We talked to Pierre Bi about how Aeris is the next generation of air purification and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Pierre Bi: Thank you for asking. Like everyone, I’m adjusting. These times are hard, and I don’t think it would be right in any way to minimize that. Instead, I’m adjusting and doing my best to use what’s within my power to help make the world a better place.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Aeris?
Pierre Bi: It started while I was in China while pursuing my bachelor’s from MIT and my Ph.D. The experience of literally waking up in the morning with a sore throat because of the air pollution struck me quite firmly. That’s not something you forget if you are used to the air of Switzerland like I am.
I felt that I was pursuing the exact studies that could be applied to this problem. By definition, engineering is about solving problems. One of the biggest problems I saw was that the air purifiers available weren’t well-engineered enough for that kind of pollution. This led to my teaming up with my friend from ETH Zurich, Constantin (our co-founder), to develop the first aeris air purifier, make the best engineered and designed air purifier possible.
How does Aeris innovate?
Pierre Bi: As both Constantin and I are founders, we consider innovation essential to our company’s identity. Most air purifier companies tend to work as static enterprises: they design a purifier, and that’s where the story ends. For us, continually improving and growing is essential. That applies both to our air purifiers, which we upgrade and improve over time, as well as our full lineup. We have plans to launch more products as we grow, including the possibility of a personal air purifier and products in whole new categories for us, like water and sleep.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Pierre Bi: It’s been a fascinating ride for us, mostly because it was both an opportunity and a challenge. The fact that we had invested so heavily in our air purifiers’ quality meant that we were one of the few air purifiers on the market that were tried and tested in eliminating viruses, including coronavirus. As more and more evidence came out that COVID-19 was spreading through indoor airborne transmission, the demand for our air purifiers, already growing, skyrocketed.
Suddenly, we had a new problem that you probably experienced with other products useful during this time: making sure we had the supply necessary. Luckily, we had already been planning for a rise in demand and met the need. It was a challenge, but we were happy to make it happen.
Ultimately, the most gratifying thing for me was knowing that this wasn’t just a business success: we were helping save lives. That’s amazing, and I’m honored to be working in a company that can do that work.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Pierre Bi: Absolutely. No matter what success a company like ours may have in a moment like this, you are still dealing with worrying about your employees’ wellbeing. The challenges of living in a suddenly far more dangerous world and adapting to all of that while still making sure everything runs smoothly.
Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned:
- While the interconnectedness that comes with globalization has made profound changes to our ways of life, mostly positive, we have seen just how quickly that trend can reverse.
- That can be extremely dangerous, especially during moments like the coronavirus pandemic, when it was essential for countries to work together. Our company requires a global supply chain, and the combination of the macro effects of failing trade agreements and COVID-19 put massive pressure on that supply chain. As I think of others like PPE companies that require some of the same materials, I can’t help but worry about the breakdown of these agreements and other pressures that hurt international cooperation. At the same time, I have learned that we will need a way to prepare if such situations occur.
- No matter how small you are, macro events will affect your business. It would help if you always had a fail-safe, which applies to far more than the supply side. Every aspect of your company should be built to adapt to a world that, by definition, is ever-evolving and changing.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Pierre Bi: I’m generally a positive person, so anxiety seldom comes up. I deal with stress by always leaving enough time for physical exercises – A vital ingredient of my day and routine.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Pierre Bi: We’re dealing with some big competitors. You have big companies like Dyson, which can outspend in just about every way, as well as some specialized startups with a lot of funding to burn.
Ultimately, our success is hinged on the belief that we can be more effective at about just everything those companies do because we invest our energy wisely. By that, I mean that we first and foremost put our energies into making sure our products are as excellent as possible. We strongly believe that success comes from creating the best product and from refusing to take shortcuts. In that sense, I see us as inheritors of the Swiss legacy of commitment to excellence.
But it also means that we’re smart and agile in how we spend our money and what we invest in. While other companies, startups, particularly burn money in a way that has proven itself an ineffective and inefficient approach to growth, we’ve made sure that we always stay cash positive and focused on finding effective channels for growth instead of only worrying about making a splash.
That’s why we’ll be around a lot longer than everyone else.
Your final thoughts?
Pierre Bi: I am genuinely grateful that COVID-19 has brought attention to the need for protecting our lungs, but my biggest concern is that people will move on from this without taking away one of the biggest lessons: that lung health is just as important as nutrition, exercise, sleep, mental health, and other forms of health that have become popularized.
Low air quality is one of the biggest causes of premature death, and unfortunately, that seems like a trend that will only increase. As the world evolves in this direction, we will need to evolve in response.
For me, this is not a hobby or a vague idea: I’ve dedicated my life to it because I know just how deep the problem is. I hope that, beyond any message about air purifiers specifically, people walk away from this awareness of the seriousness of this area of health.
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