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01:22 – Ever hear of Brain.fm?
02:51 – What sets it apart
05:05 – Some pretty thorough backing
08:13 – From school dropout to software business owner
12:22 – The product development journey
15:45 – How does the music come about?
18:23 – The role of artificial intelligence
19:38 – How deep can you go?
21:35 – Parents with babies, take notice
22:38 – The things people often ask
25:09 – Exciting things about the coming year
Stay on top of productivity and wellbeing trends with help from James
James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness. com. This is Episode 699. We’ll be talking about your brain. For that, I’ve brought along Dan Clark from Brain.fm. Hello, Dan.
Dan: Hey, how’s it going?
James: Good, thanks. You’re from New York, but you certainly traveled around a fair bit. And you’ve had quite the journey since school to the point now where you’re heavily involved in a software app that helps people be better off. I don’t know if I’ve described that exactly how you’d say it, but I’m interested. How do you describe Brain.fm to someone who’s never heard of it before?
Ever hear of Brain.fm?
Dan: Sure. So Brain.fm, we create functional music to help you focus, relax and sleep better on demand. And we basically make all of that music with an AI engine that’s powered to help you hit a mental state, zone into it, and then stay there as long as you want to.
James: So there’s some science basis behind it.
Dan: Totally. Yeah, we actually spent a lot of time and money on the science, because that’s a huge differentiator between other people or other people that have, you know, tried to do this. Binaural beats or isochronic tones, or the things you’ve probably heard before. We do a brand new approach that we have patented, and we also have research grants from the government to prove that it works. So, lots of interesting stuff behind that.
“Just meditating is apparently very good for you.”
James: I remember many, many years ago, I got given a CD from, I think it was Centerpointe research, Holosync, and it had some meditation music and some bells. And at the time, I was in a very stressful job, and I would walk my dog around the block and listen to these tracks. And I’d also just quietly sit in a room and listen to it. For me, it definitely felt like it was providing a huge benefit. But imagine I could listen to just about any music in a calm relaxed state away from the chaos and noise, and that would be beneficial. Even if I had no music, just meditating is apparently very good for you. Would you say that the products that have tried to do it before were not effective or partially effective? Or some other combo?
What sets it apart
Dan: Great question. I would say partially effective, for reasons that you just mentioned. So, you know, playing relaxing music helps you be relaxed, right? But a lot of the products before weren’t as sophisticated. So binaural beats, for example, you know, it’s similar to holosync, they play one hertz in one ear and one hertz in the other. The challenge with that is our brains are really smart. You know, we’ve millions of years of evolution. And what happens is we normalize to things. So you hear the sound of a truck backing up – beep, beep, beep for 30 minutes – after 30 minutes, you’re going to drown it out. And that’s what happens with those kinds of things that have tried to do it before.
And what we do is, we do something called neuro phase locking. So we actually, by oscillating frequencies and doing 3d sound and certain kinds of salient events, we’re able to neuro phase off your brain, which is really lining up the neurons to fire in sequence, which we can go into because it’s, you know, as you can tell, there’s a lot of science we can dive into. But we’re actually taking advantage of evolutionary systems that all of us respond to. So if you shine a light in someone’s eyes, they contract because we’re human. And that’s the same stuff that we’re doing with music, but we’re starting from an approach of what actually affects the brain. And then we’re making music on top of that, rather than just adding something to all music. And there’s, you know, again, there’s a lot of stuff that we can dive in. But yeah, so really the main difference is that technology is different. We have an AI engine that is able to do this stuff that we weren’t able to do 20 years ago, and we learn more about the human brain every day.
James: Yeah, I think that, you know, the science documents that came with the previous thing, the binaural beat sort of stuff, sounded pretty compelling. It’s as if they certainly felt like they believed that it was doing things. You know, it makes sense playing different tunes in your different ears that your brain is going to try and reconcile it, and people were feeling like they were getting, you know, resistance or emotions coming out after taking those sessions. But I imagine there’s a combination of enthusiastic marketing and then the discovery of new technology as we go down the path.
Some pretty thorough backing
Do you do things such as double-blind studies? From a scientific point of view, how thorough do you back the product?
Dan: Yeah, sure. So we’ve invested probably to date 350-plus thousand dollars in testing this stuff. So all of our studies are all double-blind. We actually do three layers of studies. We do EEG testing, which is that, it’s a cap that tests the electrical output from your brain. And we do clinical EEGs, so it’s stuff that is hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases, in labs in like Northeastern University or Harvard or MIT. We have some collaborations with some scientists there. We also do fMRI, which is resonance scanner. Basically, it cuts your brain up by taking image slices of it, so we can actually see the blood flow through your brain. And then lastly, we do actually video game experiments online to, you know, really tell.
So what we’re really interested in is, again, making a product that works, that we can prove with science and make it better. And what we’re trying to do is get real data from people playing these video games and these tests, you know, electrical output data. And then finally, like, actual blood flow, so we can see which part of your brain is responding to things and sort of stimulus, and that we can keep that stimulus active for not just five minutes, 30 seconds, but a prolonged period of time. Does that make sense?
James: Yeah, it makes sense to me. In fact, my son who plays quite a lot of video games came to me the day after you shared a coupon with me to try out Brain.fm. He said, Dad, I’m having trouble sleeping, you know? Have you got anything that could help? And I said, As a matter of fact, you want to try this out? And I put him on one of the sleep programs. So the timing of it was quite incredible. And as someone who’s used these sort of programs in the past, I actually enjoyed the process of having that switching off from social media or switching off from technology, and enjoying just having that time where you can close your eyes and relax. I’ve got a sort of dark area with soundproofing in my house and a very soft beanbag, and I like to be transported away. I think it’s good. So I’ve enjoyed sort of dabbling with it. But you know, we lack the ability to have the scientific know with all, but even that being said, the placebo effect can have a pretty strong result. If people at least believe that it’s going to work for them – probably that’s a big part of what happened with the previous technologies – then they can still get some benefits from it, which is really fascinating.
Dan: Totally, yeah, exactly. You know, it’s funny – the guy who invented binaural beats and did a lot of the studies to show it in the 70s actually ended up disproving it, like 10 years later, but it was so wrapped in pop-science that it was continued testing and is still used today. And you know, placebo effect is powerful. But, you know, we want to make sure that we’re selling a product that is not just placebo, because, I don’t know, that’s not really good product. I think if we think it’s a psychological thing, we want to have more than that, especially for what we’re trying to do with the future. Because this is just the start of it.
From school dropout to software business owner
James: Yeah, it’s interesting you’re thinking about the future. Your own progression into this market was interesting. You were travelling a lot after school, and you were doing development and design, and you were really wanting to change your own lifestyle and help people out more. And shortly after that, you discovered this software, which you didn’t own at the time, right? Perhaps you can tell us the story of how you got involved with it, and then what progressed after that.
Dan: Yeah, sure. So, you know, I’ve always been involved in technology. And one of the reasons why it was really attracted to me is because I was never a really great student. And it wasn’t because I didn’t grasp the material. It was really because I was really bad at waking up in the morning. And even when I was awake, never really could zone in until, like, 12 o’clock. So it’s funny when you see my middle school and high school grades, it was all the classes that were after the afternoon were the ones that I was doing well in, and the other ones not so much.
I actually dropped out of high school and started being a developer. I actually travelled and worked from 10pm to 4am, every single day, you know, Monday through Friday, because that was the time where I could do double or triple the work to be able to, you know, get things done, and especially getting paid per hour, and sometimes, you know, getting paid per project. I wanted to maximize how much I was doing in that time. So I was super sensitive to that, and I tracked everything, and I was like, why am I even trying to work at 10am when I could do the otherwise?
So I did that for a while and had some really cool projects that I was involved in, things like that, but like you said, I was really looking to make a change. I became digital director of this company to really take the skills that I’ve acquired and do it another way. And it just wasn’t for me. I wanted, you know, to your point for helping people. But I didn’t know what it was.
And I started looking, and right after I made the decision to do that, I came across Brain.fm when it launched. And, you know, for a person that always had trouble focusing, I, for the first time, was able to control it. And at nine o’clock in the morning, I get turned on Brain.fm and get into a deep focus state that I’ve never been able to do before. And I remember, it was probably my third session in and I was like, holy crap, like, this is amazing. And, you know, I went and looked at the science and I was like, wow, this is, you know, actually a thing. And I started researching it. And at that point, I just made the decision. I was like, I want to be part of this. And, you know, at that time, I never wanted to be CEO or anything like that. I just wanted to be part of the rocket ship. Because I was like, this is going to change the world.
And I called them up a bunch; at the time, they didn’t have any money to pay for me because it was a brand new company, and I actually quit my job and started working for free. And, you know, three years later, now I own and run the company.
But it’s been a fun run along the whole way. And I think the thing that has motivated me has really been having this help me solve my problems, but also seeing it also transform the lives of individuals, and the growth rate because of that. So, you know, in the time since, we have about 150,000 users; we just sold one of our biggest accounts to a Fortune 100 client here. So we added another 25,000 users on top of that, and last month.
And, you know, I get emails from people that said, Hey, I haven’t been able to sleep in 20 years, and I use Brain.fm every night now and it’s transformed my life. Or people are taking less drugs or medications, or using it with them to help counter effects. Like, there’s a lot of things that we’re doing that just get me really excited about. And that’s probably why I’m talking so much right now. But I’m super pumped to be involved in a company that can help people at the end of the day.
James: Right. Yeah, and I’ll mention that you’ve generously offered listeners of SuperFastBusiness a special rate. And of course, you can get a free trial, but there’s a special rate if you want to stay on. That’s SuperFastBusiness.com/brain. I mention that now because I’m sure a lot of people are starting to go over to the App Store and look for the app for Brain.fm, which I did when I got my coupon as well. By the way, I don’t think there’s any affiliate commission for me; this is just for users. We’re passing the saving to listeners. So if you want to try it and decide for yourself how effective it is for you, then go for it.
The product development journey
What’s the journey been like in terms of developing an app-based software? I saw a couple of the early usability reviews on the App Store, some people were whinging about certain aspects. I mean, it must be hard as a product creator, to get your little baby out into the marketplace and to try and please everyone. And we all know that, you know, everyone’s a critic. And they probably don’t have an appreciation for some of the technical nuances that are involved in having, you know, technology product released to the general masses. I know, certainly, if our SuperFastBusiness app has any kind of wrinkle, our users are the very first people to tell us about it. So what’s that journey been like from a business owner perspective, trying to get this fantastic product out there that you believe in?
“We all know that everyone’s a critic.”
Dan: Yeah, great question. You know, it’s a really interesting journey, I guess I would say, because there’s always something that I see that I want to implement, but at the same time, we have to make sure that we support a lot of people. So we’ve actually had to reengineer how we release product. Because, you know, if I’m making a product for me, that’s one thing where I have an iPhone, but we have a ton of people on Android, or we have a ton of people, even in Android, where they’re using a Google phone or a Samsung phone or whatever. So we’ve really had to make sure that we define the process and gravitate towards building something that can be supported across a wide spectrum. So, it shouldn’t matter if you’re in the States or in Australia. It shouldn’t matter if you have super fast internet or you have offline. And it’s been an interesting road on saying, okay, we have all these really, really cool things we can do. But we have to make sure we get it right.
It’s been a really long process of doing that, because we get really, like, a lot of our engineering resources is based on getting this algorithm right, based on getting this AI engine right, based on getting the science testing right, and things like that. And we haven’t had the full team to be able to just make a product. And you know, now we’re shifting towards that, because our product is more stable.
And now we understand more so of what users want, what is actually working and what is actually in demand, right? Today, we’re like, Hey, this is an idea that we love, but we also want to make sure that we’re not the only ones using this thing, you know? So it’s kind of been this back and forth. But one thing that is amazing is the community of people that have reached out to give advice, or say, Hey, this is not working. And whenever we get emails here of something that’s not working, that’s something that’s helpful for us, because we want to fix it. So it’s been really helpful to instead of pretend that problems don’t exist, is just fully own them and say, guys, we’re having trouble with this or we’re having challenges here. Let us know what you think. Let us know if you’re getting these. And let’s solve this together. And that’s been a huge, huge learning process, but a huge victory, I think, in the past year.
“Instead of pretending that problems don’t exist, just fully own them.”
James: Yeah, I can really relate to that, too. You know, like, our whole user base of SuperFastBusiness members, there’s like, three Androids, and they’re a pain in the butt for us. Because, you know, everything works perfectly on iOS and Apple and iPads almost everyone uses bar these three people. And we still have to roll out things just for those Android users. It’s not easy all the time.
How does the music come about?
I used your app – I didn’t find any issues with it. I thought it was quite usable. And it was easy to get started. And it was different than what I have experienced before; the music sounds a little bit different. It’s hard to explain, but it’s got a style about it that is different to the previous types of music tracks from decades ago. I’m really interested in where you get the content from. Do you have to pay artists? Does the computer create it? Have you had requests for putting the special layering of the music or whatever technology process you call into people’s normal tracks that they like to listen to?
Dan: Yeah. So how we make the music is, we actually have an AI engine that takes sound like, chunks, I guess you could call it, and assembles it across the neuro phase locking pattern. So we actually have video game composers and different kinds of musicians that work in house that create these sound chunks. So they’re actually guiding the orchestration of the music. And what a simple thing, so for example, we’re making Lo-Fi music right now. It’s not released in the app right now, but probably by the time your users listen to it, it’ll be out. And what they do is they study Lo-Fi, they study the rhythm, they study the beats, and they create these certain kinds of patterns. And then they let the AI engine do its thing. And that’s how we’re building it.
So we own all the music and the licensing of it. Parts of why the music works is like, I was saying, the oscillations and things like that. But some of it’s stuff we already know. So, lyrics, they distract us. Whenever your brain has to subconsciously do a lot of processing, it’s going to take away from focus, from sleep, even. So we have a lot of rules that we have to follow to make sure that this thing actually, works and will work for a large group of people. But we do get a request a lot for licensing and things like that through companies. And for right now, it’s more about what can we do for our users than just, you know, helping people sell more albums. Because that’s the main problem with music right now is, most people, they make music for plays. And then people take those music and then create playlists and Spotify for focus or for working out. But the problem with that is, it’s not actually made for focus and working out. So what we’re doing is, again, we’re switching the script and saying, Okay, this is made for working out, what are the things that we need to have and what are the rules first, and then we go into what protocols we need to have, and then hopefully we pick up the music. But it’s a really big process to be able to do that.
James: Gotcha. Yeah, I can imagine this. A lot of questions come up that need answers.
The role of artificial intelligence
James: What does the AI actually do?
Dan: So the AI is doing a lot of different things that are proprietary, that I can’t necessarily mention. But you can almost think of it as a layering technique. So, if you look at a skyscraper, the real inside of skyscrapers, is the scaffolding, right? It’s all this stuff that’s keeping it up and tight. And that’s what the AI is built for. So it’s built for creating those things and those rules, but the real thing that makes it shine is being able to design the outside of it. So the facade of that skyscraper. So it has to look good, it has to function, and it has to stay within the rules.
And that’s what the AI is really doing when we compose a song, is it says, Okay, this is the brain protocol we’re trying to emulate in a user. This is the music; this is the quality; these are all the math, basically, all the algorithms that we have to do. And it stacks up all of those. So when you’re listening to the music, it sounds actually like music and not just a bunch of annoying sounds. And that’s really what we’re trying to do, is make sure it’s something that you want to listen to, but also works.
How deep can you go?
So, we’ve heard the famous claims from others, you know, that you could meditate deeper than a Zen monk. Do you have any way of comparing what sort of levels someone’s going to be able to achieve with a short amount of usage?
Dan: So, not necessarily for meditation. A lot of our studies that we’ve been researching have been focus and sleep. We have a bunch of user testimonials about meditation specifically. But I would say, you know, for people that are curious to try it for themselves, don’t take my word for it. A lot of the interesting things for focus that I can talk about is that we can show we increase time on task by 39 percent. And that within five minutes, the neural phase locking takes effect in your brain and takes about 15 minutes to stay there.
So what’s interesting is, I like to explain it as a shortcut. Think about running, and running into the wind. It’s only like, a two-mile-per-hour gust, or, I guess, kilometers for you guys. But it seems really hard. But for some reason, when you have a wind at your back, it just feels easier. And that’s kind of what our music is doing. Its gently pushing you into getting into deeper focus, as long as you’re focusing. Like, if you’re going for a walk and listening to your focus music, it’s not really going to make you focused. But if you’re doing work where you’re, you know, sending your emails or development or whatever that may be, it’s going to help you get there faster, and then keep you energized to do that work longer. And it’s really interesting because at the end of that 90-minute session that you may do, you’re going to take your headphones off and go, Whoa, I can’t believe that was only 90 minutes.
James: And you have to have headphones for this to work?
Dan: The best results are with headphones. It’ll still work without it. But, because there’s other set bounds and because things may be bouncing off your speakers before it enters your ears, there’s mixed results. For sleep, though, that has a slower sound wave or longer wave, that’s something that is less of a big deal. So if you have a Bluetooth speaker in your house, and you connect it and you put it on for sleep, that’s really not a problem.
Parents with babies, take notice
James: Have you had people using it with infants who won’t settle easily?
Dan: We do, actually. That’s something that we’re currently investigating and researching with sleep if we’re going to create an infant-only app. Because a lot of our tests are, you know, people that are 18 years and older. But we do have a lot of people that use it on timed trials. So instead of doing an eight-hour sleep, they’ll do, like, a three or four-hour sleep session, and, you know, turn off with the phone. And that helps that people, you know, or kids, I guess, fall asleep and stay asleep a little easier.
James: Yeah, I’ve got a playlist for my baby, which will put her to sleep by about two songs.
Dan: Oh, cool.
James: Never fails. And I think for me, there’s some very strong evidence that anchoring that soundtrack can create stability. Because we travel a lot – this baby’s been in all different places, different countries, long flights, hotel rooms, etc. And having that consistency, and the same sort of anchored track, gives her the comfort to be able to just close those eyes and disappear. So I’d be interested in how the infant side of things pans out, certainly as a parent.
The things people often ask
James: What sort of things do you often get asked that you think would be in the best interest of listeners to know about the app? I mean, one thing comes to mind. Are there any potential downsides, or is there someone who it might not be suited for?
“The worst thing that could happen is you get distracted.”
Dan: Great question. Right now, in all of our studies, the only thing that’s negative about it is, if you for some reason, like, because it’s just sound, the worst thing that could happen is you get distracted, right? It’s not something that is like a drug that you can take too much of or you get depreciating returns. We actually find, just like you’re talking about with your daughter, the more you use, the faster that pathway actually gets activated. So instead of it starting to work and then completed in 15 minutes, when you actually use the products on a consistent schedule, you can drop into focus or into sleep faster.
And what’s really interesting about really, just all of music and our auditory system is, there’s a lot of, like we were saying, psychological responses to it. But there’s also things that have developed from evolution that are the reasons why it works. Because listening and in your hearing, is one of the only things you can’t turn off. You can’t close your ears, you know, and it’s very interesting because it’s a line there.
“Instead of starting a new habit, just add it to a habit you already have.”
As far as other things that people ask me about, they do ask me about, what are the best ways to use it. And what I always try to tell people is, instead of starting a new habit, just add it to a habit you already have. So for me, every single morning I wake up and have a nice coffee, and I journal. And I would recommend for most people that if you drink a coffee or tea in the morning, just put Brain.fm on when you’re doing that, and start your day that way, rather than saying, Okay, it’s focus time, let’s do this. And that’s okay as well. But it really comes down to you.
And there’s some people that use this all day and they stream it all day, and there’s some people that use it on short spurts, when they need to. I’m one of those people. It just really comes down to what’s feel what feels comfortable to you. You know, it’s easy to go in, try it out. You can go to the Explore section, find something that you actually want to listen to, and then just get started and work like you normally would. And the magic will happen as you work.
James: Right. So, Dan, really interesting. And I mean, I’m particularly interested in this field. We’ve had lots of different guests on this podcast, ranging from our previous guest, Episode 698, was with Guy who lives in a treehouse and meditates every day. And, you know, now we’ve taken a very science-based approach for how a busy person can tap into technology to get some of the benefits of sleeping better, etc.
Exciting things about the coming year
What are you most excited about in the next year that that you see, driving your obvious enthusiasm for this?
Dan: Yeah, so I guess two things. One, on the consumer product side, I’m very interested in adding wearables to the product. So what we know now is that we can help influence people to focus better, relax and sleep better. And we have a lot of studies which show it. But it’s another thing actually seeing your own wearable. So we have people that have Oura rings that, you know, self report and give us data and exclaim that this is why they use us. But what we want to do is actually connect that data and then make better songs and match them for specific situations. So imagine you wake up in the morning and you have a fight with your partner, and you’re agitated and you need to work, you may need a different kind of music, or a different kind of, you know, I guess, push or encouragement than if you’re waking up sleepy. And that’s something that I think is really going to revolutionize the next version of the product, where we get that feedback loops. People get to see them improve and they actually get to feel it too. So that’s a lot of fun.
And then second is something that we’re doing in our medical side. So on medical, you know, we have grants from the government for validating if we can beat medication. In some cases, we have the beginning results of that. And we’re also doing pilot trials right now in hospitals for pre and post op surgery. So the idea is that, you know, right now, if you go to hospital, it’s usually quiet. You’re usually kind of scared. My girlfriend, she had her tonsils out. And I went through the procedure. Well, I was there to support her. And it was just a tonsillectomy. And it was very, like, nerve wracking, because you get IV and you have all these doctors. And I started talking to some of the doctors there and some other people as well as the neuro scientists on staff. And we actually had this hypothesis that if we can just make a better experience, then that’s awesome. And as we started testing it in real hospitals, they started finding that we actually decrease blood pressure and are medical relax. And, you know, the possibility of that is if you’re six years old, and you stay up all night, and you’re stressed about having this really big surgery, and then an hour before, you have an elevated heart rate, right now, they send that person home. Or they take the surgery. But the problem is, if they have a cardiac event, that’s life threatening, and we actually have the potential of being able to lower that heart rate for an hour before surgery, and maybe being able to save lives, but at the best, or at the minimum case, maybe making a better experience for people. And that’s something that I’m super excited about testing. Because we’re going to learn a lot about making the medical product help people, but also we’re going to learn things to help make the consumer product better as well. And that’s a lot of fun.
James: Yeah. That’s really cool stuff. And I can see the application is obvious. Connecting that app to wearables should be quite a big deal, actually; you’ll generate your own success stories and create a bigger movement.
So, Dan, thank you for coming and sharing with us how Brain.fm works. A reminder, if you want to check it out, and you want a special saving, I think it’s 20 percent off at SuperFastBusiness.com/brain. That’s a direct savings for you, the listener. There’s nothing in it for me; I just want to spread the good ideas. I think in 10 years from now, we might be able to look back at episodes like this and see these are the foundations of where medicine started shifting and people became more aware of this sort of technology. I mean, people have been trying to do this for decades, you know, as you said, since the 70s, I think. And now it’s just getting better and better and more and more interesting. And I do see a lot of those Oura rings on people in my network for sure. And sleep has become a big deal in in 2019. Sleep’s one of the biggest power advantages you could possibly have over any of your competitors. So Dan, thank you so much for sharing, and I wish you the very best with your next growth phase.
Dan: I appreciate it. It’s always fun to talk about it and explain what we’re doing. So, happy to be here.
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Thanks for this interview. I just signed up to test brain.fm. Maybe it will help me be more creative with my next video script.