We had a chance to interview Isaac Lichter, CEO of Alloi and asked about their story, how they started their business and the future of Alloi.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
Our story began in March, 2020. Myself, Isaac Lichter, and Nick O’Brien, who would go on to become my co-founders, were at the time just my college friends. Everything changed on the 5th, when Isaac and I tested positive for COVID. At the time, Coronavirus as it was then known, was thought to be mostly in Asia, a mild flu like disease which couldn’t affect most of humanity. After our experience with the illness, we knew that these assumptions were wrong; at least thousands of people were going to get very sick, and we were underprepared to fight back. While in quarantine, we started to think of ways we could help, and came across an article explaining that copper kills Coronavirus. We were initially skeptical, but found mountains of scientific evidence that this was true, and had been known for over 2,000 years. We assumed with this evidence, and use of copper, that these properties would be utilized everywhere, but they weren't. So we set out to become the first copper products company, designed to make antimicrobial goods to slow the spread of germs.
How did you come up with your business name?
Our name Alloi, comes from “alloy”- a mixture of two or more metals, which blend together to form a metal with properties that derive from each of its individual components. Alloys are everywhere around us, with common examples such as steel which builds the world we see everyday. Alloys are used extensively for their unique properties in manufacturing, but rarely for aesthetic purposes in personal products. We started this company solely focused on copper, but now we’re branching out to reach the full potential of a wide range of alloys.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
We make personal products, primarily phone cases, using our copper-based antimicrobial alloys. As a result of the average smartphone user touching them hundreds to thousands of times per day, phone cases typically harbor as many germs as a public toilet seat! Objects like this can carry germs for days, which in turn creates an infection risk. We use the naturally antimicrobial properties of copper to create products that kill both bacteria and viruses on its surface. And we use different alloys of copper to give each of them a completely unique appearance.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
I like to think our position is unique for two main reasons. Firstly, we are the only company using copper to create antimicrobial phone cases. While there are antimicrobial plastics that kill certain bacteria, they often need to be reapplied. Copper kills bacteria and viruses and does so almost indefinitely. Secondly, from a visual perspective, we are unique in that we’re exploring the use of alloys to create a wide range of personal products. While alloys have been used in manufacturing and other fields like interior design, we are the first to bring this technology to the things you touch most.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
The first phase of our business was to develop a unique alloy technology and to incorporate it with the products that people interact with most. However, from a public health perspective, we’ve realized that our copper-based technology can go much further. The eventual goal is to expand into high-touch surfaces into homes, offices, public transit, and more. While an antimicrobial phone case will protect the case and to a lesser extent your hands, putting copper on high-touch surfaces in high-traffic areas acts as a disease transmission barrier. This could mitigate disease transmission everywhere and especially important locations such as hospitals, where HAIs (healthcare acquired infections) account for thousands of lives and nearly $30 billion dollars worth of cost every year. A recent study showed that placing copper on the high-touch surfaces in a hospital wing decreased infections by 56%. Our goal in 3-5 years is to bring those results to every level of society.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
It seems trite, but the two most important things are to start, and then to focus. Our company started as “Oh, that’s interesting,” after reading an article. We had absolutely no idea if it would work, or if anyone would care. Granted, it was easier to just start something new at the beginning of quarantine, but the point remains; you will never know what something could be until you try it. The next most important point is to focus, almost obsessively, on one thing. When we realized we could coat any surface with copper, we wanted to coat everything from door handles, railings, trains, buses, shopping carts, roller coasters, stadiums, prisons, and even the White House. Our “brainstorm” sessions were essentially naming every surface on Earth. But our business started thriving when we sat down and focused only on the phone case. It’s easy to get distracted by other ideas, even if they seem better than your current one. If you execute one well, it's easy to move onto another idea, but you must focus on one at a time.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
This isn’t a quote, but a mental model I learned from Charlie Munger, the famous business partner of Warren Buffett. Amongst other things, he is widely renowned for these mental models – ways of thinking through any problem that helped him throughout his career. While all are worth reading and considering, my favorite is simple: invert. Whenever you are thinking of a problem, flip it upside down and consider the opposite perspective. In a business example, instead of asking “Why should we make a phone case?”, ask “Why shouldn’t we make a phone case?” and work backwards. It seems simple, but it completely changes the perspective in your mind, makes you more objective, and generally leaves you better prepared to make a decision. This inversion can be applied to every decision in both your personal and professional life.
What have been some of the achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
The first thing that I am proud of is our donation program, which has sent over 5,000 cases to nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals across the country. At the beginning of the pandemic, we heard of nurses repeatedly having to change their phone cases and clean them constantly throughout the day, so it was a truly humbling feeling to give them even a small piece of mind. After that, I am personally proud that we were able to start this company, especially during this past year. It takes a certain leap of faith to invest all of your money and time into a project which statistically is more likely to fail than not, but those risks have taught me more than any of my previous education.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
Find an opportunity, or a market inefficiency, and exploit it. We realized that no one made copper products, so we started making them. If you think about something that doesn’t exist, that five people you know would want, make it. You never know what might happen.