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Young Change Makers: Why and How David Phan of Huppy Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Motivation follows action. Example: building a successful company takes years to complete and daunting thought of building one makes many founders fear even taking on the task, but if we just find enough motivation to complete the first step, it will give us motivation to take the next.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Phan.

David Phan is the founder of Huppy — the brand redesigning oral-care routines to eliminate toxic ingredients, plastic waste, and the “paste” in toothpaste. Huppy uses healthier ingredients in a tablet form with sustainable packaging. In addition to a waste-free routine, they also make it more convenient. No more struggling to squeeze out the last drop of toothpaste and replacing your plastic travel toothpaste every few trips.

Huppy is rooted in culture and giving back. As a first-generation Asian-American, Phan’s parents fled during a war for a better future. Juggling work with childcare, his mom would babysit him at her hair salon until she finished her shift. Living through all of his parent’s hardships with assimilating and having a language barrier, they showed Phan that it was possible to build from the ground up with absolutely nothing. Inspired by their resilience and dedication, he always wanted to similarly build something positive of his own.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

When my friends ask, I always tell people that I grew up in a hair salon. My parents immigrated to the United States and worked all the time. We couldn’t afford a babysitter, so my mom always took me to her work. I played with hair combs, blow dryers, you name it. While it wasn’t the quintessential childhood you would imagine, there were so many lessons I learned while I followed my parents to work at the hair salon or the weekend construction jobs. Through experiencing their hard work, tireless days doing laborious tasks, and seeing them pour their all into what they believed in — their children — it inspires me to do the same and dedicate myself to what I deeply believe in, too.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Alchemist. Moral of the story is you should chase your dreams and when you want something so badly, the world conspires to make it happen. This story has stuck with me because for a long time, I was following a path that did not truly feel meant for me. Finally mustering the courage to do what I believe in, I decided to risk it all and chase my dreams by starting my own company. When you want it badly, you work really hard to accomplish what you set out to do, which in turn, feels like the world is conspiring to make it happen.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Making a difference means having an impact that leaves the world a better place, in any way, big or small. For us, it’s making small differences every day, twice a day, through plastic-free oral care products. While tasks such as brushing your teeth seem so minuscule in comparison to other things we can do, it’s the conscious effort to choose sustainable actions that become habit changing. By offering others this opportunity to make a difference every morning and night, we’re hoping we can make a difference.

Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

20 billion toothpaste tubes are made every year and the worst part — they’re un-recyclable and every toothpaste tube made still exists today. Huppy makes toothpaste tablets among other plastic-free oral care products. Starting with oral-care, our goal is to eliminate plastic and to create sustainable, natural alternatives. By offering a zero-waste and plastic-free option, we hope to empower others to make conscious choices that leave the world a better place for future generations.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I love to dive in the ocean and love to spend time in nature as well. When you love something so much, you want to make sure it lasts! That, coupled with a lot of traveling to see my grandparents in Asia, I was able to view the world in a different lens. In that lens, sadly, I saw our world polluted with a lot of trash, plastic, and it wasn’t taken care of the way I wanted it to. I knew I had to do something about it.

Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

While I was conscious about plastic waste, on a camping trip, I learned that there are more than one billion tubes of plastic that are disposed of in landfills every single year. To combat plastic, I knew I had to start with toothpaste tubes.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Before I started a company, I worked as an investment banker for years analyzing tech and consumer companies. It’s really given me the foundation to learn and understand how businesses operate. It’s really tough to start a business when you don’t know where to start, but the most important thing is to just begin. Many people get stuck with waiting for the right timing, but in reality, once you get started, you will start to learn very quickly and find the right motivations to continue building.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting story about Huppy is that I actually initially created the formula on my own with zero background and knowledge of how to make a toothpaste tablet. I was passionate about the cause, but I had no idea where to start. Through iterations later, finding the best formulator in town to help, I was able to perfect an award-winning toothpaste tablet. Hearing people’s feedback on the product and how minty, frothy, and satisfying each brush is, has been by far the most interesting and inspiring thing starting Huppy.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

The funniest mistake was not reaching out for help earlier in areas that we didn’t have expertise in such as product formulation. When we formulated our tablets, we purchased ingredients we thought would be effective in toothpaste, mixed them up, made them into a tablet, and tried it to see if it was any good. Later that night we went to urgent care after throwing up and trying a handful of formulas — we thought we got poisoned from ingesting chemicals, but the next day we found it was actually food poisoning from a sandwich. My parents were very concerned and immediately made us find an expert to help build the formulation.

Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My girlfriend, family, and friends have been instrumental in my success to date. They are always serving as a soundboard for different ideas and helping me get through rejections, but also celebrating the small victories along the way. When I am feeling low about things that did not go according to plan, they encourage me to keep on going and give me different approaches to get through the current roadblock.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We had a customer reach out to us and share her story about using our toothpaste tablets. While reducing plastic waste and saving the planet is a big win, another big win for her was that she no longer had to squeeze toothpaste out of the tube. While it seems effortless to us, it was an extremely painful process for her due to arthritis and weak hands that made it painful and nearly impossible. With our design of storing toothpaste tablets in an aluminum case, she was able to easily pop the cap off and grab a toothpaste tablet and brush like normal.

Are there three things the community/society can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Huppy’s mission is to inspire others to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle. Here are three simple things we can do to live more sustainably: 1) Make a simple sustainable swap such as swapping toothpaste to toothpaste tablets. There are more than one billion toothpaste tubes that end up in landfills every year. 2) Choose one meal a week to go meatless, as meat takes a lot of resources to make. 3) Encourage others that we’re all on this planet together and collectively it takes the effort of everyone to make a difference.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

  1. Motivation follows action. Example: building a successful company takes years to complete and daunting thought of building one makes many founders fear even taking on the task, but if we just find enough motivation to complete the first step, it will give us motivation to take the next. Startups are just that, completing one small task after another until you’ve built the company of your dreams.
  2. You are your biggest critic. Example: it sounds great to launch when your product is perfect, but in reality, it is almost always better to launch before it’s ready to get real feedback from customers and iterate based on findings/feedback. It is very easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis while waiting for the perfect moment (there will never be a perfect one).
  3. Focus on those who love you. Example: the vast majority of people will love your product/business, but there will always be people who hate it and your job as a founder is to only focus on those who love it. It takes more energy to convert someone who hates your product than it does to find someone who loves it.
  4. Find a greater purpose. Example: startups are tough and require a lot of grit & patience, but it becomes more worthwhile if you are internally driven by a cause you believe in such as climate change or making a social impact. Building a product that has the community cheering your success on is very fulfilling and helps you move forward when it gets tough.
  5. Move quickly and iterate. Example: don’t be afraid to test ideas that are outside of your comfort zone and change positions quickly if it doesn’t work out. Startups are about being able to iterate quickly to adapt and pivot when better ideas arise.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Starting a company that has a positive impact on the environment is extremely fulfilling and makes all of the hardships worthwhile. We all know that startups are tough, but when you have the community cheering you on and thanking you for doing it, you can find the motivation to push through the inevitable lows and celebrate the highs with that same community. We are in a dire time where climate change is accelerating and it’s up to aspiring founders to help solve it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would have liked to have a conversation with Kobe Bryant because of his work ethic, tenacity, and dedication are traits I admire about him. As a well-recognized basketball star, I would have liked to learn how he dissected the game of basketball and eventually applied that knowledge to his businesses, while being an outstanding father to his daughters.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me online on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/davidmphan and follow Huppy @ https://twitter.com/huppy_co or https://www.instagram.com/huppy/ or https://behuppy.com/.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

349 Followers

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts