Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and it was the necessity to combat the Covid-19 pandemic that led entrepreneur Nathanael Hartman to co-found Monster Aid. With millions of Americans feeling helpless and having little direction over what to do in the face of the pandemic, Hartman and his partners stepped up to the plate and launched Monster Aid to provide vital PPE to individuals across the country.
Since its launch, Monster Aid has sold over 500,000 medical face masks to individuals seeking protection when in public areas. The money made from each sale has been reinvested into providing more PPE for people during the pandemic.
Hartman found a number of issues after the group launched Monster Aid due to a shortage of materials and other issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It has all been a learning curve for him and the team that will enable them to adapt and evolve in the future.
The Monster Aid co-founder recently sat down to speak with Totalprestige Magazine about the organization, its work, plans for the future, and being an entrepreneur during a pandemic.
Nathanael, as co-founder of Monster Aid alongside Michael Maddux, you launched the organization during the Covid-19 pandemic to get protective facemasks to individuals across the United States. What inspired the organization to step up to the plate and sell half a million face masks to the public?
Well, first to set the record straight Michael and I are not alone in this endeavor. We are joined by our partners Tal Atid and Devin Scott. The four of us co-founded Flooret as well, so it was a logical core to spool up Monster Aid with. As far as Monster’s mission is much more than just masks. Masks were simply the most immediate need. And finally to answer the question: The fear and uncertainty that arrived with Covid-19 represents everything I’ve spent my life resisting. Fear is a giant bully, I’ve always hated bullies and done whatever I could to stand up to them. As business owners, we saw this fear manifesting into confusion, from the highest levels of federal leadership all the way down to the everyday interactions that normal Americans have with each other. Monster Aid is simply us standing up to that fear in as many of its forms as we can confront.
How difficult was it to obtain facemasks to sell on to customers during a pandemic?
Extremely difficult. Ignorantly, I thought that given our global supply chain and experience with sourcing from around the world, we would be able to easily find PPE of all kinds by leveraging our buying power and overseas connections along with our international transportation contracts and easily bringing in huge quantities of PPE for ludicrously low prices. Which would allow us to “bust” gougers while simultaneously helping hospitals, other HCP, first responders, LEOs, and of course normal Americans.
I couldn’t have been more wrong! At every turn, we were challenged. First at the regulatory requirements import side from the FDA and CBP, on the export side in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Mexico, then to discover that worldwide there are raw materials shortages, and intense competition for both raw materials and finished goods. As Americans, we’ve gotten used to buying our way out of whatever situation we are in. But in a pandemic, you find yourself bidding against government buyers from other nations for the same product which drives prices up, especially when it comes to scale. Obviously, we don’t have the same buying power as an entire country. Lastly, specific to mainland China, the impact of their battle with Covid-19 had significantly altered their transportation infrastructure, which has had a continuous impact on all types of export flow. Coupled with the suspension of passenger aircraft, this has resulted in a volatile transportation landscape. Battling runaway costs, overwhelmed inspection centers, ports, and airports.
A lot of companies and individuals have taken advantage of the pandemic by purchasing items and attempting to resell them to people for inflated prices. I’m sure some people would say the same about Monster Aid’s work to supply PPE materials. What would you say to those people about the work that the organization has done?
There is a minority mindset that sees any kind of selling of anything Covid-19 related as profiteering. We believe most people understand that everything costs something. It’s when you charge an unfair price in a time of need that you cross the line and become the problem instead of the solution.
Our pricing, our stated mission, and our actions make it very clear that we are here to make a difference not take advantage of misfortune.
Additionally, we have not taken a dollar in profit. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying inventory and flying it here. We’ve donated staffing, storage, transportation, and product. And every penny that comes from sales is being reinvested, which allows us to push the price down and donate more.
On May 1, it was announced that Monster Aid had sold over half a million face masks. Firstly, did you ever expect such a response from individuals? Secondly, does that kind of success come with a caveat of knowing it came at such a low point in society?
I don’t see that as success. Success will be when we can provide these masks for 10 cents, which is what they should cost. That would make them easily available to everyone. This is a country of 330 million people, distributing 500,000 masks isn’t moving the needle. So, many people need protection.
We’ve been able to help restaurant delivery drivers, auto mechanics, distribution center employees, and essential businesses of all kinds. We are equipping small companies preparing to reopen. The peace of mind that comes with helping single parents who have work, the donations we’ve made to food banks, fire stations, and struggling businesses, those things I would consider success. That’s what really matters here.
In terms of Monster Aid’s future, what are the plans for the organization once the Covid-19 pandemic passes? Are there plans to do other important aid focused initiatives?
This is still coming into focus, but yes, the idea would be to evolve into a Bcorp/501-type aid organization partnering with corporate and philanthropic groups to become a force for good that rushes to places in need and provide aid in a big (Monster) way. Expect to see us move aggressively in that direction in the coming days.
Nathanael, although you have made headlines with Monster Aid in the last two months, it was not your first crack at being an entrepreneur. You are the co-founder of Flooret. What drove you to establish Flooret and become an expert on in-home flooring?
Building materials can be really intimidating. Traditionally, shoppers rely on a contractor, or worse a showroom sales rep or big box store employee to guide their buying decision. We wanted to build something that challenged the idea of layers of markups on product culminating with a customer who doesn’t have a great idea of what they need relying on a salesperson repping 500 brands convincing them to buy this week’s overstock. Flooret is the manifestation of that vision. We strive to develop one-on-one relationships with every customer, learn their needs, share our expertise, and then connect them with what it is they need, not what we want to sell.
In April 2020, Flooret announced it would become Climate Neutral Certified. What was the catalyst to gain Climate Neutral Certification and how will that impact the everyday running of the business?
Flooret co-founder Tal Atid has been the driving force behind our CNC initiative. He grew up in traditional flooring, so he’s seen firsthand how ecologically and environmentally harsh building materials can be. CNC is just the latest certification he’s guided us through, along with Floorscore for all of our products and LEED Compliance. Sustainability is core to our company and our commitment to our employees and customers.
Regarding day to day, being carbon neutral means continuing investment in lighting, all-electric equipment in our facilities, deep-dive auditing into our supply chain and transportation networks to track our footprint and then a combination of mitigation and purchased carbon offsets to counterbalance the areas of harm that we are unable to eliminate.
To go back to Monster Aid for a moment, was the company born out of Flooret having to take a break due to the Covid-19 pandemic? If so, when do you expect to get Flooret running on a more normal basis?
No, Flooret has continued to operate through the pandemic. We’ve been very fortunate that we are in an essential industry, and that we were able to implement social distancing and work from home solutions to protect our teams while continuing to support our customers’ needs. We’ve had to get a little creative, but being a young company we were already used to working remotely and non-traditionally.
As it is likely that the Covid-19 pandemic’s ramifications will linger on for some time, do you expect Monster Aid to continue strong sales over the next six to 12 months?
Monster Aid is so much more than its sales. I know that’s weird to say, but honestly, it’s about scaling to a point that we can be impactful. Sales are a tiny part of that. Equally important is building trust relationships with agencies, organizations, and nonprofits to build Monster Aid into something that can help suddenly helpless people face overwhelming challenges and defeat them. Like if a superhero was a company.
Nathanael, as an entrepreneur, what is in store next for yourself? You seem to be attracted to building new businesses. Is there another idea in the pipeline?
I think that the pandemic has altered “normal” and opened up unlimited areas to innovation in ways we haven’t even realized yet. Necessity equals invention. Lots of ideas, but for the moment this feels really important. So, we will stay on this as long as needed.
Nathanael, is there anything else you would like to mention or add?
As scary as this pandemic can be at times, it’s refreshing to be reminded that there is still unknown in the world, that something can catch the entire planet unawares. And challenge everything we think we know about everything. As humans we are at our best when challenged, as long as we don’t become consumed by fear and retreat. I’m fired up to see the next chapter of human resilience. Seminal moments in history don’t typically announce themselves in advance, they explode on the scene and demand that we adapt to them. The future is still ours, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like! Be well.
For more information on Monster Aid and Nathanael Hartman, please visit https://monsteraid.com/.