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The Interview: Simon Sassoon, CEO, 99POINT9

Sadiyah Ismailjee
26 June 2020

Simon Sassoon is the founder of fragrance and scent company HYscent. After establishing his fragrance brand, he decided to venture into the hygiene sector and launched 99POINT9. 

99POINT9 is the only automated door handle-disinfecting system to have been approved for use by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In a 2006 New York Times article, Simon was credited as having ‘seen the future’ re: germs– specifically how an automatic device to spray hospital-grade disinfectant on door handles – was the best way to counter dangerous germs and viruses, and go beyond the occasional daily hygiene routine of companies.

A UK company – and whose medical advisory board includes Tony Bourne, former CEO of the British Medical Association - 99POINT9’s research data shows that:

  • 75%of consumers say their attitude to hygiene has changed ‘permanently’ as a result of Covid-19.
  • Only 50% feel protected from a disease, when they see a cleaner wipe a door handle.
  • Even less (22%) have a ‘high level of trust’ in the owners of public buildings to maintain the necessary hygiene standards.
  • 75% said they would be more likely to visit a building, if there was a visible, automatic cleaning device.

Simon tells more:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

I left school just before I turned 16 years old and my first job was collecting beer mugs at the Newspaper Workers Club on Fleet Street. I then sold encyclopaedias door-to-door for two years until my uncle Vidal (Sassoon)  called and promptly moved me to Los Angeles to learn the business of hair care and lifestyle products.

I sold shampoo in San Diego for a year and after smashing sales records was promptly told that Vidal had just sold the business to Procter and Gamble! He advised me to ‘do my own thing’ and pursue the thing I loved. For me, that was music; I loved singing R&B and was a classical pianist since the age of 5.

It was an amazing time. I formed an R&B band called ‘Atmosphere’ with Corey Dee Williams – son of the Star Wars actor Billy Dee Williams. For three years we played every club and bar in L.A. With no record deal in sight, the keyboard player and I split to delve into our funk thing and formed the group ‘The Mix’. We were promptly signed by Motown Records.  We recorded our debut album only to see it shelved when Motown was sold.

Even though I loved my time in music, there was so much I wanted to do to express myself creatively, so my journey led me to become an entrepreneur and exercise the other side of my brain.

This had humble beginnings selling ‘ice tubes’ (a bracelet and necklace combination that, when worn, literally cooled people down) on Venice Beach in California. This morphed into a cool, beachy jewellery line that eventually sold to many department stores across America and some high-profile international boutiques and department stores.

My tastes became more refined and this led to my eponymous collection of sterling silver watches which I sold to 600 craft galleries across America. I drove all over the US every year for three years between March and November – visiting all the stores where my watches were sold. 54,000 road miles a year, 600 stops, 600 trunk shows…. this taught me a lot about “different strokes for different folks!” and perseverance.

I have had quite the journey to where I am now.

How does 99POINT9’s technology work?

The 99POINT9 is fixed to a door 15 inches above the handle, knob or push plate and automatically sprays a burst of quick-drying, isopropanol and quaternary ammonium compound-based formula that disinfects the door handle, killing 99.9% of all germs.

Our technology also disinfects the entire door handle, not just the top, but underneath as well. That is exceedingly difficult to do, but we have done it.

Also, any purely alcohol-based bactericide, like hand sanitiser, is effective only for as long as it is wet. It kills the germs initially but as soon as the alcohol dries, bacteria and viruses start colonizing again. Our formula has residual efficacy. It kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, even after it has dried.

By disinfecting the door handle at regular intervals – as frequently as every fifteen minutes – the 99POINT9 acts as an ‘invisible janitor’, consistently protecting people at a critical point of cross-contamination – the door handle.

It is cost-effective, simple to install, and easy to maintain. With door handles, you are very exposed to the frailties of human nature. Will people regularly wash their hands effectively? Unfortunately, they do not. Will you trust a company, a shop or a big office to clean all their door handles, thoroughly, every 15 minutes? It just does not happen. With the 99POINT9, you kill all the germs, all the time, and its automatic – you do not have to remember to do it. It is the ultimate peace of mind.

It is also the only automated door handle-disinfecting system to have been approved for use by the US Environmental Protection Agency.


What inspired you to launch this product?

It was 2005, and I was living in New York. I was out to dinner and my then girlfriend came back from the bathroom with a paper towel in her hand – which she did every time! I asked why she did that, and she said - I cannot touch the bathroom exit door handle!

That night, I had a dream. I saw a machine above the door handle. I woke up but then forgot about it. Incredibly, I had the exact same dream six weeks later. This time I did think about it. And did something about it.

I called my friend in Hong Kong who was an electronic engineer. I flew there, we got some sketch pads out and after six months we produced the first prototype. 10 months later we were ready for market. The original device, called the P1, was launched at the ISSA (International Sanitary Supply Association) show in 2008 in Chicago.

Distributors and end users were lining up to buy it, although the average order was much smaller to what we are experiencing today.

After the show, The New York Times wrote that I had seen the future. Sitting here today, I can only reflect how right they were.

Then the Global Financial Crisis happened. We had the right product, but not at quite the right time.

Now we have the right product at the right time.

How will visible automatic door-handle disinfectant devices encourage consumers back to shop, and employees back to work as lockdowns ease both in the UK and across the globe?

This has been a global pandemic. It has caused the biggest economic slowdown since the 1930s and a restriction of movement not known outside war time. This is something that none of us will ever forget.

Our research shows that 75% of consumers say their attitude to hygiene has changed ‘permanently’ due to Covid-19. The same percentage said they would be more likely to visit a building, if there was a visible, automatic cleaning device.

Our research also shows that only 50% feel protected from a disease, when they see a cleaner wipe a door handle and even less (22%) have a ‘high level of trust’ in building owners to maintain the necessary hygiene standards.

Quite simply, if you can visibly see a product keeping you safe, it makes you far more comfortable going shopping, going to work, or going to a restaurant – than relying on somebody ‘telling you’ they’ve maintained hygiene.

Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, do you think consumer behaviour and hygiene has permanently changed?

Absolutely – yes.

Can retailers/brands gain consumer trust back by relying on traditional hygiene services?

I believe the world has changed and I do not think traditional hygiene services are built for the new normal we live in now. When the biggest previous outcome from poor hygiene may have been a common cold, or winter flu – consumers may have felt more relaxed.

Now, we have seen what could happen - another lockdown, the loss of a loved one, life-changing physical conditions. It has been well-documented that getting the public out of a lockdown is harder than getting them into it. It is human nature to be worried by what we have experienced in recent months.

The onus is on retailers and brands to reassure consumers. Is the hygiene strategy for the old normal enough? I do not think it is, and our market research bears this out. Consumers need to visibly see effective precautions being taken. Retailers may feel they are doing enough but you cannot buck human nature. Consumers will go where they feel safe.

Will a brands/retailer’s reputation be affected depending on its hygiene measures during this strange and challenging times?

Undoubtedly, yes. The ethics of companies are under more scrutiny than ever before, and there has been a variety of public naming and shaming about corporate behaviour during the pandemic. This trend was underway anyway as consumers become more ethically minded, but the pandemic has heightened it.

The public have long memories and increasingly link their purchasing decisions, and their perception of brands – to how companies behave. Consumers will rightfully ask companies: are you making the effort? are you doing the right thing?

It is not quite the same obviously, but I think the airline model is partially instructive. When you fly on a plane, your first thought is: are you going to keep me safe? Airlines have long known the mantra – you think safety is expensive, try an accident – and we are moving more that way with retailers.

What is the size of hygiene and cleaning service market currently?

There are different measures of market size that one can use, but all of them suggest that the market is comfortably in the billions. That does not surprise me.

Hygiene and cleaning are an everyday need that has gone to a new level due to the pandemic – and trust levels will make or break employers and brands.

That creates a lot of demand.

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