Nootrobox CEO Geoffrey Woo doesn’t get high on his own supply; he gets to work. So do most the nootropic salesman’s employees, who are encouraged to think of their days as a series of productivity peaks and valleys and their bodies as susceptible to chemical manipulation. In a sense, the Nootrobox office is the showroom model of the future the company is selling. Woo is proud of the pills and the snacks and all the evangelism.
Woo foresees a future where one-on-one meetings and five-hour coding sessions will be scheduled according to employees’ mood and energy level instead of just being arbitrary. The future workplace, he says, will be about optimizing personal performance — but this will take community effort. He talked to Inverse about the importance of group fasting and why we should all think of ourselves as “mental athletes.”
What’s the Nootrobox office like? Are you already putting some of your practices into play?
We have an interesting culture. We actually all intermittently fast. None of us eat on Tuesday — some people don’t eat for even longer. Some of my colleagues are more hardcore — they fast on Sunday night, then break fast on Wednesday morning.
How does that boost productivity?
There’s actually a lot of robust science about adult neurogenesis being accelerated under caloric restriction, or a “fast state.” There’s this misconception that you don’t grow new neurons when you’re an adult, but you do. That’s accelerated when you fast. In the hippocampus, more neurons are generated, more quickly.
It’s partially citizen science, partially it’s just something we’re interested in doing. It’s a funny cultural thing. It kind of sucks, in the beginning, to not eat for 36 hours. But it’s fun to get breakfast together on Wednesday. We realized that a lot of people in our community want to do that as well, so we started a biohacker breakfast. We have 300 people in a Slack channel, nerding about fasting and different fasting protocols. Every Wednesday at 8 a.m., in San Francisco, we have a biohacker breakfast.
So, the Nootrobox community fasts together to increase its brainpower?
The main goal of the intermittent fast is to get into ketosis. Your body basically breaks down glucose as its energy source, but it can be fat-adapted — breaking down fat as its primary energy source.
But you’re also all using nootropics in addition to fasting, right?
Yeah, we’re all on Nootrobox stacks. Our recent pre-launch prototype GO Cubes are chewable coffee — they’re really popular right now. Everyone’s just sort of popping those. It’s funny: We work a lot, and we work a lot to make better nootropics to make us work even better. It’s a funny loop. We’ll be in the office 12-, 14-hour days pretty regularly, and we work Sundays. Six days. When people want to join us, we tell them: We’re intense. We do a bunch of weird biohackery stuff. That’s who we are.
Does having everyone on nootropics guarantee that no employee will ever fall behind?
A lot of how people think about biology-related technology is that it’s used as a therapeutic — bringing people from a deficient state to a normal state, with pharmaceuticals or medicines. The way we think about it is enhancement, bringing people from normal biological limits to an enhanced state. It’s not a zero-sum game.
Do you think the widespread adoption of nootropics will result in higher standards for productivity?
I think that’s already the case, whether with nootropics or not. I think people are being more productive as technology increases. If you look at the tools available to humans, the leverage of a farmer a hundred years ago or a factory worker was the muscle under body. Now, with companies like WhatsApp and Instagram, you have 17 people making products for billions of people, right? I think leverage is increased, and productivity demands for people have increased in a lot of ways. It’s the opposite of what the industrial philosophers were saying — hey, productivity is so high, we’re all not going to work in the future. It panned out to be the opposite. People that are really productive are working even harder.
And this is OK with you?
I’m amoral to it. I don’t think there’s a natural good or bad to how hard you work. If people want to be more productive, they should have a choice and the resources to understand, learn, and utilize these tools. No one’s forcing people to use any tool.
Don’t you worry that we’re going to hit a peak — a physical human limit to how productive we can be? Or does that limit not exist?
I think part of me is optimistic that any productivity limits that humans have predicted have always been broken. Look at the difference between 2016 and 1916. Is there a hard limit?
I do agree that acceleration may be plateauing or tapering so we’re getting smaller and smaller gains in more specific areas. But I think in this day and age, when so much value is won or lost by minutiae — being a little bit better, a little bit faster — people try to gain every single advantage that they can.
It’s like athletics: If you’re just one microsecond faster when you’re sprinting or swimming, you’re a gold medalist or you’re not. There’s an interesting parallel with “economic athletes” or “mental athletes” who are at startups, or financiers on Wall Street, who have these microdecisions — they can change outcomes dramatically.
I think that should be how we think about it. We all make our living by being creative or being thoughtful or well-read or well-spoken about whatever domain that we’re in. An athlete makes his or her living off of being fast, or whatever. There will always be a group of people who want to push that limit.
Are you always on stacks?
Basically, I’m experimenting on stuff we think might be interesting and then trying out different compounds. I’ll probably eat a Go Cube after this. It’s part of the toolkit. The lifestyle. I never drink a cup of coffee, now.
So the nootropic revolution is going to be a lifestyle shift.
It might sound scary, but I don’t think it’ll be that crazy. The FitBit analogy is kind of telling. Tens of millions of people are tracking their footsteps now. Why not tracking our cognitive space and optimizing that and being more productive when we want to be?