For some students, semesters abroad create life-long memories. For Max Bock-Aronson, a semester abroad provided the initial spark for his company — Breathe99.
This is A Workday With Max Bock-Aronson, CEO and Design Engineer of Breathe99.
Update: A previous version of this A Workday With mistakenly included an answer from a previous article. Breathe99 products are entirely manufactured and assembled in the United States. tech.mn apologizes for the error.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I am from Minneapolis and went to South High School off of Lake Street. I graduated in 2013 from the University of Wisconsin—Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering and a certificate of international engineering. While in college, I studied abroad twice — first in Chile and then Singapore in 2013. It was the time that I spent in Singapore that first got me interested in public health and respiratory protection.
After graduation, I started working as a design engineer at product design consultancy called Delve in Madison. It was around the same time that I started developing a lightweight respirator that was inspired by my time spent in Singapore. I entered an early design into a design competition at the university and ended up being awarded 2nd place and $8,000.
After working at Delve, I moved back to Minneapolis and started working at Worrell Design, developing novel medical device technologies. It was my time at Worrell that really developed my approach to human-centered design and prepared me to make more usable, intuitive products to support better public health.
Have you experience burnout or rough mental waters during your business journey? How did you cope with those times?
I experienced total burnout between August and December 2019. This mental fatigue and emotional exhaustion resulted from the combination of a failed first Kickstarter campaign combined with several health and family matters that all occurred simultaneously.
During those months of burnout, I was intentional about spending more time with friends and getting outdoors. I also limited my media intake and replaced screen time with reading. Ultimately, however, it was time and time alone that was required for me to recuperate and heal.
Who is the person you go to for support during the highs and lows of the business journey?
During those months of burnout, I relied on support from my partner at the time. I also turned to my parents and sister when things got difficult.
What’s a recent work-related challenge you had to conquer? Walk us through your process.
COVID-19 has presented challenge after challenge for the Breathe99 supply chain. First, we were unsure if we were going to be able to source filters. Then, we a large government order that had to be pushed through one of our primary suppliers resulting in a multi-week delay.
Ultimately, I’ve learned it is counter-productive to dwell on any frustration, anger, or confusion one might encounter when faced with a seemingly insurmountable task. Going back and doing a root cause analysis to determine how and why certain challenges occurred is important for future course correction. But in the moment, the best you can do is get creative, problem solve, and move quickly.
What time do you rise and shine?
I get up around 6:30 a.m.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
Recently, I’ve been trying intermittent fasting. If I do have breakfast, it’s usually a small cup of oatmeal with frozen berries added.
What’s the first work-related task you tackle each morning?
I spend about 15-30 minutes on email with the goal of answering all critical messages before getting into critical tasks for the day.
What is your workspace setup?
I’m currently working at my dining room table. The surface is strewn with a range of filter samples, legal documents, and several versions of the B2 Mask facepiece.
What’s the most interesting/fun/meaningful thing on your desk?
A small stone from the north shore of Lake Superior. I fiddle with it while taking calls and it has become smooth over the years as a result.
What do you need to get done before lunch to feel like you had a productive morning?
Clear my email and complete at least one or two of my big primary tasks for the day.
What are you listening to these days?
Nipsey Hussle, Noname, and EarthGang.
What podcasts are you listening to?
What’s the last movie you saw and what would you rate it (out of five)?
“Booksmart.’ Five out of five
What book would we find on your nightstand?
“Stuck In The Shallow End” by Jane Margolis.
How do you fend off the post-lunch lull?
Go for a quick walk in park near my house.
What do you use to stay organized during a hectic day?
Slack, Todoist, Google Drive, and Teamwork.
What’s one thing everyone could do to be more productive?
Put your phone on do not disturb.
How do you decompress at the end of a long workday?
I generally watch an episode of TV and then read a couple pages of whatever book I’m reading at the time.
What time do you hit the hay?
I try to be in bed by 11 or 11:30 p.m., but sometimes it ends up being later.
Anything new with Breathe99?
Breathe99 has started production and have shipped our first products. Our ramp-up speed is slower than we would like, but will hopefully ship our first 10,000 units by the end of July.
In addition to starting production, we’ve also joined Impact Hub and started to build relationships with local non-profit and academic partners for our donations program for B2 Mask. As a Public Benefit Corporation, we’re really excited to advance public health objectives by increasing access to high-quality public health goods.
Photos courtesy of Max Bock-Aronson and Breathe99.
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Need even more inspirational fuel to work through your day? Check out one of our other locals featured in our “A Workday With” series!