Christoph Burkhardt, CEO at OneLife tells us about modern-day efficient air purifiers.
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christoph Burkhardt: Thanks for asking. It’s been quite a ride. Like so many other teams we adapted to many new restrictions quickly but not to others. I had always been traveling for OneLife and so we were used to working remotely and across different time zones. But I did not foresee the psychological toll this situation would have on many of our team members. We had to learn that it is ok to not be ok in these times. The unpredictability of the unfolding pandemic is a real challenge.
That being said, for us, as a company on the other hand the pandemic helped with a major obstacle in our industry: consumer awareness. Now, with an airborne virus as an invisible enemy on everybody’s mind, air purification and the elimination of invisible enemies from the air we breathe became a game changer as our target customers are more and more educated and demand more sophisticated solutions. Thus, while the pandemic was a challenge to our team it also helped to fulfill one major part of our mission: to help people live healthier lives while protecting the planet.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you became the CEO at OneLife.
Christoph Burkhardt: I have always believed in the power of technologies to transform our lives for the better. Being an unconditional optimist when it comes to progress always pushed me to understand emerging technologies and how they could be used to do good. I had written several books about the link between technology and impact innovation. Born and raised in Germany but living in California for almost a decade I was fortunate to experience very different approaches and strategies to innovation and applied technologies. Personally, I have always been using technologies and gadgets to track my health, fitness, sleep, and performance. Data is the biggest driver of improvements in health.
When we started OneLife we knew there was a field in which people were not tracking anything really: people hardly knew anything about the air quality surrounding them. Yet, the air had an incredible impact on their well-being and their performance. So we set out to create a completely new way to provide clinically clean air with a smart, connected, and heavily data-driven air purifier. We experimented our way through all the technologies and sensors available and ended up building an incredible powerhouse of a device. For me, the fascination with user-centric technologies and my background in cognitive psychology and data science really helped to bring OneLife X to life. I’m not an engineer while almost everybody else on the team is. The different perspectives and constant learning make this my dream job.
How does OneLife innovate?
Christoph Burkhardt: We are scientists. And our approach is very scientific, we do not trust gut feelings and we do not believe that existing solutions are necessarily the best possible solutions. When we innovate we do it in all aspects of the business, innovation is not just the job of research and development. We encourage everybody to help design our products, we develop marketing stories together, we talk to other companies with similar missions regularly and I’m trying to spend as much time looking outside the industry for new ideas and inspiring paradigm shifts as I spend on managing the team. We all need to be out there, close to our users, close to the experiences we try to improve.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Christoph Burkhardt: It became very hard to find investors during the lockdowns and the uncertainty in the markets did not help with the free flow of investment capital. At the same time, we faced massive delays from suppliers and production shortages of crucial parts. Fortunately, this has improved dramatically going into 2021. Since our business is clinically clean air we on the other hand see an incredible rise in awareness accompanied by high demands for air purification across the globe. We stumbled into one of the fastest-growing market segments. So paradoxically, the pandemic will probably turn out to make us a winner under changed circumstances.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Christoph Burkhardt: Luckily, we did not have to let anyone go and while there was a hiring freeze, we definitely learned some valuable lessons. I’m an introvert and enjoy being alone for hours working on something. I can sit down and write a book and enjoy it. For many others, this does not sound like fun at all. Being under lockdown eliminated a lot of naturally occurring interaction and liveliness from our office. And while I experienced a significant increase in my own productivity not everybody was this lucky. I learned a lesson here. We are very different in how we perform at our best and individual differences require individual solutions. The home office is neither good nor bad, it is the right thing for some people in some situations. To give an example, I did not realize that the reason why some on my team wanted to go back to the office, even if nobody else was there, was the fact that they had small children at home or they did not have a quiet or dedicated space for work. All these factors had to be looked at and ultimately we found solutions that would work for each team member individually.
How did your project management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Christoph Burkhardt: We love Slack for all internal communication, it is linked to our Asana accounts for project management and integrated with our GSuite. During the pandemic, we improved a lot of processes and made a lot of progress in automating things. I am sure some of these more technical changes would not have happened if we had all worked in our office side by side. I use Zapier now to automate incoming emails with Asana tasks for my team, so much can be done in the background. When I read an interesting article about air pollution somewhere, I just add it to my Pocket, from there it will be automatically sent to a content channel on Slack as well as the email of our content team. I’m excited about these opportunities and definitely hope to see more automation and integration across all our platforms.
Your final thoughts?
Christoph Burkhardt: The pandemic has been a major human challenge and we will start learning all the lessons from it just now. But we are already seeing a promising shift among startups and investors to support and demand more impact innovation. This is exactly what I envision OneLife to be, an impact innovator with products that make people healthier while protecting the planet. High-performance health technologies without unnecessary power consumption, without wasteful replacement parts, made of recycled or fast-regrowing materials. I think we will see many more startups jump into the race for healthy humans on a healthy planet. At least I would like to look back in a few years and say that we came out of the pandemic with reset priorities and a fresh look at what matters.