Water health. I know that hydrating has been discussed a lot, but in a world where coffee and energy drinks are the norm, I think one thing we are missing is the energizing power of water. I drink a lot of water throughout the day, and a big reason for that, besides the obvious benefits, is that it keeps me energized and my brain working throughout the day. And unlike other substances, it doesn’t cause a crash that leads to lost productivity down the line.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pierre Bi.
Pierre started his air purifier company, Aeris, in 2015 after studying in Beijing. Struck by the difference in air quality between his home in Switzerland, he was determined to bring the healthy air he had grown up with to the rest of the world. An MIT graduate, he worked together with his co-founder Constantin Overlack, and now 5 years later, their company has already established itself as one of the major players in the air purifier market.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I was born in Switzerland and lived there for most of my life. Then I went to Beijing, China for part of my studies, and I was blown away by the difference in air quality. Having been used to high-quality air for most of my life, I took it for granted, but the moment I arrived in Beijing, I instantly realized how important it was.
This drove me to start my search into how I could use my engineering experience to help others who were or even weren’t aware of their lung health needs. And that’s how Aeris, my air purifier company, came about: it’s my first company, and that’s precisely because I was so motivated to make the best air purifiers for those who need them.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Without a doubt, it was when COVID-19 hit. Ironically, most people would expect that this would be an easy time for an air purifier company that can eliminate viruses. But like so many companies, we had to immediately deal with questions we couldn’t even imagine when we first began. These included the risk of infected employees, and our responsibility in preventing that while staying productive, as well as not being able to travel.
Even our success created huge obstacles: how do we scale up quickly to achieve the needs of so many people looking to our company for help? That’s very hard to do when you can’t travel or personally interact with the people who are most essential to your operations.
In a weird way, I’d say that success has been our most difficult (and thus interesting) story on our journey.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I still can’t help but laugh at our launch. When you’re surrounded by startup culture, it’s easy to take too much of it to heart, and one of the big mistakes I made was thinking that some of the rules that apply to software apply to hardware startups.
For example, there is this concept of the “minimal viable product.” That you essentially launch with as simple as a product as possible and then adapt quickly to consumer needs. But you can’t really do that with an expensive system that has to work perfectly for people’s health! Unfortunately, we learned that the hard way and had to deal with a lot of returns and dissatisfied customers. But, well, it taught us well, and in a way, it made us better than we ever would have been.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Specifically, I’d say that my combination of interests in engineering, health, and entrepreneurship has allowed me to contribute in a way I once only dreamed of. When we came up with the idea for our air purifier company in China, it was because we saw how massively people could be affected by bad air quality, an issue that is often overlooked the world over. So, seeing our dream come to fruition is wonderful on a personal level, but it is also extremely affirming from a health perspective: everyone who owns an air purifier is not only making their present lives healthier but extending their lives.
According to the WHO, every year, 3.8 million people die due to household air pollution. That’s just the most extreme statistic, but it highlights how serious this issue is, especially when you add the 4.2 million who die due to outdoor pollution. Together, that’s about 15% of world mortality every year. Imagine the impact of an air purifier in every home, and, perhaps more importantly, what would come with increased awareness around the importance of lung health.
That’s an incredible thing to be part of, and I’m grateful people trust us with their health in that way.
None of us are able to 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?
My father is an entrepreneur, and for so many reasons, he has been my mentor in this process. He did it the old way, before VCs and without any investors. He built his company himself, and that story alone was enough to inspire me. But it wasn’t just that: since we launched, his advice has been absolutely invaluable. For example, rather than encouraging me to reduce quality to help us lower the price, he pushed us to lean into our quality product and provide it at the price it deserved, making it a “premium air purifier.”
The results speak for themselves. Not only are we providing some of the best air purification solutions to individuals, schools, restaurants, and more, I can’t help but feel thankful that we are helping people in the best way we know how.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
There are a number of great books about this, and I’ll recommend some based on what I’ve read.
- One big mistake we make when trying to fix “bad” habits is to try to simply eliminate them. But this doesn’t work well with how our brain works. Rather, it’s far more effective to replace those habits with new ones. (From The Power of Habit)
- In this modern age, we make a big mistake in thinking that we have this magical ability to escape the draw of the distractions all around us. As Cal Newport teaches in his book, Deep Work, it is better to simply create a life that is based around eliminating these distractions rather than trying to power through a day with them all around us.
This means a variety of things to a variety of people, from blocking social media sites during work hours to deleting social media altogether. I don’t want to tell people what to do, but I do recommend that people realize that these companies have learned how to, in a sense, hack our brains. We are better off using strong methods to eliminate them from our workdays than to think we can have them around.
- Know yourself. This one can be found in many books and articles, but my favorite is the one from Never Be Late Again, a book about procrastination that teaches that often, procrastination comes from a variety of places and reasons. If you are trying to stop your procrastination by thinking you are lazy, or thinking there is something wrong with you, you are not really taking an accurate assessment of who you are.
The book offers a variety of “types” that procrastinate and how to address their issues. This sort of approach is far more helpful: understanding who you are allows you to address your issues rather than fighting an imaginary fight.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
1. Air health. Of course. I mean, look, this is what I do, so I can’t help but share it with you. But the truth is that lung health is one of the most overlooked and least intuitive forms of health, despite its incredible importance. This isn’t just about COVID-19 and wildfires: it affects all aspects of our health. From sleep to mental health to weight loss, it affects in much the same way that sleep and nutrition does, since, as we have learned, all these forms of health are interconnected. We have even seen proof that good air health helps with academic performance among students.
2. Water health. I know that hydrating has been discussed a lot, but in a world where coffee and energy drinks are the norm, I think one thing we are missing is the energizing power of water. I drink a lot of water throughout the day, and a big reason for that, besides the obvious benefits, is that it keeps me energized and my brain working throughout the day. And unlike other substances, it doesn’t cause a crash that leads to lost productivity down the line.
3. Using smells to help brain function. I learned this tip when I was a student. There is evidence that if we learn an idea during the day and associate it with a specific smell, if we then recreate that smell in our bedroom at night, our subconscious brain then solidifies that memory in our mind as we sleep. It’s a tip few use, but which I’ve found incredibly beneficial.
4. When traveling, I would hit the gym right away or do something active. This helps me overcome jet lag.
5. This has been said by many people, but it still seems to remain unintuitive to many people: avoiding specialized diets is one of the best ways to stay healthy. When we learn to eat the things we love by choosing foods that are healthy and unprocessed, we are far more likely to create a diet that is sustainable and enjoyable.
In addition, I am very strict about refusing to eat snacks throughout the day. In our white-collar work world, that can often be one of the quickest ways to avoid unhealthy nutrition.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
- Mental health. It has been shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants at improving our mood. This isn’t to diminish the power of medication but to underline the power of exercise in helping improve our overall mental health.
- Energy. The older we get, the more we need help staying energized throughout the day. In addition to drinking water, I’ve found exercise to benefit me in ways that I know will benefit me for decades to come.
- Sleep. As with lung health, exercise is one of those things that seems to benefit all aspects of our health. And sleep is one of those things that is regulated by a generally healthy life, including exercise.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
You know how you brought up the idea of exercise, nutrition, and sleep? Well, my dream is a world where we feel the same way about the air we breathe. 4.6 million people die every year from causes directly attributable to pollution. And the indirect number, of course, is far higher. The air we breathe affects our physical health, our mental health, the academic performance of our children, our weight, our skin, and many other things.
So if I could do one thing for the world, it would be to create a movement around lung health. It should be seen as just as important as exercise, especially as the world becomes more polluted and issues like wildfires become more of a prevalent issue.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
It’s a simple and well-known one, but it has served me well: “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
To me, it essentially means: don’t dream, do. It’s always easy to imagine success rather than to actually act and build things. This is particularly true when you work in the area of tech where some people are paid to dream rather than do. We have been able to achieve unique success by making sure we always focus on actions rather than on aspiring thoughts.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would absolutely love to meet the general director of WHO. As I have expressed, my goal is to be able to impact the health of the entire world. I would specifically love to sit together and envision health initiatives for the future, specifically when it comes to air and water quality.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
They can follow me on LinkedIn, but my best suggestion is that they follow aeris on Instagram or Facebook, because that is where a lot of the work around the movement for lung health will be centered.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!