A little over a year ago, twenty-something Michael Brandt quit Google.
He had just finished Google’s associate product manager (APM) program when he bailed. Google uses the elite APM program to groom potential long-term leaders.
But, there’s an inherent problem with the APM program. When you pick people who are leaders, that show the sort of entrepreneurial zeal that makes them a great fit at Google, you also pick people that are confident enough to leave Google to build their own companies.
And that’s exactly what happened with Brandt. He told us that drinking the “Larry Page and Sergey Brin Kool-Aid” and an entrepreneurial itch made him leave.
“Larry and Sergey were doing crazy stuff when they started Google — they were making server racks out of Legos because it was the cheapest thing they could build with,” Brandt told Business Insider. “That was in the back of my mind: What is it like to start from nothing and build it all up yourself?”
He knew that the only way he would find out was by leaving his comfortable position at Google, even though he didn’t have a specific idea for a company that he wanted to work on next.
His job as an associate product manager had taught him how to run a team and trust his gut to make important decisions. He had majored in computer science in college, but says being part of the APM program basically added a business school education. By ditching the company to start something new, he follows in the path of many Google APM’s before him. Marissa Mayer, who started the program, told Newsweek several years ago that even if the well-groomed leaders leave the company, it’s still good for Google: It could end up buying one of their companies someday.
And so Brandt’s quest for the perfect project began.
In the last year, he has already shuttered three businesses, including a music startup, but is now focusing on two ideas: A simple pizza delivery app (he’s got some competition there), and Nootrobox, a monthly subscription service that sends customers a custom-made nootropic, or “smart drug.”.
Nootropics are cognitive performance supplements, and Brandt and his partner Geoffrey Woo have created a combination they’re calling RISE that they say boosts memory, focus, and energy better than drinking coffee does. Brandt likens taking RISE to giving your brain superpowers. The bootstrapped startup is currently shipping to to nine states.
While he’s hustling away on these startups, Brandt is also making ends meet by working as a freelance photographer and an adjunct professor at a San Francisco art school. Google operates by the philosophy that authority and leadership need to be earned by an action, not a title, he says, and that mindset has been driving him work harder than ever and be incredibly humble when approaching new customers.
“I’m very much enjoying what I do now,” he says. “Google offered an incredible amount of structure. Right now, I’m thriving from the lack of structure.”