By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with “5 Hour Energy” Founder Manoj Bhargava. Bhargava says he has created a new medical therapy called “Renew” that could potentially boost everything from memory to athletic performance.
Detroit Free Press
Manoj Bhargava, the Farmington Hills billionaire, is at it again.
The Princeton University dropout who made his money selling concoctions in tiny bottles to help people stay awake, now seeks to commercialize a controversial medical therapy that he is calling the “greatest health treatment anywhere in the world.”
In a new therapy called Renew, a patient lies down and is strapped into inflatable cuffs that are wrapped around the calves, thighs and hips. The cuffs inflate and deflate in succession — pulsing the body in sync with heartbeats — for about 30 minutes, as EKG leads monitor the patient’s heart.
Bhargava says the therapy could potentially boost everything from memory to athletic performance.
“It enhances blood flow, which is the basis of almost all health,” Bhargava said at his Farmington Hills center, where he plans to study the therapy. “So, it affects, for example, your brain, for dementia and Alzheimer’s, skin, heart, every organ, muscles, joints, diabetes, all that is affected by blood flow.”
While views vary on the therapy’s medical benefit, Bhargava’s pitch for the treatment is an opportunity to glean more insight into how one of Michigan’s wealthier entrepreneurs thinks and his approach to business.
In his own words, his business formula is to “identify things that work, turn them into something simple, then go out and commercialize them.”
Bhargava — who is recognized by schoolchildren globally as the result of a 40-something minute documentary, “Billions in Change” released last year that was shown in classrooms around the world — said that, like the 5-hour energy drink he is so well-known for, he did not invent the therapy or the device to deliver it, but he wants to make it available to everyone.
In fact, he said, his long-term vision is to set up centers around the world where patients could go to get the treatment.
In an edited conversation, he discussed Renew, 5-hour Energy and his plans to spend his fortune addressing global woes.
QUESTION: My son, he’s 11, studied you last year in his class.
ANSWER: That’s the most shocking thing that happened from that documentary. It’s all over the world. I went to Singapore and I got recognized. All schools in Singapore showed it. It’s across the entire world, not just here. It’s kind of an aspiration for kids to say: “OK, is someone actually doing something instead of just making money and buying toys?”
Q: My son gave me some questions to ask.
A: Kids have the best questions.
Q: So, let’s start with a popular one. What is your net worth?
A: To tell you the truth, I don’t even know. It’s certainly a few (pause) billion. But, beyond that, it’s hard to gauge.
Q: I’ve read an estimate of $4 billion?
A: Yeah, that’s probably conservative.
Q: What does your new therapy device do?
A: Basically, it enhances blood circulation, so it acts like a secondary heart. But, it’s not invasive. It’s cuffs that go around your ankle, your calves, thighs, it sort of massages, squeezes, with your heartbeat. It acts like a secondary heart pumping blood.
Q: How often do you get this treatment?
A: I do it two to three times a week, and the effects are stunning. If you did it, after one or two sessions, you’d go, ‘What the hell?’ You feel lighter. As you get older, you are heavier, you go up the stairs, it’s the same way, but it feels twice as much.
Q: Is it a form of massage?
A: Actually, it squeezes, so it pushes the blood up.
Q: Is it like cupping (the therapy swimmer Michael Phelps made famous at this summer’s Olympic Games)?
A: No, no, no. This is the greatest device ever made. I’m saying that because I didn’t make it. It was invented at Harvard about 40 years ago.
Q: What’s the plan here?
A: This is the initial center, and people are coming here from all over the world to copy this in other parts of the world. This is like a showroom, and also the first center. The study we are doing is dementia. Dementia, Alzheimer’s is something that affects at least two people: The person who has it, and even more so, the person who is the caregiver. So this is one place — one area — we think will be really large for this, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Well, at this point we’d expect centers like this because the machinery itself is about $45,000. So it would be pretty expensive.
Q: Is the treatment covered by insurance?
A: Some indications are covered by insurance, most are not.
Q: What is the financial potential here?
A: I don’t think I’ll make money in 15 years. The reason I did this, and the reason I do most everything else, I find something which is great, and I go do it. Whether it makes money or not. If it makes money, awesome, if it doesn’t, OK. This is one of those that is going to be late in making money, but it is the greatest thing there is. So, I’m going to be behind it. I think it will take off faster in the rest of the world. The reception has been much faster in the rest of the world because its a substitute for heart surgery.
Q: Is it scientific?
A: Oh yeah. The American Heart Association has tried to push Medicare to use this as a primary — or as an adjunct to — heart surgery. Unfortunately, the surgeons are in charge.
Q: Let’s talk about 5-hour Energy. That’s where you made most of your money. Where did the idea come from?
A: I started a company to look for technology worldwide because if you have some technology, you can make more money than if you don’t have technology. So I searched around and got lucky and found something that I tried and was amazing. But, it was in a big bottle. So I thought, ‘what if I’m tired? I don’t want to drink 16 ounces.’ So I found this technology and made it better and launched it.
Q: What is it made of?
A: It really is brain function. It’s sort of nutrients for the brain. It’s like vitamins for the brain. With this, you focus. Your focus becomes better. When you focus, you think you have energy. You really don’t have energy, you just have focus.
Q: Isn’t it mostly caffeine?
A: No. The caffeine part is just there. One of the greatest qualities of caffeine, it makes other nutrient absorb. That’s why in Excedrin, there’s caffeine. Why would they give you caffeine for your headache? That doesn’t make any sense. The purpose of that is to get the other stuff absorbed by the body.
Q: Is it a secret formula?
A: It’s not that secret. It’s just in the right combinations. It just works. There was one cameraman in here today who said, the biggest thing for me was it’s such a surprise to find something that works. Anything.
Q: So you made most of your money from 5-hour Energy and pledged to give most of it away. You said you will give 99% of your money away. Why did you decide to do that?
A: Correct. It will be 99% of what I have. If you have more money than you need, there’s only two things you can do. You can do completely useless things, or useful things. The only useful thing I can think of, is so something for those with less. It’s not that I’m a good guy — or anything like that. It’s just there was really no choice.
Q: Some of the efforts you are investing in are clean water? Energy?
A: Yeah. Water, energy for everybody. We have a bicycle we expect to give power, lights in people’s houses.
Q: But isn’t it just good for the company’s image to give things away, to be seen as a philanthropist?
A: That has no effect. Someone may buy it once, but they won’t buy it a second time and we’ve seen no effect because of that.
Q: How about marketing? What are the best ways to market your products?
A: Well, we’re talking to health ministers, and if they use this product it will reduce the overall medical expenses by 10% for the country. The largest expense is heart disease. They are more sensitive in other countries to costs than they are to it here.
Q: Now that you have all this money, are people constantly asking you for investment?
A: I get pitched on everything, every day. But we’ve decided we’re going to do that which is really useful for the poor, and what is really useful for the poor is how can we help them to make a living, everybody needs to have that, and the other things is some amount of health care.
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
A: Sure. The thing you don’t need is an MBA. The thing you do need is common sense, a sense of urgency and just determination. I hate saying passion, because passion is one of those things that after we get hit in the face a few times, it disappears. Determination doesn’t leave.
Q: Isn’t there controversy surrounding the safety of your product, 5-hour Energy?
A: Yeah. It’s sort of — most of it, all of it — is total fiction. It’s just to create news — awe and shock, out of nothing. By law, we have to report co-adverse events. The FDA looks at them and says, are they related or not related. So they took half the story, which was, if someone calls and it was something — anything, it doesn’t matter — we have to report it to the FDA. If you crash your car, which is one of the events, and there’s a bottle of 5-hour in the back, along with other trash, they say, ‘oh my God.’ The FDA says, you have to report it, but it’s not related. So they looked at the first part, but didn’t look at what the FDA looked at, and blew that up. It’s half a story.
Q: Is it safe?
A: It’s safer than coffee. Coffee can burn linings in your stomach and lots of nasty stuff. This is way safer than coffee.
Q: So no injuries from it?
A: Not a one.
Q: But a lot of lawsuits.
A: That’s how things work. First the New York Times, then the plaintiff’s lawyers, then the attorney generals, then the Congress. It’s kind of a game everybody plays. That’s fine. We’ll play the game.
Q: So if your product is safe, simple and not so much of a secret, what keeps others from making and selling it?
A: There have been somewhere between 350 and 400 competitors. It may be simple, but it’s not easy to duplicate. They all came in with other stuff. That includes Coke, Pepsi, Monster, Red Bull, all the big guys came — and they all failed in our category. We are 93% of the market share. We own that market.
Q: What did you do — from a business perspective — that helped you to dominate in the market?
A: One of the things people ignore all the time is that in order to have a great, successful product, you have to have a great product. If you have great marketing and a lousy product that doesn’t really work. It works for a short time. It’s like a pet rock, and then goes away. Making the product better and better was the most important thing. And then we had to get people to try it once. Once you’ve tried it, we got you! That’s why its huge among truck drivers, Wall Street or Hollywood, hospitality. It’s huge among people who work long hours or strange hours or need to be on their game.
Q: One of my son’s questions: Is it good for kids?
A: I don’t think you’d give a cup of coffee to a 5-year-old, so I’d have to say the same thing. Whoever can drink coffee, this is fine.
Q: So what age do you recommend this for?
A: I think coffee starts around 16. I think that would be fine. Below that, it’s safe; but, I mean, I would never give my son coffee at the age of 10. No one does that. I don’t know if it’s unsafe, just nobody does.
Q: Is there a limit to how much you should take?
A: The toxicity limit is if you take 40 in a day, it’s bad for you.
Q: Forty in a day?
A: It’s kind of silly because if you took 40 bottles of water, there’s actually a disease that you would drown. There’s always a top limit to everything, including water. If you are concerned about your own health, you have to use your own brain.
Education: Attended Princeton University
Interests: Tennis, philanthropy
Car: 2015 Acura SUV
Net worth: More than $4 billion
Renew Research Center
Address: 26700 Haggerty Road, Farmington Hills
Hours: 9 a.m. — 6 p.m.