Drop The Pills and Turn Up The Music – Exclusive Interview w/Will Henshall

Focus@Will is changing how we perform at work or at any tasks that require focusing.

Imagine replacing adderall with music.

I had the pleasure to interview  Will Henshall the founder of Focus@Will, here is some of his brilliance that drives his incredible revolution.

MT: Tell us a little about yourself

WH: I am a singer and songwriter, in the 90’s I was part of a band called London Beats which you might know from the hit song “I’ve been thinking about you”.

MT: What sparked your interest in the neuroscience of sound?

WH: I’ve got about 600 published songs and 6 of them are hits, that’s only 1% ! Which got me thinking, what was it that made those hit songs popular, what is it in a song that makes it catchy? If I can figure this out it would be the holy grail of songwriters. I began speaking with neuroscientists to see what is it that happens to your brain when you hear a song you like, at the same time I realized that people like to listen to music at work.

MT: How did your quest for the holy grail of music lead you to a productivity and mental wellness product?

WH: After I quit the band London Beat in 1995 I did my first hi tech startup, we created something called rocket network which networked recording studios as well as invented a key piece in the Pro Tools networking technology. In 2003 I sold the company to Avid which owns Pro Tools. As part of the sale of the company I was working for Avid for 18 months, I have never worked in an office before, I always worked for myself on my own schedule. So I found myself sitting in the office trying to figure out how do you sit in an office all day and work? How do you get into a flow state?

That got me fascinated to figure out, how do you get yourself into a flow state, how do you get your team into a flow state.

As humans we waste a lot of time at work, I wanted to see if I can create a tool that you hit a timer and you go work. If you are in a steady flow state you can really get a lot of work done.

I know how music can impact you emotionally and how it takes you on a journey, it has the ability to go into your limbic system, and that’s what had us going there.

MT: What is the science behind focus @ will that makes it work?

WH: Endogenous attention, is the thing I am doing right now, me looking at you, using my eyes, my  voice, hands or in caveman times we’d be painting on the cave wall and talking to each other.

Exogenous attention is driven by your ears, your hearing which works in 360 degrees. We figured out what to do in an audio stream to help manage your exogenous attention.

Works for 2 out of 3 people that try it and they become paying customers..

We have a library of unique and exclusive library of music that you can’t get anywhere else.Music that is designed to engage you mentally, emotionally, intellectually.

My co founder John Vitale and I  have music backgrounds as composers, engineers, studio stuff etc. We remixed, reengineered and commissioned our music that is designed to manage your exogenous attention

Its different for everyone that is why we have a 11 genres on the system that maps to the 11 brain types.


MT: I use F@W and have taken your coffee quiz, how does that work?
WH: We have a very strong science team, Dr. Ned Hallowell is the nation’s leading expert on ADD and ADHD, we had a conversation about why do people with ADD take stimulants as well as drink coffee which does the same thing to a lesser extent.

People with ADD which is at least 15% of the population,  don’t have a learning difficulty, they just have a difference, people with distractibility need to have a lot of stuff around them, they work better when there is chaos around them or during a crisis.

A clean desk to me is a nightmare, I don’t know what to do with it.

For certain jobs it’s a real advantage to have ADD or to be challenged on the distractibility, a battlefield surgeon can be laser focused with chaos around them, so too with ER workers, first responders or the president.

The more easily distracted you are the more you need things around you, some of our channels have more energy in them, and they tend to work better with people that like to drink coffee which speeds them up like the music which speeds them up.
If you have a friend who drinks coffee and nothing happens or they go to sleep then they are ADD and are most likely the people you want to spend time with.

We actually have a new quiz that is still in test mode that hooks up to an algorithm which will recommend a channel to you.

MT: I know some people that are pretty heavy ADHD and are generally more productive when they are listening to heavy metal music.

WH: Yes we built that channel consulting with Dr Hallowell, we trigger the same response with a lot of sound in it.

MT: How many people currently use F@W?

WH: 3% of our 1.2 million registered users use it every day.

2k of them are google employees

Actually a group of the google employees with ADHD  complained that the ADHD-1 channel is not intense enough for them, so we are working on a new track called Drums and Hums Turbo, which sounds like animals from the muppets going mental with a whole bunch of stuff in it.

MT: What channel is the most popular?

WH: The most popular channel is Alpha Chill Medium and that is followed by Uptempo and Classical Piano.  

20% of our users are on Uptempo and

4% of our users use the ADHD-1  channel all day long. It’s a little too intense for me unless I’m under a real screaming deadline.

MT: What was your biggest challenge in taking the idea from ideation to execution?

WH: Raising the money was the greatest challenge, my co founder and I built this completely based on our intuition without really knowing why we are doing this.

It took us 5 years and we raised $5 million, we were funded by Peter Diamandis’s Singularity University and 500 startups.

We got pretty lucky finding investors that followed our intuition without having the scientific evidence why this works.

MT: At what point did you know that this really works?

WH: When we had 25k people using it while beta testing, we knew it works, so we started doing surveys.

We started putting people in tin foil hats with eeg, we then put together a lab, it took us 2 years to figure out what was happening.

The aha moment in the science was when we hired Dr Julia Mossbridge, and then one day she came in and said she figured out why this works.

MT: Is it being used more by any specific kind of person or for specific tasks?

WH: It works particularly well for creativity and task assistance and also works really well for people who are shy or introverted.We have a lot of writers, designers, creators, coders, google and tesla using us.

MT: What about actually driving sales  at point of purchase based on influencing customer behavior? WH: All I can tell you is that we are looking at many things.

MT: What book has inspired you the most?

WH: Well that is a great question, it changes all the time based on what I am reading. I’d have to say the Steve Jobs biography,

What a complete bastard, brilliant but what a complete bastard. One of our investors has worked with Jobs every day for 20 years he told us a few stories how jobs was just brilliant but unreasonable to the point.