Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Chewing Your Way to Success on a Shoestring

Think Gum is a brain-boosting chewing gum designed to enhance concentration and memory. The gum is sugar-free, naturally caffeinated and contains a proprietary blend of herbal ingredients including peppermint, rosemary, guarana, bacopa, ginkgo and vinpocetine. The gum tastes like regular peppermint gum with a green tea-like finish.

Chewing Your Way to Success on a ShoestringI founded Think Gum LLC in 2007 after graduating from UC Berkeley. I came up with the idea of a chewing gum to help with concentration and memory during a class there called “Drugs and the Brain.” In the class, we discussed how drugs – both legal and illegal – can alter consciousness. One of the topics included nootropic drugs, which are drugs that can help improve mental performance. An example of one such a drug is caffeine. Two studies related to this topic fascinated me most: one study linked the act of chewing gum with increased concentration, and a second study linked particular aromas with reduced careless errors. Within days, I was chewing my own prototype of what would later become Think Gum. I was excited to discover that it helped me focus during lectures, and even more importantly, during exams. After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in molecular and cell biology, I started the process of founding a business to take advantage of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, I was fresh out of school and didn’t have much in the way of cash. But I was confident that a caffeinated gum designed to help students study was a winning idea. I used all of my savings – approximately $20,000 – to pay for R&D and production of a small batch of Think Gum. We packaged the gum in 2-piece pouches that could easily be given away as samples or sold to cover our costs. Think Gum first launched at Stanford and at other California universities (and at surrounding coffeehouses), as well as at our online store at Within only a few months we sold out of this first batch of gum and plowed the earnings back into the company to produce a slightly larger batch.

I also started fielding calls from reporters who had heard about our gum. For example, Fox Evening News ran a feature and that created enormous buzz. We suddenly had more online orders than we could manage and spent days shipping gum to customers in the U.S. and internationally. We quickly sold out of the second (and larger) batch of Think Gum.

By this point, I knew we needed to scale up our business. That meant more money. My parents graciously offered to help with the production costs by giving Think Gum an interest-free loan of $60,000. We used this money to pay for the design of our new blister packs and to cover manufacturing expenses for the next batch of gum. Think Gum is produced and packaged in the U.S., even though we would have saved substantially by manufacturing it overseas.

Within a few weeks of placing the order, a 60-foot truck pulled up to my parents’ home (AKA the Think Gum storage warehouse) with what can only be described as an insane amount of gum. This third batch took up an entire room of the house.

Chewing Your Way to Success on a ShoestringNow, four years later, I am proud to call Think Gum a success. We are a profitable company that has sold over 1,000,000 pieces of gum. We have distributors in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and even as far away as Botswana. We ship online orders to customers around the world. Think Gum has been featured in a college entrepreneurship textbook, Entrepreneur Magazine and on the NBC Nightly News. Earlier this year, we published a study in the peer reviewed Journal of Appetite, demonstrating that Think Gum improves memory by over 25%. Sales have nearly doubled since the article was published and now most of our time is spent filling orders!

Despite our success, one thing has remained the same: we still operate on a shoestring budget. I continue to be the only full-time employee, and I am lucky to have parents who have become “expert” shippers. We contract out almost everything we can, except for R&D, customer service and order fulfillment. We have been sparse in our marketing efforts, but word of mouth has proven to be our biggest – and most effective – marketing tool. Once people hear about Think Gum, they are eager to try it for themselves. And once people try Think Gum, they are hooked! Although we have followed the wave of social media (“Like Us” on our Facebook page at and check out our own as well as fan-created

YouTube videos at

the most helpful thing a Think Gum customer can do is tell their friends and family about our product and encourage them to try it. We have also gained traction by attracting customers to our website via our popular Blog (

We are currently focused on expanding our market and securing more distribution. Think Gum is a hit with college students and we are starting to attract business professionals, educators, athletes and even parents juggling the demands of busy households.

As our business continues to grow, we hope to expand our product line to include other functional candies that might improve digestion, relaxation or even immunity. These products are still in the R&D stage, but we expect to unveil them soon. We would welcome the opportunity to partner with a larger candy company or even local distributors to help expand our brand.

Starting and managing Think Gum LLC has been a rewarding experience. It hasn’t always been easy, but when I receive e-mails from students thanking me for creating Think Gum or telling me that they got an A on an exam after chewing Think Gum, it makes all of the hard work well worth it.

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One Response to “Chewing Your Way to Success on a Shoestring”

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