By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 8-minute read
To cover tuition and living expenses while attending the University of Southern California, Andrew Kozlovski decided he should start a business. But first, he needed the right idea.
A short time later, Kozlovski heard about a prescription drug, Adderall, that students used without a prescription to pull all-nighters and cram for big exams. To him, a high school All-American swimmer who had never touched drugs irresponsibly, this magic pill sounded too good to be true.
Kozlovski did some research on Adderall and was shocked by its host of potential side effects if abused -- nausea, seizures, high-blood pressure, psychosis -- and high potential for use without a prescription. This sparked an idea in the aspiring entrepreneur. He wondered if it were possible to create a product that produced the same positive effect as Adderall on non-prescribed students but was safe and derived from natural ingredients.
During his freshman year in 2015, Kozlovski developed a dietary supplement called Brainz Power, which would become the flagship product for his company. Five years later, the company is a reliable sales engine with revenues over $30,000 a month.
Today, in addition to expanding the Brainz Power brand, Kozlovski gives back to his peers, inspiring college students to become entrepreneurs.
Getting Brainz Power off the ground
To determine whether his idea was feasible, Kozlovski started researching in the hopes of finding a safer alternative to using unprescribed Adderall for focus. The search led him to nootropics, also known as cognitive enhancers or “smart drugs.”
WedMD refers to nootropics as “any natural or synthetic substance that may have a positive impact on mental skills.” Kozlovski was solely interested in natural brain enhancement, so it seemed like a lead.
To learn more about nootropics, he contacted FDA-approved dietary supplement manufacturers and gathered information about the most powerful natural cognitive enhancers on the market.
“I started by researching every single ingredient shown through medical trials and studies that have proven to support cognitive functions,” he said.
Kozlovski balanced school and entrepreneurship to launch Brainz Power during his freshman year at USC.
Kozlovski worked alongside manufacturers to create a proprietary blend that would maximize cognitive function. The end product is a caffeine-free supplement aimed at brain enhancement and overall brain health. The supplement includes natural ingredients like Gingko biloba, St. John’s wort and Bacopa, amino acids like glutamine and N-Acetyl, lecithin, Vinpocetine seed and more.
Kozlovski tried using the product during a study session to be sure it delivered the intended cognitive effect prior to launching it as Brainz Power Focus & Memory.
The hurdles of college entrepreneurship
Kozlovski had a few challenges to starting a business as a full-time student. Chief among them was a lack of funds to invest in inventory and a team of one. However, confidence in the idea and consumer demand pushed him forward.
“I had to put $250 down to manufacture (the first shipment of product),” said Kozlovski. “It was a lot of money at the time.”
The investment got him his first 24 bottles of Brainz Power, which were manufactured in a “U.S. FDA-approved laboratory.” He then began learning everything he could about other elements of his new business – marketing, sales, website design, fulfillment and customer service.
In a cost-saving move, he devised a plan to promote Brainz Power exclusively on Instagram, both as a way to market the product and drive sales. Kozlovski also built a very basic website to process the surge of incoming orders he expected.
“The first website I built was really terrible,” he said. “It’s funny to think about now.”
With his prep work complete, Kozlovski went live with the website, started promoting on Instagram and waited for the orders to roll in.
“For three days nothing happened,” he said. “When I got my first sale, it was the craziest and most euphoric feeling.”
“When I got my first sale, it was the craziest and most euphoric feeling.”
In addition to the initial product, Brainz Power now offers other supplements like Omega-3 Krill Oil, an essential fatty acid said to help with cognitive function; Lions Mane, a nootropic mushroom some take for creativity, focus and concentration; and MCT Oil, organic coconut oil that may enhance mental energy, mood and focus. These products can be purchased individually for $30-50 a bottle or in a monthly subscription box of four for $130.
Growing Brainz Power
Brainz Power grew to cover Kozlovski’s tuition and living expenses at USC, making upwards of $10,000 a month. Today, Brainz Power generates nearly triple that.
To reach this point, Kozlovski focused on a few key areas:
Brainz Power has used Instagram as its primary channel to drive brand awareness and sales. Posting lots of photos and using hashtags for keywords like “nootropics” was key to Kozlovski’s early marketing success. As sales increased, he dedicated a portion of revenue back to Instagram, buying advertising and striking deals with influencers -- other entrepreneurs, high achievers and athletes -- that drove sales even more.
Kozlovski explained that storytelling is the key to a solid social media strategy. In Brainz Power’s early marketing, the goal was to show customers “how the product would affect them and help them thrive,” he added.
To that end, he targeted fellow academics with Instagram images of students on campus and in libraries studying. For (a certain breed of) aspiring entrepreneurs, Kozlovski posted motivational images of travel destinations and cars.
“I showed in a simple visual way that if you nourish the brain, you can do more and achieve more,” he said.
Kozolovski used to rely more on hashtags to increase the reach of his Instagram marketing posts, while today his focus is on Instagram Stories and production of fresh daily content. On certain occasions, this means posting three to five times a day.
Until now, he has focused his online advertising on Instagram. However, he mentioned that he’s got a Facebook advertising strategy ready for 2020, to reach Facebook users who haven’t yet migrated to Instagram.
“When I launched Brainz Power in 2015, I saw the shift in attention from FB to IG, and have yet to see that massive swing yet, but when it happens we will be there,” said Kozlovski.
Kozlovski built a large personal brand alongside Brainz Power. Today, his personal Instagram page has over 116,000 followers, more than Brainz Power’s 98,000.
“Behind a lot of the great companies are founders who are just as well-known,” said Kozlovski of his reasoning.
“Behind a lot of the great companies are founders who are just as well-known.”
Through his personal page, @andrewthekoz, he shares business lessons and inspirations for high achievers.
After a PR company told Kozlovski they would handle Brainz Power’s press for $30,000 a month, he decided to devise a strategy on his own. He researched techniques to pitch editors of business publications and began an internally-run PR outreach campaign. For weeks, Kozlovski got no responses or feedback about why his pitch didn’t work. Undeterred, he refined his pitch with the help of journalist and USC Professor Navdeep Mundi, eventually scoring articles in Business Insider, Forbes and Entrepreneur.
“It’s hard to get rejections or no response at all,” said Kozlovski. “But sometimes you just need to close your mind off and grind until you get what you want.”
Mentors and resources - Kozlovski utilized resources like USC’s Blackstone Launchpad, an on-campus incubator that provides one-on-one mentorship to student entrepreneurs.
“When you walk into Blackstone, the director literally asks you how they can help you, what you want to do and what you’re having the most problems with,” said Kozlovski. “They provide numerous solutions and connect you with the university network to help with whatever you need.”
As much of entrepreneurship is a solo endeavor, Kozlovski mentioned that it was “shocking walking into a place where the whole premise is to help you.”
He also regularly met with entrepreneurship professors at USC, picking their brains and gathering advice about important challenges facing the business.
As a one-man show, Kozvolski was forced to learn and conduct every aspect of his business. This strategy not only saved him lots of money in the early stages of growth but also gave him a full understanding of the business he has built.
“I knew that if I learned every aspect of my business, I would be successful,” he said.
“I knew that if I learned every aspect of my business, I would be successful.”
Inspiring the next wave of college entrepreneurs
Kozlovski is working on a book, “The College Entrepreneur: Why It’s the Best Time to Start.” A literary agent pitched him the concept.
“There will be lots of resources in the book and support for aspiring college entrepreneurs,” said Kozlovski. “It’s a cool take on the entrepreneur topic where I can bring a lot of value.”
He is also set for a college speaking tour, visiting schools like the London School of Economics, Harvard and NYU to talk about college entrepreneurship.
Kozlovski received a number of speaking requests after getting Brainz Power featured in media outlets, he said. Initially, he turned them down, “but after producing an outline for my book, an hour-long keynote became very clear. So it was a natural combination.”
The ever-astute Kozlovski is also acutely aware of the additional revenue streams and marketing potential these parallel initiatives hold.
“It’s all interconnected,” he said. “Activities like this certainly contribute back to product sales.”
Advice for student founders
Kozlovski offered three pieces of advice for any student thinking of starting a business while still in school:
1. Come up with a great idea - Kozlovski recommends spending a lot of time on the idea phase and assessing the long-term viability of the business. Entering the market with a product that truly stands out is integral, he said.
2. Commit to making it work - Many of the other entrepreneurs Kozlovski knew at USC changed ideas quickly. Kozlovski admits that poor initial results can be frustrating, but if founders truly believe their idea is good, he said, they should work at it until it flourishes.
3. Get started as soon as possible - Kozlovski believes that college professors and on-campus incubators can be helpful to students. So once you have a good idea, quit stalling and get to work, he said. The resources offered to students can help propel your big idea.
Kozlovski started Brainz Power as a way to learn about business and pay his college tuition. He succeeded, graduating debt-free as the CEO of a growing nootropics company. He’s never had to look for a job or been out of work. He’s been too busy growing Brainz Power.
🌱 The bottom line
Kozlovski’s story may sound idyllic to college students, but you don't achieve the level of success without serious drive and a capacity for hard work.
“You have to be more creative, work harder and work longer (than others),” said Kozlovski.
Good thing there’s a supplement for that.