Entrepreneurs and biohackers have become, if not indistinguishable, at least closely related cousins. Both are focused on optimizing – the former their businesses, the latter themselves – and so it comes as little surprise that many entrepreneurs tend to be biohackers. Though biohacker is perhaps even too restrictive a term – these people are now focused on optimizing every aspect of their lives. To the layperson they often come across as having a few screws loose and, if not that, at least profoundly unfun.
Like Tim Ferris and Dave Asprey before him, Colin Darretta built the foundation of his entrepreneurial career in the supplement industry – founding a customized supplement business in 2014 before eventually selling it the better part of a decade later – before venturing off into a whole host of other businesses. While he insists there is a narrative throughline to the businesses he builds and invests in to an outsider they feel pretty different – from wellness, to big data to marketing technology. Through it all he has retained an almost zealot-like interest in personal improvement.
When I first speak with him over Zoom I am struck by the fact that he is, outwardly at least, pretty much what you expect how a successful entrepreneur and investor would look if described by central casting for some mid aughts television show. Which is to say, well dressed, fit and with an almost annoying eagerness about him that suggests a certain degree of excitement in talking to an endless stream of people about their wild schemes for changing the world. What he is certainly not is reminiscent of biohacking cum self help internet celebrities like David Goggins, Ben Greenfield or, blessedly, the Liver King. He seems, at least at first glance, pretty normal. Maybe, I think, I will be able to relate.
When I ask about this purportedly excessive approach to self care, namely how it is possible he spends almost four hours a day on wellness, his natural enthusiasm ratchets to eleven. “Frankly, I think it’s the foundation of what makes me happy. I don’t know that I’d be a sad or depressed person absent it, per se, but I think I would be demonstrably less of a positive one. To wit, when I am traveling and fall out of sync with my routine I am a noticeably less enjoyable person to be around.”
Fine, fair enough. I think about my daily coffee and how important that is to my own mental wellbeing and can admit that there is some merit in a routine. But when he tells me it takes about four hours a day I reel in shock. Four hours? As an otherwise busy entrepreneur and investor? Really? Darretta proceeds to walk me through his average day as I start doing the mental gymnastics of thinking how I could possibly fit it into my own schedule.
It goes something like this: Twenty minutes of journaling in the morning and another ten in the evening. Twenty minutes of breathwork or meditation in the morning followed by another twenty in the afternoon. Fifteen minutes of stretching. Thirty minutes of cardio exercise. An hour of weightlifting. Two protein smoothies a day with an ingredient list the length of a small novel and an accompanying list of dozens of supplements taken with each. Then, depending on the day, he rotates a variety of hobbies – from french lessons to pilates and padel – that force him to learn a new skill. Meanwhile he’s resolute that he reads at least one book a week, making a point to highlight his still unrealized ambition to join the rarified air of the century club – those few people with what I would argue is far too much free time to be able to read a hundred books a year.
It’s around this point in the conversation that I take a pause and ask him – how do you possibly do this all and do literally anything else in your day? This is the sort of schedule even a retiree would be hard pressed to emulate. “It’s easy,” he insists. Sensing my skepticism he’s quick to expound, “Well, maybe not easy, but achievable provided you’re willing to try to be really efficient with your time. For instance, I do my french lessons when I’m going to and fro from meetings. I run to the gym and back, which counts as a bit of cardio. I listen to audiobooks when I’m in the gym, in the shower, or preparing a meal. On days where I’m particularly short on time I’ll combine stretching with meditation, really trying to be mindful throughout the whole process. In sum, if you stack activities on top of one another or next to one another you unlock time and compound the value of that time spent.”
That ultimately seems to be the lynchpin on which everything rests according to Darretta, the ability to tie certain practices together and remove friction from the process. “It’s the dead time,” he insists, “that is where people lose so much time throughout the day. Distractions are inevitable, though I recommend people practice hyper focus to help minimize that as well, but it’s really those moments between activities or filled with rote mindless processes like brushing your teeth that erode the hours in the day until it feels like there is never enough. So if you can use that otherwise dead time toward something productive it leaves you feeling accomplished and it opens up time for other pursuits.”
Up until now in the conversation his background in entrepreneurship had been merely a bullet point on a biography. Now I could sense the hacker mentality as applied to his own self. And while still dubious, I could see how it was perhaps possible that you could squeeze all this in. I challenge him a bit, suggesting that it did still seem like a lot, far more than most people would really enjoy.
“Is it though?” asked Darretta. His inevitable rebuttal went along the lines of he argues that the most common reason for people’s regrets or failed resolutions is that they simply do not have enough time. Thinking back on my own resolutions and aspirations I have a hard time debating this. “How often in the last week have you heard someone say they’re simply too busy or there are not enough hours in the day? What I’m outlining is an approach for how you can live a potentially healthier, happier, more fulfilled life and the push back is that the schedule now feels a little too manic? Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I think most people would be happy with the trade off after a little time getting used to it. Best of all, you’ll be more energized and happier the rest of the time so all the good that comes out of it will compound.”
When I spend a little time researching some of the more specific things he mentioned – for instance Wim Hof breathing as a meditative practice that also maybe has some benefits to the sympathetic nervous system – I find that no small amount of it still falls within the realm of fringe science where there is simply not enough published research to support some of the myriad benefits claimed. This is unsurprising, when you consider all the optimizers tend to be people who are willing to accept the trade off that at worst something doesn’t hurt you and at best there are real benefits to be had.
Consider me not entirely satisfied that everything is quite as easy or quite so beneficial as Darretta makes it out to be. Nonetheless, I did leave our conversation at least somewhat convinced that, with enough intentionality, it’s possible to fit a lot of healthy habits into your day and still have some time leftover to do other things. I don’t anticipate emulating his schedule any time soon, but I will probably try to do a bit more than I have in the past. There is something to learn here though – that it is entirely possible to cherry pick a favorite set of daily habit upgrades from the almost endless array that relentless self optimizers like Darretta and his entrepreneur-cum-hacker colleagues have battle-tested. The majority of us may not end up spending four hours on self-care every day, but we can almost all benefit with another twenty minutes of it.