There are the supplement brands that will supply you with mundane, functional-sounding vitamins and minerals along with an air of clinical rigor that’s effective enough to get you to buy them. “You've got very holistic natural, as we call them 'hippie brands,'” Flo Glendenning, Nue Co’s business development lead, explains. “Then you've got the more pharmaceutical faceless brands that rely on science. Particularly when we launched we were very conscious that there wasn't really anyone sitting in the middle.” The Nue Co. was launched in 2016 in order to exploit that gap.
More specifically, the brand first came about when founder Juliana Miller developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome from, ironically, the stress of her job at a wellness startup. She used over the counter supplements to counteract symptoms—until her grandfather, a respected chemist and pharmacist (who was part of the research team at Cambridge University that first isolated vitamin B12), asked her if she knew what was in all of them. She admitted she didn’t, which is why all of the ingredients that go into Nue Co. supplements are derived from food, as well as organic, vegan, certified to the stringent standards of the UK Soil Association, and produced according to the principles of sustainable chemistry (to minimize the input and output of hazardous chemicals in the process).
It's me on my best day everyday.
Or maybe you’re a forward-looking investor. As Glendenning points out, nootropics may be largely unknown to the general public now, but they’re projected to grow into an $11 billion dollar market by 2024. Americans are obsessed with both self-improvement and easy solutions, and we’ve already spent untold billions of dollars looking for a magical pill that’ll give us smaller waists or bigger muscles without any of the nasty side effects that usually come with them. And now that we live in an information economy, we want one that’ll do the same thing for our mental productivity–apparently so badly that we manifested not only an entire Hollywood movie about the idea, but a TV spinoff as well.Sure, we already have a pill that can kick your brain into overdrive and turn you into a seething, deadline-crushing productivity beast. But while Adderall is extremely effective and widely used, it’s also a Schedule II amphetamine and as addictive as that categorization makes it sound.But when Glendenning drops the phrase “organic Adderall” to describe Nootro-Focus during a product presentation at the Nue Co. store in the Soho district, she winces with what was probably the certain foreknowledge that I’d be using it in this piece.
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I’ve tried out a few other nootropic supplements that fall on a spectrum of effectiveness. One end is Moon Juice’s hippie-gentle Brain Dust, which gives my mood and brain function a mindful nudge upward—the effect I’m always looking for when I have an extra cup of coffee, without the jittery anxiety that I usually end up with instead. On the other end is Neurohacker’s high-powered Qualia Mind, which at a full dose has a manic edge that took me back to the ephedrine-fueled all-nighters of my youth. (Although I like it at half dose.) The Nue Co.’s offering occupies the perfect in-between.
I’m full of energy, but totally focused: no anxiety, no edginess, no racing thoughts.
Still, as much as I enjoy Nootro-Focus, its aspirationally productive creators, and the Nue Co. in general, I almost resent how seamlessly the brand’s mission, marketing and design delivers. It feels too good to be true. It’s great that there’s a viable natural alternative to some of the corrosize, easy-to-abuse drugs that people use to squeeze the most work out of a day that they can, but it still gives people the opportunity to overextend themselves that much more.
Miller herself admits that the idea to develop a nootropic with immediate effects was inspired by her desire to get more out of the 14-hour-days an ambitious start-up founder . The entrepreneurship boom and gig economy have vaporized our work-life balance, while the rise-and-grind cult of productivity have enshrined unhealthy habits as an aspirational lifestyle. Nootro-Focus, Glendenning agrees, isn't a cure-all. “If you view anything as a magic bullet or a Limitless pill or whatever it is,” she explains, “that's so dangerous. We can get you halfway there. The rest is up to you.”
And of course she’s right. Which is why the other day after a couple of weeks of living with Nootro-Focus in my morning routine, I made a little adjustment to my schedule. I put off my morning meditation for an hour so that the supplement had time to start working before I sat down to clear my mind. With one small tweak I could bring the same level of nootropic-enhanced attention I’ve been giving my emails and invoices to the simple act of following the breath in and out of my nose. For a minute—or more realistically a couple of seconds that felt like a minute—the world fell away completely, and it was like everything on my lengthy to-do list had vanished.It was a profound moment, then it faded away and my meditation timer went off. I got up, went to the kitchen, and with all the attention and focus in the world I made myself an absolutely perfect piece of toast and ate it.