Today we talk with Winston Mok, Founder of Woosh, a start-up producing air filtration products that leverage WiFi, mobile apps and real-time data to keep the air clean at a lesser cost. Winston reveals how he mustered the courage to leave his lucrative 9-5 at Google to focus on Woosh, what inspired the start-up, and what he has learned as a Founder wearing many hats. This interview will give insights into building a unique product and marketing the product the right way, even in competitive industries.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
The mindset that every new entrepreneur needs to succeed.
How to attract the attention of customers and influential partners on a limited budget.
How to stand out in a crowded market.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, watch the full video interview here!
Visit WooshAir.com to learn more about how their smart air filters are keeping families and businesses happier and healthier.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: When you have a product that every home in business in America uses, and the industry has been around for several decades, how do you stand out? Even if your product is truly revolutionary, you still need to find ways to get noticed, especially in the early days. Today's guest has an amazing product, but he's also had quite a journey over the past couple of years bringing it to market in attention grabbing ways that you could learn from as you grow your own business.
Voiceover: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast. Jon LaClare.
Jon: Super excited today to be talking with Winston Mok. He's the founder of Woosh. You can check their business, their website out at WooshAir.com, W-O-O-S-H-A-I-R.com. If you're driving, don't worry, it's in the show notes as always. Check it out later. Let's dive in and talk about the product and really, I'll let Winston really describe what it is, what it does. First of all, welcome to the show, Winston. Thanks for joining us.
Winston Mok: Jon, thank you for having me. Really really excited to be here.
Jon: What is Woosh, the Woosh Air filter, and how does it work?
Winston: Yes, so great question. The Woosh Air solution is comprised of two products and they effectively transform your home's HVAC, which predominantly does heating and cooling, into a smart air purifier. The product is made up of two, as I mentioned. It's a smart air filter, you can see here, and an air quality monitor. Each part on their own, one monitors but can't act and the other one can only act but doesn't monitor. They work together and they bolt onto your existing HVAC system. Then now you have heating, cooling, and air purification.
What's cool about it is we work very closely with the smart thermostat companies, whether it's Sensi, Honeywell, Nest, or ecobee, and we integrate in their systems because there's a part where if the air quality is poor, your air quality monitor will go from a green to yellow to red, that's when a signal gets sent to your smart thermostat. It's turned red. That signals that we should circulate the air, which filters the air through your HVAC system. The smart air filter engages that point.
This air filter is a bit different than the one you might normally have at home, which is made in cardboard. It works like a Swiffer. It has two parts. It's got a reusable frame and a disposable filter. We work with top filter manufacturers to produce really high-quality filters so they meet the same quality standards of the filters you're buying today. We specialize in MERV 13 filters, ones that are very high performing, but we also choose ones that have technology that makes it very low energy.
Then we've got this reusable frame, and this is where all the innovation is on the filter side, because not only is it reusable, so it's more sustainable overall, but it has sensors integrated into it and some convenience features like just handles. If you've ever pulled a filter out of a furnace, sometimes it's hard to reach it, you've got to pinch it. It could be at a ceiling. This has magnets that actually keeps it in place, but a cardboard one, if it's all dirty, would fall in your face. Even simple things like that.
I think the most valuable point is really the sensors that are integrated directly in the frame. This allows us to measure the performance of the air filter over time. When you're talking about higher levels of filtration, they clog quicker, so you want to make sure you know when it needs to be changed, and we automatically monitor it for you. This is a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Once you set it up, Woosh is monitoring your air filter, and when it's time for a change, we automatically send you one in the mail. That way, when it shows up exactly when to change it.
We want this to be as easy for a homeowner to have and never to worry about it because the number one thing people do is forget to change their air filter. With the world now, with wildfires, COVID, you just have pet allergies. Air quality is something that really improves the quality of life. It's remarkable how many of our customers just send us emails just about, oh, I moved to a Woosh filter and now my air is clean. I sleep better at night. My productivity is better.
I live in California where we've got wildfires, and that's why I started the company. It's one of those things that as the world changes with climate change, I think filtration has growing importance, and our solution just makes it easier to manage. It's a set-it-and-forget-it solution.
Jon: I love this product. It's funny, a couple things come to mind for me. One is I have a Nest thermometer or the temperature guy got it home, smart, whatever you call it, device. It sets everything up, and I just got the warning a couple days ago to replace our filter, but right now, without Woosh, it's just based on time. It just assumes it's dirty. Every time when I pull it out, it's disgusting. It's way beyond where I should but you forget about it. It's not something that's top of mind for us. I love that the device is telling you when it's dirty, when it's ready.
I'm assuming, you probably have a lot more data on this, but I can only assume that certain times of year, it's going to get dirtier faster. Summer or winter's worse than another. It's not so much a time period necessarily as it is and how much stuff is going through your home. You said, if you've got pets or things going on outside. I live in the suburbs, south of Denver. Beautiful skies, it's clean, crisp air, and yet, our filter is disgusting. We don't have pets at home.
I don't know when it's going to happen. Sometimes it's much worse than others. I love that, that it tells you when to replace it so you can have a cleaner, safer environment around your home, your family, visitors, et cetera. Wonderful concept.
Winston: I was just going to mention the way analogy I like to tie to is like your toothbrush often now, if you've got an electric one, has a blue strip indicator. Before that was there, you just had to guess when you changed it last or the bristle is frayed enough, but now with that blue indicator, you know when it needs to be changed. Ours is effectively doing the same thing.
Unfortunately, filters are hidden usually. They're in attics, they're in basements, they're in places where you forget to see them. That's why people just totally forget. It really impacts your HVAC system because the more strain you put in that system, that's the most expensive appliance in your entire home. You don't want to get that-- if you have to make a phone call because it broke. It usually happens on the hottest or the coldest days of the year. Now, you don't even know if you can get a technician over because there are other homes that have the same.
We try to mitigate against the risks on your system in addition to making your life easier and the healthy home better by taking care of that air quality. We're actually protecting the occupants and the equipment and doing it in a way, just like your toothbrush, once that blue indicator goes, we'll just send you a new one.
Jon: It's funny you bring that up because there have been a few times in my home where the AC system or the heating system shuts down. Like you said, the hottest or the coldest day of the year. I go downstairs and sure enough, it's this disgusting filter that's just long overdue for a change. You swap it in and it runs beautifully. How many weeks before that is it pushing extra hard and frankly pushing dirty air into my home that we're not thinking about, but we're certainly breathing it in?
Winston: Heat and your energy bills go up. Your air quality suffers. There's just a range of things. If you think of it, your HVAC system is the heart and the arteries for the house. It's just important for maintenance because being the occupants, you care most about that it's comfortable and that your air is clean. I've got a 10-month-old, and I think about more of a developing respiratory system. My dad, he's in his mid-80s now, so he is got an aging respiratory system. I think about all of those aspects coming into life. You just want it to be a little bit easier and one less thing to think about.
I think with Woosh, filters haven't changed in a long time. You go to Home Depot or Lowe's and you still see the same cardboard filter. You move to a Nest, which is a smart thermostat, it just makes it a little bit better. I think with Woosh, we're trying to support that mission towards a smarter home that's more convenient, got better intelligence, and leaves you with a healthier home that's easier on your wallet in some aspects because you're doing it more intelligently. You're only changing when it needs to be changed.
Jon: It just feels like one of those ideas where it's like, I can't believe I didn't think of this. It's genius. It's like, oh, I can't believe this doesn't exist or didn't exist before you came up with this product. What originally inspired you?
Winston: It was 2018 leading into '19. I'm from Canada originally. I grew up in Toronto near the Great Lakes. I think air quality there is different than obviously when I moved here to California. I was working at Google from 2015. First three years, there were wildfires, but they didn't really hit the extremes. I don't know if you remember ever seeing in the news, the orange sky, the dystopian sky that cascaded down. That was the event for me because the Google offices would have to either remain closed or they would tell you to stay indoors because it was just unhealthy to be outside.
My partner at the time was like, "Hey, what should we do?" I said, "Look let's get an air purifier at minimum." I went to Best Buy. All the cheap ones had sold out. Only the really expensive Dysons were left. I said, look, I don't want to spend $800, $900 to buy an air purifier. I went on YouTube, and I think it was University of Michigan had a professor who's like look, here's a cheap air purifier. Go to Home Depot or buy it online and pick up a MERV 13 filter and stick it on a box fan, and at least you have something that will clean the air.
I wanted to buy one filter and it was $25. I was just like, oh, that's really expensive. Then you work out the economics, you start realizing air filters are like big picture frames and you're shipping a box that is a bit oversized so you're paying $16 bucks, let's say, for the shipping. The filter isn't that expensive. I thought to myself well, heck, here's an opportunity. What happens if you could just fold it? The design I showed you with the Swiffer was just my first attempt down that foyer.
It started with the wildfires and then I really got a creative wind down that path because I saw a different way of doing it. I gave it a shot. I was really big into 3D printing at that time so it just coincided. This is just before COVID. You can imagine as I got into COVID, I really got a chance to dive deep because we suddenly had a lot of time in our hands. If you think about what I've managed to do in that time, we've taken a very traditional cardboard filter which can't fold, takes up space, and you have to buy maybe six of them at a time, and now we've got a Swiffer-like design that the filters fold up and there are electronics built into it. It's quite a divergent or an evolution in terms of where filters I think are going.
Jon: I love the comparison to the air purification devices. We've got a client actually that has a very successful one. It works well, but they're several hundred dollars. At the end of the day, modern HVAC systems, that's what they do, but as you're saying, if you don't replace your filter more often or when it gets dirty, then the benefits stop or slow down. You need that extra device or just get a better filter or replace your filter more often and you can take care of that.
It's a great comparison, and really just taking the mindset of moving away from do I need a several-hundred-dollar purification device that only does part of my home, or do I get better filters that takes care of my entire home? They're really less expensive, especially in the long run.
Winston: Jon, I would say you're a marketer at heart here. I hear exactly the things that-- and as the end user making it for myself, you're exactly voicing really what the promise was. At the end of the day, the core values for at least Woosh, I really also wanted something-- you mentioned their whole home. It takes care of your whole home. The reality here was trying to make something more accessible because it's something that's-- it's only one filter, addresses the whole home.
Yes, air room purifiers can have higher levels of filtration, and that's fantastic, you can always add that on, but I always term it as a first line of defense that can take care of generally most situations. This is a great single filter, you can just easily change on an existing system you already have, and get your home into a place where it wasn't before. It's utility that actually just latent in your HVAC, but you need to be a bit more active with the filters both by changing and I think sensory means a lot because when you move to higher levels of filtration, you have to just be more mindful that the sensors make sure that it operates properly, and when it's time to change, it is getting changed. Otherwise, you're effectively using a higher level filtration in a system, if you leave it in absence, then it could be bad outcomes. Just like you would leave a filter today, you mentioned, it gets clogged.
Jon: Yes, for sure. Let's shift gears a little bit and talk about the marketing of your business and what successes you've had already in the startup phase as you get ready for your big launch really to really get into market. So far, as I understand it, trade shows have been one of the elements or one of the strategies that's worked well for your business. How have you been able to take advantage of trade shows, or how have they been helpful for you specifically?
Winston: I guess we've done two types of shows recently. One leading into Christmas was more of a open fair. San Francisco has a local manufacturers fair so a lot of local manufacturers can exposé. You just work in the floor. I used to work in a flea market growing up as a kid, and so it was very similar. It's an open market, you're selling your product, but you're pitching, pitching, pitching.
We got into Eureka Park. That was late in the year. We got into Eureka Park at CES just this past January. That was just an amazing experience because it's all dedicated to a lot of startups, and they've got a huge amount of traffic. I think CES is in the 100,000-plus range of visitors now, and I think they were obviously higher even before COVID but it's coming back. It was just a huge exposé for us to be able to engage with so many industry partners.
I would say Woosh was positioned a bit uniquely because-- and this is just my guess, but we were targeted by many. There was just a huge number of visitors, but if I were to put my wish list of companies I wish would come talk to us, almost all of them came. It's partly because in our category, which is DIY HVAC, there's only so many companies, I think, that were at CES doing such things. As you went down into smart home and tied it to HVAC, particularly in the startup space, we were one of the few. As it all came, we spent a fair bit of time with them, some of them actually came by the booth maybe five, six times with different teams.
I think the real bonuses for us, leading up to this obviously, is we did Kickstarter in April last year, and I immediately auditioned to get onto Shark Tank by October. We were already gaining traction. Even from our Kickstarter we had-- many Fortune 500 companies have reached out at that point. From a marketing strategy, Kickstarter actually was enough because in some respect, some of it has to do with the product.
Air filters are I think a space that-- they generate a lot of reoccurring revenue. I don't think a lot of people know how much they make, but I think it's a large industry. It's in every single home and business with forced air, which is through the nation. It's also a space where you can imagine there's been a lot of players that have been there for a long time building their roles. Us coming in as a new incumbent really shook things up because I think just the profile, I came from Google as an outsider. A lot of folks reached out after Kickstarter, kind of asking questions like, "What's your vision?", "What are you seeing?", "How are you looking at your product integrating in?"
A lot of people may look at us as a filter manufacturer, but we actually-- if you saw the design, the filters are still in partnership with leading manufacturers. We wrap it with intelligence because we're really a Silicon Valley hardware tech company, if not data analytics. We work in great harmony actually with the industry. Leading from Kickstarter and getting a lot of industry outreach helped us build those relationships, and then as we got into Shark Tank, it proliferated it to a lot of medium-sized companies where people worked at.
A lot of people who watched Shark Tank, it drove [unintelligible 00:18:05] but it also drove a lot of outreach from people who wouldn't have seen our Kickstarter, but were in the industry. Whether it's a wind farm or-- farming reached out, wind farms had reached out, different industries I never thought of that like, "Hey, we change our filters a lot and I really like what you have because I have to send somebody to the roof of my farm", which is a pain. It's like, "Sometimes I pull that thing out and it looks clean but I can't see it."
Here we are trying to bring visibility to what often can't be seen because it's behind walls and in a tough spot, and a lot of businesses are trying to manage these things themselves as best they can versus necessarily signing up with a service company because it's quite expensive sometimes to have a contract with a service agent when you can do some of these things yourself, so enabling that as well.
Just coming back to the trade show, I think after Kickstarter into Shark Tank, we really had a great leg into CES. It was just a blast. It was my first time there. Engaging with a lot of different customers and actually for them to physically see the product versus what they saw on TV or what they saw on their website, it made it very real, I think. We've had a lot of follow-up that we've been doing since. I think trade shows actually are extremely effective when you have a hardware product because it builds belief that the thing is real, people can ask more [unintelligible 00:19:34] question when they can see the detail.
I think when you can engage with different teams at an earlier stage of a company, you can really build early relationships that will blossom over time, so being a young company, I think, it is really helpful to get your face out there and to engage with real people.
Jon: I liked how you talked about CES really standing out, being unique because there aren't a lot of HVAC-related products out there at the event itself, but there is demand. Everyone needs it. There's not a lot of competitors. I think we've found that to be successful both for us, but also for a lot of our clients that go to trade shows where if you can find one where you stand out, it needs to fit.
You don't want to go to a cheese fair to sell your HVAC product, but you got to go to something that makes sense, but where it's not like a sea of everybody else, as opposed to like an HVAC-only fair and everyone's selling filters and you got to try to stand out.
Part of it is, like any form of marketing, whether it's trade show, whether it's digital marketing, the more you can stand out and really differentiate, the cheaper your marketing gets because you're not paying that much more to stand out. If you go to CES, there's a lot of categories, TVs, for example, there's a ton of them. They've got multimillion-dollar booths, because they've got to do something to stand out and really grab your attention, as opposed to your product. For you, your product is what makes you stand out at the event. I think that's great advice for them to take whether it's trade shows or any other marketing, is how can you stand out from the crowd, which inherently brings down your cost of marketing and brings up your results, which is great.
Winston: Oh, 100%. I will double down on what you just mentioned there, knowing how to stand out. AHR, which is the big conference for HVAC actually happened this week. We did have some attendance from our team there, but we chose CES over that for the same fact that in the HVAC space, I've grown a deep appreciation obviously for that space, and we have many partners in it, but I feel, like you said, that our ability to stand out there is going to be very different than if we invest our time in another show that has a lot of traffic with a different type of reach.
Obviously, the audience, it really matters how well it matches. Like you said, if I went to a cheese one, I'd stand out, but it wouldn't make sense. I think there's the right selection in there. We actually chose not to exhibit at the AHR conference, which was the big HVAC one, for the sake that if we were going to make an investment there, and we did need to stand out, we would need to invest a lot more effort. That may be worth it, but you have to go in prepared and ready to make that investment. Otherwise, if you're in the noise or in the weeds, then you might have wasted a lot more of your capital or your precious resource. For a startup, the amount of cash that you have and the time you have throughout the day is very limited so you have to squeeze every part out of it and try to make the best decisions you can.
Jon: Yes, you got to make hard choices for sure. You just can't do it all. Whether it's time or money, we all have limited resources in one way or another for sure. Winston, are there any resources that you recommend that have been really helpful for you along your journey?
Winston: Yes. When I think about the journey I've been on, so this is my second startup, and the previous one was in the mobile space, but the resources I find most helpful particularly relate to entrepreneurship. Ben Horowitz from Andreessen Horowitz has a book called The Hardest Thing About The Hard Things. That book really resonates to me because it always brings me back to-- frankly, it's a tough read because it's in the title. It's a tough read for the sake that it's a very real reminder of what journey you're on as an entrepreneur.
I always think it's most important to have both-- I think of that book, but also my advisory, doing two of the same things, always reminding me that it's a marathon, not a race, and you're the only one who will ever determine whether you stop, but you will only win if you keep persisting. It's a stark reminder of that.
My best advice or lesson from reading that book also is well, how do you-- it's one thing to read it and soberly accept that that may be true. How do you best prepare for that? I always find it's surrounding yourself with a variety of people that know how to give you the other side of the world where the grass is greener when you're on one side looking out. Maybe the analogy is more they're always behind you when you feel like you're knocked down.
I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, whether they're investing money or launching a product, doing a big launch campaign-- I'll give you an example, when I launched Kickstarter, you can't help but you hope that it'll drive virally. You just hope. Then the reality, in our case, it just goes the way it does, and it's good, but it's definitely not what you may have hoped. You have to then react.
I talked to some of my advisor, I thought of what are the options, and then it came down to, "Well, heck, why don't you just try to apply for Shark Tank? Because that's free advertising, it gets you pretty wide. Because driving traffic is a problem you have, I think you got a great product." Lo and behold, 11 auditions later, yes, one can get there. You got to believe it because if you let that, let's say, with Kickstarter and the campaign go and you're not just pumping money in ads to drive traffic, you've got to find different ways.
I think a lot of businesses continually have to be resilient against in changing really quickly, and persistence. There's all different ways. It's weird to think that may be the solution for many, but it worked out for me in the end. I'm glad I applied.
Jon: Yes, absolutely. That's a great recommendation. It's good to remember we're not alone when we face hard things too. I think, I love reading resources like that where we hear others' journeys along the way and it reminds us that other people have been through trials, every success went through difficult times in the beginning. When we face those, sometimes we feel very alone. It's good to reach out to whether it's people that have gone through it, or through books, or whatever it might be, but finding like our similar stories. Well, Winston, is there anything I didn't ask that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Winston: Yes. I always think of one thing, and this is more related to me personally, but I think it would resonate with a lot of folks who-- we've all been through COVID this last while, but those thinking about going after and changing their career and starting something new. I'm a prime example of somebody who was working at Google. I had a great job. I really loved it. There was a moment where I was starting to go on this avenue of doing air filters, and a lot of people probably looked at me going, "What are you doing? Why?" Even people who were very business savvy were like, "They're so cheap", or "there's so many filters out there", and everything. I took a chance, I left, and I knew that if I was just going to work to collect another paycheck, you got to go for it.
I think the thing we may not have covered specifically in this podcast, but one thing I would leave folks with who are listening is if you're thinking about starting something new, even if you don't know what it is yet, like I'm a prime example through the last couple years, that I moved from one space to a completely new area, in HVAC. I had no prior learning or understanding of it before, and I just gave it a shot. I've been running with it. Every step along the way, as you can see through what we've chatted about, it's just been surprise after surprise after surprise. I've been very thankful that it's worked the way it has.
That may not always be the case because that lesson that-- when you asked me one thing, is still there are the hardest things about the hard things, and they'll still resonate true, but I wouldn't give it up for anything. I encourage everybody to still make those leaps of faith. [unintelligible 00:28:20] said you can be in one role and doing something completely different later, and persistence is really key here and just sticking to it.
Jon: I love that.
Winston: Yes, hopefully, that helps your audience. I'm really excited about the future, where Woosh is going, and everybody that's supported us to get to where we are, including yourself. I really appreciate you having us on the show. This is a great opportunity for us to get a voice out and some of our lessons that we've learned along the way.
Jon: Well, it was a real pleasure for me as well. Thanks so much for your time, Winston. Love to have you back on the show to hear more about your journey as your business continues to grow, so let's definitely keep in touch on that. In the meantime, wish you all the best of luck. Again, thanks so much for your time today.
Winston: Thank you, Jon. Love being here. Thank you again.
Jon: Please go to WooshAir.com to learn more about Winston's business. Check it out. Please support them and see all the great work that he's done over these past few months. This is a brand-new startup. He's already seeing great success.
Be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you liked this episode, you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business or service, please subscribe to our show, or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free consultation to learn the process that's worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.
[00:30:10] [END OF AUDIO]