Students' flavor-neutral energy powder puts a 'Kyk' in any beverage
Who they are
Chris MacPherson and Andrew Linfoot were both freshmen in 2010 when the Food and Drug Administration banned beverages combining caffeine with alcohol — like Four Loko energy drinks. After the ban, the Purdue students joked that companies might have a better shot if they just attached a packet of energy formula to the outside of beverage bottles rather than distributing it ready to drink.
Then, as people all over the country flocked to stock up on the popular Four Loko before the ban went into effect, Linfoot and MacPherson, members of Purdue’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Learning Community at the time, realized their joke actually was a light bulb moment. The duo has created a flavor-neutral, sugar- and calorie-free powder called Kyk "Kick" Energy that can be mixed seamlessly into any beverage and some foods.
What they're doing
After analyzing energy drink formulas using the Internet and reverse engineering, Linfoot and MacPherson tested thousands of combinations to find the perfect blend of caffeine, amino acids, vitamins and other ingredients — with help from their friends, who eventually started paying 50 cents for a quick shot of the concoction rather than buying a $3 energy drink at the store. They’re maintaining the formula as a closely held trade secret to protect it rather than patenting it. Between classes, the team initially made a couple hundred packets in their apartment using a roll of packaging and a heat sealer. They applied tips from social media guru and best-selling author Gary Vaynerchuk and turned to sites like Twitter and Facebook to promote Kyk and offer free samples. Within the first 12 hours of tweeting about the initiative, they had more than 8,000 requests and began shipping their energy powder all over the globe. Now, the product is available on Amazon.com.
They’re also promoting Kyk recipes for protein shakes, fruit smoothies and even chocolate pudding on the Kyk Energy website, a suggestion from the owner of a beverage distribution company in California, whom they met through networking with Purdue peers and instructors. Linfoot learned Web coding to build the website, while MacPherson leveraged his design skills to come up with a logo and promotional materials like T-shirts.
How they got there
Networking put them in contact with several informal advisers who provided advice regarding FDA regulations, while a silent partner they met through a family connection supplied $50,000 to get the Kyk business up and running. As finalists in this year’s Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition, they earned another $10,000 in capital. Still, with the cost of production, their startup money is spread thinly between legal fees, marketing materials, insurance, and even a barcode fee, which is $760 annually.
Linfoot and MacPherson, now part-time students to accommodate the hours their startup demands, personally researched (with Google) called and emailed manufacturing companies to outsource the mixing and packaging of their product. Although several turned them down due to small amount they initially wanted to make, Glanbia Nutritionals agreed to mass-produce the energy powder while WePackItAll signed on to do packaging.
"You have to be comfortable with failing over and over again, because repeated failure is what leads to success," Linfoot says.
"Everything related to this project has cost 10 times as much, taken 10 times as long and was 10 times harder than we expected it to be," MacPherson says. "It’s also been 10 times as rewarding, even if we don’t make another dime, because we’ve learned so much from this experience."