‘Better focus with a little pill’
He holds up a bag of blue pills. ‘Here they are, your brain boosters’, Lo Dico says with a smile. We are at the Zernike Campus and the third block’s exam week has just finished, which means Lo Dico finally has some free time. ‘My phone is ringing constantly during exam periods, everyone is ordering Braincaps.’ That’s great, obviously, but it is also difficult, Lo Dico says. ‘Because those are the times I have to focus on my own exams, so I’m taking the pills as well.’
It all started two years ago when Lo Dico was talking to his good friend Yalaniz about the latter’s company. Together with a friend who is a pharmacist, Yalaniz was trying to sell a fat burning programme with supplements, but he had no experience in marketing or sales. When there turned out to be too much competition for the supplements, they decided to quit and change tack.
‘I used to take a bit of Ritalin back then so that I could focus better while studying’, Lo Dico says. ‘But I always got really down afterwards, and it would sometimes give me palpitations. Yet he was never able to find an alternative for the drug, which is commonly prescribed to people with ADHD and ADD. Together with Yalaniz, he realised there might be a market for a healthy alternative that would still help students focus.
No long procedure
After a two year development period, the two are now selling the natural supplement Braincaps. According to the duo, the pills increase concentration and improve memory. ‘Our drug contains only natural ingredients and falls within the regulations for supplements. We have to meet the requirements set by the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, but because the ingredients have already been tested, we didn’t have to go through the long procedure for official medication’, Lo Dico explains.
‘There are rules for everything. Even the packaging has to meet all kinds of standards.’
Simply put, this means that Amsterdam medical student Yalaniz, together with his pharmacist friend, went looking for a combination of substances that would help people concentrate. But how did they do it? ‘They dove into the scientific literature’, says Lo Dico. ‘We then tried to find the perfect drug using more than ten trial groups. Although it works well right now, we are always open to feedback, and I can see us coming out with an upgrade in the future.’
While it is easier to manufacture a supplement than an official medication, Lo Dico was surprised by how many obstacles there were along the way. ‘There are rules for everything. Even the packaging has to meet all kinds of standards.’ That is why the packaging of Braincaps tells you to always consult a doctor and that the drug cannot be used during pregnancy.
Hundreds of pills each month
Not to mention all the risks you take as a young business owner, especially in this sector. ‘We founded the company using our own savings. In the pharmaceutical industry, products such as capsules are ordered in enormous quantities. After a long search, we found a company where we could purchase the absolute minimum: 10,000 pills. It will always be a risk, because when your product doesn’t sell, you’re out a lot of savings and you’re stuck with thousands of pills’, Lo Dico says.
Fortunately, those concerns proved to be unfounded: since they opened their webshop in December, they have been selling hundreds of pills each month – especially during exam periods. ‘Our greatest challenge is to be open and honest’, says Lo Dico. ‘People are afraid of the risks or complications and are quick to compare us to Ritalin. That’s why, on our website, we explain exactly which ingredients are in the pills. That allows the customers to decide for themselves whether they’re suitable for them. Should they have doubts, they can always consult their doctor.’
The two are currently focusing on the cities where they themselves live – Amsterdam and Groningen. ‘During exam periods I’ll put flyers on tables in the library in the morning. And you can always find me studying with some Braincaps front and centre in a prominent spot at the University Library’, Lo Dico jokes. Due to its overwhelming success, they want to market their ‘study pill’ in other cities. ‘We’re looking for students to help us with this.’ In the meantime, the next batch of pills is on its way. ‘Yes’, Lo Dico nods. ‘Your own company is a 24/7 endeavour. But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s going well.’