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Red Bull's Billionaire Maniac (businessweek.com)
89 points by forcer on May 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

It really bothers me how, over the last 10-15 years, caffeine has gone from something people use to jump-start their day to some kind of... fad drug. People brag about how many cups of coffee they inhale every day, how many liters of soda they can drink in one sitting, how many bottles of bawls they have on a shelf, or how many cans of red bull they need to chug to stay awake after their all-nighters, but even worse than that is how many people just acknowledge this as a normal thing. Especially among geeks and gamers.

Edit: For example, quotes like this: "It's an efficiency product. I'm talking about improving endurance, concentration, reaction time, speed, vigilance, and emotional status. Taste is of no importance whatsoever."

He makes it very clear that he doesn't think of it as a soft drink, but as a performance-enhancing drug. Yet people are out there pounding it because it's "cool."

Also the evidence that caffeine is a cognitive enhancer isn't very good. It seems that the boost people feel from a cup of coffee is just the relief from the symptoms of coffee withdrawl. Quote

> "That alertness you feel is you getting back to normal, rather than to an above normal level.

BBC Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6422279.stm

Podcast: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2010/3073994.h...

I stopped drinking coffee after learning about this but I still drink black tea.

Newsflash: black tea is chock full of caffeine.

I know, but I don't seem to have the same physical reaction to it

The trend to use caffeine like a drug is particularly concerning amongst young people.

I volunteer with a local youth group, and recently some of them have started downing a couple of Red Bulls (or more likely a cheap clone) before arriving. The effect it has on them is ridiculous - kids who usually aren't too much trouble become completely uncontrollable. A bit of running about at that age is healthy, but the excess energy means they spend literally 3 hours charging around the place, with arguments far more likely to happen because they're wired.

I'm not generally one for regulation of substances which don't harm other people, but I think there at least needs to be some publicity given to the fact that saturating yourself with caffeine and other additives is really bad for your heart.

Really? I noticed a different trend -- The Green Tea Fad. More and more people talking about how they no longer drink coffee, because it contains the most dangerous drug in the history of mankind -- caffeine!

Green tea has a lot of caffeine too.

For reference:


Not that much really.

Yes, but "green" and "tea" make it sound a lot healthier. It's every marketer's dream come true.

"But it's green!"

What ever happened to good, old amphetamines?

Nothing beats a straight 36-hour coding session, and the one week of solid sleep that follows.

You're in good company with Paul Erdős, one of the most prolific mathematicians of the 1900s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s

After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month.[12] Erdős won the bet, but complained that during his abstinence mathematics had been set back by a month: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine use.

Didn't he 'invent' airbnb?


I find it interesting coffee was his 'gateway' drug and self-dosed amphetamine usage allowed him to perform at a higher level. In that sense, amphetamine usage is much better than caffeine.

He was not addicted to amphetamines. Most coffee drinkers are addicted to caffeine. How many caffeine addicts would go a month without caffeine for $500?

$500? that's what, a half-day bill rate for most mid range USian computer professionals? If you believe you are deriving much productivity benefit from caffeine at all, that doesn't seem like a very good deal.

I'm just saying, the fact that someone won't give up a drug they perceive to enhance productivity for a small amount of money is not evidence that it is addictive; it could also be a rational decision (e.g. I believe I am giving up more than $500 worth of additional productivity if I don't use caffeine)

I would be really interested in the results of (and even willing to participate in) a properly controlled study that measured the effects of caffeine on productivity. But measuring actual productivity is /very hard/ which is why I've gotta keep using words like 'perceived productivity'

It also probably wasn't that much to Paul Erdos, either. The point was in "proving" that he wasn't an addict, not winning a $500 bet.

I'm hooked on caffeine and cigarettes, I'd give up both for a month for $500 easy!

How much to you spend on cigarettes and caffeine per month?

He was not physically dependent on amphetamines. Whether he was addicted is a completely different question.

Now they call it Ritalin.

Aint amphetamine. There's simply no replacement for 100% dextroamphetamine and Ritalinheads are getting peddled the wrong substance.

The best shit ever. I feel like God when i take that pill

A lot of people assume there's s lot of caffeine in Red Bull. There is some, but the "active ingredient" is taurine.

I'd wager that it's actually sugar. Take a high dose of supplemental taurine and let me know if you feel much.

why does it bother you? Even if it only has a placebo effect on people - why is that such a big deal? It doesn't do a lot of harm. Chill

And then there is only a small step to start taking speed. Legal or illegal...

He doesn't come off as a maniac at all. I rather enjoyed his philosophy and his success speaks for itself. He sold a crappy tasting drink for more money than anyone would have imagined possible. The guy is brilliant.

My favourite passage from a James Bond book:

Doctor No said, in the same soft resonant voice, "You are right. Mister Bond. That is just what I am, a maniac. All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders - all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of their purpose? Mania, my dear Mister Bond, is as priceless as genius. Dissipation of energy, fragmentation of vision, loss of momentum, the lack of follow-through - these are the vices of the herd." Doctor No sat slightly back in his chair. "I do not possess these vices. I am, as you correctly say, a maniac"

Awesome passage, thanks for sharing it. Maniacs exemplify "the anatomy of determination" - http://paulgraham.com/determination.html

"It wouldn't be Red Bull if it didn't start harmless and end up as a catastrophe,"

Heh. Here's a photo of the Threesixty bar:


I like the next sentence even better: "And architects are really only paid discussion partners anyway."

Applies to SW development too.

I'm friends with too many architects to enjoy that one. There are certainly architects out there that serve as paid discussion partners (and I don't doubt that Red Bull uses them), but by and large it's an artform.

It is an art form, but the work is commissioned. When I commission a sculpture, I get to give a lot of input about what I want, but I want the artist to make it beautiful.

Just like in software, if both sides don't respect the other, the output will be atrocious (which appears to be ok with Red Bull).

The success of Red Bull defies logic in one important regard: It doesn't taste very good.

That's like saying beer, oysters, caviar, or Coca Cola don't taste very good - it's entirely subjective. I like the taste of Red Bull a great deal and I'm fussy.

Now a followup question, and it shouldn't be taken as a hostile one because I agree with you entirely:

Would you like the taste more or less if it didn't cost $2 a can?

There's an element of brand in there, for sure. But.. I'm a bit of an energy drink junkie and I've tried almost all of them over the years.

Red Bull is a bit like the Coca Cola of energy drinks to me. It might not be the absolute best tasting one but it's the best to fit almost any situation. That is, a specialty cola can taste better than Coca Cola for a once-off, but you'd find it too sickly on a long-term basis. That's where I stand with Red Bull. It's not the best but it's the most consistent and most palatable I've found.

I can't put my finger as to how much the brand plays into that but acknowledge I'm as human as anyone else and that it undoubtedly reinforces my preference.

I try not to care too much about what I do and do not consume, but even I avoid Red Bull.

Agreed. I'm proud to say I've never consumed a single "energy drink."

The beauty of Red Bull's marketing is its focus.

One product, a few versions. Original, sugar free, small shots - that's about all I know of.

How many other companies make billions with essentially just one product?

I think the more interesting question is which companies make the most money per product.

Apple has 30ish products.

Google is hard to count, because they have a lot of "stuff", but it all could be said to support AdWords. I think that is too lenient of an interpretation. It seems more like AdWords is the Google currency inside of their product ecosystem.

Red Bull as four (according to another post).

Others, especially outside of tech?

Google (AdWords)


Taking a look at this Wikipedia Article listing Coca Cola Brands http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Coca-Cola_brands you will realize that Coca Cola, the company, is much more than just Coca Cola, the drink.

So, are you saying Coca Cola makes less than a billion dollars per year from Coca Cola alone?

PS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Bull_GmbH#Sport_ownership

PPS The Red Bull product page has 4 different drinks, unless you believe Coke and Diet Coke are the same product, why would Red Bull Energy Drink and Red Bull Energy Drink Sugarfree be the same product?

PPPS My open source hair-splitting machine written in Python is almost complete.

You're probably just having some fun with semantics, but I'm sure helipad meant to say, "how many companies with essentially one product make billions?"

Red Bull makes 4 products.

> Mateschitz, 67, has been a patron saint for more than two decades to late-night partiers, exam-week undergrads, long-haul truckers, and, above all, extreme-sports athletes everywhere.

I would think that the overwhelming presence of the brand on extreme-sports events has more to do with demographics of the tv-audience than with 'athletes' liking the drink.

I think the remark in the article was more about how Red Bull helps finance a lot of these extreme sports and the athletes that compete within. Without Red Bull a lot of these things would not see any sponsorship.

i once talkes with the former coo of red-bull: the first (unpaid) marketing success of red-bull was when a F1 (cars driving in circles) team leader (i think it was ferrari) held a victory speech while holding a red bull in his hand.

they just took it from there...


Inside the extreme sports circles - being sponsored by RB is seen as acknowledgment of ones excellence in his field. In a sense the RB helmet is the ultimate status symbol and sign of the elite.

Also these athletes and the sports are incredibly cheap for RB and at the same time RB is the only thing keeping them alive.

I use it occasionally if I need to stay up late, or crunch, but it typically takes me half a week to recover.

OTOH, I'm not sure whether the "recovery" is from the Red Bull, or the after-effects of sleep deprivation.

In general, I recognize the insidious and far-reaching effects of sleep deprivation, but I still do it sometimes. :\.

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