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 Christos Nicolaidis, co-founder and CEO of Philter Labs, Inc. Serial entrepreneur, avid athlete, and wakesurfer who loves to defy the norm, Christos Nicolaidis knows how to bring game-changing technology to market. Over the course of his 20-year career, Nicolaidis has co-founded successful technology and internet ventures. Always an innovative thinker, Nicolaidis co-founded the BillMyParents payment platform, an award winning prepaid debit card issuer targeted at the parent/teen market. He took company to and through a successful liquidity event, and helped the company reach a market cap of $120 million as SpendSmart Payments Company, Inc. (SPPC.OB). While leading SPPC corporate and channel development, Christos Nicolaidis penetrated the national market for the American Idol Gift card program, securing over 50 thousand points of distribution. Nicolaidis was also responsible for the integration of the BillMyParents payment platform into popular action sports eCommerce sites such as PacSun and Facebook integrated social network platforms such as OfferPal, RockYou, and Birthday Alarm.
Thank you so much for joining us Christos! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been an underdog…which to this day I love and embrace. I played a lot of team sports, never the elite athlete and always having to train harder and do more just to be the most competitive. Because I like it when the odds are against me and thrive when I’m challenged, I pursued an executive career in technology. A few years ago, I set my sights on an audacious goal to eliminate secondhand vapor and smoke. To create sophisticated filtration solutions I had to build the best team and take a leap of faith that the team had the right synergies to deliver on the ideas we shared.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My life and my career changed the day I met Jim Collins, a former senior executive at Gateway Computers playing a key role in growing the company from $600 million to over $8 billion in revenues. He was also part of the executive team that took Gateway public. As a mentor, Jim gave me the kind of real-life knowledge that I would never have received in a traditional career. I learned how to be laser-focused, how to broaden your lens and then narrow it again, over and over to innovate. I learned how to guide people, undergo setbacks, and build innovative companies with my “athletic career” as a team player and the wisdom that Jim instilled in me.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
About 5 years ago, when vaping was starting to get a lot of traction, I was chatting with renowned product developer Yuval Shenkel — a long time friend and colleague. As we discussed the pros and cons of vaping technology, Yuval realized that no-one had worked on, let alone solved, one of the biggest problems with vaping; the secondhand smoke and invasive clouds. Yuval started thinking about how to design a single device for the inhaling and exhaling of vape liquids.
Yuval brought in his lead engineer, John Grimm, 3 years ago, and the tech really started to take off. John invented the patented Zero-5™ Technology, which powers all PHILTER™products. This five-step filtration process molecularly manipulates vapor and smoke to dissipate and reduce emissions while simultaneously dissolving any particulates and pollutants.
Then John encapsulated this tech within a filter measuring less than 4 inches tall and a ½ inch wide, small enough to fit in your pocket! When he added the mouthpiece, we recognized that this amazing technology completely changed the game.
How do you think this will change the world? 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?
There is a growing vape market and there are many reasons why there is a shift in users, including the legalization of cannabis. The government keeps trying to impose extreme regulations on the vaping community but quite frankly, none of the regulations are addressing the real issue of secondhand emissions and instead, salacious media is just exacerbating the stigma around vape use, further infringing on the personal rights of those who vape and their personal choices.
By empowering vape users with the option to either enjoy vaping in a traditional manner or filter their vapor based on their particular environment, Philter Labs is stepping up to be the catalyst for necessary, impactful social and environmental change during this progressive maturation of the vaping market.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
To build the widespread adoption of Philter’s products, we have aligned ourselves with the right strategic players. We raised capital from the leading funds that specialize in vaping and the cannabis space because they really understand these emerging industries.
It also takes the right digital marketing platform, which is why we chose Holonis Media Group, one of the most prolific digital marketing platforms that reach more than a billion eyeballs. This unique partnership with Holonis gives us access to 1000’s of micro-influencers and strong partnerships to create more universally acceptable vaping behaviors. It is essential to showcase the benefits of using sophisticated filtration solutions to a new type of discerning vape user.
Our mission is to eliminate secondhand vapor and smoke. Vapers and non-vapers can socially co-exist and we invented technology to bridge that gap.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
1) Identify the best people to own the core roles in your company
2) Know when to insource and when to outsource
3) Enable your team to grow and create
4) Exercise tight discipline on all financial metrics
5) Understand the investor landscape and requirements- and partner with the right investors who see and understand your vision
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
To be “future proof,” I think people need access to more cross training. You used to ask kids what career do you want when you grow up, and now the question should be what five careers do you want? People can embrace the fact that you don’t know what others do and surround yourself with the best and brightest people. Most of us have the capability to learn something new, you just have to commit.
I immersed myself in every single aspect of the business and became a student. I learned from my staff, my advisors, my customers and everyone who touches my work life. It is important to understand everything — from finance and product development to marketing, sales, to operations and even human resources.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
I would invest the funds into creating a smoke-free world with Philter technology. It’s my mission.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
- Be completely truthful to me about my capabilities and my limitations
- Don’t become complacent, keep learning and keep pushing yourself
- Loyalty- to create a happy live and successful work environment, have loyal people in your life.
- It’s ok to be vulnerable, that is where you do your most growing
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
- Have a plan.
- Own what you do: you ultimately control your success.
- Shrug off setbacks.
- Develop a strong and trustworthy network.
- Always stand for integrity.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Through cutting-edge technology, we want to create a smoke-free world for adults who smoke and those who don’t.