, they’re not one dimensional. It’s very rare.
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What’s your part?
Steven: sure. Um, my part is largely been, um, business development. So in order to do this, it requires physicians. Of course. So the past several years I’ve been that we’re going out and bringing on doctors and new markets. Um, also raising money, which is, uh, as you know, a big part of, uh, many startups. Um, certainly that’s been a big part of it.
Um, and then just leading the entire team, there is sort of, um, two sides to our company. One is the lab and the other is consumer side. Um, and I oversee both of those. Uh, that’s been, been my role. Mark is a, a genius. Um, but he’s certainly not a salesman. And so, uh, I am certainly good at business development have been doing it for a long time, but I’m certainly not a scientist.
So the two of us together really are the perfect, I think, fit for a company like this that has those two sides that need to be balanced.
Andrew: You. You tried a lot of different ideas. I wonder how you knew that this was the one. And were you at all intimidated Steven, by the idea that you would have to study science on a level that you hadn’t even done in college and be tested in a way that no college student, no, no graduate student would be tested right by people whose money is going to be invested in you.
And who almost are looking to trip you up to see if there’s, if this is solid or if it’s the next Theranos. How did you know this was going to be the thing that you could stand up and talk about?
Steven: Well, it’s funny, you mentioned, you mentioned Theranose that all went down the week of demo day for us, or basically like a week before demo day. And so we went out and we took a lot of fits with investors and she and her company were brought up in every like always, and I have no love for it, for that company.
Andrew: you’re for the record you’re miles apart, what she was saying is way, um, even what she was promising versus your promise. It’s completely different. You guys are much more practical, much more today with a vision of what’s possible in the future, but still. These are investors who are trying to see is am I about to get scammed or not?
How did you know that you could talk about this? How did you know that this was something you’d want to talk about for the rest of your life?
Steven: Yeah. So the, um, I’m lucky that I have Mark. So with the first meetings we went on, especially with investors, every single meeting Mark was in the room with me. So as I hear him answering the same questions over and over again, uh, it was an education for me. No, I started, I, I had a crash course in STEM cell research.
Um, I’m not a scientist, but I’m also not an idiot. You know, you or anyone else, if you did enough research could speak towards this. Um, uh, on a high level. When you get down into the minutiae, I need Mark with me. I need Anne, who is our COO and also a scientist. I need an with me when we, if we’re going to get down into the weeds in regards to STEM cell research, I am not a scientist.
I don’t pretend to be, um, But I can convey an idea, even a complex one in simple terms. And this is, it seems really complex. It’s really simple. It’s simple. As we age, we lose these cells in number and function. That’s the problem we solve. We make no promises and I’m going to be able to do X, Y, or Z for you in the future.
But do I can do. Is give older Andrew access to his younger STEM cells. It’s really that simple when you boil it down. And when it gets more complex on the business side, if you’re talking to investors, it’s about strategy and about what we’re doing to, um, Because the truth is, is that the consumer STEM cell banking company in and of itself, financially speaking, isn’t all that exciting.
You know, we don’t make a tremendous amount of money off there, but what we’re really interested in is the future and how we’re going to use these cells in, um, use some of the patents we’re developing, et cetera. Um, so we see the consumer STEM cell banking. It’s sort of an anchor in a space, um, that we’re developing.
Andrew: You were saying that you’re not the only company that does this. When I typed in, uh, forever labs and STEM cells, at some point I did come across a lot of other companies that do it, but I don’t think I see any that do it for adults, or at least not, not ones that I could say for, well, no, this is, this is one for 24, $1,275.
It’s cord blood banking again for babies. There’s another one that will give me a. No, not give me, let me win a baby gift basket if I go over to their side. So it’s all, it’s all. Baby-related you know what let’s then shift over to, to childhood a little bit. Get, help me get to know you, Steven, as a kid, what were you into?
What was it that you were passionate about? Were you starting companies? Where was there something else you were into?
Steven: I’ve always been interested in entrepreneur-ism my grandfathers, both of them, one from Mexico. One from Germany came over, both joined, um, uh, military in order to get citizenship in this country and started their own companies. Um, so I grew up being either in my grandpa Ramirez shop or my, um, grandpa process or my OPA shop.
And I got to see them sort of the pride that they had and having these companies. It’s pretty awesome. So I’ve always been interested in that. Um, and I’ve always worked, you know, at one of my family’s business, in the summers, things like that. As a child, I was really interested in, um, sports. You know, I played baseball.
I was really interested in music and still am a singer and songwriter. And I, I love, love. I have a passion for music. Um, I was really interested in outdoors, camping, hiking, things like that, went to the university of Montana, um, because of that. Um, so yeah, I mean, typical kid, I
Andrew: any companies as a kid?
Steven: No, not really. There is.
My dad tells a story that, um, when I was, uh, when I was a kid, um, my dad also, I guess, entrepreneurial would take video games. This is back when like RJ games were kind of cool and new. Uh, you would take arcade games and put them in laundry mats in restaurants and things like that. And do a rev share with them.
Restaurants make money that way. And when the machines were broken down, they, they would come back to our house. We’d go into our basement and, um, they would get fixed. And I, you know, while they’re in there, I’d be the cool kid in town that had an actual arcade game, you know, in their basement. And I started charging.
I started charging kids admission from the neighborhood into our basement to use it and during the summer, and was making my money that way. And then apparently a kid named Paul. Did he, he had a $20 bill. I didn’t have changed. And I sold them a summer pack for our basement for $20. And his parents found out and called my parents very upset.
That was the end of
Andrew: Oh, that’s too bad. My parents would have been so happy that I was only paying 20 bucks and they would have been happy for me to be exposed to your, your sense of hustle. Yeah, you were, we’ll close it out with this before we got started. You and I were talking about how your you’re teaching your kids to bunny hop.
I guess your son to bunny hop on a bike. Uh, they’re learning to skateboard. My. I’m not into teaching my kids skateboarding. Cause I thought it was too dangerous. My wife is into it, so we do it and I watched them fall constantly. And I just sit back and say, all right, this is her thing. I’m supporting you have a different approach.
You actually think it’s a good thing to you’re like my wife, good thing to get them to get on skateboards. Why
Steven: Skateboarding is the perfect thing for kids to get into if you want them to have resilience and just, and be goal oriented. So in order to Ollie on a skateboard, you’ve got to try hundreds of times fall. It’s going to hurt. You’re going to have to get up if you really want it. You’ll keep going though.
And eventually you’re going to Ollie, right? Um, it’s a perfect. A metaphor for life in general, if you’re going to be successful in life, you’re going to fall a bunch of times. If you’re going to start businesses, you’re going to fall. Maybe it’s your first couple. I mean, um, you just got to get back up and try again.
So I love skateboarding as a life lesson for my kid. Um, it’s funny. One of our clients is a guy named, and I can say this cause he posted openly. Some of our clients actually post with their bone marrow. They’ll hold it, take a picture. And one of them is, uh, I got, I got him. Paul Rodriguez. Yes. Yeah, totally.
Um, P rod or Paul Rodriguez. Who’s an amazing skateboarder. One X games, things like that. My daughter Holly would for the first time and I posted it on Instagram. It was a cool moment. Paul Rodriguez, her P rod like went in and congratulated her. She was so happy with that, but we have, um, lots of athletes thanking their STEM cells with us.
Uh, one of them is Kevin Love. Who’s a five-time NBA, all star place where Cleveland banked his STEM cells with us. He’s also an investor now, um, after he banked. So, um, yeah, I think people in sports who are goal oriented, uh, are planning for the future and are making their STEM cells with forever labs. And, um, Yeah.
Anyway, skateboarding is heading. Anyone would be wise to encourage their children to do something.
Andrew: I do find it. I tell my kid a lot, this is like skateboarding. What? We’re going to sit down and read. And if he’s struggling, I say, remember how many times you fell when you were skateboarding and now you’re riding. Like, it’s nothing and you’re going to keep falling right. While, yeah, this is the same thing let’s get into, uh, into reading this now.
All right. I do see here on slap magazine, Paul Rodriguez, uh, has got a, an article on him and STEM cell banking. Um, Oh, no, it’s no, actually I take it back. It’s on slap magazine, but I think it’s in their forums and somebody is linking to something I’m trying to do research as we’re doing this to see, is this really true?
Did Paul Rodriguez do this and sure enough. Yes it is. Um, and then it started a whole conversation. Uh, one person says F no, and then another person says. What is even more in mortality these days. So I think that the, the thing that people pay attention to with forever labs is the idea that you might help people live forever.
To me, that feels like the wrong place to put our attention to me. It’s. A business that’s a lot simpler at the outset than it seems collect STEM cells. As people have been doing, we use them in a way that is not outrageously different but possible today. And then start watching what other people do with STEM cells.
Other researchers do add your own research to it and improve on what’s there, but what’s, there seems like it’s pretty strong, right?
Steven: Honestly, it could be more simple. They’re going to, you’re going to have a lesson and they’re going to get worse with age. Why would you it’d be like if you had a car and there was only one manufacturer of the spark plugs for that car. And they were going out of business. You’d go buy as many of those Parkland.
Andrew: I’ll give you a better analogy. It’s like how many, how many people here in San Francisco, how many women in San Francisco are preserving their eggs in their twenties? Because they’re not ready to have a kid in their twenties right now, when they’re ready to have a kid, they have 20 year old eggs or 25 year old or 27 year old eggs instead of 35 or 38 or 40 year-old eggs when they’re ready.
Right. This is being done all the time in science, in our lives. Maybe I’m too San Francisco, but I, I,
Steven: I like that. I would add to it. I would add this to it. I would say that it would be like that if you knew you were going to have to have a baby someday
Steven: like you’re going to, no matter what, because guess what? No one likes to think about it, but if you live long enough, in fact, if you’re over the age of 45, statistically, we know how you’re going to die.
You’re going to die from an age-related disease. That’ll be cardiovascular disease stroke. Alzheimer’s. Cancer. Um, one of these age-related diseases, we’ve solved all these other health problems. It’s the point we’re living into our eighties and nineties. And now we have the luxury of using things called age-related diseases.
Right? You’re going to get one plan set aside your STEM cells so that you can have the best possible outcome. It’s really that simple. I think it’s a pragmatic thing. You’re right. A lot of people have focused on the longevity aspect. I’m one of them like, I am very interested in not. Having age-related disease.
If I can extend my health span, not my life span, but my health span longer. Um, I want you, so you checked both those potential boxes by storing your STEM cells. You either will have, uh, your youngest best possible cells to treat age-related disease, or you’re gonna have, you’re gonna have the reproducible assets to potentially extend your health span.
Um, one procedure, uh, allows for both. So why not go to forever labs.com and check it out?
Andrew: All right. Forever labs.com. Congratulations on this business. Thanks for being here to talk about it. And guys, if you’re out. And you’re listening and you do use forever. Lance, please let me know. Let me know about your experience. Let me know about what happened, let me know why you’re doing it, and you could do it completely.
Obviously you can do it in public and lots of different ways, but if you want to just send me an email privately it’s firstname.lastname@example.org obvious. First email@example.com. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re out there and you want to start a bunch of different ideas, turn them into businesses or just launch websites or.
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Thanks. Bye everyone.