Why did you start working on Canopy?
I began working on Canopy when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. and news of a global PPE shortage came to light. The expression that necessity is the mother of invention has never felt more real to me than in the context of Canopy.
Personally, a close relative—who is a Pediatric ICU Resident at one of the largest hospitals in New York City—had to start a GoFundMe campaign to procure PPE for her hospital after the situation became so dire that staff were using paper towels as makeshift masks in the operating room. Around the same time, I gave my friend and neighbor, Dr. Joyner—an attending Emergency Medicine physician at another large NYC hospital—an unused box of N95s from a recent construction project. She started telling me about all of the shortcomings of the product.
In addition to a global shortage, I learned that the incumbent product is universally loathed by its core users and is tremendously costly and wasteful from an environmental perspective. I’d been building a business plan for another mission-driven business which the pandemic made impracticable to launch, so I pivoted to focusing on the N95 crisis. I assembled an extraordinary team of scientists, engineers, and designers and set out to solve the problem.
This is not your first time founding a company— what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Knowing how to supplement their own capabilities. In the case of Canopy, I’m one of the few people on the team with a liberal arts background. Most are scientists and engineers by training. I didn’t know how to build a medical device, but I knew how to build a team who could. Others may find themselves in the opposite situation and need to lean more heavily on a business-minded person to commercialize their invention.
How did your experiences with Grove North Ventures and Subject to Change influence your approach to Canopy?
From day one, I set out to surround myself with the most qualified, talented people possible—ensuring we all aligned around a strategic framework, and that the team had the resources and authority to execute. Founders often feel a need to meddle in every detail. However, since so much of starting a business involves making thousands of small decisions over a short period of time, there are never enough hours in the day for the founder to do all of that on their own. I’m fortunate to have subject matter experts leading each function of the business. Collectively, we make decisions on the most strategic topics.
We’ve been able to move as quickly as we have—bringing a regulated medical device to market in under a year—in large part because of how our team is empowered to make decisions.
Outside of Canopy, you're also in an investor in a winery. Why did you make this move?
Similar to Canopy, the chance to work alongside subject matter experts and lend my BD, retail, and e-commerce skills in a highly complex, regulated industry as a co-founder was a tough opportunity to pass up. Wine has always been an interest of mine. I’d studied with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) program. In 2012, I made wine with my would-be Subject To Change co-founder. In fact, early on during my time at Google, I actually started an initiative to work with the wine industry to encourage adopting digital marketing as a channel. The stars aligned in 2017 and I had a special opportunity to turn my passion into a business.
How do you handle risk and competition?
One of the best lessons from my time at Google was to “focus on the user, and all else will follow.” In terms of competition, we try to focus on providing the best solution to address the needs of our users and customers—who, in the case of Canopy, aren’t always one and the same. To date, we’ve not seen an alternate solution that solves their needs the way Canopy does.
In terms of risk, we’ve invested heavily in quality management systems and gone to great lengths to ensure conformity with federal standards, selecting vendors with long track records of safety and quality assurance, and aligning ourselves with top legal counsel and risk management advisors.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Almost certainly trying to get our partners to move as fast as we do. We are working with some of the best manufacturers in the industry so that we can produce millions of Canopy units per year. Many of them are shocked at how quickly we move, and it’s a constant challenge to strike the right balance of speed, quality control, risk management, and overall hardware development.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’m a wannabe engineer. I’m always sharing product ideas and posing hard questions around Canopy’s science to our team of engineers. I don’t think they’ve gotten sick of me yet, but every once in a while they absolutely have to remind me to “leave this to the pros.”
What do you see for Canopy post-COVID-19?
First, it is important to point out that there was a large market for our flagship product prior to the pandemic, and that market will only continue to grow. This crisis has also placed more emphasis on future emergency preparedness. I think Canopy is well positioned to take a market-leading position in PPE coming out of the pandemic.
Secondly, our team developed the first generation Canopy respirator in an astonishingly short period of time. What we’ve done in nine months could have easily taken three years. I’m eager to continue our mission to protect the world’s well-being by creating sustainable products that enhance human performance, comfort and safety.
What’s your team culture like?
Everyone works remotely across a wide range of time zones. We rely heavily on Slack and Google Workspace (especially Meet) to stay connected. There is a lot of cross-functional collaboration, and an overall collegial, academic, and innovation-oriented mindset.
What is your superpower?
My ability to engage and inspire colleagues and partners to rally around innovative ideas.
What’s your kryptonite?
Spending too much time focusing on those shiny innovative ideas.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I love sparkling water, and I have three bottles that always seem to be scattered around the house, so I’m never too far from hydration.
I actually recently bought a water carbonator from a company called Aarke and hooked it up to a 20 pound CO2 tank. I drink so much sparkling water, so instead of exchanging SodaStream cartridges every few weeks, I can get nearly a year’s worth from just one tank. I meant it when I said I’m a wannabe engineer.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
As a dad of two with another on the way, and a startup I treat like another baby, spare time is in short supply. Pre-COVID, I loved to travel with my wife and family, and I hope to get back to that soon. Antarctica is the only continent I’ve not yet visited.
What’s your favorite wine?
If I had to pick just one...Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cuvée Pif.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
No matter how trying a situation may be, everything is relative.
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
I have a number of influences in my life who I consider to be mentors. Humility, resilience, and philanthropy are high on the list of life lessons.