This article originally appeared on https://aqaging.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/how-has-covid-19-changed-my-entrepreneur-journey-an-interview-with-kevin-tao/Author: Ivian Zhang
Kevin Tao is a co-founder for NeuEve, a small women’s health startup, and Recoveralls, a small PPE startup dedicated to the production of recyclable coveralls made in the USA. Mr. Tao graduated from Duke University with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2011. Before embarking on his entrepreneur journey in the health field, he has worked as a software engineer for more than six years. Since the epidemic outbreak of COVID-19 had closed down the United States early in March, Mr. Tao and his companies, while in quarantine at home, have been navigating resources to support and help with the frontline health-workers and local communities members. In fact, the initiative of founding his second startup, Recoveralls, took roots in his concerns for numbers of health workers working with minimal level of protection, including his friend Dr. Lu who is an ER doctor. In this interview, we have the opportunity to hear from him the story behind operations of his health startup in this special time and how he has managed to donate 500 laser thermometers to the local hospitals.
Could you tell me a little bit about your job/background?
Hi I’m Kevin Tao! I’m a cofounder of a small women’s health startup called NeuEve, and also a cofounder of a small PPE startup called Recoveralls. NeuEve’s products are all-natural remedies that solve critically important problems for intimacy. Recoveralls’ products are a brand new type of washable isolation-gown style coverall to protect frontline workers.
The word “co-founder” here means I do a little bit of everything. My background was as a software engineer for various tech companies and startups, but software engineering was never a perfect fit for me. I’m very curious, but I’m a broad learner and not so much a deep-learner.
I grew up as an Asian in America, which means that I always had high expectations (such as becoming a doctor) to live up to. Sales and marketing were my guilty pleasures. As someone who is highly curious about how the world works, sales and marketing offered me meaningful answers to the question “Why?” Everything in the world could be explained by “marketing.” Why do we eat bacon in the morning? Marketing. Why do men propose with diamond rings? Marketing. I was hooked.
That’s why I do startups. Every day, I get to learn new things. Additionally, every day I get to help solve people’s problems.
Can you describe a typical day of your work before the global pandemic?
Before March 2020, I was traveling a lot for work. I went to a lot of conferences to meet equipment and ingredient suppliers, doctors, manufacturers, and went on trips with other entrepreneurs. When I wasn’t traveling, I was answering customer service phone calls, creating web pages, videos, advertisements and managing our private support group for women.
How has COVID 19 pandemic affected your business or changed the way that it is operated?
As an online business, the pandemic has actually increased demand dramatically. For the most part, women have stopped going to their primary care physicians or gynecologists, so they’ve been ordering more natural remedies online. At the same time, many of my friends and neighbors have been laid off from work, so we’ve started employing a lot more people in the community. I’ve hired friends to write, take photos, make illustrations, pack boxes, and even be a social worker for us! Speaking to a lot of business owners, the story seems common that some businesses are completely struggling, while others are struggling to keep up with demand.
NeuEve has benefitted from the pandemic, but we understand our role. It means our products are more important than ever. The jobs we create are more important than ever.
Specifically in my personal life, instead of traveling for conferences, I’m now in quarantine with my parents in the suburbs. I am doing a lot more manufacturing of our products with them and it’s good that I get to spend time with them.
For my other business, Recoveralls. We started it specifically to serve the new normal. My friend Dr. Alicia Lu who is an emergency medicine doctor on the front lines desperately wanted a washable isolation-gown-style coverall suit, so we designed and manufactured it for her, and all of our other frontline worker friends.
I see that you have been donating PPEs to the local hospitals and communities. Could you tell us more about the process of making donations?
On the first week of the pandemic, my friend Dr. Cathy Gao asked me if I had any n95 masks as her hospital was running out. Being a normal person, I did not have any n95 masks. However, I really wanted to help so I went online to a bunch of Facebook groups and other online forums to see if there were any supplies anywhere.
I emailed her with some sources, and her hospital responded that they desperately needed laser thermometers! Ideally hundreds in the next 2 or 3 days! The hospital was willing to pay any price. However, I made it clear that we would be donating these supplies to them. They’re doing the important work on the frontlines.
So I stayed up all night messaging with a supplier in China trying to secure thermometers. I had never done anything like this before. I had to learn on the fly how to vet them, and I used every tactic in the book to negotiate with them. Joking around, pleading, inspiring, even flirting. All the while, I still couldn’t be sure if they were a complete scam. The next morning I had to decide how much money to wire to this random bank account in China. How much I’m going to be made fun of if they take the money and don’t send anything? We used money from NeuEve’s account, about $20k, to buy about 500 laser thermometers and get them flown here by air. It’s about how much we were willing to gamble on this. If we lose it we lose it. But if we get the thermometers we could really help people!
There were delays of a week then two weeks to ship. Then when we got tracking numbers, there was no movement on the tracking numbers for about 2 months. Things were apparently stuck in Chinese customs, and then American customs for a really long time. We finally got the thermometers about two months after we ordered. By then, the first hospital had already gotten its thermometers, but I emailed 7 other local hospitals and donated to them instead.
The other story is about Recoveralls. On the second week of the pandemic, after I had placed the order for the thermometers and was waiting, we started Recoveralls. There’s a whole long story there about how we interviewed doctors and nurses, found all the fabric suppliers, found designers, found manufacturers here in the US to create these suits. Similarly there have been lots of delays. We are in the middle of donating about 1200 suits to frontline doctors and nurses as we speak! We couldn’t create this product fast enough for the first wave, but they are finished just in time for the second wave!