Founders Focus: Andrew Thomas of BetterYou
What was your eureka moment?
There have been two. The first was in 2005 when I had my own marketing agency and happened to be in the US shooting a jeans commercial at a rodeo. In a restaurant with the crew one evening I met a biochemist called Juan Rossello. Having suffered from asthma since the age of 12 and reliant on numerous steroid inhalers I was fascinated by his confidence in how he could improve my symptoms.
Juan introduced me to the importance of balancing my calcium and magnesium intake, our declining magnesium intake in Western diets and the superior absorption of magnesium chloride when applied to the skin. It turned out, he and several other medical professionals, sports coaches and practitioners had been sent a sample of an amazingly pure form of magnesium brine by a mine in Northern Holland. Most samples ended up in the bin, but Juan commenced to use it with great success on the muscle recovery of professional athletes in the States. He also gave some to me to take home to the UK. A litre bottle which I duly poured into my palm and rubbed it onto my chest and shoulders.
A month or so later I was convinced that I was using my inhaler less. If nothing else I felt, flexible and full of life. I contacted Juan and asked where I could get some more. His answer was that it was not commercially available and that I’d need to fly to the mine.
So, after a little chat with myself, fly to the mine I did. I met with the mine directors, both geologists, and discovered that they thought the purity of the magnesium was so high and the chemical measurements so precise that there must be a medical demand. We shook hands and I flew home as the mine’s partner to the health industry. I created BetterYou and the rest, as they say, is history. As I write this, I have been asthma-free for well over 10 years.
The second happened in 2009 over a coffee with Dr Charles Heard at Cardiff University. He had just absorption tested a new magnesium product for me (which had failed) and he asked what my next product development would be. I had been paying close attention to the dramatic growth in vitamin D studies that were being published and suggested an oil-based capsule would be sensible. Charles had just published a study on a malaria-preventative which was administered as an oral spray. As many deaths from malaria occur in the under-fives, most of whom are infants, a simple daily quinine-based spray, administered by the parent, seemed a solution. I was simply blown away by the simplicity and immediately asked his team to test my formulation as an oral spray. The absorption was exceptional and led to BetterYou pioneering nutritional oral sprays and an on-going relationship with Dr Heard and his team.
What is your elevator pitch?
BetterYou specialises in the development of effective and pioneering alternatives to tablets and capsules, focussing on nutrients increasingly omitted or underrepresented in our modern diet and lifestyle.
How did you test your idea?
New to the nutritional industry I was desperate to learn more about magnesium absorption through the skin. It became all-consuming. So, on a trip home to see my folks in Pembrokeshire I popped into Cardiff University.
The first department you come to after parking is the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. I met with Dr Charles Heard, the Head of the department, who was only too happy to test the discovery using his project hungry undergraduates. We found it to be not only exceptionally well absorbed through the skin but, in this chloride form, able to elevate cellular magnesium levels faster than any tablet or capsule could ever hope to. The confidence this gave us allowed successive trials to be funded culminating in the World’s first clinical study at St Mark’s Hospital, London.
Our range of nutritional oral sprays have been a dream to test as they prove so much easier for test subjects to take than tablets. In addition, vitamin D has received so much publicity over the past five or so years that there is not a year that goes by that one of our sprays isn’t involved in multiple clinical studies.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business on their own?
Do it…but…don’t expect immediate results. Be prepared for failure. Be prepared to live lean. Expect people to consider your ideas mad, unrealistic, and unworkable – and never chase money. It will come, but only when the foundations are there.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I have a business partner, Robin, who joined me when the company was struggling. Robin is probably not as much a mentor as the yin to my yang.
I’ve become a mentor by default I guess and work with Founders for Schools. I’m invited to talk at many entrepreneurial functions and always feel a little bit of a fraud, to be honest. However, I love to share a tale or two, some cautionary, and if they help then that’s great.
What’s your plan B?
I’ve never had one, I never considered that I needed one.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
Without a doubt, it is passion. Without that, you won’t get through a hard day and people simply won’t follow you.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
Every failure is a blessing if you’re prepared to learn. I’ve had too many to single one out and all of them hurt.
What is coming up for your Brand?
Continued expansion and innovation. The US has been on the table for a couple of years and only now do we see ourselves robust enough to accept the challenge that it represents. As for product innovation, it remains the lifeblood of the company and we’ve been working on some amazing new areas.
What book would you recommend that everyone reads and why?
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s pretty sobering stuff, but it reminds us just how very flawed we are as a species and how hard we all need to work to make a positive difference. How hard we have to try to do good.
How do you find balance in your daily life?
I try to be in the moment rather than allow myself to be split. This helps focus energy. I’m also blessed with a family. When I come home, I just have to feel their presence and my reset button is pressed. I must be pretty difficult to live with at times, we all can be, but their patience and love can be palpable.