This weird new snake oil can extend your life!

This weird new snake oil can extend your life!

Edit: This article was updated on Jan 25th, 2017, after an exploratory conference call with the Ambrosia, LLC, Founder. -KH

So, do you wanna live forever?

When I began writing my number one non-selling book, “Surrogate Threats,” I was motivated by the idea that advancements in medical science had put us near the cusp of consumer-accessible life extension. Even back in 2015, a growing number of very smart people were predicting near immortality within ten years. My contemplation of that possibility spawned the creation of a fictional antagonist named Ryk Marius who, obsessed with the desire to become immortal and unwilling to be constrained by regulatory brakes or cumbersome morality, developed a plausible plan for life extension using today’s (and, okay, a little bit of tomorrow’s) medical technology. As an entrepreneur, I had such great fun hashing out my antagonist’s business model and innovating through his logistics challenges, I ultimately put his company, Marius Technologies, online at Rejuvi.me.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to spending part of 2015 caught up in recurring fantasies about extracting the (mostly) legal aspects of Marius Technologies to create and fund an actual bio-tech venture. If I’d known then what I know now, I might just have done it!

The Tantalizing Business of Life Extension

My sticking points in 2015, other than a chickenshit reticence toward funding legally gray, outlandish, futurist ventures, were (1) that I didn’t think I’d be able collect quite enough funding to get my life-extension venture off the ground; and (2) that I’d have to move out of the country to get around the United States’ oppressive regulatory environment when it came to building businesses out of experimental bio-tech. Put another way, I’d pretty much have to become a full blown Bond villain to develop this world-changing therapy into a profitable business. So I was stymied.

What made it more frustrating was that I was pretty sure someone could actually pull my plan off, if those meddling kids (and, you know, the rest of the world) would just leave them (and me, and my imaginary investors) alone to do it!

I needed a way to advance the vision that the rest of the world wouldn’t consider insane, ethically dangerous, and/or shudderingly creepy. Aye, therein lay the rub!

I was stuck.

Then, a week ago, I was stunned to learn I could have worked within the current US regulatory system to offer experimental age rejuvenation services while collecting substantial revenues — even if the process ultimately didn’t work! After all, while Winston Churchill once said,

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,”

Kevin Higgins adds, “…and, even better, with no loss of your own money!”

There WAS a way!

you-wanna-live-forever

why-yes-i-doThe inciting element in this week’s narrative was a blog post on the site Singularity Hub by Peter Diamandis titled, “Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever.”

Buried about three-quarters of the way into that article, in a section about the four main areas of stem cell therapies to watch, was a section on parabiosis. (For those not into linking away while reading, parabiosis was the term originally coined in the 1860’s (!) for linking the circulatory systems of two creatures, one young and one aged. The resulting blood sharing was found to literally, significantly, reverse the age of virtually all bodily tissues in the older creature. More recently, parabiosis is a term used to describe a process where blood (or plasma) from young donors is provided to elder recipients. The most energetic studies of parabiosis potential today in the US are being done at Stanford, where the treatments are being explored for their potential to stop (or reverse!) the progression of Alzheimer’s. Similar studies are being pursued at many other universities and research clinics elsewhere in the world.)

It’s really not science fiction that hordes of our most advanced researchers are beginning to view aging as a disease that can be cured.

It may turn out that Ponce de Leon’s long-sought “Fountain of Youth” was circulating through the arteries of the Utes* around him all the time!

This is the part where your inner mad scientist says, “Well, wait. If learned and aggressive clinical research doctors are securing valuable (and always scarce) funding to explore whether parabiosis rejuvenates aging, Alzheimer’s-riddled brains …and a full century of parabiotic experimentation with animals has created reams of peer-reviewed findings documenting the reversal of cellular age in virtually all bodily tissues …then maybe parabiosis has a strong chance of becoming at least one part of a multi-faceted strategy to cure people of aging!”

And your inner entrepreneur says, “Holy crap — that’s one of the Holy Grails of bio-tech!” (the other, of course, is to resolve once and for all whether a European Swallow might carry a coconut)(sorry, that was obligatory after a Holy Grail reference, but I digress)crazy-enough-to-work

Meet Dr. Jesse Karmazin, MD, Founder of Ambrosia, LLC, and your Conductor on this Entrepreneurial Train to Sci-Fi Town. Because what Dr. Karmazin has figured out, which I missed back in 2015, is (1) how to offer old (and perhaps wealthy, or desperate, or both) people access to the blood of youths via transfusions of plasma (a modern day, lower-risk take on actual parabiosis), while (2) operating under FDA regulations in the US, AND (3) get the applicants to pay the cost of the clinical trial! Genius!

Karmazin realized that as part of the Federal Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 (one of many regulatory evolutions that opened up and increased transparency around clinical trials), establishing a clinical trial has become much more accessible (read: cheaper). He also pieced together two additional key allowances that made Ambrosia’s study viable: (1) (some) patient-funded clinical trials now fall under less scrutiny than they used to, and (2) the FDA doesn’t require approval for processes that are well-established, standard treatments. As you might expect, common blood transfusions (and, especially, even less-risky plasma transfusions) fall under this category!

One valuable type is genius is the ability to solve Gordian Knots of bureaucratic red tape with Alexander-like clarity.

Having found a way through the regulatory maze that I thought would require going offshore, Karmazin next had to develop a capitalization scheme — never an easy prospect when your core enabling technology (blood or plasma transfusions) isn’t protectable via patent. Because without developing a barrier to competition, finding Angel Investors, let alone Venture Capital, is a low-probability moon shot!

Still, the financial prospects were persuasive: 600 participants at $8000 USD per enrollee …comes to a cool $4.8MM in potential revenue for this study! …if you can find that many applicants.

Advancing science while making money? That’s enough to make the Pet Shop Boys sit up and take notice!

And the costs? Here’s my personal speculative back of the napkin work: The wholesale prices for getting blood tested and bio-markers reported can be found for less than a couple hundred dollars (depending on the various markers being evaluated and the accuracy desired). [Update: this may cost significantly more, given the vast number of biomarkers being tracked in this study.] You’ll need that done at least twice. And the cost of an actual unit blood plasma? Only about $61, on average. (Maybe one might pay a little more for the special order, primo stuff — like the plasma of Utes). [Update: this article’s initial calculations were based on erroneous information found online. Dr. Karmazin’s study is for an initial infusion of seven (7) units of Ute plasma, not the ~3 units originally reported.] Add in some consumables here and there and that creates estimated testing and plasma variable costs of about $1000 for each study enrollee. But, then it gets harder; you have to have a place for the participants to go for initial testing and qualifications, to receive the transfusions, and for subsequent blood draws and foll0w-up. That requires staff and office space. And, as every entrepreneur knows, fixed costs can be a bitch for a small venture (it’s why we so often start them in a garage).

[Update: At about an hour per unit of infused plasma, the seven (7) hours of clinic “seat time,” which is spread over a two-day period, will have to be factored into the variable costs.]

Enter young Dr. Karmazin’s savvy choice of business partner, Dr. Craig Wright, a longtime luminary in the field, a board-certified physician with over 30 years experience in seeing patients and working in the biopharmaceutical industry, an innovator (he holds over 15 patents), and a man with one additional important contribution: He’s already come out of retirement to open and operate an infusion clinic in Monterey, CA! With one brilliant partnership, that smashes our fixed costs flat and flattens out many of the other logistical hurdles — opening and managing clinical office space, tapping into an existent business for insurance and regulatory compliance, hiring technicians, etc. And it’s a win for Dr. Wright — his clinic is (presumably) already operating in the black; this is yet another source of (high-margin) revenue that doesn’t increase his existing fixed costs.

Work your way through the creation of a clinical trial and register it on the FDA’s clinicaltrials.gov web site, pay the requisite fee, and Voila! You’re in business!

[Update: And there’s an additional business model strength. The shortness of the clinical trial (one month) introduces opportunities for participants to come back for multiple transfusions, enabling this clinical trial to perform financially more like a therapy. That’s beautiful. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell deeper into your market, tapping satisfied customers, is usually a more profitable course than having to acquire new customers for additional revenues (assuming your therapy works).]

So, who wants a chance to feel (and perhaps actually become) younger? As a bonus, you may help advance the science of longevity, of anti-aging.

Step right up. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

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* “Utes” – Youths

Sliding windows of opportunity

Sliding windows of opportunity

Author , who wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” published an article an Internet eon ago (roughly 10 days), titled, “What to Do When Someone ‘Steals’ Your Amazing Idea.” I came across it in my newsfeed from Observer.com.

Now that, thought I, as a self-identified (paranoid) entrepreneur and occasionally penitent bad sharer, looks like something I should read. Because while a mere idea is the 1% inspiration to the 99% perspiration required to breathe life into a new venture, that flash  of what often feels like original genius is the inciting element that starts every entrepreneurial snowball rolling down Mount Disruption. That lightning-like “Eureka!” moment strikes rarely and without warning, so it’s natural to adopt a Gollum-like protectionism over your conceptual Precious, less some sneaksy Bilbo-analog snatch away your visions of changing the world.

The hard truth, of course, as Nir writes, is that that attitude is the “Sign of a Novice.” He explains,

“People tend to believe ideas are rare things, gems to be collected and hoarded. But in fact the nature of creative work, be it corporate innovation, academic research, or artistic endeavor, tells us quite the opposite—that if a useful insight pops into your head, it’s most likely in other people’s minds as well.”

Well, that stings. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I still want to behave that way when I get speared by inspiration out of the blue.

Nir continues,

“It’s called the ‘multiple discovery theory,’ which, contrary to the ‘heroic theory of invention,’ posits that discoveries are most often made by multiple people, not by lone ‘geniuses.’ History is littered with examples: the formulation of calculus, the discovery of vitamin A, the development of the telephone, the light bulb, the jet engine, the atom bomb.

‘When the time is ripe for certain things,’ the mathematician Farkas Bolyai said, ‘these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.'”

Of course, most people who think they’ve stumbled onto some novel idea discover truly original insights are as rare as Astatine shortly after rushing off to uspto.gov (or Google) to execute a quickie patent search.

Mr. Eyal and Mr. Bolyai are inarguably correct. One’s idea is almost certainly not unique or novel to the world. But that doesn’t suggest that dismissing such shower thoughts, or approaching their development with slow deliberation, is the sane course of action. On the contrary, embracing the slavering enthusiasm that such ideas fire is what separates entrepreneurs from those preferring the path most trodden. The thing to recognize about such ideas is that they fuel the furnace that creates the steam it takes to start an entrepreneurial locomotive up Disruption Mountain.

But here’s the thing I would add to Nir’s article: That those flashes of inspiration are almost always shared by others does not mean they are not scarce. Nor does it imply that birthing an idea simultaneously with (or after!) some other inventor(s) dilutes one’s chances of fanning that baby into the kind of conflagration that burns yesterday’s paradigms down.

It’s an adage that while many people get ideas; few do anything with them. But that’s not entirely true and it’s a worldview that can be dangerous for the erstwhile entrepreneur. There are a lot more people that, once shown the path, can figure out the execution than there are those who can see the path to begin with.

Each of those ‘Amazing ideas’ (assuming you’re not delusional) may represent what I think of as a sliding window of opportunity. Once opened, they’re only going to remain that way for a short period before someone else will slam it shut. The risk that makes inventors averse to sharing should not stem from fear of theft. The greater danger is that sharing an idea beyond a select few known and trusted fellow visionaries wastes time that could be spent in research, refinement, and development. In the early stages of business conception, after commitment to the unicorn-like Golden Idea, sharing and the doubt that can introduce from people who don’t have time or interest in your vision can slow one enough that they never get out of the starting blocks.

Sometimes, that instinct to guard one’s embryonic inspiration with at least some level of discretion is the best way to convert innovative adrenaline into the most precious of all entrepreneurial elements: The will to begin the work of building a product. That protecting your Precious reduces the chance of theft and exploitation by a pent-up competitor is merely a bonus.

 

Putting Off the Decision to Buy a New Car May Be the Smartest Decision You Make

Then again, used cars will soon begin losing value at an accelerating rate, too — what’s a person to do?

The US auto industry had a record year in 2015. After surviving the sales trough tied to the financial and housing market implosion of 2008, US auto sales have been steeply up and to the right since the middle of 2009. In fact, the skyrocketing growth in car sales over the last six years is the strongest recorded by the car industry since World War II.

Looks rosy, doesn’t it? Then again, so did the housing market in the years before 2008. That’s the nature of economic bubbles.

Looking under the covers, we see some dirty sheets. Analysts have discovered negative equity ratings in almost a full third of car owners. They’re “under water,” in the parlance of the auto industry. The number of car owners who owe more on their car than it’s worth has rapidly almost doubled. Meanwhile, during this last six years of “growth,” average loan lengths have increased by two months per year, allowing more people to finance cars that they might not have been able to afford under older, more conservative, financing guidelines.

And an almost record number of those loans are “subprime,” meaning at higher risk of default. So now the auto industry growth is beginning to look like something we might see in a sequel to the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie, “The Big Short.”

Adding risk is the fact that millennials are showing increased apathy toward the historical “thrill” of car ownership. Falling percentages of them are even bothering to get a driver’s license. On-demand ride sharing has already eroded many city dwellers’ interest in car ownership. That trend began causing used-car prices to fall in 2015 and is forecast to continue through 2016.

Now we introduce a new specter, the age of autonomous cars. Their revolutionary technology and ability to transform the transportation experience looms to begin pulling more blocks from the bottom of this financial Jenga tower. What does that mean to you?

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Assuming you don’t live in one of the few cities in the US where it’s common for people not to own a car, you or your family probably owns at least one, and maybe multiple automobiles. Within a few years, the value of those cars — your ability to sell them when you no longer want them — will begin to fall through the floor.

Probably beginning around 2020, but perhaps as early as 2019 for some cities, great masses of people are going to collectively decide that not only would it be stupid to buy a new car, they no longer want the expense of owning their old one. They’re going to anticipate the leap to new autonomous, on-demand transportation services. For many, that buy-in will be lock, stock, and barrel.

Within a couple years, markets will be flooded with used cars, for which there are decreasing numbers of buyers. The rest is basic economics, supply and demand. Five years from now (2016’ish), if you’re still hanging lovingly onto your old family horse, you’ll be lucky not to have to pay someone to cart it away for scrap.

In some parts of some countries, in the next few years, if you buy a new car without the capability for fully autonomous operation, you’re setting yourself up for major losses. Unless that car appeals to some specialty market (perhaps well-to-do folks with a passion for driving a sports car, for example), you should expect that new car to depreciate at devastating speeds. If you finance much of your car’s purchase price, you may never get to the point where the car is worth more than your loan payoff.

This will be exacerbated by additional financial realities. Those in the lower income brackets, young people entering the labor force, and the semi-skilled laborers who create most of the market for used cars are: (1) certain to be hardest hit by the coming changes, because historically that is the population most impacted by times of technological and economic disruption; and (2) the demographic who will probably find the cost savings of on-demand transportation most compelling.

As the demographic who comprise most of the gently-used-car market’s buyers become early adopters of autonomous on-demand transportation, the demand for used cars will evaporate. There will suddenly be an overwhelmingly greater supply of used cars than demand. Prices will plummet.

Your non-autonomous trade-in’s value will plummet with it. Even in areas where on-demand transportation does not quickly reach critical mass, forcing you to own your own car, the financial and quality-of-life incentives for owning a new self-driving car will still dampen the demand for the obsolete car you’re driving today and will soon be anxious to sell.

The used-car market implosion will begin in the cities, where autonomous on-demand car services will first appear and gain adoption. As demand ramps and the number of self-driving cars increases to meet that demand, people in those areas will begin divesting themselves of (dumping!) their cars. That will cause local used car values (for non-autonomous cars) to plummet. At the same time (if not before), new car sales in those areas will slow as people realize they’re decreasingly interested in taking on that unnecessary expense.
For a time, there may be some business opportunity in moving cars from regions where the supply of used cars is ballooning (causing falling prices) to areas of the country (or neighboring countries) where on-demand transportation has yet to become available. But that will last no more than year or two.

That domino effect of a glut in the used car market and softening new car demand will ripple outward from cities, into the suburbs, and finally into the country. With the ripple, car dealerships will contract in volume. The number of people they employ will decrease. Then used-car dealerships will begin to fold up their tents.

As on-demand transportation becomes ubiquitous, the only people buying “old fashioned” human-driven cars will be those who’ve figured out a way to make money from disassembly or scrap, or by moving them to regions of the world where autonomous cars are unsupported or disallowed.

Or people who’ve taken up driving in demolition derbies…

Smart people need to begin watching the market and the developing autonomous technologies. Timing, or mistiming, when you ditch your non-autonomous car could save you, or lose you, thousands of dollars.

This article is an excerpt from the first edition of the book, “Self-Driving Steamrollers (Your Guide to a Future Featuring Autonomous Cars You May Never Buy)”. It’s available for Kindle on Amazon.com. “Self-Driving Steamrollers” is an example of “Book 2.0,” encouraging collaboration. If you have something to say on the subject, you can submit your suggested essay or additional chapter(s) for inclusion in the next edition of the book. Editions come out often!

If you like this article and/or agree that thriving in the future is more likely when you’re prepared for its possible differences, please recommend it to others. That will help others discover it — and maybe their future will be better for it!

Self-Driving Steamrollers (Your Guide to a Future Featuring Autonomous Cars You May Never Buy)

Laurence Peter once said, “There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.” My second book, this one non-fiction, is now live on Amazon in ebook format. Time will tell where I as an author fall in L. Peter’s spectrum.

You can find it here: Self-Driving Steamrollers.

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Don’t wait for our near future to hit you like a driverless truck with a faulty collision sensor. Your world will soon change and this book is an entertaining introduction to help you prepare.

Using easy narrative, humor, quotes, anecdotes, his business sense and Futurist’s vision, Higgins makes a compelling forecast that the age of driverless cars will be upon us and revolutionizing our world more rapidly and more drastically than most people realize. It’s not a future you should await passively! “Self-Driving Steamrollers” lays out the benefits people and companies stand to reap by planning for the sweeping changes to our environment these technologies will bring …and how much they could lose if they don’t.

“Self-Driving Steamrollers” is must read for teens, adults, and company executives, whether they’re small business owners or leading large corporations.