Reto Wälchli, CEO & Co-Founder of Alpine White talks to us about the origins of Alpine White, the big role sustainability plays for them, as well as the company’s growth and latest round of financing.
Alpine White can basically be called a “nursery project” because that’s exactly what it was in the beginning. Back in our computer science training, Alexander and I fulfilled the typical cliché – lots of coffee, sweet drinks, and screen time, just not so conducive to teeth. We wanted our beautiful teeth back, but only the dentist could fix it. The experience there was unpleasant and uncomfortable: you had to be there, have your gums taped off, and it’s also painful – simply not a desirable experience.
Then we discovered whitening strips in America and were thrilled with the concept – until we found out that you couldn’t buy them in Switzerland or Europe. The ingredients were not approved. This motivated us to find our own “approvable” solution. We then came across the ingredient PAP – this has been around since the 1980s but had not caught on due to the complexity of its stability. After two years of self-testing on our own teeth and many discussions with experts, we launched our first product, Whitening Strips, at the end of 2016 and the rest is history.
One product turned into seven, a small print run in Switzerland turned into a large distribution throughout the DACH region. We took an opportunistic approach and pushed the project on a part-time basis. When we had reached a size, we asked ourselves whether we should continue with only the profitable part or expand further areas and markets. We decided on the latter and thus to make Alpine White really big.
We do the so-called triple bottom line approach out of intrinsic motivation. We are convinced that if you want to be successful, you must do business sustainably. In concrete terms, this looks like this:
In addition, we are expanding our product range in the direction of prevention, because this is more sustainable and cost-effective than doing something only when tooth decay begins. This year, we will be launching several needs-oriented products that combine whitening and care.
The background: The dental (care) world of today sells products that are supposed to help achieve dental health, but an incredible number of people still have cavities and other complaints. Something is going wrong here. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the essential thing is that not much has changed in toothpaste in the last 30 years. They mostly consist of water, filler, abrasive, fluoride, and some flavouring. This is too little to effectively protect the oral cavity and the teeth.
In facial care, more has been achieved to date: good products and routines make everyone look practically ten years younger. We have not yet reached the dental area, and this is where we come in. In our DNA, the whiteness of the teeth will always be there but will combine this with prevention in the future.
Frankly, there is no recipe for why it works or not. It always takes a bit of luck as well. We were very young at the beginning of our Alpine White story. Unfortunately, that means you’re not always taken seriously by established companies right away. So, we had to come up with something. We contacted them, said we had a great product and asked specifically what we needed to do to make it exciting for them. Based on this feedback, we improved the products, were able to build a strong USP and satisfy a lively customer need that was not yet covered in the market in this way.
In the beginning, we did everything on our own and with our own resources. At some point, the moment came when we could no longer have done it with bootstrapping. We needed to take measures for which we needed capital. Instead of planning only one step, we thought further into the future and with this planning and structure we could arouse the interest of some investors.
Once the decision was made to make Alpine White really big, we started looking for investors. Through the recommendation of another startup founder, we came across LEXR. Since then, we’ve been working with Michele from the corporate team. Everything was new for us at the beginning of the funding round – and Michele has been great with us through the whole process. From the strategy to the term sheet, to the structure of the shareholder agreement, to how to agree with lawyers on the other side. That helped us a lot.
We are still in a lively exchange with LEXR for some further projects and their legal implementation. For us, working with Michele means “peace of mind” and that we don’t have to worry about legal stuff ourselves anymore. When we write an email, we receive a reply in the shortest possible time, and time is taken to explain legally complex issues in a simple and understandable way.
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