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Episode
108

Alon Cohen

Founder & CEO of Pika Diapers

Ep
108

Reducing Pollution Through Innovative Reusable Diaper Solution

Apr 26, 2022
With
Alon Cohen
46:01

Reducing Pollution Through Innovative Reusable Diaper Solution

Alon Cohen is the founder and CEO of Pika Diapers, an impact-driven startup focused on changing the world one diaper at a time. Born from Alon’s own struggles as a parent constantly needing to buy and change diapers, Pika offers a machine that cleans and dries reusable diapers, making this a great alternative to using roughly 6,500 disposable diapers per baby that will simply end up in landfills.

Not only does Pika Diapers address the financial aspect of having to shell out money for diapers regularly, of which the costs for this expense alone can pile up, but it also lessens the environmental impact through reusable diapers. And so, in this episode, Alon shares with us his entire entrepreneurial journey, from Pika’s inception, to the obstacles he faced like his stuttering, and then onto his goals and his vision for Pika as they soldier on in their mission to clean up babies’ sh*t. Oh, and we have exciting updates for the Impact Hustlers community. Listen to this episode to find out what we have in store for you!

Alon’s key lessons and quotes from this episode were:

  • “Figure out each feature if it is the right solution for the customers. If not, don't waste time adding features that the customer does not have any value [for].” (21:09)
  • “Look, to be a founder, it is not the obvious thing to do. I think it's not recommended for everyone… You need a lot of inner strength.” (35:50)
  • “The perspective is to change the way that we consume, to consume less, to consume without disposables.” (40;26)

In this episode, we also talked about:

  • An overview of Pika Diapers (7:08)
  • How Pika came to be (12:33)
  • Bootstrapping the business (23:49)
  • Overcoming challenges in his entrepreneurial journey (29:02)
  • How the world looks like in 10 years if Pika Diapers succeeds (40:24)

Transcript of the episode

Maiko Schaffrath  00:00

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You are listening to Impact Hustlers, and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems.

And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness.

My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one, or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. 

In today's episode, I speak to Alon Cohen, the founder of Pika Diapers. Pika is on a mission to eliminate the need for disposable diapers. Every year, 250 billion diapers end up in landfill, which makes them one of the big contributors to non-recyclable waste and to climate change. Reusable diapers have been available for ages.

That's nothing new, but many parents still hesitate using them due to the complications of cleaning them and also hygiene concerns of washing them in the ordinary washing machine, and this is why Alon and his team have developed a purpose-built washing machine for your reusable diapers which clean soiled diapers within just an hour. It's great to have you on the show, Alon. Thanks for joining me.

Alon Cohen  02:44

Thank you, Maiko, for having me on the podcast. It is a great pleasure.

Maiko Schaffrath  02:51

Thanks so much. So, give us a brief overview of the problem that you're solving with Pika Diapers. What's the environmental impact of diapers at the moment, and how are you solving it?

Alon Cohen  03:06

Yeah, so there is a big problem. We say it's disposable plastic diapers. Each baby uses 6,500 diapers. They basically all go to our landfills. This is a big problem, not only in the modern world. It also exists in third world countries.

Almost 258 billion diapers go to our landfills every year, and it accounts for between 2.5-10% of the total waste that we are throwing to our landfills. Yeah, it is something [inaudible 3:51]. If it's with babies and also with elders, but also it is the population that only go. 

Yeah, basically, all disposable plastic, diapers made for plastic, they're almost not going to recycling. We don't want to recycle this. We don't want to recycle these kinds of products, because who wants to have this pack of soiled diapers, soiled dirty diapers in their house.

And then, to throw them just like throwing a glass or a paper. So, it is a very, very unique type of waste that no one wants to contain in their house.

Maiko Schaffrath  04:43

Yeah, got it, and you are a parent. I'm not a parent yet, but give us an overview of if you would buy disposable diapers, this is also quite a cost factor for parents, right? So, give us a view of how much parents would usually spend on ordinary disposable diapers? 

Alon Cohen  05:10

Yeah, so the current cost of a disposable, it costs between $60, it can go up to $120 per month. It depends on the type of the diaper. It depends on the type of the brand. But yeah, now then, you have also biodegradable diapers but they're not also 100% biodegradable.

Its cost, it is also very, very expensive. Almost 30% of the total costs for parents is the diapers. It is a big, big portion of the costs, and this is why it is a very price comparative issue. 

Many parents are looking for a cheaper way to use their diapers, but currently, the prices, they're only going up with all the supply chain problems. But yes, it is a big problem for many parents, which is why there is something called diaper banks that support parents with free diapers, but it is not enough.

We have a lot of things to do in this [inaudible 6:41], providing parents much cheaper ways of using diapers.

Maiko Schaffrath  06:48

Got it. So yeah, let's talk a bit about how Pika actually works. In the intro, I already mentioned it briefly, but how does Pika work, and how is it better than using an ordinary washing machine or even disposable diapers obviously? So, how does it work?

Alon Cohen  07:08

Yeah, so the concept of Pika is basically making diapers much more with a circular economy concept, less than manufacturing and using and storing. [inaudible 7:19] diapers. If it is the plastic or it is sort of biodegradable [inaudible 7:26] to make cloth diapers.

The reusable diapers are much more easy to use. Currently, parents that are looking at it, let's start from the beginning. It all started with my [inaudible 7:39]. I'm using the compost trying to recycle, so it was very hard for me from taking out the garbage once a week to almost every day. 

This is how, swipe, swipe, swipe. A friend told me about cloth diapers. As any parent, any time that you have, don't waste time. To add to yourself another job to do, it is not something that you want to do. I started cleaning cloth.

That is not so easy. You need to take out the diaper, put the feces in the toilet, and then wait until you have 20-30 diapers, and then you need to contain it somewhere in your house and then clean with a washing machine, either one cycle, two cycles with a specific amount.

So, all this, it takes about 30-60 minutes every day, and this is what we're trying to tackle with Pika. 

What happened is that my wife told me, "Alon, look. This is good, but you will be the one that will be doing all the cleaning," so I started to figure out some way of solving this issue.

And yeah, so Pika is basically this machine that you put inside the soiled diapers without any pre-cleaning with our patent detergent tablet, and then the diapers come out perfectly clean and also sanitized.

The big problem with cleaning cloth diapers with your washing machine is that the end result is not always good, and this is what we're currently struggling with Pika. Basically, the bottom line is to make reusable diapers much easier to use without any hassle. We just want that parents will concentrate on having a good time with their babies without dealing with all this shit.

Maiko Schaffrath  10:06

Got it. Yeah, amazing. I think at the moment you're in the stage that you have your first machines out there and people are already using them, and then you're preparing for a more scaled production of them. Is that right?

Alon Cohen  10:20

Yeah, so we currently have very satisfied paying customers in Israel. They're all very satisfied. They're all telling us that they wouldn't use reusable diapers without Pika, so it is a good sign. We're going to launch soon in the US and also Europe. We have a good team. We have a good structure. We are currently setting up the operations to go forward. And then, we also raised a few funds.

Maiko Schaffrath  11:12

Well, I will be waiting to have kids until Pika Diapers is available in the UK, so please hurry up so I can have kids. No, no, no. Can't wait, can't wait for it to be available.

So, I'm keen to learn a bit more about how you actually went about solving this problem, because as you said, you were very much solving your own problem as a father and you felt the pain, but there [are] many ways of solving this type of problem. 

You could have dedicated your time to develop a more sustainable, disposable diaper that's maybe completely recyclable, or you could have dedicated yourself to just developing a better detergent that's made for diapers that people can use in their existing washing machines.

Because I know with the Pika machine as well, you do sell a subscription of a special detergent that works well with diapers.

So, I'm just wondering, what was your decision-making process to say, okay, there's a problem with the way disposable diapers work right now, but how did you arrive at this specific solution and [were there] other options that you considered to solve this problem? How did you go about it?

Alon Cohen  12:33

Yeah, so my basic assumption was that we need to move from a linear way to a singular way. This is the main assumption. Using 6,500 disposable diapers, it doesn't make sense. So, what I will try is to reuse the product. We started with trying to have some solution with the current washing machine.

We figured out that it is very hard. It is also not solving the problem of the fact that parents don't want to clean the soiled diapers in the same place that they clean their clothes. 

Yeah, so it's basically if we make fully biodegradable diapers, it doesn't make sense to produce 6,500 units and then to ship them to only dispose it. It didn't make sense. But if you have this small [inaudible 13:58] machine that we put inside the soiled diapers and the diapers come out perfectly clean without doing anything.

And also, the parents don't need to buy this monthly diapers. They just need to reuse the diapers that they currently have. That's it. Parents don't have time. This is what my wife always told me. The vision is to have this effortless way of using diapers. Just put inside the diapers and then have a clean one and that's it, without doing anything. 

Also, to add to that, we're currently working on adding some way of giving parents the information and also health insights, so it will be an added value that currently parents don't have with the current different diaper solutions.

Yeah, so Pika, it is basically this cheaper, better for the environment, and also better for babies' skin, without putting any plastic on the skin. Yeah, so once we solve all these factors, it will be a no-brainer of using reusable diapers. And it will be much better for everyone, not only parents, like cities and municipalities that will need to collect all this waste.

Maiko Schaffrath  15:48

Love it. Amazing. Let's dive a bit deeper into your entrepreneurial journey with Pika and some lessons learned on that journey. One thing I was wondering is when you discovered a problem, when you decided, okay, we need to develop this purpose-built machine that cleans diapers, as far as I know, you don't have a background actually in hardware development.

I know you have a bit of a team with a broad range of skill sets, but how did you actually go about figuring out how to build this machine without having done it before, unless I'm missing something? I'd be super keen to learn.

Alon Cohen  16:33

Yeah, so my background is all my life, I've been working in my family business. My father has this factory of building furniture. All my life, I've been like dealing with machines, with wood, with business development, with managing teams.

So, all my life, I've been working with my hands, but not exactly what I'm currently doing with Pika but it's something similar. And then, I worked in a company called [inaudible 17:07] where we've done the administration for different hedge funds. It's also like venture capital. So, I had also the financial side, also seeing the startup side [inaudible 17:25]. 

I was about the sixth employee which we grew to 80 while I was there. So, I started how to build a company from zero to a very successful company. So yeah, I started to figure out different ways with the chemistry.

I had a bunch of different advisors that helped me with different- look, in order to get it to sound like a solution that you need to have, specifically with our example, with our kind of product, it is the kind of machine with chemistry, with detergent, with product design, with textile, with many different areas that you need to be an expert. 

So, we just had gathered a bunch of people that we currently have that support us, so if we have some questions regarding some subjects, we just have this WhatsApp message and then we have an answer in a few minutes. Yeah, so it's basically figuring out different ways. We have been bootstrapping for a long time.

It was very hard, specifically with hardware that you need a lot of capital in order to get to something, but we've managed to use technology existing, like products with a combination of different hacks that we did in order to get to the point that we're currently in with having paying customers. 

Let's say that a hardware company that gets to a product without any capital almost gets to a point that they have a couple of paying customers, it is very, very hard, and you need to drive with the resources that you currently have.

You just need to, I guess, figure out ways to get to a minimal product that works. You need to know all of these things like back and forth approach that you need to get to this thing if this is the right step that you're doing. If you don't do it, the company, it basically [become] bankrupt. You need to figure out each way if it is the right direction. 

We also waste a lot of time going into different directions, if it's with the B2B side, if it's with figuring out different features that we thought that they would have value to customers, but eventually, they didn't. So, I guess figure out each feature if it is the right solution for the customers. If not, don't waste time adding features that the customer does not have any value [for].

Maiko Schaffrath  21:27

Hi, it's Maiko here. I want to interrupt this episode briefly to make you aware of two exciting things that are going on here at Impact Hustlers.

First of all, if you are a founder solving social and environmental problems, and you're looking to connect to like-minded founders like yourself, you're looking to learn from some of the most experienced entrepreneurs, experts, and investors in the world, and you want some support and actually fundraising for your startup, we've built the Impact Hustlers Community. 

We are now about 100 entrepreneurs and founders, and we're growing every month, with more founders from all over the world joining us, and we're really here to support each other. Our goal is to build the most supportive ecosystem for impact-driven founders. So, if you're a founder, head to impacthustlers.com/community to learn more. 

And if you're not a founder, but you want to work for impact-driven companies, we have also recently launched something really exciting for you, and that is the Impact Hustlers Talent Collective.

This is a group of some of the most ambitious and talented individuals in the world that want to use their talent to make a difference in the world and work for some of the most innovative impact-driven companies.

If you're keen to join the Talent Collective, this is all free of charge, obviously. You can submit your application to the Talent Collective on impacthustlers.com/jobs, and what will happen as a result is that companies will start approaching you through our Talent Collective and share job opportunities with you. 

We'll also share our Weekly Jobs Update with you where you see relevant jobs in the field of impact, including from all the previous podcast guests, so you will actually see opportunities from companies that have been covered here on the show and also companies that are members of our Impact Hustlers Community.

So, go to impacthustlers.com/jobs If you're looking for a job, or if you're a founder and need some support, go to impacthustlers.com/community. Okay, let's get back to the episode now. 

Got it. And then, you also did pre-sales of the machine quite early on. Is that right? Is that one way of how you managed to bootstrap the business so far?

Alon Cohen  23:49

Yeah, we have been posting about it from day one. We just started to do this pilot and then, the moms have told us that [they] want to pay us and then I said, "Okay, let's start collecting money," because she had a great value that for using it.

So, this is how we were able to collect money from parents. They just wanted to be able to give us money, because they had this comparison of the founder of Superhuman, the product. 

He said to ask the customers how happy would they be if you took from them the product, so it is exactly what happened with us. He wanted us to take the machine, and then she said, "Okay, Alon, no, no, no, I need it. You can't take it." Yeah, so this is a good [inaudible 25:25]. 

Maiko Schaffrath  25:29

Yeah, that's a really, really good question to ask your customers when trying to find product market fit. I think he was writing a blog post about that. I think we can find it and link it in the show notes for any founders listening to this. 

But yeah, really good lessons on asking your customers, basically, "How would you feel if we took their product away from you?," and it seems like your initial customers really love it. So, what's your biggest challenge right now then? Is it really bringing it to scale production? Where's your head at at the moment?

Alon Cohen  26:02

Yeah, our accounts, it was always challenging being this hardware consumer company in a country that- Israel, some things like the startup nation, if you read about AI, cybersecurity, medical devices, SaaS companies, but nothing about the consumer electronics besides maybe SodaStream, but not really B2C hardware products, so it's very hard for us to manage in this industry without having too much experience within this area. 

We've been fundraising with getting to the right strategic partners. We participated in many different accelerators in Germany, Austria. We also currently have a couple of strategic partners.

Everything that we do is in order to get into the US and also the open market, because this is all our efforts as any other startup that is located in Israel. The main thing with our product is that it is our world. It is everything we do that we needed to shift and then it takes a lot of time. 

So, this is the main- to go also from prototyping to manufacture at scale, it also takes a lot of time working with the suppliers. But eventually, the fact that we have this Pika after a lot of value proposition to our customers, this is the reason that I wake up in the morning and try to solve this big issue with disposable diapers.

So, let's say, if the impact wasn't so high, I won't bother to solve this [and] have this solution.

Maiko Schaffrath  28:42

Love it. And looking at the past and your journey, I'm always interested in what have been some of the biggest challenges for you personally as an entrepreneur, maybe what happened, some of the big struggles in your entrepreneurial journey? Is there anything that comes to mind on that?

Alon Cohen  29:02

Yeah, so my struggle is basically, I was working in the same position that I was not talking too much, but since I was a founder and CEO, so I can pinpoint that I speak to people almost every day continuously. I was stuttering all my life almost.

It was very hard for me to explain to people, to show them the vision of Pika, especially to new people that I need to have this good first impression. I started to find different solutions for me to be this CEO of a company. I needed to solve this stuttering issue, so I went different ways but nothing helped. 

And then, I saw a movie called The Fantastic Fan Guy on Netflix. I saw this guy that ate mushrooms. Also, he was stuttering. So, he said that he ate the mushrooms and then the day after, he stopped stuttering. He could approach people.

He told this girl that he wanted to ask for a date, so I started this movie and then I was akin to a psychedelic with solving stuttering. Two months ago, I started my first session and since then, it was a life-changing event, really.

It solved so many issues in my life, if it's with pressure, with getting to know anyone on a much deeper level, getting to feel the interest of anyone, to connect with people in a much better way. 

My stuttering, it is much less than what it used to be, and yeah, so it was a really-life changing event. I recommend that if you ever want to try psychedelic tools with therapy, not just [inaudible 32:07], but to do it with someone and you need to solve a lot.

I think that everyone should be in this serenity and then to be very clear [inaudible 32:33] about the issue, about any feeling that you have, and then it will make everything much easier, much more flowing. 

Yeah, for me, it was a very, very good experience, and so I also suggest everyone just to research and then it might help in so many ways. Like you all know, with this COVID situation, with all this stress, with all this anxiety, it could help a lot of people to do a lot of good. Love it, yeah. [inaudible 33:19]. It could solve almost any issue in the world from my perspective.

Maiko Schaffrath  33:29

Yeah. Obviously, as a disclaimer, we can't give any medical advice here, and there's so much more research being done. I watched actually a documentary, I think, where they highlighted a study that they're doing here at Imperial College around curing depression with mushrooms as well.

And it's apparently one of the first studies in many decades, because there haven’t been any real, proper academic trials or very few being done in the last decade, so it's good that it's being picked up and it's actually helping people.

How has this improved your life as an entrepreneur? How has this made you a better entrepreneur? Can you talk a bit about that?

Alon Cohen  34:18

I think that entrepreneurs need to be very calm. If you're exhausted, look, founders have endless tasks. They need to be prioritizing and filtering every task that you need to do. It is mandatory. So, I think in order to have this very peaceful way of thinking, of deciding exactly what to do, it is essential.

So, yeah, from my perspective, if you can get to a point where you can have this place where you can decide what to do exactly and not have all this noise, it will make your decision-making much better. It is often that any founder [inaudible 35:41]. It is like a toolbox. 

Look, to be a founder, it is not the obvious thing to do. I think it's not recommended for everyone, specifically if it is the hardware consumer product. You need a lot of inner strength. If it's not having income, so if you have a family, to not provide income and work 24/7 without any, yeah, to push forward with all this exhausting way of doing things.

You've got to have this inner way of pushing forward. If not, don't do it. Go find some job with a salary and don't do this, because it [inaudible 36:55]. You need a very positive way of- what you're currently doing is the right way of you accomplishing your goals that you want to do.

Maiko Schaffrath  37:22

Got it, yeah. And did you ever have that situation where you're bootstrapping Pika, you're under massive financial pressure, and did you find you got under the pressure where you were almost close to reconsidering being an entrepreneur? Or is it just in you and you've just pushed on and continued?

Alon Cohen  37:45

Yeah. Look, we currently have two kids. We have a lot of expenses, and we need to spend time with them, so it's a lot of pressure, if it's from family to the partner to the kids that you need to see them from the co-founder.

Your co-founder, it is just like marriage, so you have marriage in your family and also with the co-founder, stress from investors, from potential investors, from customers. It's so exhausting but it's worth doing it, at least from our state, from what we do at Pika. 

Sometimes, I just text one of our customers asking, "How's Pika?" I can [inaudible 39:12] to you. We took one machine from one of the parents. She texted me with this a few weeks ago. She texted me, "I miss my Pika."

She just sent me this message saying that she missed her Pika, so this small stuff, it's what makes me go forward. Just like this [inaudible 39:50] good signs that remind you that you're on the right way.

Maiko Schaffrath  40:08

Got it. And I've got one last question for you, and that's about the next 10 years. How does the world look like in 10 years' time if Pika Diapers succeeds? How do you imagine it looks like?

Alon Cohen  40:24

Yeah, so from my perspective, the perspective is to change the way that we consume, to consume less, to consume without disposables.

It is almost impossible that any product will be reusable, but I think that 95% of the products that we use, they could be recycled without- if we think on the point that we make the products, that it will be circular, so I think that it is possible. [inaudible 41:09]

So basically, any kind of reusable, disposable product that needs cleaning, it can also be sanitized, so people can clean it. 

If it's wipes, gloves, masks, anything that needs to be sterilized will be reusable but with the same user experience as disposable. So, this is very important, because eventually, the first thing that they care about is it themselves, their own stuff.

We just need to make both work better for our environment and better regarding the user experience. So, if we don't do both, the world will end, so this is what we are trying to do. This is hopefully it.

Maiko Schaffrath  42:26

I love that mission. That's so, so important, and that's what we're doing. You're creating something that's very convenient and the most sustainable option as well, which is great. So, thanks, Alon, for joining me. I really wish you the best for the many years ahead for Pika and for yourself and for your family. So, thanks so much for joining me.

Alon Cohen  42:47

Thank you, Maiko. It was a pleasure, a great pleasure for inviting me, and good luck with your podcast. I hope that it will inspire many people to move to more sustainable with more impact and eventually to do good instead of bad. We just need to think of what we can do for others, not only for us. That is the main thing. It's what will make this world a much better place.

Maiko Schaffrath  43:21

Thank you. Thank you so much. I really hope you enjoyed today's episode and learned some valuable lessons from today's guest.

I want to share two things with you. First of all, if you're a founder and you're solving a social or an environmental problem with your company, there is something that we've launched recently to support founders like you and to introduce you to more founders that are like-minded and that are solving very difficult problems in the world, and that is the Impact Hustlers Community. 

It is a community of over 100 founders that solve problems like climate change, education, the crisis in health care, and really pushing the boundaries on what's possible. And what we do as a community, we connect to each other, we run mastermind groups where you can connect to other entrepreneurs and founders.

We bring experienced investors, entrepreneurs, and experts in to run workshops and ask-me-anything sessions, and you can also connect to others in our online community. And we have something for those of you that are actually fundraising. We have an investor matching tool where you get introduced to relevant investors based on the startup that you're building. 

But, it may be the case that you're not a founder, and you just want to be part of the change, and you want to join some of these companies that you've learned about here at the Impact Hustlers podcast, and we've got something for you as well. We've recently launched the Impact Hustlers Talent Collective. 

This is a group of some of the most ambitious individuals in the world that want to make a change and an impact with their careers, and you can join the Talent Collective, obviously completely free of charge.

You can apply to it, and we will introduce you on a regular basis to companies recruiting people like yourself. You'll get access to exclusive job opportunities from companies that have been on the podcast but also beyond that. 

So, make sure that you go to impacthustlers.com/jobs if you're looking for jobs in the social impact space. Even if you're not actively looking right now, you should still sign up and be part of our Talent Collective. And if you're a founder, don't forget, go to impacthustlers.com/community. Okay, thanks very much for listening and bye. See you at the next episode.

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