Eli Harris is the president and co-founder of R-Zero, a company that designs hospital grade UVC disinfection solutions for the day to day realities of modern businesses, such as schools, workplaces, and hotels. Launched in the early months of 2020 to help businesses navigate through the pandemic while getting ready for the post-pandemic world, R-Zero has grown rapidly and attracted more than $60 million from investors in a little over a year.
Before founding R-Zero, Eli lived for several years in China, an experience that has laid the foundation for his knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset. He, in fact, worked in the business development field, became fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and later co-founded EcoFlow Tech, a company that creates battery generators. EcoFlow Tech was growing very rapidly until it had problems with the Chinese government, and Eli ended up being fired by his own company. Angry, humiliated, and ashamed, he came back to the United States, rebuilt himself, and started doing some volunteering teaching in a school, until COVID hit.
How UVC Disinfection Works
When COVID hit, Eli noticed that the world was responding to the pandemic with chemicals, which is the same way things were handled over 100 years ago with the Spanish flu. Besides involving intense labor, chemicals are also dangerous for the environment, and they only clean surfaces. What about air? Several viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, are airborne, and air can be disinfected with UVC.
Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (ultraviolet C or UV-C) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions. While you should not be exposed to UV-C light, it’s safe to use around food as no harmful chemicals or pesticides are being used, just light. It has been an accepted disinfection practice since the mid-20th century and it has been used mainly in medical sanitation. Eli and his team were able to reduce the cost of this technology at R-Zero and package it in a product that is available for the average consumer, bringing the power of UVC disinfection to the masses.
And now here’s Eli Harris.
Full transcript below
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Podcast with Eli Harris. Bringing Hospital Grade UVC Disinfection to the World.
disinfection, china, company, people, raised, co founders, business, eli, uvc, years, build, hospitals, feel, cleaning, dji, disinfected, grant, employees, clean, running
Mike Malatesta 00:20
Today I’m fulfilling my promise to you with another amazing success story, Eli Harris joins me today, Eli, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for having me Mike, it’s a pleasure to be here. Yeah, I’ve been really excited about this. Ever since I heard you on Steve Sims podcast I think it was which was it. It was an amazing story I was walking my dog and I was like, Okay, I got to reach out and try to connect with, with Eli so if you’re not familiar with Eli, you haven’t heard of him yet you’ll be happy you did today, and here’s why.
Eli Harris is the president and co founder of Rs zero, a company that designs hospital grade disinfection solutions for the day to day realities of modern businesses, launched in the early months of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic AR Zero has grown rapidly and attracted more than $60 million from investors, that’s like in a little over a year it’s phenomenal.
Prior to RZero, I co founded eco Flowtech in China after meeting a fellow California in a bar. He entered the bar as a Fulbright scholar and left as a budding entrepreneur with an idea to transform the portable energy storage industry, industry with renewable battery based Power Solutions. Things are going great until Eli and his company ran into trouble with the Chinese government, we’ll learn all about that later. Eli is an Amherst College graduate with a degree in Mandarin Chinese, with a focus on international development and business. A Forbes 30 under 30 entrepreneur and a person we should all keep our eyes on. Eli.
I asked every guest the same question to get started and that is how to happen for you.
That was quite a flattering bio I appreciate that. My pleasure. Yeah, as you know if you’ve listened to Steve’s podcast that it was definitely not all rainbows and sunshine. Being an entrepreneur is definitely not as sexy as it sounds. I started my career at quite young, but like a tech lead in and I’m 28 this year, I was 21 years old and then got a Fulbright scholarship in Beijing, went out to mainland China and I stayed for almost eight years. I started out in public sector, I was a little rosy eyed naive and thought I wanted to work in foreign service or maybe a public office. What would I, what I didn’t realize is that holding that position, you really have a fiduciary to a national mandate, and you were there to execute the mandate in my own kind of again rosy eyed ambitions of of the influence I could have on on shaping a new generation of global youth that doesn’t see borders, I had it was a little naive and it really was not the function of that role.
So, as Mike alluded to, I walked into a bar and that ended up praying for a job down south that DJI in Shenzhen DJI is the world’s largest drone manufacturer, and I went down south with the Schengen at the time they had more than 3000 employees, they had less than a dozen non Chinese employees. And during my time in China I learned Mandarin fluently, which I’m very proud of because I’ve worked really hard for that just really just raw, 1000s and 1000s of hours of memorization and getting up early to study and I think just inherently in being an American on the ground in Shenzhen and in speaking Mandarin fluently. I was given a lot more authority and responsibility than I could command that my age in the US. It allowed me to kind of accelerate my career trajectory. And I love that. My dad always told me that if you’re doing a job or qualified for, you’re doing the wrong job. And I love that. So I dove in the deep end in a, I got a pretty significant role there to help build their commercial drone business in North America, Europe, and understand how we could use drones in public safety construction, mining, various industrial segments. Agriculture was a big one. And one thing I learned is I went to 16 countries during that time and I was working with a lot of fortune 100 companies trying to understand how they could use drones in their applications. If you’re a hobbyist flying a drone in for 20 minutes on the beach, taking a selfie 20 minutes battery life is great if you’re trying to map an oil pipeline or a large farm, you got to keep a drone in the air a lot longer. So we started working very closely with the battery engineers in what initially started out as an idea to build a lithium ion drone recharging pub, but quickly pivoted into our own venture to try to build a large high capacity lithium ion battery that can be recharged universally from solar wind or even just a standard wall outlet. It can actually store enough energy, and have enough output to compete with the Honda gas generator, and that was our mission, can we displace the Honda gas generator. So I was 24 years old, and I left DJI with two Chinese engineers, and the three of us incorporated the company in Shenzhen, and we went out to build a lithium ion battery energy storage company that can compete with it over the next three and a half years, I served the CEO of the company, with my two partners that is the CTO and the chief product officer, and we raised a lot of money. We did three or four rounds four rounds of venture capital funding while I was there, we built two manufacturing plants from scratch. We ended up hiring over 100 employees, and we shipped more than 200,000 products to 37 countries.
The truth is no ball we were scaling in growing quickly. Batteries are very capital intensive, and we were not profitable, we were raising and growing raising and growing the capital markets tightened, and we had to raise more money and we were in a tough position after three and a half years of running this company as CEO and putting my full heart into this working seven days a week 16 hour days, I mean, it was my whole identity. We ended up raising a small round from a very domestic state owned institution in China, in with that round, unbeknownst to me, I was totally blindsided. And I was, I was fired from my own company. After three and a half years of founding this building this, I gave my full heart to this. And after building two manufacturing plants over 100 employees multiple rounds of funding, hundreds of 1000s of products. I was shown the door, and I was in with that I was given a very nominal buyout for my equity in the company. In less than a year later. That company is now a unicorn. They are valued over a billion dollars.
And I left and I was angry, sad, frustrated, humiliated, ashamed. I came back to the States after almost eight years in mainland China. I started seeing a therapist and a year in psychotherapy reconnected with family, just kinda started to rebuild my self esteem and I have been so long being angry and sad and ashamed and embarrassed. In just about a year later when the pandemic happened. I got in touch with with two mentors of mine but entrepreneurs in the three of us launch this new venture or zero. In the past year and a half, it’s just been an absolute rocket ship. And I only now that over the whole time. I would preach to myself, the experience will be worth it the experience will be worth it. And I never felt that my feelings never caught up with that logic, and only now for the first time, as this year and a half is just skyrocketed. I’m finally able to see that manifest it and believe that and feel it. With that advice you always hear about it be experienced in the journey and, and I feel like the last few months of success. It’s not just the last 18 months of hard work, it’s the manifestation of those years of sacrifice struggle pain, sadness, long nights. And I only now sort of be grateful for that experience. So you gave us a ton of stuff there I want to I want to dig into a few things if you don’t mind, I’ll talk till the cows come home to you guys.
I’ll just keep going. Okay, fair enough. And fitting since I’m in Wisconsin to use a cow analogy that’s good. Um, so, this, this first position that you had with the drone company, you learn Mandarin as you said, I’m wondering what your Mandarin was like when you first got there, did you, did you know, what was it like because I understand that’s a difficult language to learn and you said you were proud of how much you, you know, worked to become fluent in it but what was it like when you when you got there and how were you treated when you got there versus when you, you know when versus when you were fluent, I don’t think many people have an idea of what that might be like in China. Yeah, so I mean I started learning in college, I went to my undergraduate at Amherst I again I was interested in international relations diplomacy and then I figured languages are very useful skills and I thought I was gonna learn any language, I might as well learn Chinese, I didn’t know anything about China, I had no prior experience. I just had read all the stories about China’s rise in the new competing superpower and I didn’t understand any of it but it was just all over the headlines, I thought, Okay, this, this is something that could give me a unique value in the world and it opened up a whole new perspective. Sure. So I started studying my freshman year, and it was really effing hard. It was it was really hard. So I was like you know what, if I’m going to spend the time to learn this language and then after just one semester in my freshman year, I knew that it was going to be a multi year commitment in need to become a priority and a pillar of my life. You can learn that language passively and needs to be an active commitment, so I was fortunate in, in one of the beautiful things about Amherst College and a lot of colleges in the US is there really is a lot of free money, if you look for it. There’s a lot of scholarship dollars and random fellowships and I was fortunate and I got a scholarship to go for the summer after my freshman year to pongo China, and teach English in exchange for free Chinese courses, because I wanted to make sure if I’m going to spend the time to really commit to this. I’ve never been to China and I wanted to make sure that I actually was interested in building part of my life there. So I went that summer.
And then I think people always expect some new ones to answer the great meaning I found in it and the passion that I found, but the truth is, I just had a lot of fun. It was my first time I was, I was 18 years old I was living by myself in China. It was like the wild wild east. Everything was new. It was such an adventure, I met incredible people both local and other expats, but everybody there had a story, I feel like there are many expats who started you know they’re traveling in Europe or they’re traveling in South America.
And they have so much fun that it’s so sexy to say you know what I want to stay. But in China, you don’t find those people who just out of convenience or for fun, they end up in China, it seems like everybody there is there very intentionally because it’s hard, like there is hard, it’s, it’s chaotic and it’s, It’s aggressive and it’s scrappy and it’s, it’s different than parts of it are uncomfortable and it I found that the folks that were there. The other foreigners, I mean, they were there for a reason. They they really cared about like, it was the first time in my life. He was the first time in my short life that I had been part of a community that had so much conviction about life and just live so intentionally. So I had a great time and I went back to Amherst and sort of studying Chinese more earnestly and I found opportunities to go there every summer and and I worked hard and kept learning and by the time I left Denver so I was speaking pretty confidently, but in the way that a good student does, yeah I went there is I you know I was spent a lot of time in the classroom I learned the grammar I learned the vocabulary, and I learned, I think the fullest extent what you can classroom, but it was only when I really moved to China, full time, Post College we started building my life there that I was able to get that step function to really integrate it along the way, I mean I think that it was incredibly supportive even along that journey when I was learning is I think that folks and this isn’t unique to China I think wherever you go, when people can see that you’re trying and trying something hard. They’re generally supportive, if they can tell that your heart is in it your intentions are in it you’re making an effort. I felt that it was very much a positive reinforcement cycle and nice validation loop, as I was trying and improving and getting better. I got a lot of I thought special people would appreciate that and congratulate me or support me or helped me in I, it really set itself.
And when you.
So, This your first real job is with DJI right, let’s say, first real jobs. So you in very quickly, it sounds like you’re trusted in the company to not only, you know, I guess have a lot of responsibility but also to, you know represent the company and all these countries and with all these like big companies that had to be kind of heavy.
Yeah, I loved it. I always, I mean that was 24 I was so excited and got to travel and represent this billion dollar company, right, and I think I gained a lot of trust, because of the time and energy. I invested in China, understanding China and really trying to be a part of it, and not trying to exploit it transactionally but I was building a life there and I in through the journey of learning the language I learned the history the politics, the culture and that I think that came through very genuinely, and I think that earned me some trust. At the same time, I mean, DJI was a Chinese company, and they were trying to build an international brand and image and they didn’t have that many employees that could speak competently confidently, to the Western world. Oh God. Okay, so I think that I part of it was just timing, and also I just, I was also willing to say yes, I didn’t have any obligations, I had no family, no, no girlfriend, no nothing and I was willing to get on the plane at any time take long trains and in the end I just kind of said, yes, yes to every opportunity. Yes, yeah, yeah. And when you decided to leave with these two, two engineers.
How is it so I’m talking about how is it that, again this is heavy, I guess, but how is it that you because you’re the, you’re the CEO and in, like, it’s just kind of a hybrid is amazing to me like that you, you know, you, you hook up with these guys, I’m assuming they were older than you, but I don’t know that for sure but I’m assuming, and you know you start a company in China, you’re the CEO and you grow it fast, and you’re able to, to also, you’re basically unproven guy and you’re able to, you know, get all this venture capital and stuff, how did you, how are you able to do that. And how are you trusted. Yeah. Again, I mean half the battle I think is just being there and showing up in putting yourself out there, I mean I was, I mean, there weren’t that many Westerners in Shenzhen, who spoke fluent English and Chinese who worked in technology, who, and DJ I got to build the network pretty quickly I was in a pretty high profile position. That was very public facing that, that made me seem much higher on the totem pole than I was in combat and I think I was pretty good at projecting confidence and in commanding that attention.
And I was there and I built chips and I in when we went to go build this battery company I mean, we were going to manufacture a gold product in China but our market was the West, or market was primarily the US and Europe. And I think part of it was just my ability to speak to our market. Whereas my two partners were engineers, okay and they were several years old, but it I think it was rare and unique for them to find someone like me, that could give them their international exposure. There’s so many brilliant Chinese engineers, but they have no ability to access the outside world. They don’t even know where to start, they don’t know how to do that and in what we did is when I joined them we spent just several months in product development just kind of sketching out our product and our supply chain and we raised a small seed round, and then I helped them launch a simple Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding campaign. In our first month we grossed over a million dollars in on Indiegogo, and we were one of the top performing campaigns of the entire year. And then we use that to launch into a larger venture round, and it really expand our business. But even that which I mean it took a lot of work and I, I needed a lot of help along the way and didn’t listen to a lot of support but even that simple step to get that built visibility to launch a crowdfunding campaign in the US, to build the right collateral build the right video put the right team together, speak to that end customer. But that’s something that they couldn’t access on their own.
So I didn’t really it was theirs, being there.
They had been willing to take that risk.
Alone ultimately so you get here you get your manufacturing facilities 100 employees you’re arranging, you know, raising all kinds of money and you mentioned, when you were answering the HOW TO HAPPEN question that you know in the last fundraising round.
You know you get blindsided as a I guess a condition of the funding, I’m not sure what the control mechanism was but all of a sudden, you’re, you’re out what you described a little bit about how that felt. But I’m wondering why it happened. Do you know why that came to be, um, you know, it’s been about this every which way and my answer would probably change as month to month over the last year and a half, okay. I mean, the business was struggling, it was I mean we were, we were not profitable, we were raising money growing raising money growing but we were not profitable. I had opened an office in San Francisco and we had about 15 employees in San Francisco and, and that was a much more.
It was much more expensive. I think our 15% office in San Francisco was burning more cash than our 100% office in Shenzhen. The, there was the trade board between Chairman seed, and President Trump in the tariffs that increased and there was a little bit of tension between China and the US are not a little bit there was a lot of us. So there was a trade war the tariffs went up, the capital markets tightened. We were, we were kind of burning cash, the US office was expensive. We just raised money from a lot of state owned enterprises in China, the word very domestically focused, and I think that the, the board made a decision to, to make a fundamental pivot in the identity and structure of the company. And I think to be honest, I mean, I was there for three and a half years and, And then I set up all of their sales channels, the same ones that they’re doing today and I set up all of their customer support infrastructure their logistics infrastructure, and it was, it was running fairly smoothly. It was, I think I set up an operation and built a foundation that was fairly sustainable and in kind of operating like a machine and needed a little grease every now and then but that infrastructure was there in a and I think to be honest, they, they finally begin to capture that value back to mainland China, and it wasn’t as necessary in my value wasn’t as as critical, at that point.
So it was a it was heartbreaking. I remember I flew back and just totally blindsided and it was December 7 And I was told to to fire the entire San Francisco office and close it immediately. And I promised everyone a bonus, a raise more equity grants, in which, while does that mean just isn’t my age I was quite naive, it was my first go round and I didn’t even realize that something like that could happen out of my control. I didn’t realize that those were decisions they could just be made and that the other day there’s a board and I’m one vote on the board, and I, and we had people that put a lot of money on.
So I had to let go the entire team, people I had made all these promises to and had to renege on my own commitments to them. And I burned a lot of bridges, and I didn’t have a choice, I mean I, I, it was, it was heartbreaking. I mean I cried more than we’ve been I’ve ever cried in my life.
Hmm. Did you feel like the people in the office believed you or did you feel like, I mean how could they not your, your, I don’t know what they believe me, but I guess that they felt like I had given them a false sense of competence, that, that they didn’t like me they didn’t realize that something like that could happen out of my control.
They felt a little bit misled in the autonomy and control that I projected. So they knew that there was a force against my will, but they did feel misled.
And, I mean you talked about the therapy and all that stuff but I’m just wondering as a, as a co founder of the business, how do you how do your other co founders feel about what happened to you, I guess, and then you look back and you’re probably thinking to yourself, Man, we were this, I was this close to being a part of the ride that you described, you know, going from, you know basically having to, you know, constantly raise funds in order to keep the lights on, keep the traction going until I guess you hit a certain point or whatever, which it sounds like maybe the company’s hit I’m just, what have you. I don’t know, what do you, how are the, I guess, how were the co founders, your co founders, they’re still with the business they still part of it is Eli like me, you know, we love you You’re like our brother, but this is wasn’t our decision. This is a board decision, and we have to do what’s right for the business you have to separate business from personal and yeah it was it was it was cutthroat, I think, I think they were scared, right, the company was struggling at the time and we got these new investors that put up the money and, and we all I think we all were in debt, all three of us had taken out loans and put money into the company, and they were several years older than I was. But, you know, not too much older, but they’re still fairly young and they both had one of them had a young child, the other one was about to have a baby, and I mean that their, their skin was in that game, and I think there was there. I don’t think it was malicious. I think it was in their eyes and just matter of fact, and that’s how business is done. And I, I learned a really hard lesson about one understanding the limits to my own position in the company and controlling and protecting myself contractually and legally. I also learned that even if I had good instincts about an opportunity. If you’re not surrounded by the right people. That doesn’t matter.
So I validated my son’s opportunity, like I said that that company is now a billion dollar company, which is incredible, and I, nobody can take away from me that I started that I was the first one to take the leap I was if I was a co founder i i drove this forward I build that foundation and no one can take that away from me. And I think I had the right instinct when the market just not the people, but it led me to now. Yeah, so where did you, where did you land so you, you, you get, You lose the position you lose your shares in the company they buy him out, you said for a nominal amount, and you leave China at that point too and go somewhere else where do you land. I went back to my hometown to Santa Barbara, California, okay, where I’d never been since I was 17 years old, and I moved back into my dad and started seeing a therapist and figured out my life again I started doing a little bit of volunteer teaching at my old public high school, I started seeing a therapist I was doing some consulting work and just kind of, I mean my whole identity was wrapped up in that venture you got this idea of Eli the entrepreneur, Eli the China guy and, and I felt like the Forbes Under 30 on me had these expectations of me that I that I failed. And I felt like I let everyone down put myself down. But I think the reality is that nobody cares, and everyone’s I think, if anything, admires the fact that I did that and is proud that they don’t care that I did end up, you know, becoming a billionaire.
And I think it took me a while to realize that, but I think I had to kind of rebuild my, my own identity. In the absence of ego phobias, I became so core to me.
That is such a great point that you just made there thank you can can really beat yourself up over things that happen, whether it’s embarrassment or whether it’s, you know, questioning your adequacy or, you know, all of those kinds of things we get those in our head and we think, Oh, everybody’s looking at me thinks the same way about me that I’m thinking about me. And truth is, as you said, people don’t really care.
So if you can get over it yourself. People will welcome you back and be like, hey look what else can we do together or right you had this tremendous run you must know something let’s, let’s, let’s do something right.
Yeah, I mean me, to the exam. And without that experience I would not be on this journey with or zero with my two partners who I just think the world of and admire and respect as professionals as people and, and I, and I just couldn’t be more grateful and I think what we’re doing now has orders of magnitude more potential than what I was doing previously. Okay. And how did your dad feel when you showed up and, you know, we’re like, Hey Dad, I’ve been running a, you know this huge company over in China now I just want to crash with you for a little while if that’s okay. He’s my biggest fan. He thinks I walk on water. Okay. Yeah, nice to have me back and I feel I feel very lucky about that. But he is almost delusional in his ideas of Randori about me. Okay, which is, which is, which I feel so lucky. Yeah, that helps. That’s for sure. So you’re going through this period of transition mourning, whatever introspection all these things and in what happens to suit you know for you to connect with your, your co founders now at our zero. Yeah So shortly after the pandemic I got a call from Grant Morgan. He’s one of my co founders in the business. It was February of 2020 and, and, and I actually met Grant almost seven years ago in China when I was working for DJI.
At the time he was on the founding team of a company called I cracked. They were a decentralized network of highly skilled electronic technicians, and they would repair equipment in the field and in grants that I talked about doing a program for his company I cracked to repair DJI drones in the field, and the program actually never materialized. We never ended up building that partnership, but I met grant. I was at DJI and I still at that time had fantasies of being an entrepreneur and Grant was in Silicon Valley, he had raised a bunch of money from Andreessen Horowitz and all the big names and he was just a small step ahead of me in personal life and professional life.
And he was close enough in age, he felt very relatable, but did have a chunk more experience in all in all senses of the word, and I, and I really admired him and he kind of became a peer mentor of mine, stayed in touch over the last seven years. And as I went on my journey with my first venture, I used grant for a lot of emotional and technical coaching, and we stayed kind of friends and acquaintances and, and he saw my whole journey through and through and, and I think he saw the value in the journey I had that I couldn’t quite acknowledge yet but I was so close to it, right.
So when he started ideating on our zero with our other partner Ben Boyer, he called me right away. In the three of us, launched in this journey was really idolized by COVID. We were conceived in response to COVID. But now what we’re doing is far beyond that.
And it’s, it’s been exciting but grant I’ve known for many years, years and when we have that, that base trust appreciation for each other and, and he’s known Ben for many years but Ben is a venture capitalist by training, or he actually founded a venture capital fund that manages a billion and a half dollars, they’ve raised seven funds that he invested in Grant’s former company I crack inside on the board. So he saw grant through his entrepreneurial journey through a sale of I cracked Allstate, and then grant saw me through my journey. It was that connective tissue and interest and I think mutual admiration.
So where did the idea. You meant you talked about ideating, where did it come from. So, basically, as I understand it, the company has taken technology that’s been used in hospitals, for example for many years for disinfection and had this idea you guys had this idea or someone did to make that less expensive and more available to the masses so to speak to, to make sure to, to, I guess revolutionize the way that cleaning and disinfection are done in all kinds of structures not just hospitals, is that my on the right path there. Yeah, so I, in the wake of COVID I mean, we saw the world respond with chemicals. I started looking at the disinfection industry as a whole in the industry is very literally hundreds of billions of dollars market cap disinfection is a massive industry, and it’s governed by Ecolab Clorox SC Johnson diversity, all of these companies are over 100 years old, right, and they all push chemicals, More or less in 1918 with the Spanish flu, we responded by using chemicals, and today we’re doing the same thing. It’s all manual. It is very labor intensive. Chemicals are horrible for the environment. They only treat surfaces, not the air. And we said, why hasn’t this industry.
This is one of the last major industries that have been touched by any modern technologies. So we got in touch with Dr Richard Wade, and Dr. Wade ran Cal OSHA for 15 years. They have we actually commit him to join us as a, as a shareholder, and he led us on a study to really understand what are the best tools that exist today in the hospital setting in surgical environments where we have the highest risk in why haven’t those tools, been expanded to other commercial markets, and what are the limitations of those tools and how can we improve them with modern technology.
So that that was going to be, I guess our starting point and. And what we did is we landed on UVC lights which have been used in hospitals for quite literally decades, and they’re wildly effective, the hospitals that use UVC lights and operating rooms. They have 93% fewer infections than the hospitals that don’t. And the reason it’s never been used in other markets is one is that nobody’s ever cared and two is that they’re extremely cost prohibitive. Because the pricing is an artifact of our healthcare system and not, it does not have anything to do with the bill of materials, and what it costs to manufacture these, right. So we raised our, you know, a seed round and a Series A, from the same backers as Tesla and SpaceX, in five months, we brought a product to market that unequivocally fundamentally outputs more light, and it’s more effective than any product being sold into hospitals today, and we priced it based off the bill of materials, not extorting value from the healthcare system. So we built a piece of hardware that was darn good. In unequivocably what the market leader in terms of performance and price, but where we actually innovated in what’s really interesting. And I’ll talk a little bit about shortly is the software.
First Company to embed a Verizon LTE cin. And what you can do with that is you can actually transmit real time data, and you can actually generate an audit trail around disinfection, then you can see where the system was run, what time by WHO, WHAT room, and you actually generate an audit trail around what was done in that space, because you think about it right now in terms of compliance, you send crews to go disinfect rooms to go clean rooms, if they sign a loan, or if they’re really fancy, they might say, Yeah, but there’s no way of actually validating what was done. So not only are we offering the best tools in the world. This is that at an affordable price, and there’s no chemicals, and there’s no labor, we’re also transmitting real time data. So for the first time you have visibility into this process. So a school can see okay classroom 17 was disinfected at nine o’clock last night for the teachers lounge was missed, or if you’re checking into a hotel, you can see your hotel room with disinfected before you showed up. Same thing with a yoga class, Where we’re going to work in an office space, I think employers are not gonna have a responsibility to keep their employees safer. So it’s this ability to generate data around disinfection.
So that was the first part we launch, and we’re now in 1000s of schools, commercial real estate corporate offices, jails, restaurants, hotels sports teams, is just taken off.
And what’s yeah what’s the difference, but first of all this is, this simple question that I think a lot of people don’t don’t understand the difference what’s the difference between let’s take a hotel room for example, let’s say, the difference between cleaning a hotel room and disinfecting a hotel room, so cleaning is the physical removal of particulate it’s removing dirt, taking out the trash mopping up the spill. that is clean, it is physically removing particulate, but it has nothing to do with inactivating or killing a microorganism disinfecting is actually killing the pathogen, whatever is there, it has nothing to do with the removal of it, it’s killing. Right. Yeah. So, um, so we have a little something in common, but but but different so my I’ve been in the waste business my whole career, and we, we have a division where we clean factories, but not, not like the floor, you know, vacuuming the floors but doing real cleaning of machinery and pits and tanks and all that kind of stuff but when, when COVID hit there was a need for disinfection, so we started to understand how to do that and we actually did use the chemical hydrogen peroxide solution.
And we cleaned a lot of factories and a lot of offices and you know all kinds of stuff. But the way you know so ours was a contact application where we actually sprayed onto surfaces. And that, you know, killed the, the, The virus or at least that’s what it was intended to do your, your technology is totally different from that you already went through, you know that you’re not using chemicals.
And we were, but I wonder, it’s not a new technology, as you said, it’s been around for a long time but how, how do you, how does the UVC actually work I mean what again let’s take the, whether it’s a hotel room or to school, how does it work, what should people know about it in terms of like you know three, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for the discovery of the germicidal properties of UBC. There is no known micro organism on the planet that is UV resistant. In the 1910s we start using UBC and wastewater treatment that I can 20s and East back the 1940s in hospitals, so the sun produces UV A B and C. But UBC is at a wavelength that can’t penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. So it never actually makes it to the surface of the Earth, naturally. So because of that, no organism on the planet, no virus, bacteria, mold fungi is ever evolved to be able to resist UVC light, because there’s no, because there’s no exposure, so they can’t Okay, okay. So when we, when we manufacturing here on Earth, artificially, we manufacture this light, it can penetrate the cell walls of any microorganism, and it ruptures the DNA or RNA, so that that cell can’t replicate. So your inactivate against that it cannot reproduce, but it does that by penetrating the cell walls and rupturing DNA and RNA. So, what one thing about that is, like I said no microorganism has ever developed resistance. So because of that long term exposure can be damaging to human standing that are made up of cells and organisms.
So nobody can be in the room when the systems are running. And what we’re doing in our whole future environment is a business is, if you think about disinfection today, there’s a couple major issues. One is that it’s, there’s it’s very expensive. There’s a huge labor costs to send people around this. In fact, there’s a huge chemical cost, and what we can do with UVC light is remove the labor and chemical costs entirely. The other thing that we’re doing is right now, most cleanings infection is done based on time. So every night, you send your crew out every week, you send your crew out, but that may or may not have anything to do with risk. So what we’re looking to do is we actually start moving towards fixtures installed asset building. So these are installed UVC lights and then we have sensors all around the space that can capture utilization data. So you can see where people go, so you can see what spaces were used throughout the day, nobody use that conference room. Don’t send your crew to cleaning. If 10 People use that bathroom. It doesn’t matter if it’s been two hours in two days. Send your crew in there. So we have an opportunity to get smarter about when and where to clean, and then we can even automate some of disinfection. So with that sensor data, we can automate those lights to turn on and off. So we’re removing the labor and chemical component entirely. And then we’re also generating automatic work orders, so your janitorial crews can go round and clean, based on risk in usage, not based on time, so there’ll be a great labor efficiency. Okay, so I get so I get that’s really smart, so being able to track the usage of the room which, which is pets really smart.
I’ve seen that done, like cafeterias and that kind of thing to to.
For the same reason to attract demand and make sure you’re, you’ve, you’re, you’re managing things correctly and all, but I guess I guess one of the things that I’m sort of curious about is if you’ve got these installed units which makes sense, but the clean like in that bathroom, you mentioned the cleaning still has to be done the physical cleaning stuff has to be done, and that has to be done based on usage. So how does, how do you see this working like the physical crew comes in and cleans and then when they are when they’re gone, the disinfection starts Eli or how do you, how does it practically work, because it doesn’t do everything, it’s, it only just starting to clean right right.
Use your labor more efficiently, only sending them to clean but they actually clean. Okay, disinfection is automated, so there’s no longer any labor component, so yes it would, it would run post clean. Okay and what’s the coverage area of a, you know your UVC is for example, because one of the things that I, you tend to, you know, the exposure. This is dangerous. They also traditionally I think, like in a hospital setting, they’re on casters and they are, they’re moved around to different areas so that they can, because there’s a limited.
You know footprint I guess too.
So how do you get caught, how does the coverage work.
So our flagship product, is the same. Fundamentally product categories where you see in hospitals, six and a half foot light tower on on four locking casters, and you will live from room to room, and not this is not unique product. The ability for UBC to kill any pathogen is the amount of MIT times time. They
don’t say it’s because we output and we built a system that, like, we can recycle times to achieve the same kill relative to competitors or images, we can achieve the same kill in less time. So we can do 1006 minutes, and that will inactivate. Any cabinet room to afford log kill. So that’s 99.99 Kill of any pathogen in 1000 square foot rooms, minutes. So what happens is that this becomes part of the toolkit of your janitorial staff so they would go into the first room, they clean it, they you know they pick up any trash, wipe any spills, they do that cleaning. By the end of the cleaning wizard. Press button, and it runs a 356 10 minute cycle depending on the size of the room. And while it’s running during the next room cleaning, and by the time they finished cleaning that second room. The cycle is over, they go back, and they wheel that device from the first three to the second. So it trails them from room three. Okay, it does add a couple minutes of Touch Time, it adds a few minutes to add time to your cleaning process, but it’s much more efficient than manually disinfecting, which can take many, many minutes. And so you, the for the hotel room example or whatever those are less than, conference rooms, those are less than 1000 square feet so you’re talking about, you know, a few minutes in each one of those types of environments. Now do the does that machine or could that machine be, you know, automated so that it’s, you know, whether it’s robotic or whatever and you could map out a whole floor of an office and just have it go. I mean is that part of the plan or is it is it.
I mean I know you said you were going to install things to which might be the solution to that as opposed to the robotics, I’m just curious how you take the person out of it and automate the whole thing. The future will be installed that sets the robotic solution is possible, but the battery life isn’t there, the cost just gets way too high, and the robot just aren’t quite smart enough yet and there’s often a lot of issues. So the future will be installed assets. Right now it is on wheels, but what we can do is because our devices intelligent, we can actually pre program, an entire facility for plan is the device. So all you do is select what room you’re in, and it’s automatically calibrated to run the correct cycle time in that room. Oh the janitorial staff. At first we want to design it with an embedded iPad and a touchscreen and make it really fancy and sexy. And then we realized that most of our staff is English second language very high turnover, often not much formal education, they don’t always have a smartphone. So our design carpet was a microwave. We wanted to take out all the sophistication and make this as easy as possible to operate, you wheeled around you select the room, and you press go in. That’s it. And then on the back end we collect all that data and we generate real time reports that the facilities management can look at in real time and cut up and filter any way they’d like. But the operation is dead simple. And what is the difference between UVC light use, the way you just described and sort of UVC installed into h vac systems or an ozone type system installed into h vaxis, how does, how do differently, do they do those work, you know, I see them, I guess would be my main question to you, because you see them.
There are many good products out there also were many, not so great products out there. Okay. One of the interesting things is that the UPC market is unregulated, there’s a lot of science that validates the efficacy of UVC as technology and body of evidence is overwhelming crystal clear over 100 years, but there is no product certification required to go to market. So there are some great companies, and they’re also as a not so great companies that make claims about UBC as a technology, but not about their product efficacy. So it’s really important to look at third party lab data and make sure that the product actually has validation from third party labs, okay, but the the use case. In fact, it does work. But the issue is that it’s local. It has nothing to do with the air in that space is disinfected.
As it gets brought up to the central each back. So it’s not so there’s still a high risk in that environment, yeah okay services in the earth. Okay, and what’s the, what’s the business model like are you leasing these devices you’re selling these devices you work through distributors. We call it hardware as a service, it’s a subscription model. Okay, again our goal was to democratize access to these technologies. So, you can sign up for one, Two or three years subscriptions. It’s paid monthly, and that includes access to all hardware, all software, firmware upgrades, customer service, so we wanted to lower the barrier to entry, and really get this in as many people’s hands as possible. I mean we are definitely a social socially driven company. We’re actually a double bottom line company, okay that means that we’ve signed a pledge to social impact that first bottom line is we need to be sustainable, operating as a business that second bottom line is social impact. So we actually, we signed this pledge, where we adhere to certain protocols. So they actually are in the US, of the vast majority of our supply chain is US based, all of our services here, all of our we hire very diversity, all of our officers our low income zones. So we really are trying to do good, that and get us into as many people’s hands as possible. And how are you selling it Eli is it through your own sales people are through.
How do you know we work both with a direct sales force and channel partners. So we have a fairly diversified model, where we’re growing data here in our, we’ve only been on the market to the three quarters, and we’ve done about $20 million in bookings.
So it’s awesome for hardware enterprise company, that that is unbelievable, like maybe some sexy consumer software, maybe you see that, but in this world enterprise hardware I mean it’s getting to $20 million in less than a year. That is something that we’re very proud of and it’s very unique. Yeah that’s it’s phenomenal growth, congratulations on that. I’m wondering about two things one, how do you want people to find out more, connect with you or whatever. We’ll go there first. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Please do. I mean we’re we’re fighting hard, and the more support the more visibility, the better. Our website is r zero.com zro.com. We have quite a robust site, I think so, really, a wealth of information on the science, the applications the use cases on partners we have.
But if you want to put me on LinkedIn. My name is Eli Harris in order zero or hyphens zero in I’d be happy to connect. And that is how he, that is how you and I connected initially I guess. Last question because I know you’re up against a hard stop.
In the last year and, you know say March through what’s not it’s now July so it’s at 15 months or something like that, you.
Your life has changed again, very dramatically. So, what’s going on inside of you. How are you feeling yourself and. And how are you feeling about the future and.
Yeah, so I definitely learned to take more pride in the journey understanding that there’s always going to be.
There’s always gonna be something out of my control. Yeah, so I tried to take more pride in what I can control, and, and who I am and what my value is and the value that I’ve had, because it never you can never expect any outcome.
And I think part of me was was a chip on my shoulder, right i i was so close last time and I didn’t get it right, and I do, I hate being a victim, but I do feel like I was taking advantage of it. And now I’m hungry, I want to win and want to prove that we’re doing now is, is bigger, better greater, I definitely am channeling some of that anger still into fuel, and I want to win, I really do. And I think what we’re doing now is special and I, I’m working harder than ever. And I really do believe in this, but I actually tried to maintain some, some clinical aspect in some separation of self from my role at the company to make sure I I don’t lose sight of who I am, in, in my own self esteem. Well, it sounds to me like one you are definitely hungry to that chip on your shoulder you wear it well because what happened to you, seems like a tragedy, something that you know anybody that’s been fired from a job, that’s one thing that’s hard but being, you know let go from something you started and founded and ran and got to a point that was, you know, just on the cusp of being super successful is super hard so I give you a lot of credit for that I do thank you so much for being on the show today and in love what you’re doing and I’m glad we had a chance to share it. I’m really invested in that the idea of what you’re doing, personally. So I think it’s really, it’s, it’s, it’s really cool we’ll see what the, the, it’d be a great thing to see where this ends up and where you end up as well. Thank you, Mike. I appreciate that I really I’m working hard and I’ve got my whole heart and it’s so appreciate the opportunity to tell the story.