Petal is a Fort Worth, Texas-based, high-tech consumer goods company with a revolutionary appliance poised to forever supplant traditional waste disposal methods. Petal does what no other disposal device on the market can: stops rot, eliminates stink, and halts the spread of germs.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start Petal?
My nose knew immediately! In our first conversation, the aerospace engineers who invented Petal reminded me (in colorful and putrid terms) about the dank, moist, nostril-coating stench associated with traditional diaper disposal. All at once, I was transported back over 25 years to the first time I emptied the Diaper Genie in my then infant son’s nursery. I was sitting on the floor wrestling with the Diaper Genie’s infamous plastic poop sausage. My eyes were watering and I was gagging as I begged the universe not to let the soiled diapers spill out onto the floor. Back in the present, I realized that my eyes were watering and that I was gagging just at the memory of the experience! The powerful linkage between sense of smell and memory prompted an instantaneous response. I had to save the world from this wretched experience. The world needs Petal!
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
As a parallel entrepreneur and a turnaround professional, I’ve led almost 30 companies and divisions. Along the way, I never managed the same type of company twice.
Indeed, Petal is the first consumer product-focused company I have launched and/or headed. This is actually a discipline I employ when deciding on my next endeavor. I’ve learned that having a beginner’s mind is an invincible superpower, because it forces you to sublimate your ego. Recognizing that I know nothing, maintaining a child’s curiosity, exercising authentic humility, and embracing my oldest and best friend—discomfort—keeps me free from the prison of pre-conceived notions and/or expectations. By accepting my ignorance, I can move and pivot with ease.
How did you validate the idea?
Before building a company or accepting a turnaround engagement, I always seek external validation that the company’s underlying service or product has a viable market. In many instances, I look to Other People’s Money (“OPM”) for validation. Once I chose to embark on the pre-sale path, I targeted the best service provider in the crowdfunding space, Rainfactory. Rainfactory is an international digital marketing firm who has led dozens of $1 million+ pre-sale campaigns and repeatedly generated over $100 million in quarterly revenue. Part of their success stems from a highly selective client backing process. They only take on clients/products in whom they have the utmost faith. When I introduced Petal to Rainfactory, they were immediately smitten. For the first time in their six-year history, Rainfactory took on a client (Petal) for equity in lieu of fees and invested an additional $100,000+ of their own money in research and advertising. So, we consider ourselves externally validated.
Have you raised any money? How much?
To date, I’ve raised close to half a billion dollars of OPM, but in the case of Petal, raising money up front was an untenable path. Since manufacturing a new invention required significant time and resources with no certainty of a receptive market, there wasn’t enough evidence to risk OPM on. Considering this, I decided to pursue a pre-sale event. The plan is to attract early adopters who are willing to pay a discounted price upfront and to wait four to six months to receive the manufactured new invention.
Who is your target demographic?
Petal’s target demographic is everyone who is sick of ick! Whether food scraps in the kitchen, dirty diapers in the nursery, pet waste, or incontinence products, existing disposal solutions allow foul waste to sit, rot, and fester at room temperature for days on end, creating dangerous and unsanitary conditions that pollute our homes with horrible smells, mold, bacteria, and unwanted pests. And we’ve resigned to accept it. Thinking in terms of ick factor, we anticipate that our largest consumers will be parents with children in diapers, users of incontinence products, users of feminine hygiene products, and people with a lot of pets.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
Petal is the first large company that I’ve co-founded with my wife Christie Zwahlen, who serves as the Executive Vice President of Social Impact. Together, we’ve ensured that our company is majority female-owned and majority female-managed. We’ve also infused the company culture with a deep commitment to sustainability, public health, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Christie brings to bear almost a decade of experience in community engagement and an authentic commitment to doing the right thing that inspires every member of the Petal team. She is responsible for Petal’s heart and soul and she is my life.
Did you run any companies prior to Petal?
As my LinkedIn profile reveals, I spent the past thirty years working in a variety of sectors building my own businesses, meeting the payroll needs of hundreds of employees, raising close to half a billion dollars of equity and debt, evaluating the merits of others' ventures, turning enterprises around, acquiring companies, and working internationally in varied industries with geographically-dispersed operations. Petal is not the first company I’ve launched during an economic downturn. And it is not the second, either. For the third time in my career, I’m launching a business during a time of crisis, when many others either closed shop or ceased pursuing new opportunities. Immediately following 9/11, I acquired and ran a successful chain of data centers across the US. During the financial crisis of 2008, my team and I debuted Red Swan—a woman-to-woman gold party company—on The Rachael Ray Show.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
Though I have enjoyed numerous successes, I have also suffered some spectacular failures. And while some may view these painful experiences as negative (and even wish to bury them), I consider them essential to my personal/professional growth and important referential touch points when leading and mentoring teams of people, colleagues, and friends. They are the underpinnings of authentic connection and humble leadership. They are also constant reminders of my resilience and tenacity. Whenever I find myself down (and out), I simply stand up, brush myself off, and declare “Next!” I never drive looking into my rearview mirror. The past does not define me; it only informs me. How I handle myself after tripping is the measure of me. In my experience, true leaders rely on resilience to recover from defeats, optimism to see a brighter day, tenacity to move towards that day through difficult times, creativity to navigate unforeseen circumstances and, most importantly, infectious enthusiasm to inspire others.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
As you begin to build a business around a promising technology, exciting product, or important service, never get enamored with what you do or what you offer; instead invest heavily in who you do it with. In the end, everything happens with and through people. The people you choose and the culture you build will determine the level of success you will achieve. So, eliminate toxicity and elevate excellence. Build a culture focused on kindness, optimism, and merit. It is with and through an energized team that you will unleash a growth culture committed to people and reliant on teamwork. People, not products, and culture, not process, ensure success.
What has driven the most sales?
We are working with our partners at Rainfactory to position Petal for a pre-sale event that will take place in the early fall. In advance of that event, we are currently cultivating customers and capturing leads. Given that Petal is a direct to consumer company, we are reliant almost exclusively on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn to get the word out. We also are also optimizing our landing page PetalClean.com to attract organic traffic from prospective customers looking for solutions to the rot, stink and germs associated with traditional disposal methods . As we get closer to the pre-sale event, we will convert our current landing page into a full-blown commerce-enabled website, which we will serve as the store to accept purchases.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
Relying on intellectual property to protect you from competition is tantamount to expecting a stop sign to put the brakes on a speeding car. The stop sign is only effective at halting forward momentum because drivers respect the sign (or if the driver crashes the car into the stop sign). The same goes for competitors. If they don’t respect your trademarks and patents, you will find yourself in a position of prosecuting very expensive and time-consuming legal actions while combating unrelenting competition.
Instead of relying on intellectual property to protect your position in the market, I recommend spending your time and money on building a brand that distinguishes and elevates you from your competition. Recognized brands are moats that protect castles. Make your moat uncrossable.
Do you have any trademarks/patents?
With all of that said, yes, Petal has patents pending in 10 International jurisdictions and trademarks pending for its name, tagline and mark. Although we will never depend on these to stop competition, we will look to them (on a good day) to slow our competitors’ roll.
What books do you recommend?
Whenever asked to share books that inspire my entrepreneurial grit and deliberate thinking, I recommend;
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
- Books on entrepreneurism often romanticize the years of scarcity during which people “courageously” build businesses in the face of obstacles and criticism. It is true that entrepreneurism is not for the faint of heart. It requires optimism to see a brighter day, tenacity to move towards that day through difficult times, creativity to navigate unforeseen circumstances, resilience to recover from inevitable defeats, and audacity to fuel the drive forward. Still, entrepreneurial difficulties are generally surmountable, non-life-threatening problems. In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass suffers from and witnesses extreme violence and constant pain while continuing to pursue the dream of a better tomorrow. Especially now, it behooves us to remember and appreciate how much one can endure to realize a dream. Narrative is an important reminder of the injustices our fellow citizens have suffered and survived. It reminds us that we are privileged to pursue profits while many others are continuing to suffer inhumane and unjust treatment the world over.
Thinking Fast and Slow
- Entrepreneurs often willingly drink the nectar of delusion. They fail to recognize their “stinking thinking” and, as such, they either fall prey to overconfidence or become paralyzed by perceived, yet non-existent dangers. By illuminating the human thought process, identifying cognitive biases, and demystifying risk, Daniel Kahneman calmly defuses the reader’s over-reliance on emotion and intuition and instead provides science-infused decision-making tools to improve awareness and make better judgment calls.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
The Petal Team is ambitious, to say the least. In 5 years, we intend for Petal to be ubiquitous the world over. We see Petal in every home, day care center, nursing home, retirement home, hospital, and hospice center. Commercially, we see it in restaurants, cafeterias, public restrooms, and office environments. We also foresee Petal supplanting all curbside bins and dumpsters. We know that if people are disposing of baby diapers, incontinence products, feminine hygiene products, food waste, or pet waste, they will never again employ traditional disposal devices. Petal is the only product that stops rot, eliminates stink, and halts the spread of germs. Period. Petal is what’s called a category killer. Our world-class industrial designer Scott Henderson explained it best: Petal is the kind of pure innovation that will look like common sense in hindsight. That is the true definition of game-changing.
Would you ever sell?
Anybody who says they won’t sell is not being honest with you or themselves. My home isn’t currently listed for sale and there isn’t a sign in the front yard, but if someone came to my door today and offered me an attractive multiple above what I paid for it, I can assure you that my house would be for sale. The same is true for Petal, and for any company or asset.
|David M. M. Taffet