A founder’s story — how “longevity” is the ultimate problem to solve
A longread about the road to founding a company and finding the ultimate problem to work on, by Jeffrey Duyvesteijn, co-founder and CEO of For Youth.
November 6, 2021
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A startup is like a jigsaw puzzle
Building a startup is like solving a real life jigsaw puzzle. You have an idea of what the final picture should look like, but it takes time to find the right pieces of the puzzle and bring them together. An even bigger challenge is to decide which puzzle to buy in the toy shop. What problem is worth actually working on?
We are working in the area of longevity and we believe it's the ultimate problem to work on. Out of all the puzzles on the shelf, I am glad we bought this one from the toy shop. I have always been fascinated by new ideas that challenge current beliefs and longevity is definitely one of them.
Am I the typical startup founder?
I am still very new to the startup world and I never really considered myself to be a typical founder. I had always followed the safe path of working for a bigger company straight after university, but something had always been itching.
As a kid I was quite addicted to so-called tycoon games, business simulation games where you build out a company or a world and try to make everything run smoothly. I spent hours and hours building railway companies, creating theme parks and running tropical island economies as a benevolent ruler. I am a firm believer that gaming - playing the right games - is one of the best learning tools available. At a young age I learned to form a vision, execute it and solve problems along the way without anyone telling me what to do. When I look at founders around me, they all share similar traits: they're visionary people and they cherish their autonomy.
Before starting my own business, I worked for Dutch denim brand G-Star RAW for over 10 years. Working for the same company for such a long time is quite unique in today's employment market. I have to admit, I did appreciate the security of a long term employment contract. But that wouldn't have been enough to keep me there. What really drove me in those ten years were the opportunities to grow. Shortly after joining G-Star, I was made responsible for g-star.com, their Global e-commerce channel. In the eight years after, g-star.com grew from €1m to over €100m. This has been the best learning experience I could have ever imagined. I learned everything about e-commerce, growing a business, managing teams and - on top of that - I became familiar with doing business in many of the 50 countries we were selling our products in. With hindsight, I was actually already running a startup within a bigger company. So maybe I have always been this typical startup founder after all?
My first steps in the startup world
I took my first steps in the world of startups in May 2021 when I joined the Antler program in Singapore. Antler is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in companies that get started or nurtured through the several programs they run around the world. They select people whom they think can start and grow successful companies, train them, coach them and let them form teams. Ultimately teams get to pitch an idea to Antler and then you'll either get funded or not. It's like Dragon's Den in real life.
We survived the final of Dragon's Den and we got funded. "We" is me and my co-founder Pieter Verstraete. The Antler program was mainly conducted online because of the pandemic. On top of that, Pieter is living in China, so I actually haven't physically met my co-founder yet! It's amazing what we have achieved so far, thanks to Zoom, WeChat and WhatsApp.
Finding a problem to work on
My co-founder and I found each other quite early on in the Antler program and we immediately valued each other's complementary skills. Where I have a background in e-commerce, marketing and scaling a team, Pieter has worked as a consultant in China for investment projects between clients in China and Europe. Deciding to form a team was easy, picking a problem to work on was a challenge! Startup experts will always tell you to start with the problem and figure out the solution later. But like picking your favourite toy in a toy shop, the abundance of problems to solve in the world is enormous! So where do you start?
We spent over two weeks, meticulously trying to find shared passions and figuring out how to optimally use our complementary skill sets. We tried to figure out which problem areas we were both interested in and if the problem is "good" enough to solve.
There're a couple of frameworks around to select "good" problems and we used the following framework provided by Antler to rate potential candidates:
painful - is it hard to cope with the problem?
popular - how many people are encountering the issue?
frequent - how many times are people dealing with the problem?
urgent - does the problem need to be solved quickly?
growing - is the market for this problem growing?
unavoidable - are there easier ways around the problem?
Finding a problem to work on all comes down to brainstorming, brainstorming and... more brainstorming. We found out our overlapping passions were in the areas of health, fitness, crypto finance and e-commerce. And then we got our Eureka moment! At one point, Pieter shared a Google Talk from David Sinclair, a Harvard professor specialising in longevity. This is it! Longevity has been a growing topic of interest for scientists, bio-hackers in the past years and has gained a lot of popularity in the world of crypto enthusiasts as well. Longevity was matching perfectly with our shared passions and it is one hell of a "good" problem to work on.
Longevity is the ultimate problem to solve
I like to be surprised with new knowledge, like learning about historical countries, world-changing events or scientific discoveries I have never heard of. As I'm getting "older and wiser", that unfortunately doesn't happen a lot anymore. But watching David Sinclair's Google Talk has been one of those rare surprising moments for me. There was this professor explaining that scientists are actually saying ageing is a disease... and that it can be cured! Yes, I had heard about anti-ageing creams before, but this was something new.
Living an eternal life has long been the domain of snake oil salesmen, alchemists and movie characters like Benjamin Button. But scientists have made so much progress in this space that they are now understanding why human beings and other species are physically getting older and what could potentially be done to stop or even reverse the process of ageing. To scientists, it's not just about living for a few more years but it's about living healthier longer. The thought of being able to live until 150, 200 whilst still looking like a 30 year old is fascinating beyond belief.
Longevity really is the ultimate problem to solve. Ageing is a very popular problem as it concerns all human beings, no one can escape it (it's unavoidable). And painful, it is! I'm not talking about this chronic shoulder pain that started in my thirties. Put simply, ageing is the process of cells getting damaged. And therefore, ageing is actually the root cause of many serious diseases of which the chances of getting them are high as we grow older, for instance Alzheimer's disease, cancer and heart diseases.
Although most people only feel the real pain of ageing later in life, to them the problem is frequent and always there. With ageing populations in many countries of the world, the problem is also getting urgent. From an economical point of view, countries are worried that the decreasing working population is unable to sustain a larger group of elderly people. A larger elderly population would also have a big impact on the healthcare system, because of the age-related issues and diseases. Singapore, for instance, has recognised ageing as a multi-faceted issue and it's a key pillar in government policies. Singaporean universities have also attracted talent Globally to further accelerate research into longevity.
Investors and economists around the world are also seeing the fast-growing problems around ageing. The Bank of America expects that the anti-ageing and longevity industry will grow from US$110b in 2019 to over US$600b by 2025. The growth will be propelled by the innovations that are expected to come and the large investments already being made in companies in this space, small and large.
Launching For Youth
Realising that longevity is the ultimate problem to solve, we also saw the market is still young. Most longevity products are marketed to early adopters and biohackers and they do a bad job explaining longevity to people that don't know much about it. We are going to do that differently.
The first product that we will launch is a supplement called NMN, or nicotinamide mononucleotide. It is a molecule that is being heavily researched in the longevity space because of its promising anti-ageing effects. Professor David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School is one of its major proponents.
The next product that we will launch is a so-called biological age test. This test can measure the level of damage to your cells. Anti-ageing therapies will slow down or even reverse this damage and a test can therefore be used to measure the effect of the therapies.
As NMN covers the most important processes of ageing - but not all - the third product on our roadmap is a more broad spectrum supplement consisting of multiple ingredients to target all known processes of ageing.
We envision a future where anyone can receive tailor-made therapies that can help to reverse a person's rate of ageing to live healthier longer. We are going to ride the wave of amazing scientific progress that is expected to come in the near future. The word has just started to spread, but the Longevity Revolution will be defining this century.
Antler enables exceptional people to create exceptional companies. If you want to become a startup founder, find the perfect co-founder and create impactful companies to shape the future, apply now and begin your Antler journey.
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