An Interview with SoaPen Co-Founder, Immigrant Entrepreneur, and ‘Shark Tank’ Star Shubham Issar

Shubham Issar Sells Soap-Filled Pens that Make Handwashing Fun for Children

Shubham Issar is an industrial designer and co-founder of SoaPen Inc. SoaPen was designed to address the fact that hand-washing with soap can prevent one out of three children from contracting infectious illnesses. Essentially, SoaPen is a long-lasting soap crayon on a mission.

“With SoapPen, we are on a mission to get all kids to love washing their hands and to understand the importance of hygiene.”

The idea is simple, innovative, and life-changing all rolled into a fun design that keeps kids hooked. It’s a soap-filled pen that makes washing hands super easy. The Soapen formula is non-irritating, nontoxic, and free of SLS, parabens, ETDA, phthalates, and any animal by-product. They also give back. For every SoaPen purchased, the company donates soap or a percentage of profits to partner organizations that support children’s hygiene and health.

We’d love to hear your inspiring story! Tell us about how you got to where you are today.

I grew up in India and moved to the States at 17 to study Industrial Design at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Eager to enter the social impact after graduation, my co-founder and I looked into the Unicef Wearables for Good Challenge which called for designers to address problems mothers and children were facing around the world. Growing up in India, we knew first hand how important good hygiene habits are in disease prevention but the challenge drew our attention to statistics related to hand hygiene. Did you know that over 1.5 million children under the age of 5 die due to infectious diseases? To our shock, more than 50% of these diseases can be prevented by proper handwashing with soap. After visiting schools both in India and the U.S., we came up with the idea for Soap Pen, a soap-filled pen that firsthand encourages hand-washing by allowing kids to draw designs on their hands and then wash them off.

Our idea won the Unicef Wearables for Good Challenge in 2015, and we officially brought Soapen to market in 2019. Along the way, we’ve gained recognition from Forbes 30U30, Toyota’s Mothers of Invention Award, and recently secured a deal on Shark Tank. Soapen has also been featured on Real Simple, Parents Mag, Money Magazine, and Now This among other publications.

How did you market your business when it was brand new?

We were entirely bootstrapped when we started Soapen, relying on grants and crowdfunding campaigns to fund the business. Since the majority of our funds were used in the research, development, and production of Soapen, it left little behind for marketing. Fortunately, when we launched the product in 2019, we had just won Toyota’s Mother of Invention Award and earned a spotlight at the Women In The World conference, which also got us a feature in Real Simple magazine. That was the first feature that exposed us to a lot of moms and grandmas. Beyond that, organic PR placements along with building a strong social following on Instagram were our main focus when we started.

How do you leverage technology and innovation (like digital tools, AI, social media, etc.) to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving business landscape?

We love using social media to showcase our products and attract new customers. We keep up with trends and post on TikTok and Instagram to capture our fun, effective product. We also sell on large online marketplaces to get our products in front of as many people as possible. For a more targeted approach, we invest in digital advertising to attract the exact customers we want: parents of young children. There are so many technologies out there to help create brand awareness, and we try to leverage as many as possible.

How do you prioritize self-care and life outside of work while managing the demands of your business?

I am a creature of habit, so having set morning and night routines gives me peace of mind. Including small acts of self-care, like a 30-minute workout or a meditation in the morning, into my daily routine helps me manage the demands of running a business.

What advice would you give to a new business owner? Or to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. If you have an idea and the hard work to see it through, the results
will come. Starting a business isn’t easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. There will be ups and
downs, but if you have an innovative product, a good business plan, and you’re able to leverage
today’s technology to your advantage, then good things can happen.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why?

Pitching Soapen on Shark Tank has definitely been a highlight of my entrepreneurial journey. The adrenaline, nerves, and excitement of standing before seasoned investors and presenting our brainchild was an amazing experience. The Shark Tank platform provided a unique opportunity to not only validate our product but also to receive invaluable feedback from some of the sharpest minds in the business world.

Beyond the financial aspect, the experience brought visibility and credibility to Soapen. It amplified our reach, attracting a broader audience and opening doors to collaborations and opportunities we hadn’t imagined. It felt like a celebration of our journey and a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come.

We all face challenges. Looking back, what have been some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you’ve had to navigate?

My co-founder and I grew up in New Delhi, India, and moved to the U.S. to attend design school and started our journey with Soapen right after graduating. The initial struggle? Navigating the startup world without much of a community or network. Figuring out how to turn the Soapen idea into reality was a major head-scratcher, taking us a good two years to crack. As we pushed to get Soapen out there, our lack of a solid personal network threw a wrench into raising a friends and family round. Growing the business came with its own set of challenges, but overcoming these hurdles became the defining story of our journey. It’s a wild ride turning a cool idea into a successful venture, especially when you’re carving your path in the entrepreneurial jungle.

Can you share any specific examples of how you have successfully built and maintained strategic partnerships or collaborations?

Receiving the James Dyson Award (JDA) early in our journey was a game-changer for Soapen, particularly as industrial designers. Our collaboration with the JDA team has been a cornerstone of our growth. Beyond providing press opportunities and tactical support, the partnership goes deeper, involving a dynamic exchange of knowledge. We’ve actively contributed to events for students associated with JDA, sharing our knowledge as designers and entrepreneurs, and ultimately fostering mutual growth and success.

What inspires you? Do you have a favorite quote or motto that inspires you?

I find inspiration in the resilience of individuals who overcome challenges and the creativity that arises from diverse perspectives!

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