The Profile Dossier: Bryan Johnson, the Founder Unlocking the Secrets of Your Mind
“When you start quantifying the mind, you make thought and emotion an engineering discipline."
The human brain is one of the most important organs we possess in our body. But it's also the one we understand the least.
Serial entrepreneur Bryan Johnson wants to change that. Johnson is the founder and CEO of Kernel, a company that has developed devices that can monitor and record brain activity. He has begun sending dozens of customers across the U.S. a $50,000 helmet that can analyze the brain's neurons, electrical impulses, and blood flow at the speed of thought.
Kernel is yet another competitor in the brain-interface market trying to gain a deeper understanding of how the human brain reacts to the world's external stimuli. The private company will allow researchers to use the data to better study brain aging, mental disorders, strokes, and even analyze the experience of psychedelic trips.
Johnson is all in. Kernel is his life's mission. He's spent more than five years and raised about $110 million (half of it his own money) to develop the helmets.
Johnson doesn't have the typical Silicon Valley founder story. He grew up relatively poor in Springville, Utah, as the middle of five children. His mother stayed at home, while his father was a trash-collector-turned lawyer. He had a drug problem and an affair, which led to his divorce from Johnson's mom.
Johnson grew up with little direction, and he didn't know what to do with his life until he went on a two-year church mission in Ecuador. “When I came back, the only thing I cared about was how to do the most good for the most people,” he says. “Since I didn’t have any skills, I decided to become an entrepreneur.”
After college, he invested in a real estate development company that left him $250,000 in debt. To pay it off, he was forced to take a job selling credit card processing services to small businesses door to door.
And then he hit it big. In 2007, Johnson had an idea for a software company focused on making online payments much more seamless. It was called Braintree, which he later sold for $800 million in cash.
To everyone else, he was a founder who had reached the upper echelons of entrepreneurial success. But Johnson felt anything but successful. He was stressed out, overweight, his marriage was falling apart, and he was having suicidal thoughts.
He decided to overhaul his life, move to Los Angeles, and start over. Johnson began running cognitive and physical experiments to improve his sleep, identify his blind spots, and reboot his overall health.