Start-up culture:A Q&A w Milk Sugar’s Sam Dwyer

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 11.43.32 AM.pngI love milk and dairy products (cereal o’clock is one of my favorite late night habits), so I would be so upset if I were ever to become lactose intolerant. You can learn all about lactose intolerance, which basically forces some people to have to forgo most dairy here.

My mom suffers from this affliction and she has to spend close to $7 per gallon of Lactaid milk for her coffee. Well, now there’s a new product that claims to make your lactose intolerance a thing of the past.

Milk Sugar was invented by Brooklyn-based inventor Sam Dwyer. I talked to him about the product and what’s it’s like to invent a supplement! (You can buy Milk Sugar here.)
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Sam Dwyer
1) Why did you start Milk Sugar? 
Lactose intolerance is something that for many people develops in early adulthood, after you’ve spent your whole life eating dairy. I am a young guy living in New York City — I love pizza! It was so frustrating to give up my favorite foods!

I eventually discovered that I could take Lactaid pills with dairy, but they never made me feel good, and my beloved jerk room mate would make fun of me for being “lactarded.” I wanted to understand more about my body, so I started researching what lactose intolerance is — and I learned that while 10% of people with Northern European ancestry have problems with dairy, as much as 60% of our diverse US population at large has problems. But all Americans love eating cheese; on average we eat 34 pounds of the stuff every year.

What I realized was that Lactaid medicalizes, and stigmatizes, a common condition. If you’re lactose intolerant, there’s actually nothing “wrong” with you: it’s normal. So with Milksugar I set out to do two things: create a normal lactase enzyme supplement pill for normal people, and then also to… let nature in.

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What I mean by letting nature in, is that the psychology surrounding consumer products is tremendously important, because it effects how you understand yourself. The coolest thing, I think, about Milksugar is that the active lactase enzymes are derived from a cool Japanese fungus, koji, which in latin is called aspergillus oryzae. Koji is beloved in Japan, because it’s the secret ingredient for making sake and miso — it creates tons of enzymes, including the ones that break apart the dairy sugar, lactose, that gives us lactose intolerant people so much trouble!

I think that big corporations believe Americans are too wimpy to knowingly eat cool Japanese mushroom pills that help them digest dairy. I have a more optimistic view of my countrypeople: I think they will like to know! Because nature is really, really cool!!

2) What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

Well, I can sleep in and stuff. Also I can entertain myself with notions of earthly riches. I’m more inclined to think of myself as an entrepreneur than as a boss. It’s a distinction that makes a difference. I’m terribly impulsive; I don’t command myself, so much as I am drawn forward by curiosity and vision. In that way, I am a servant.

And that’s the best part — the freedom to pursue the dream!

3) What’s one of the hardest things?

Well, I’m not a rich kid, or in possession of vast savings, so there’s been some financially tight moments. How terrible — I have had to live off rice, and sometimes recycle my better-remunerated room mates cans for beer money. Oh, woe is me (I’m joking, although having money to go out is fun). It’s more seriously stressful to be late with the rent. Obviously, as a start up business with not too much sales volume yet I should worry about failure. But the truth is that I don’t.

In the back of my mind I have been preparing to do a project like this for awhile. I am very fortunate to have some truly amazing and inspiring friends, teachers, and investors who have walked similar paths. I wouldn’t be doing this without them.

The hardest task for me has been setting the correct expectations for myself, and remaining mindful. I can be very impatient, but changing the way an entire culture thinks about lactose intolerance won’t happen overnight.

That said, I think we can win.

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