"We got hundreds of gamers and e-sports athletes and streamers that really enjoyed our product and the way it provides focus, concentration, and mental performance without caffeine, which all really resonated with this audience," co-founder Charles Lankau told FoodNavigator-USA.
Since launching, direct-to-consumer sales of Synapse have quadrupled quarter over quarter, with strong repeat purchase behavior. According to Lankau, the brand is seeing 300% to 400% month-over-month customer acquisition growth rates.
Building off its online success, Synapse is beginning to find footing in the functional beverage set of major retailers with a launch into over 300 grocery stores in February 2019 with national retailers coming on board next month, according to the brand.
Lankau hatched the idea of a caffeine-free nootropic alternative to energy drinks in 2015 as a biomedical engineering major at Georgia Tech along with co-founder Daniel Porada, a neuroscience and behavior major at Columbia University.
"When I was in high school and in college I would do a lot of my own research on dietary and behavioral interventions to positively impact my brain health," Lankau said. Once in college, Lankau and Porada noticed the typical behaviors of college students who would overuse caffeinated products in an attempt to balance their academic and social lives.
"[We thought] What if we could create an energy drink that didn’t just rely on tons of caffeine and sugar to give you a temporary boost to your ability to stay awake and alert?"
In other words, Lankau and Porada set out to figure out a way to encourage the body’s natural process of generating energy from the foods you eat.
Stimulant-free beverage formulation: 'An entirely different approach to mental performance'
Caffeine, despite being the most widely used drug in the world, is very poorly understood in the general population, according to Lankau.
"Essentially what caffeine does is prevent the detection of the neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine (and therefore interrupts the body's natural sleep/wake cycle)," said Lankau.
"Once that caffeine wears off and is processed by your body, all of that adenosine that was floating around is going to bind at once (and cause the energy drink crash)."
According to Lankau, Synapse takes "an entirely different approach to mental performance" by targeting a distinct pathway in the brain called the acetylcholine pathway, neurotransmitters located between nerve synapses or gaps that play an important role in learning and memory formation.
"All of our ingredients are chosen to support the functionality that acetylcholine has in the brain naturally," he said. "Half of our functional ingredients are all around promoting cellular function, the way that your body converts what you put in, into what you can use for chemical energy. If your neurons have more energy, it’s going to amplify the effectiveness of those ingredients because your neurons will have more resources."
The formulation behind Synapse incorporates well-researched (mainly in the fields of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine) nootropic and adaptogen ingredients including Huperzia Serrata, Bacopa Monnieri, and the Schisandra berry.
"These ingredients that were initially used in combating age-related cognitive decline and combating symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia, are now being researched in healthy populations," said Lankau.
"We are establishing a new category. We’re the only brand that has the intellectual property to take these raw ingredients and convert them into a functional beverage that can be mass produced. You’re not going to find these ingredients in the quantities that we use them in any other beverages, probably for some time," added Lankau.
Avoiding product claims: 'We developed this product with an FDA attorney'
When asked about what kind of claims can be made about nootropic ingredients without landing in legal hot water, Lankau added that the brand worked with an FDA attorney to help avoid problematic marketing language.
"He made sure that we’re not saying anything about a disease state. We’re never going to say anything like, ‘this product is going help you with Alzheimer's’ or ‘this product is going to help get you off your ADD and ADHD medicine’," he said.
"Instead we just like to talk about the visceral feeling. We also like to talk about how we support natural functions in the body, and all of that is researched back."