Life is too short to put up with ego and politics, and these are the things that can be detrimental to any company. Eliminate these traits and the people who contribute to them. Never compromise on this.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dilip Goswami and Jaya Rao.
Dilip Goswami: Dilip Goswami is the CEO and Co-Founder of Molekule. Dilip’s chronic struggle with allergies and asthma issues from a young age inspired his father, Dr. Yogi Goswami, to develop Molekule’s PECO technology, which is known to destroy pollutants, allergens, mold, bacteria, viruses, and airborne chemicals from the air we breathe, making Molekule’s air purifier the only product on the market today that efficiently destroys a full spectrum of indoor air pollutants. Together with his sister, COO, Jaya Rao, the two have commercialized this life-changing technology. Prior to Molekule, Dilip served as Vice President of Technology at the Advanced Technologies & Testing Laboratories where he led research & development. He holds an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Florida.
Jaya Rao: Jaya Rao, is the COO and Co-Founder of Molekule. She has spent her career as an innovator with a passion for empowering today’s health-conscious consumer, and most recently, commercialized Molekule’s PECO technology, which has been touted by Time Magazine, as a “Best Invention”. Jaya previously worked as the public sector innovation lead with Stanford ChangeLabs, an initiative based out of the Stanford D-School. She received her M.S. in both Mechanical Engineering and Public Policy from Stanford University, and holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Dilip: My story actually begins as a young child, where like many young children, I developed severe allergies and asthma that began to inhibit certain parts of my life. Fortunately, my father was a renowned solar scientist, and after exhausting all traditional medical avenues for my asthma and allergies, turned to his own work to find a solution. Realizing that air quality could be impacting the way I breathe, he set out to develop a technology that would purify the air — not by collecting the pollutants around us, but by actually breaking the pollutants down that could be impacting my breathing quality.
Over the next 25 years, he developed what has become to be known as Photo Electrochemical Oxidation, or PECO, which destroys pollutants, allergens, mold, bacteria, viruses, and airborne chemicals. Ten years ago, I began working with my father on developing PECO technology.
Realizing the significant impact this technology had on my life, the millions of people who equally suffer from similar symptoms, and our growing global air pollution problems, I knew this was a technology we needed to commercialize, so I left my studies at Stanford to co-found the company to bring this technology to the world.
Jaya: Throughout my entire life, I witnessed my brother struggle with severe allergies and asthma, and saw my dad trying to solve this for him through technological innovation. However, I didn’t envision commercializing PECO technology until after college.
After pursuing degrees in Engineering and Public Policy, and subsequently working with Stanford ChangeLabs. I developed extremely bad migraines. I tried every solution I could find, but without success. My dad and brother suggested trying out the first prototype of what eventually became our Molekule device. At the time, I thought they were crazy. How could an air purifier actually help my migraines? But it was incredible — after using the device, my headaches disappeared and I was sleeping through the night. While PECO can destroy typical allergens, it can also destroy things like VOCs (airborne chemicals), which were likely in my apartment at the time, and impacting my health.
After this life-altering experience, I knew I had to join my family in the pursuit of commercializing Molekule and providing clean air for all.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Jaya: For me, it was before we ever took our PECO technology to mass market. We were just doing small scale pilot and beta testing with people who suffered from allergies and asthma. Katrina Klauer was a beta tester herself, but also wanted to try our prototype out for her son. I remember when we spoke with her at the end of her trial period with the prototype and the tears of joy she had about how much easier this device made her son breathe. Hearing straight from her that this gave her 4 year old son his childhood back, because he could finally breathe, was the most rewarding and amazing moment. It makes what we do meaningful, because we can give people the air they were meant to breathe.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Dilip: Our “big idea” is straightforward: clean, healthy air for everyone. The air we breathe has a tremendous impact on our health, yet it’s something many people take for granted. Similar to the 50+ million allergy sufferers in the U.S., I know from experience how precious the air we breathe is. That’s part of our mission at Molekule, bringing awareness to how critical clean air is and providing the solution people need in order to have it. And we’ve been successful at delivering on that promise — over 447 billion cubic feet cleaned to date — and have proven to ourselves and others, that people value the air they breathe. And our in-home devices are just the start — we want people to demand cleaner air everywhere, from inside their homes, to the cars they drive and in the schools they send their children to.
How do you think this will change the world?
Jaya: As our world’s climate changes, clean air will not be a given in many regions of the world. PECO, the patented technology our father developed, works at the molecular level to eliminate common indoor pollutants such as VOCs, particulate matter, bacteria, mold and allergens. Today, PECO is the foundation of Molekule’s air purifier, but we believe it has the potential to extend far beyond consumer devices, which is why we work tirelessly to continue developing, innovating and improving upon the technology. We see huge opportunities to bring clean air to the masses through employers, healthcare providers, schools, governments, and beyond.
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?
Jaya: Human progress has consequences, yet science has solutions. We are experiencing very real consequences from some of the greatest innovations in recent history — auto emissions depleting the ozone, mega farms destroying land and polluting drinking water, e-waste consuming landfills. There’s an inherent risk in embarking on something that has never been done before or a new way of doing something that’s remained unchanged for decades. What we’re doing at Molekule is reversing those unintended consequences — air pollution — of a number of the world’s most significant innovations, and we are doing this through science. We are on a mission to solve the global air pollution crisis, and being a science driven company means that as we constantly question everything we develop, it’s part of the scientific method, and the problems we do discover are met with innovative solutions.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Dilip: The tipping point for us, and Molekule, happened when we were only children. Our father’s idea to improve the symptoms of my asthma as a child, leveraging his background as renewable energy scientist and his access to research lab, allowed him to create technology that actually purifies the air.
Jaya: There was also the “tipping point” that compelled us to make this technology widely available to consumers — we wanted to help people. I knew what I had experienced with my migraine headaches was directly related to the air I was breathing and we kept reading about how global air pollution was on the rise. Here was this technology that had been worked on in a laboratory for 20 years, by brilliant scientists, that tackled this very problem. When we realized we were able to actually commercialize this technology our father had been developing for 20 years, that was truly groundbreaking.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Jaya: The number one challenge we have is miseducation and misinformation in the market. In fact, the EPA reported that indoor air quality is 2–5 times worse than the air outside, but most people have no idea of the dangers of indoor pollution. For years, the standard for “clean air” has been determined by HEPA filter technology, which hasn’t changed since its introduction in the 1940s.This method relies on HEPA filters collecting some airborne pollutants on fabric, where they have the potential to fester and be re-released into the air. This is not air purification, this is air filtration. Many people, even those who don’t suffer from respiratory conditions, asthma, or allergies, have no clue what they are breathing and how it affects them. We believe once people understand and feel the positive effects of truly clean air, widespread adoption will surely follow.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
(1) Life is too short to put up with ego and politics, and these are the things that can be detrimental to any company. Eliminate these traits and the people who contribute to them. Never compromise on this.
(2) The journey is tough and full of doubt, but; nothing worth doing is easy and we didn’t embark on this journey to take on an easy challenge. Surround yourself with people who won’t falter and relish the tough challenges.
(3) The experiences you deliver to customers are delivered by the people who build your company, so value your team, and make sure they value the company.
(4) Make sure your team is full of people who have a sense of intellectual humility and are excited to learn from challenges and grow from them. You’ll never be able to eliminate all mistakes, but a team that continuously learns quickly is what it takes to build a successful startup.
(5) Make great communication a necessity. Candor from the speaker, and the assumption of good intentions from the listener are necessary to have good communication. Communication is one of the biggest scaling challenges for startups, and the above will be necessary to scale.
Dilip: None of these are things I wish I knew, they are things I learned. This matters because I don’t look back at the journey that we went on and regret the things I didn’t know. The journey to learning those things was as important as the knowledge I gained along the way. This is why we built many of these “lessons learned” into our company values.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Dilip: Look for solutions to global problems. Be driven by a passion to develop and work on solutions for these challenges. The world needs more people who devote their time to solving that. The jobs will follow. Also, make sure you’re breathing clean air at work — it can greatly affect your ability to focus!
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Jaya: Is it too self-serving to say air purification? But seriously, I would invest in science-based innovation companies. There is incredible innovation coming out of academia that sadly never makes it to the market. We’re based in the Bay Area, where Silicon Valley has some of the brightest minds and ideas, but we notice not many companies here are trying to solve important global issues. We hope the tech community will follow our lead and look for academic breakthroughs to inspire real innovation — not just creating the next SAAS platform or app.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Dilip: I have followed the teachings of Swami Vivekanada for a long time. One of his ideologies is to take up one idea and make that one idea your life — think of it, dream it, live on that idea. Let every part of your body be full of that idea and leave all other ideas alone. This is the way to success.
Early in my life, asthma was the curse I had to bear. I couldn’t play like other children, and my asthma attacks would often send me to the ER. This did consume me, but not productively. It wasn’t until I saw the work of my father tirelessly developing PECO that I could understand the true meanings of Swami Vivekanada. For 20+ years, my father was determined with one idea, that air purification could solve my chronic asthma and allergies symptoms, and he dedicated his life to that. Today, I’m dedicated to bringing this technology to the masses.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Jaya: Never settle. In 1995 when our father began to explore air purification technology, HEPA filters were the standard solution of the day. He had never ventured into air technology, but my father knew if he didn’t solve this problem for Dilip, no one would. It took him 20 years, but he got there. So, if there is a problem you want to solve, don’t settle for the status quo, keep innovating, keep challenging and keep pushing to find the best solution possible. You may end up improving — or even saving — lives in the process.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Our TAM is global air. We’re not getting more of it. Molekule provides a technology solution to drastically improve the air quality we can experience, and that is huge.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We share Molekule news and updates on our blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn at @molekuleair.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.