Big Ideas: “A self-cleaning water bottle to reduce single use plastic” with LARQ co-founder, Justin Wang

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Wang, Co-Founder of 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. […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Wang, Co-Founder of 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 joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In many ways I’ve had a very eclectic career path as an investor, partner to entrepreneurs, product designer, and passionate marketer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had great mentors and opportunities in my career where I was exposed to many aspects of the building an impactful brand.

I’ve always been passionate about the ways that the wellness, design, and technology sectors intertwine. Before starting LARQ, I spent over three years at FOREO, a beauty tech brand rooted in similar values of consumer centric design thinking. In developing LARQ, we wanted to further simplify the relationship between health, wellness, and technology. 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 with technology and design.

As evident by LARQ’s success as the world’s largest crowd-funded initiative for clean water, consumers are really excited about the product. LARQ’s continued success is made possible by like-minded individuals who support what we’re trying to do — combat the largest 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?

I went full stalker the first time I spotted a LARQ Bottle in the wild (at SFO airport). I probably scared the poor guy to death before he realized I just wanted to talk about the beautiful bottle in his backpack.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Launched in 2018, LARQ is the world’s first self-cleaning water bottle. We started as a Kickstarter campaign, becoming ultimately the largest crowd funded effort for a clean water initiative. The LARQ Bottle is revolutionary not only in its design and technology, but also in how it can affect our dependence on single-use plastic. LARQ’s advanced technology aims to disrupt consumer behavior to help battle dependence on single-use plastic, while heralding access to clean drinking water. The LARQ Bottle uses proprietary and patented UV-C LED technology to combat most common complaints about reusable water bottles: odor and contamination, difficulty cleaning, and shortage of on-the-go access to pure drinking water. By emitting a UV-C light in the 280nm range — the optimal wavelength of light to eradicate bacteria and viruses — the LARQ Bottle purifies water and inner surfaces by eliminating harmful sources through a photochemical reaction. At the touch of a button, the non-toxic and mercury-free bottle eradicates up to 99.9999% of harmful and odor causing bacteria and viruses. The technology activates every two hours, basking the water and the inner surface in purifying UV light to keep your water and bottle free of germs.

How do you think this will change the world?

As a society we are throwing out one million plastic water bottles PER MINUTE, of which less than 7% are ever recycled. Yes, that is a per minute statistic and not a monthly or weekly statistic! Despite the wide availability of reusable water bottles, they only account for less than 5% of the total market when compared to one-use plastic water bottles. We asked the question why? Why is it that we have shelves full of reusable bottles at Whole Foods to Sephora but still have not been able to make a dent in our plastic consumption?

The state-of-the-art technology enables the LARQ Bottle to uniquely address key consumer pain points with reusable bottles — odor and contamination, difficulty cleaning, and shortage of on-the-go access to pure drinking water. We approach design and innovation with a consumer centric view rather than a technology centric view. By directly addressing consumer pain points, we hope the LARQ Bottle will have a meaningful impact on our current unsustainable consumption of plastic one use water bottles.

Furthermore, by using this technology, we have the potential to bring safe drinking water to billions of people around the world, as a staggering 855 million people live without access to clean drinking water. LARQ donates 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 the LARQ Bottle will change the way we approach both our health and relationship with Earth.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

We’d love to put the Evian 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 idea? Can you tell us that story?

Despite our best efforts, I realized my family had collected about 15 different kinds of reusable water bottles. Despite the wide availability of these options, it failed to curb our use of plastic bottles completely. I realized this was not an issue of access but an issue of the product not solving the core pain points of the average consumer.

Serendipitously, I met my co-founders who are the core inventors of the UV-C LED technology in our bottle. We put our heads together and decided to launch LARQ a little under 2 years ago.

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

We drink about 35% of our water on-the-go and the remaining 65% at the office or at home. Majority of plastic water bottle consumption happens in that 35% “on-the-go” category. The LARQ Bottle is meant to be an on-the-go solution and address the issue of 1) dirty / smelly bottles, and 2) lack of portable purification at your fingertips. As we grow in volume, we hope to introduce new versions of the product with more functionality and as well as a more accessible price point. Today, the technology is quite cutting edge and expensive to produce but we hope to introduce models with a range of functionality and price points overtime. We also want to partner with like-minded individuals and brands who share a passion for our cause, as well as work to educate consumers on how the LARQ technology works, and the brand mission. As we continue to solidify these relationships and tell our story through the media landscape, we will be able to further spread our brand messaging and what makes us an impactful industry leader. Our hope is that leaders in the sustainable and technology spaces will join us in our efforts.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  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.
  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.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Practice learning and challenging the status quo of doing something. The world is moving faster, and changes are happening faster. There won’t be a static set of skill set that will be “future proof.” I think the best way is to train yourself to be curious and always be learning. I also think the ability to combine left brain and right brain activities will be a critical thing moving forward.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

Sustainable solutions in hydration.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

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

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Work harder than everyone else. But never work harder when smarter will do.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

We are on a mission to help eliminate our addiction to one-use plastic bottles. We have the technology and design to help make the right choice easier today. LARQ will be a household name in the near future. Join us on this journey.

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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