Let’s get one thing straight: Sports drinks today aren’t exactly health food. Sure high sugar content, artificial dyes, preservatives and chemical additives are bad enough, but it’s the acid content (100 times more than coffee!) that can really affect our health (tooth decay) and performance (muscle fatigue).
Enter PHenOH 7.4, the first sports drink that helps the body maintain its natural alkalinity, allowing us to perform at our best for longer.
Founder and CEO Alex Schmotter, a lifelong athlete with a passion for health sciences, developed the product after realizing the lack of a healthy alternative to traditional sports drinks. He also happens to be one of Hubby’s dental school buddies, so I thought it’d be fun to sit down and chat about how he balances running a successful business with pursuing his DDS degree!
KineticFix: Welcome, Alex! So, how’d you get the idea for an alkaline sports drink, and why is it so beneficial for athletes?
Alex Schmotter: I was in the process of applying for dental school, so I had teeth on my mind, and at the same time I was brainstorming research topics for my senior research at Cal Poly. Being an athlete with a background in biology and a strong interest in dentistry, I began researching the detrimental oral affects that sports drinks have.
Most people don’t understand that acid is the direct cause of tooth decay, so I decided to conduct my senior research on the topic. And the more I learned about the acidity of sports drinks, the more I discovered that their negative effects aren’t just on teeth, but also on physical performance and overall health.
Sports drinks are about 30,000 time more acidic than blood. This is especially important for athletes because when we exercise we naturally produce acids. Our bodies are amazing machines, and we are very good at getting rid of this acid, but there comes a point that we produce acids faster than we can get rid of them, which can adversely affect performance.
KF: You’re currently in dental school; how does your work with Phenoh 7.4 fit in with that?
AS: Teeth are where this all started. I was out for a bike ride one day in undergrad, and I’m riding along drinking my sports drink thinking about how I’m drinking it. I notice that I put a little bit of this bright blue fluid into my mouth, swish it around for a few seconds, swallow, and then repeat the process. It doesn’t take being a dentist to know that this is terrible for your teeth.
Having such an interest in oral health, I wanted to understand the justification for sports drinks being so acidic. I thought that if the acid is destructive to our teeth, then it must be very good for us in other ways to justify being in sports drinks, but the more research I did the more obvious the problem became.
KF: Describe a typical day; I’m interested in how you balance it all!
AS: Well I don’t do it alone, first of all. I have a great team behind me now, and that’s crucial. I have learned to feed off of the positive support that I have gotten from my family, my friends and some great advisers.
In terms of a typical day, though, I sleep between 4 and 5 hours a night. I usually set an alarm for 6 a.m. I wake up, get ready and head to a coffee shop to work before school. I try to get a few hours of work in before clinic. It’s actually great working this early in the morning because retail store buyers are up early to prepare before the store opens.
Then I go to clinic or class. I work with patients all morning, and during that time I’m really pretty unavailable. This is where it is to important to be able to trust the people you work with.
We get an hour off for lunch, so I usually sprint to the coffee shop around the block and catch up on emails or take a phone meeting. I try to schedule phone meetings for 1-2 p.m. every day, because this is the time of the day that I know I am available and that both the West and East Coasts are within normal business hours.
At 2 p.m. I go back into clinic were I’m with patients again until 5 p.m. After cleaning up, writing notes, calling patients, etc. it is usually 5:30 or 6 p.m., and this is when the work day really starts for me. I would say that Wei-Ken, our company president, and I have most of our company-defining moments after the midnight hour. There’s no such thing as 9 to 5 at a start-up!
Someone told me once that the key to a successful business is “people by day, papers by night.” I agree with this — that during the day it is important to speak with as many people as possible in the restraints of their working hours. And during the ‘off’ hours, I get to express my creativity, make a game plan, develop new products, etc.
KF: It’s been four years in the making; can you tell us a bit about what went into creating your product?
AS: Ten years ago, a “curious kid” would not have had the resources to do what I did. Today we have access to any information in the world at the tip of our fingers. We have online databases full of unfiltered, scientific literature prepared by masters in their respective fields. I was able to pull information from every discipline of science to get a true understanding of the big picture — thereby giving me the opportunity to develop a solution that “bridges the gaps.”
Phenoh 7.4 is made with just seven natural ingredients, and each one is in there at a very specific concentration for a very specific purpose, based on what the research shows we need for maximal function. We redefined the sports drink on every level, not just the alkalinity. For example, we make our product with organic aloe vera — not only for the essential nutrients that it provides to help us rebuild after stress, for also for its anti-inflammatory effects, ability to reduce post-exercise pain and boost to the immune system.
The real time, however, has not been on the product development, but on building the business. Taking a concept to market with zero business experience is no easy task. I have made many mistakes and will probably make many more. I have, however, developed an incredible network that is proving extremely helpful in spreading word of this new product.
KF: You’re a self-taught businessman, and I’d argue there’s no better MBA than starting your own company! So what are three things you’ve learned in the process?
AS: As you know, my background is in science — so other than a few lemonade stands as a kid, I came into this with zero business experience. Starting a company as a one-man show, you wear a LOT of hats. I gave myself the google.com crash-course in just about everything, and learned a lot from friends, but if I had to give just three things that I’ve learned, I’d say:
1. If you do not know something, learn it. If you are in a situation where you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask. I spent the early days of this thing splitting time between developing the graphics, building a production systems plan, writing my first provisional patent, learning about types of seed round financing, learning about quality control compliance regulations for producing a consumable product, building basic marketing and distribution campaigns…the list goes on.
2. Take on an attitude that if you do not do something, then it will not get done. In business, there is a lot of talk. I still believe that most people genuinely want to help and want to see your vision succeed, but we are all very busy and without an ingrained sense of urgency, people and businesses do not always take action in the way that they say.
For me, this experience was true in situations with friends coming on board to help with the operations and not understanding how much time and effort goes into building a business, all the way to giant corporations promising results and not following through on their agreements. In business, everyone is working on leverage. Be persistent. Stay positive, and push push push.
3. Know who you are. This may be the most challenging initial process of starting a brand. Can you explain it to someone? Will they understand? It doesn’t do a whole lot of good having a “great-freaking-product” if you are the only one who understands it. This should be an exercise performed by every new business entrepreneur.
My suggestion is that you go out and talk about it. Talk about it so much that there is not a single question you don’t have an answer to. Find your brand identity. Think about your brand’s immediate-, short-, and long-term goals, and write them into your business plan. Then don’t lose sight of those ideals!
KF: What are your favorite ways in which to stay active — that is, where & when do you drink Phenoh 7.4?
AS: Exercise is a part of my life. I can’t go without exercise, or I just feel off. I’ve always run outside, and throughout college I played team sports (Alex was an All-American collegiate lacrosse player) and went to the gym daily. I still like to go to the gym, but nothing can replace being outside — whether it’s running, biking, hiking, water skiing, snow skiing, etc.
After dental school, I would love to get back into lacrosse and soccer. But for now, you can find me at the Lyon Street staircase or running down Marina Green!
KF: Where do you see Phenoh 7.4 5-10 years from now?
AS: Phenoh is a lifestyle brand, and Phenoh 7.4 is our flagship product. The benefits of the concept of Phenoh 7.4 extend to everyone, not just while we are exercising. We want to teach and we want to offer information and healthy products.
We also plan to build philanthropy into our core values. My dad and I have been doing dental philanthropy trips, and last year we did three where we went to Mexico and provided free care for the Huichol Indians. We want to use Phenoh to build similar prevention and care programs around the world.
KF: Finally, what would you say to people who haven’t tried an alkaline drink yet but are open to the idea of trying one?
AS: Don’t be scared! People expect that an alkaline alternative beverage is going to taste like soap, or something awful… Give it a try and see for yourself; it’s very refreshing!
We like to think of ourselves as the Tesla of beverages — at first, consumers were interested in Tesla because it was an electric alternative to internal combustion engines, but now it’s becoming a norm. Phenoh products are the same; while our defining characteristic is the fact that we are alkaline rather than acidic, it is only one of the reasons that we offer a superior product.
It’s also important to note that we aren’t an alkaline water — we are an alkaline flavored beverage, and we are the first of our kind. It’s not just sports drinks that are acidic. If you see something in a bottle, and its not alkaline water, you can assume it’s acidic. This acidity is a serious problem, and that’s why were offering Phenoh as a viable solution.
Intrigued yet? Check out Phenoh 7.4’s website here for more info!