Cambridge graduate Chris Dobbing saw the troubles of air pollution in China first hand, while working in Beijing with an education company. Unable to find a mask of suitable quality, he set about creating his own and is now shipping to Beijing from the company’s manufacturer in England.
After securing a round of finance earlier in 2015 from a range of angel investors, Dobbing was able to fund the development of the mask. He aims to capitalise on the extensive ecommerce potential in China, while providing “a ground-breaking” filter to help protect as many people as possible.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Christopher Dobbing, I am the founder of Cambridge Mask Co. We make British designed and manufactured anti-pollution face masks that use a special military technology to filter nearly 100 per cent of bacteria, viruses and air pollution. Our masks come in sizes suitable for the whole family and in a range of 12 Britain-inspired patterns.
(2) How long have you been around for?
I moved to China in 2012 and soon realised the scale of the air pollution challenge. Many of the young students I was working with were getting ill and I wanted to find something to protect them. I couldn’t find anything that was as effective as I wanted, so I founded a business to create the best pollution mask possible.
(3) How will you make money?
Our masks retail for around £22. In Asia we sell through international hospitals and schools. A lot of corporate clients also want to buy them as we can brand any company logos or patterns. They make a great gift for staff in places like China and show staff that their health is valued.
(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?
This summer we are doing an “extreme mask test”. Although we already have lab tests, real-world test data and reviews, we wanted to prove a point. So, we have asked three intrepid adventurers to spend two weeks travelling 3,500km across Northern India on a three-wheeled seven horsepower rickshaw. They will be exposed to smoke, bacteria, dust, cow manure and everything else you can imagine, doing the most extreme consumer mask test ever conceived.
(5) What was key in terms of getting started?
Finding a material that was powerful enough to absorb and kill viruses was really challenging. I spent a huge amount of time ordering samples from suppliers all over the world. In the end, I was proud to find a British business that was spun-out from the Ministry of Defence which makes a ground-breaking filter that I could use. It’s the core of our product and really sets us apart.
(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?
I was interviewed by the BBC in London back in June. The Chinese section did the interview and asked me to do it in Mandarin. It was quite a struggle, but I was really proud that my language level has got to a point where I can give interviews, even if the language is rather basic!
(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?
Finding good quality staff anywhere in the world is tough, but particularly so in Beijing’s hyper-competitive jobs market. In a city of 22m people there are lots of great employees but actually sorting, interviewing and advertising widely enough to find them can be a huge drain on resources. I have found going through word-of-mouth recommendations is the strongest way to do this. If my staff enjoy their work, they recommend open positions to their friends. That’s how we got our new operations assistant.
(8) In five years’ time, I will be…
Either sitting in our factory in Cambridge working on R&D to improve the masks or in our Beijing office working with our team there. From the successful people I have known in China, it seems that the average time to build a successful business is around seven years, give or take a few.
(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?
Go for it! You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take. Leaving a monthly pay cheque is incredibly challenging, but once you step outside “the system” it gives you a whole new perspective on the world and a deep motivation to succeed.
(10) Who are your business heroes and why?
Richard Branson because he has been able to build businesses from scratch and hand them over to other people to run, step back and start something totally new, then be successful with that too. It’s hard to delegate tasks, let alone the running of a whole company, to someone else when you have built it yourself from the ground up. I hope I can do that too one day.
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