The team at PhoneSoap on brand collaborations that educate, problem-solve and promote healthy habits

We caught up with the team to find out more about the firm’s brand ambitions – and the product’s evolution from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”.

The brainchild of cousins Dan Barnes and Wes LaPorte, PhoneSoap is a device that uses UV light to disinfect your phone, while also charging it.

The idea was sparked by a TV report that said the average cell phone was 18 times dirtier than a public restroom, and since launching PhoneSoap, the range has expanded to include a bigger disinfecting unit – HomeSoap – as well as a filterless air purifier called AirSoap.

The next phase of development for the company involves brand collaborations, with the team actively looking to collaborate with partners on branded PhoneSoap devices that authentically bring brands to life in this space.

We caught up with the team to find out more about the firm’s brand ambitions – and the product’s evolution from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”.


Guys, great to connect. Let’s start at the beginning – what led you to set up PhoneSoap?
Dan Barnes, Co-Founder and President, PhoneSoap: Well, Wes and I are cousins and were roommates throughout college. We did little jobs together, but we always wanted to build something bigger than a local side hustle.

While at university, I was in the business school and Wes was doing cancer research. We ran into a perfect storm of ideation. I saw a news report that said the average cell phone was 18 times dirtier than a public restroom. It seemed like a problem that needed to be fixed! It was 2009, so smart phones and touch screens were still pretty new.

From a business side of things, you really need to catch the wave before it forms. While we didn’t have an eye on something like a pandemic, we knew touch screens would only become more prevalent and they’d be everywhere. There were some large form UV-C bulbs in the lab that Wes was working at that would disinfect his tools. We had this problem, and this sounded like it could be the solution.

“Everyone is fighting for eyeballs on their brands. What better way to get that than through a product that’s timely and thoughtful like PhoneSoap?”

UV-C light was a proven technology but had never been shrunk and used on the consumer side. That’s where it started. We then attached our product to a charger. People charge their phones every night, why not charge it and disinfect it at the same time? A phone is the third hand that you never wash. You need to wash your hands to stay healthy, and there’s where PhoneSoap came from.

It is a great name. And you went on Shark Tank with PhoneSoap, is that right?
DB: Yes. You start a business to live out your dreams, and Shark Tank was one of those dreams. It was a dream before it was a business reality! The producers reached out to us, and it wasn’t a good fit initially because there wasn’t really enough meat on the bones of the business to put it in front of the sharks.

That said, we stayed in contact with the producers, and then entered the Shark Tank process in 2014. It’s a really long process, but it was a really great way for us to advertise the brand. Beyond that, it was about the partnership. Out of all of the sharks, the one we felt would be the best fit was Lori Greiner, partly because of her ties to QVC. We got an offer from her, and she’s been a phenomenal partner. We’ve been on QVC since 2015, and we’ve had a lot of success with that customer base.


If we dive into the design of your products, they’re not clunky or industrial – they’re sleek and look fantastic. What guided the look of the range?
DB: Everyone idolizes Apple and Steve Jobs, and Wes and I grew up through the comeback era of Apple, so that did impact us and what we try and do here. We create products that look good and are easy to use.

Have you seen a spike in interest due to the pandemic?
DB: The storytelling of our business started with “your phone’s dirty.” We convinced people of that. Then we moved onto letting people know that UV-C light is effective and trustworthy. The last few years have been about educating consumers on why this matters. COVID-19 accelerated this and has proved to everyone that this does matter.

We’ve never been focused on a pandemic, and you see a lot of knockoffs. And what I mean by that is companies that are trying to match us exactly or flipping UV sanitizers that just don’t work. Our team focuses on effectiveness, and we’ve been doing this for ten years. Last year did accelerate our plans and was a big year for us, but it didn’t change who we are or what we’re focused on.


Let’s talk about the licensing and brand ambitions with PhoneSoap. Was it always part of the plan to look at ways of launching branded versions of PhoneSoap and HomeSoap?
DB: It came a little later. After Shark Tank, we had a flood of requests to co-brand. Since then, it’s been a big part of our business. We love to see our products with great brand names on them, like Boeing, Facebook, and Google. It continues to be a big part of our business, and it’s something we want to grow moving forward.

If you’re looking at collaborating with a company that specialises in UV light, you’ve got to be careful. There are, unfortunately, lots of products out there that don’t work. We care about what we’re doing here, so if you’re looking to co-brand with a company that’s trusted and effective, PhoneSoap is the company to team up with.


What sorts of brands do you think PhoneSoap could be a great home for?
Scott Bridgeman, Business Development Director, PhoneSoap: I think brands that are looking for that advocacy piece. Brands that, through a collaboration, will allow us to educate the market through their brand’s exposure and consumer base. There are a lot of opportunities.

Jared Elliott, Director of Global Sales, PhoneSoap: Everyone is fighting for eyeballs on their brands. What better way to get that than through a product that’s timely and thoughtful like PhoneSoap?

How far can brands play around with PhoneSoap? As well as putting branding on the units, is there scope to be creative with materials? I’m thinking of a Levi’s PhoneSoap covered in denim, or a LEGO HomeSoap coated in LEGO studs…
DB: Yes, absolutely! We want to collaborate with brands on our products from the ground up. When it comes to material changes, anything is possible.

SB: We can be fluid, especially as a company with product that’s moved from being a “nice to have” to a ”need to have.”

DB: To have someone like a LEGO or a Pixar want to expand on the design of our product to be more fully reflective of their brand or characters, that would be possible – and very exciting.


You mention LEGO there, and I know that you’re working with the brilliant Paul von Mohr of Meo Mio on forging collaborations with toy brands. Why do you think there’s exciting opportunities for toy brand collaborations around PhoneSoap and HomeSoap?
SB: Well, mobile device usage is getting younger and younger, so it makes sense from that point of view, but this industry also has a lot of shared-use items.

Paul von Mohr, Managing Partner, Meo Mio: Look at video game controllers, LEGO, toys – all kinds of stuff is passed back and forth between kids. For parents, having a trusted brand like a toy brand provides an opportunity to educate children about how important it is to keep your toys disinfect from germs. It’s also a cool way to do it!

Sustainability is something that most toy companies recognise they need to be actively engaged with now, and some were faster than others. Do you think toy firms have an opportunity to get ahead of a trend by collaborating with PhoneSoap on products that disinfect toys and prevent disease being spread through play?
PvM: One hundred percent. It’s a conversation we’re currently having with partners in the toy space – and we know it’s an area of genuine concern for parents. A partnership with PhoneSoap is a perfect way for toy brands to get ahead in this area.

SB: Lots of toy companies look at routines and habits that they can engage with. Parents are also looking at establishing habits for their children. The PhoneSoap experience is slick, so it fits into a consumer’s healthy lifestyle nicely and can become a part of a child’s daily routine.

PvM: Exactly; it solves a problem, educates children, and promotes healthy habits.

JE: We’re seeing it already in classrooms, with children disinfecting class iPads using HomeSoap. They see it as their job to do it, and it becomes kind of a cool experience for the kids. Kids gravitate towards the experience.


Great stuff. Shifting gears slightly, could brand collaborations also lead to PhoneSoap product designed for use outside of the home? Would a partnership with a brand like Motul, for example, lead to PhoneSoap units designed to keep tools at a garage disinfected?
JE: It’s already happening in certain industries. People are seeking us out because of the quality of the materials that we use, and our engineering team is already looking at other offerings that will take us into new areas.

Do you have plans for PhoneSoap to be licensed out as a brand in its own right, with other licensees making PhoneSoap products?
SB: I would say yes, as long as it fits into PhoneSoap’s mission to reduce infectious diseases through science and technology. Science is everywhere, and technology is everywhere, so the potential is infinite if approached the right way.

Guys, this has been great. Before I let you go, we’ve discussed some of the creative ways that brands can engage and collaborate with PhoneSoap. How do you fuel your creativity?
DB: We wouldn’t exist without our creativity. It’s easy to try new things when you’re a small business, but as companies grow, that becomes more difficult. As a culture, we’re trying to maintain the same creativity levels we had at the start.

When we have new product ideas, we get the entire team together with engineering to discuss what everyone thinks. We even do naming conventions with the entire team, not just the marketing team. Everyone is allowed to give input, whether you’re answering emails on the customer service team or leading the engineering team. It also keeps everyone engaged and excited about what we’re doing here.

SB: That culture also extends to how we engage with partners outside of PhoneSoap. As we’re looking to deliver co-branding opportunities, we’re looking to learn more about our customers rather than just being introspective.


Great stuff. Thanks guys— and if there are brands out there that are interested in collaborating with PhoneSoap, how can they reach out?
JE: We’ve been inspired by the brands that have reached out so far, and we’d love more to reach out. The simplest way is to email [email protected]. That comes to Scott and me and the rest of PhoneSoap

DB: Brand collaborations and licensing can be very impactful. Along with putting brands on our products, there are opportunities to talk to brands about how we disinfect their spaces and operate in their industries. We welcome those conversations too.

Absolutely. Guys, this has been fun and insightful. A huge thanks again for taking time out to chat.

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