Justin Wang of LARQ: “Be a sponge for help, knowledge, experiences”

Our technology enables LARQ products to address key complaints encountered with both reusable plastic and tabletop filtration–contamination, difficulty cleaning, odor, and lack of access to pure drinking water. We approach design and innovation with a consumer centric view followed by technology implementation. LARQ also pledges 1% of proceeds to 1% for the Planet to continue […]

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Our technology enables LARQ products to address key complaints encountered with both reusable plastic and tabletop filtration–contamination, difficulty cleaning, odor, and lack of access to pure drinking water. We approach design and innovation with a consumer centric view followed by technology implementation.

LARQ also pledges 1% of proceeds to 1% for the Planet to continue supporting this effort. As we continue to grow, our hope is that the technology used in LARQ products will change the way we approach both our health and our relationship with our earth.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Wang, CEO and co-founder of global hydration tech brand, LARQ.

Justin grew up in California and has always had an appreciation for the outdoors and formed a deep connection with nature at an early age. Prior to starting LARQ, Justin was the President of FOREO, an award-winning beauty technology company. In that position, he oversaw product marketing, strategy, product management, and sales and marketing. Justin helped to grow the brand to the leading beauty technology company in the world in just over 3 years. Prior to FOREO, Justin was an investor with L Capital (the investment arm of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), where he helped numerous entrepreneurs grow their consumer retail business through strategic investment and partnerships. Justin is originally from California and graduated from UC Berkeley.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before starting LARQ, I spent over three years at FOREO, a beauty tech brand rooted in similar values of consumer-centric design. In developing LARQ, we wanted to adjoin the relationship between health, wellness, and technology.

I’m grateful to have had an eccentric career to date working as an investor, partner to leading consumer brands, an entrepreneur and passionate marketer. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors and opportunities in my career exposing me to many aspects that build an impactful brand.

I think a lot of companies in the consumer technology space make the mistake of being a technology company first and end up with a great technology that is in search of a consumer application. At LARQ, we really want to understand what is at the root of consumer behavior and address those needs, and alleviate challenges, with technology and design.

LARQ’s continued success is made possible by like-minded individuals who support our mission — combatting the consumer pain points of reusable bottles, lower our dependency on single-use plastic, and provide people access to clean water.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My first job out of college, I was laid-off the first day on the job. This was during the Great Financial Crisis so investment banking wasn’t exactly a growing industry. During my exit interview, I somehow hustled my way into convincing the head of banking that I had the language skills needed to help the bank grow their APAC business. I ended up creating a job for myself which meant I could pay my rent, but the problem was that my Mandarin skills were at like a 3rd grade level, not exactly business ready. The first 6 months, I was so terrified going into every meeting where I was expected to be the cultural liaison. I spent almost every evening learning Chinese during those first months. I ended up doing quite well but not without some awkward moments in the early days. I sometimes think I was so ready for the hustle of entrepreneurship partly because of this experience.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Existing water pitchers simply trap and collect pollutants where they can quickly accumulate and multiply. You can check out our white paper here for more info. The LARQ Pitcher fundamentally solves this problem by going beyond filtration. We use a multi-step approach to water purification that combines an innovative filter technology with our PureVis purification technology. We destroy reverse contaminants at the molecular level.

We’ve also gone beyond just PureVis UV-C innovation in this product.

1) We use a plant-based filter that has completely removed the need for an outer hard plastic casing. The result is a best-in-class filter that removes lead, mercury, cadmium, copper, chlorine, VOCs, radon, and more while using 75% less plastic than traditional filters

2) The LARQ Pitcher is a connected device that will allow the user to understand the water quality in their geography and also intelligently tracks filter replacements so there isn’t the need to count the days. Also a first in this category.

How do you think this might change the world?

Approximately 855 million people live without access to clean drinking water. With over one million plastic bottles being added to landfills per minute and more than 27 million Americans alone being exposed to contaminated drinking water every day, we launched LARQ to address the major consumer pain points encountered in reusable bottles, and now tabletop filtration.

Our technology enables LARQ products to address key complaints encountered with both reusable plastic and tabletop filtration–contamination, difficulty cleaning, odor, and lack of access to pure drinking water. We approach design and innovation with a consumer centric view followed by technology implementation.

LARQ also pledges 1% of proceeds to 1% for the Planet to continue supporting this effort. As we continue to grow, our hope is that the technology used in LARQ products will change the way we approach both our health and our relationship with our earth.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

We’d love to put the Aquafina and Fiji of the world out of business. So, I guess in that sense there might be some unintended consequences in terms of the impact on their company and shareholders?

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

[can we add the story of Yvonne’s pitcher growing mold / algae as the impetus to do more research into filters?

Despite the wide availability of sustainable options, I noticed my family had a plethora of hydration products — both reusable bottles and pitchers! I wanted to find a solution to curb our use of plastic. I realized this was not an issue of access but an issue of these products falling short of need by failing to resolve the core pain points of the average consumer. For example, I had dozens of reusable water bottles, but I always found myself buying another bottle because they were hard to clean, or some other inconvenience.

I was lucky enough to connect with my co-founders Doug Collins — one of the core inventors of the UV-C LED technology in our bottle — and together we conceived LARQ’s founding principles.

We decided to expand from the LARQ Bottle when a friend of mine described her trouble with her home water pitcher. She came to me one day, saying “My pitcher starts growing algae consistently even if I wash it every other week and change out my filters. I’m also going through my filter replacement more often than needed because of this issue. I wish there were a solution!”

After hearing her complaint, I asked around and it turned out that many people had similar trouble. By finding the need for a solution like this, we found our tipping point on developing our newest product, the LARQ Pitcher, to help these people.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Prior to Covid, 35% of our water was consumed on-the-go and the remaining 65% at the office or at home. Since the start of the Pandemic, we have been consuming almost all of our water at home. More than 27 million Americans alone are exposed to contaminated drinking water or unregulated water sources at home. This is unacceptable.

While the LARQ Bottle is an on-the-go solution addressing the issues of 1) dirty / smelly bottles, and 2) lack of portable purification at your fingertips, we felt passionate that we needed to introduce an at-home solution.

In the times of COVID, the home has become our sanctuary, our school, our workplace, and our gym. I think the LARQ Pitcher could not be better timed to help provide a healthy, sustainable and accessible hydration solution for the home. We already see so much excitement from our community for this product that the initial reception has been overwhelming.

The LARQ Pitcher serves as a tabletop option for homes, offices etc. providing 1) a unique two-stage filtration and purification process that removes >90% of lead, chlorine, mercury, cadmium, copper, zinc, VOCs, Radon, bio-contaminants and more by water passing through a custom design filter, followed by a UV-C LED purification treatment, 2) A longer lifespan than traditional water filters (each LARQ Pitcher filter continues to purify the water for up to 60 gallons (vs. the average filter lasting 40 gallons), lasting 50% longer than competitors, and 3) smart filter options made from plant-based materials rather than plastic in making it more environmentally friendly than traditional cartridges.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

From the beginning, community has been a huge part of LARQ’s brand and mission. We’ve built this community of strong LARQ advocates where they get to provide feedback on early product designs and stay involved throughout the product development journey. As a result, we had over 2,000 purchases when we launched the LARQ Pitcher within the first hour.

On our social media channels, we repost content from our customers and engage with them through beautiful imagery on how they can use LARQ products. To continue that conversation, we connect with them through our online magazine, basq, where we share stories around health and wellness or inspiring stories from our brand partners.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I wouldn’t be here today without my parents and family. That may sound cliche but it’s very true. My family immigrated to this beautiful country when I was very young and from an early age I saw how hard they worked to create a better future for me and my family. This work ethic was really instilled in me very early on alongside a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit.

This didn’t mean all work and no play. My parents also encouraged me to be balanced in life, taking on sports, boy scouts, and spending a lot of summers in the outdoors. My love for nature is something they fostered in me early on and is still an important part of LARQ today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Aside from working to create accessible products that reduce plastic dependency, LARQ’s primary goal is to provide people an accessible choice to clean drinking water, especially where it is scarce. LARQ pledges 1% of proceeds to 1% for the Planet, and is also involved with Well Aware, and Plastic Bank to fund global water projects.

In 2019 alone, LARQ pledged more than 50,000 dollars to 1% of the Planet, funding that is being used, among other well deserving initiatives, to intercept ocean bound plastics and ensure clean water is accessible to more people around the globe every year. Through LARQ’s partnership with Plastic Bank, an organization that stimulates the local economies by accepting plastic as payment for necessary supplies, a total of 50,999 lbs. (equivalent to 1,156,650 500ml bottles) of plastic has been offset through a contribution to the Social Plastic Ecosystem to fight ocean plastic and poverty.

Additionally, through LARQ’s partnership with Well Aware last year, in which LARQ donated 5% of every sale of the limited edition LARQ Bottle Benefit Edition — LARQ has enabled 947 people in East Africa to gain lasting clean water.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

1. Be a sponge for help, knowledge, experiences. It is easy to think you should have all the answers as a founder, but I think one of the most important traits as an entrepreneur is to know when you are in need of assistance. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help if you open yourself up to it. We’ve had the benefit of having met some extraordinarily generous people and partners who were willing to help us along some key points in this journey. We tested some of our early design concepts by standing outside a Whole Foods and asking the shoppers which shape they liked the best. Despite being asked the leave the premise, we did collect very valuable insight at our critical point in our design process.

2. Obstacles and failures come in the most unexpected of places. You need to be able to recover from stumbling (and you will stumble plenty). Failing gracefully and making the most of the situation in terms of learning is a key trait for success. Our first holiday season in 2018, we were caught off guard in terms of the surge in demand and our operational system essentially broke. We had more orders coming in than we could process, service, let alone answer customer inquiries promptly. We had to learn how to staff up very quickly and efficiently. There were so many lessons learned from this that were invaluable for our future success that I would almost choose the make the same mistakes again.

3. Carve out time for yourself. The grind is the norm, but you’d be surprised what a good night sleep or a solid workout at the gym can do for your mental clarity. For me a “hack” to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem is a nap, a hard workout, and a veggie smoothie.

4. Start with the end in mind. The entrepreneurial process has a lot of ups and downs. It won’t be fun if you focus on the success or failure of the day. It is a marathon and keeping the perspective of why you are doing what you are doing will be an important aspect of keeping your sanity.

I think startups are especially susceptible to external shocks to our economy and society — sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I think it is more important than ever to understand the company and team’s mission and vision during times of crisis to help the team and company navigate choppy waters. While startups should be highly agile and adaptable to changes in the overall customer landscape and changing consumer needs, I think it’s also important to not pivot too quickly and jump at every would-be opportunity that sometimes can emerge from a crisis.

While it is very true that “no good crisis should go to waste,” I think it’s equally true that teams should keep their mission and vision focused on the long-term goal as a beacon to navigate choppy waters. Sometimes, pivoting too quickly can mean you lose your core identity with your customer and your mission on the other side of a crisis.

5. Hire a startup compatible team. “Entrepreneurship” and “Startup” are buzzwords of the day and you’ll find people apply to get that experience or they are mesmerized by the romantic idea of being in a startup. I actually think most people will tend to thrive in a more traditional and structured work environment. Maybe that is 70–80% of the people out there. The challenge is hiring qualified candidates in the remaining 20–30% pool. We try to be as realistic as possible with people in the interview process. As much as we are interviewing them, the candidate should be interviewing us for fit. I have definitely scared some people off, but I think that is a good thing to be honest and upfront about the challenges and the rewards. We try to not sugarcoat anything in our recruitment process. If it is something that is motivating for you — that’s great, if not it’s better we figured it out upfront.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Taking care of our humanity and working on that on a daily basis. We have so much in common and it gets lost in our current environment. We all want a better life for our family and communities and sometimes that can start with something as simple as taking care of our own health and the environment around us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I try to be open minded when it comes to principles or rules. However, there have been a couple of concepts that I have always liked. One of which is the Seneca quote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

LARQ was started with a simple vision where innovative technology can be combined with inspirational design to help people access pristine drinking water easily and sustainably. We combine proprietary innovative technology with forward-thinking design to make it possible for people to make the healthier and more sustainable choice, anytime and anywhere.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find us on social media at @liveLARQ

You can find my IG @just.w or Twitter @JustinW_Tweet

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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