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This company of facial masks was suffering to take off. Then the coronavirus arrived.

March 16, 2020

The O2TODAY idea was ahead of its time, but this entrepreneur was sure that one day the demand for his product would arise. Meanwhile, he prepared himself.

9 min read

The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.

This company of facial masks was suffering to take off. Then the coronavirus arrived.This company of facial masks was suffering to take off. Then the coronavirus arrived.

This is a story about a friend of mine, Bruce Lorange. We don't have a business relationship, but from our participation in a Salt Lake City networking group, we've become friends.

When I met Lorange in 2017, a startup with its mask company to prevent air pollution called O2TODAY was in the early stages of creation, a product that seeks to ensure that the air we breathe is healthy and free from air pollution, allergens and pathogens.

“From our research, we can see that healthy food is a more than a trillion dollar market,” he told me. “And filtered or treated water is a half a billion dollar industry. But what about our air? We inhale and exhale 23,000 times a day, but we rarely think about the quality of the air we breathe. ”

So Lorange started O2TODAY in 2016 with a $ 2 million seed funding round. He teamed up with world-renowned designer Marcel Wanders (also a co-founder) to make the masks beautiful aesthetics. And the company released three products over a four-year period with a focus on making the filters, seal, and technology “right” as well as comfortable and interesting to watch. “The other companies that existed in the industry were building basic products and based on traditional materials and designs,” he said.

His idea was good, but soon he ran into a giant problem: he was three or five years ahead of the market interest. Due to lack of demand, raising additional funds became incredibly difficult, and his desire to accumulate inventory for demand that he was certain would come top with investor skepticism. “We stood up, ran a campaign at IndieGogo and became very resourceful in protecting our cash reserves so that we could continue to iterate and improve our products without running out of cash,” says Lorange.

After its launch and the arrival of IndieGogo funds, Lorange took some steps to keep the company “idle” until takeoff. If you are in a similar situation and believe that your business idea could be ahead of its time, here are some conclusions from Lorange's experience.

“Set the clock back”

The term “slow down the clock” is a sports analogy for the times you need to wait until the right time to make a play, Lorange explains. He realized he needed to earn a living while continuing to run the company, so he landed an executive job and kept his startup engine on hiatus. “Being transparent with my employer allowed me to stay fluid enough to move again when the time was right without breaking contracts,” he says.

Use your “idle” time wisely

With the exception of event-based global peaks due to episodes of urban pollution or forest fires, it was evident that there was not enough demand for pollution masks to achieve wide-scale adoption in the early years of O2TODAY. “So we used the extra time we had to line up key distribution channels for when demand came,” says Lorange. Key channels included locating points of sale at airports and travel retail outlets, where the products were the first to be marketed. Lorange established relationships that would allow him to speed things up as demand increased in the supply chain, manufacturing and marketing areas. The team invested in innovation and design based on initial customer feedback.

When the trickle of demand turns into a tsunami

After operating in a “living dead” state, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Lorange says all of the inventory the company had spent months building was consumed in a matter of weeks. Because he had established a relationship with an airport retail distribution group in advance, he was the first in line to receive the rush of incoming orders. We had the trust of the distributors who had watched us for years, knew that we were ahead of the market curve and that we really cared about the integrity of our products, “said Lorange.

“We weren't looking for opportunities and taking advantage of fads like many other companies that suddenly hit the market. And we attracted talent to our team by showing that we were leading the charge in product development and education for the emerging category of healthy breathing. We had shown that Consumers were ready to adopt effective face masks as a healthy lifestyle accessory in the same way that they previously adopted reusable water bottles and sunglasses. ”

While meeting short-term demand has been difficult (as of this writing the product is out of stock), the company has secured materials and purchase orders that will allow it to be a key player in the future beyond the sudden demand that arose due to to COVID-19 .

How do you scale to prepare for a sudden and massive demand?

In the case of consumer goods, this can be difficult, Lorange says, but you should do everything possible to secure your supply chain by not depending on a single manufacturer. Splitting the supply of materials is a little more expensive, but it allows teams to stay nimble and not fully dependent on any part of their supply chain.

How do you protect your brand or copyright when a frenzy of interest begins?

“In my opinion, it's about channel preparation,” says Lorange. “In a race against new market participants, the most important thing is to know where you should be available so that the maximum number of clients has exposure to your brand. You can generate income and protect your idea by informing consumers where your products are available from the competition. If you are positioned in reputable channels, you will get a “quality seal” effect by being in stores alongside other well-known and trusted brands to gain market share. Additionally, while direct selling is an important way to build your community and retain higher margins, developing a multi-channel marketing strategy that includes trusted retailers is also key to speed response in the market. There is also a forecast of intellectual property. For example, we were fortunate to patent our products in advance in the countries most affected by the coronavirus . ”

It is important to recognize that not all experts advise the use of face masks due to the coronavirus . United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams has urged the public to stop buying mask covers and face masks in panic . The expert points out that many masks do not fit well and can make the user touch their faces and nose more frequently, which will only serve to further expose them to existing bacteria.

In a tweet, Adams noted that panic buying by the general public is depleting the limited supplies available to healthcare professionals and for sick people to use to prevent the spread of their viruses and bacteria to others. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the best protection against infection is to wash your hands well and often wear protective latex gloves or use elbows or sanitary napkins when handling door handles, toilets, and public grocery carts. . The public should seek medical attention at the first signs of illness and, while ill, avoid public transportation and reduce the spread of illness by working from home.

For entrepreneurs, the key will be to watch radical change happen carefully as they develop strategies to meet their customers' changing needs and interests in insightful and sustainable ways.

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