When I reached Charles Liao last week, he was at the beginning of a five-hour van ride to his company’s factory in Taizhou, Zhejiang. The Shanghai-based entrepreneur is one of the co-founders of Mila, a company that provides affordable monthly plans for residential air purification.
Mila offers a single air purifier model developed, designed, and manufactured entirely in-house by Liao and his two co-founders, David Chitayat and Grant Prigge (who are also fathers). Their business backgrounds range from app development to manufacturing, e-commerce, food and beverage, and franchising. The company’s plans cost RMB 250, 350, or 450 per month depending on the number of units required.
Launched in January 2016, Mila is named after Liao’s now 6-year-old daughter. Liao, Chitayat, and Prigge got the seeds of their business idea from the infamous "Airpocalypse" of the winter of 2013.
"It was frightening because we didn’t know what to do," says Liao on the phone. "When we finally figured out we needed air purifiers, everything was out of stock. We got a quote for our three-bedroom home for about RMB 25,000, not to mention the thousands upon thousands just to maintain the filters."
"I was talking to my neighbor and friend, and he had a similar experience. He brought back an Austin Air from the US for $800. It cost $600 just to replace the filter. The economics didn’t jive. We started talking about the opportunity [to start our own business]at the time."
While doing research, Liao and his business partners noticed there was widespread misinformation around buying air purifiers.
"Often people just buy one. But you need more – one in each room," he says. "I"m not air quality expert, but the research that we did clearly points to having filters certified by the US [Environmental Protection Agency]. All the bells and whistles are just overcharging the customers."
The team spent six to seven months developing its own air purifier, taking into account factors like coverage, air delivery rate, circulation, monitoring, and design.
"The mandate that we kept coming back to was being ‘living room-friendly.’ This was based on our qualitative opinion that most machines on the market look like microwaves, not something I’d want to put in a well-appointed bedroom or study," says Liao.
The Mila air purifier’s features include:
- Coverage for surface areas of up to 50sqm
- A 360-degree intake that draws air from underneath and around the filter, then fires it from the top
- Air delivery rate (CADR) of 300 cubic meters per hour
- 3M HEPA and carbon activated filters that filter to 99.97 percent efficiency
- Automatic sensors to track indoor pollution levels and adjust fan speeds to each room
- Quiet running speeds of 34.7-60dBA
- Real-time air quality data streamed to users’ mobile phones through Wi-Fi
"Recently we did a trade-in event in Shanghai to see what kind of response we would get. There was one family with eight or nine purifiers – no joke – that said they’d do a partial trade-in," recounts Liao.
"One of the parents told me, every month they go around checking the filters and it’s a real chore because you can’t just eyeball that. [One air purifier company] rates their filters at like 12 months – there’s no way that filter will last 12 months. A filter will last two months, four months, six months, especially in Beijing or Shanghai."
Though Mila is based in Shanghai, the company delivers to Beijing and has plans to grow its market here. For a limited time, new customers get their first month free for any Mila monthly plan (a value of up to RMB 450) if they sign up online at mymila.co. Each plan includes free shipping and a money back guarantee.
If Mila’s mission is something you can get behind, the company is currently hiring part-time and full-time salespeople in Beijing as well as looking for "brand ambassadors" to spread awareness of the service.
Sijia Chen is a contributing editor at beijingkids and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, education, travel, environment, and culture. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, The Independent, Midnight Poutine, Rover Arts, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @sijiawrites or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Mila