8 June 2021|Brand Story, Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Based in San Francisco, Chris Hosmer has deep applied experience as an innovator and entrepreneur in both the US and China. He is an award winning designer with two decades of international experience developing successful products and services for consumers all over the world. As the first American founder to be invested in by Xiaomi Technology for the respirator IP and sensor technology at the heart of AirPop, his particular expertise centers on customer experience, productization and commercialization in health tech, consumer goods and wearables.
His company AirPop was named a World Changing Idea by Fast Company magazine in 2018 for its focus on intelligent respiratory protection for personal and public health via its innovative smart mask. He currently serves as Design Advisor to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) official Covid-19 App. Previously, Chris was a partner at Continuum, the global design and innovation consultancy, where he founded and ran its China business from 2009-2015. Named one of the Top 50 Innovators by China Business News Weekly and a regular columnist for Forbes China The Business of Innovation.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Founded in 2015, AirPop is the world’s first Air Wearables company with a mission to improve personal and public health through innovative wearable product experiences. AirPop is unique in that it is a consumer mask company but we exceed national industrial and medical standards for filtration efficacy and breathability – we are professional-grade protection but consumer level comfort – and innovation is at the heart of everything we do. We’re the world’s first consumer smart mask having launched our Active+ Halo in 2018 in Asia and recently an expanded global version for 2021.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs it was a combination of a personal insight merging with my professional experience in an unexpected way. My daughter was suffering from an acute respiratory reaction to polluted air while we were living in Shanghai China. I quickly realized masks were the only real consumer option for protecting one’s breathing outside but the masks available were awful products and even worse business – low margin, low engagement and highly fragmented with no strong brands consumers could trust and an absolutely horrendous product experience, especially for kids who are an overlooked segment.
How did you achieve awareness?
Early on we partnered strategically with a very large online retailer in our core market that gave us huge exposure to our key segments. And of course, in much of East and North Asia, our product is in high demand due to the preexisting mask culture that derives from multiple airborne threats such as particle pollution from factory and auto emissions, viral and epidemics like SARS and Bird Flu as well as environmental threats such as dust storms and smoke from agricultural burning.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We were lucky to have an enthusiastic seed investor that believed in our vision of a smart mask and we subsequently took on further growth rounds of capital investment from a combination of investors in the tech and consumer product space. We launched our first product in 2016 and have since launched a new core product each year which has grown our consumer base and visibility. With Covid-19 we have successfully expanded globally and are now present in 20 markets around the world including North America, South America, Europe, India, Southeast Asia and North Asia.
What are the key successes?
Becoming the most popular mask brand in China with the millennial generation has been a great milestone for AirPop. We have also been recognized by all 5 major international design awards and were featured in Fast Company Magazine as a World Changing Idea in 2018.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
THE key challenge for us is always improving the knowledge experience for consumers and the broader market around clean air and healthy breathing. We believe clean air is a human right but most inhabitants on planet Earth suffer from some form of persistent exposure to airborne pollutants. We’d like to not exist 10 years from now but unfortunately, at the rate we’re degrading the environment – soil, water and air – we will certainly see a rise in respiratory disease and exacerbation of pre-existing disease states due to the cumulative inhalation of airborne pollutants.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
A lot is written about starting up ventures but in my experience, starting something and growing something is the most natural thing in the world and it isn’t some magical, impossible thing only the privileged can do. All ideas start small and only become big with effort. If you have effort in you, you can start something.
Imagining something that doesn’t exist and manifesting it in a way that someone can experience it is the first step. Every step after that is continuing to reinforce that first, necessary and obvious step.
It never seems to get easier but the point is not for it to get easier, the point is for you to expand your conception of what is worthwhile and why. If it does start to feel easy, it’s time to enlarge the scope.
Can you share you top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
Any progress is better than some perfection. There is no perfect, there is only better.
An organization’s greatest strength and biggest weakness is the human factor. Prioritize a culture where people feel seen, heard and valued. The true test of a company’s culture is in the way it operationalizes its values.
Let your people know they should always be looking for a better job and that you encourage it. It lets them know you are a realist and that you support their growth. And it forces you to focus on making this the best job they’ve ever had, one that grows with them.
Building a resilient and strong support system for yourself is AS important as building a resilient and strong company.
Know that your company will be a reflection of you. Identify your weaknesses and limitations and rather than avoid or hide them, make them visible and known to everyone so they get addressed. That will become a strength if done consistently.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most?
Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is probably the most switched on semi-professional epidemiologist working interstitially between multiple disciplines. She thinks and writes exceptionally clearly, her explanatory writing is priceless and she should be a national treasure.
Lewis Hyde (http://www.lewishyde.com/) is a poet, an incredibly compelling critical writer and a deep thinker on how culture forms, evolves and ultimately reflects humanity’s needs, desires and vices. His books the Gift, Trickster Makes this World, Common As Air and most recently A Primer for Forgetting are all mind shifting experiences for anyone interested in art, technology, human nature and consumer culture.
Isamu Noguchi, the half-Japanese artist and designer has always loomed large in my life because I’m also a half-Japanese artist and designer. I’ve often looked to his life and work as inspiration. There’s a tension in being mixed race that sometimes proves fruitful for creative endeavors and he was certainly a pioneer in breaking boundaries and crossing disciplines.
Errol Morris (@errolmorris) the documentary filmmaker, and writer, has always compelled me creatively through his marriage of fiction and non-fiction storytelling. He’s a wonderfully entertaining architect of information.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
Two quotes from the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds have always stood out to me and inform how I approach human centered design:
“There is no expedient to which man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
“Simplicity is an exact medium between too little and too much.”
And of course the famous modernist motto of the great design duo Charles and Ray Eames:
“To make the best for the most for the least.”
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Chris Hosmer Website Bio
@airpophealth on Instagram and Twitter