Shreya Patel is a biologist and healthcare administrator who seeks to change how folks clean their homes. Products that kill bacteria do more harm than good, she says. And that’s why she launched Hyve, a direct-to-consumer seller of household cleaning goods.
She told me, “Cleaners that kill 99.9% of bacteria leave 0.1% strong enough to withstand toxic chemicals. And the bacteria that remain are likely the most harmful. By leaving the beneficial bacteria, which is food-grade, we control the harmful types. We put a shield down.”
Patel launched Hyve in 2020. She and I recently discussed the business’s first year, the challenge of educating consumers, her long-term goals, and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Hyve.
Shreya Patel: Hyve is a household cleaning product that stems from a personal need. Some cleaners kill 99.9% of bacteria, but they produce fumes. Others, the natural cleaners, clean the surface but not the bacteria. I was looking for a product that did both: neutralize bacteria in a natural way.
A couple of years ago I learned about beneficial bacteria. I was into organic gardening, and I realized that there’s so much you can do with beneficial bacteria in a garden instead of pesticides.
I thought, “If it’s good in my garden and on the vegetables that I’m growing and eating, why can’t I bring it into my home?”
I started researching and learned quickly that beneficial bacteria are used in many industries. So I figured out how to bring those probiotics into my home in the form of cleaning products. They accomplished the equivalent of killing the bacteria, although we’re not actually killing it. They also cleaned the dirt and grime. So it’s the best of both worlds.
Bandholz: Our deodorant at Beardbrand is similar in concept. Cleaners that kill 99.9% of bacteria ensure that only the strongest will survive and take over. A better strategy is to enhance the bacteria you want to keep around.
Patel: That’s right. Cleaners that kill 99.9% of bacteria leave 0.1% strong enough to withstand toxic chemicals. And the bacteria that remain are likely the most harmful. By leaving the beneficial bacteria, which is food-grade, we control the harmful types. We put a shield down. Plus, the beneficial bacteria go where other cleaners cannot.
All bacteria — harmful and beneficial — hide under what’s called biofilm. Traditional cleaners can’t penetrate the biofilm.
When they use our products, customers are laying down helpful bacteria that can remain for five days. All humans have bacteria in our gut. Supplementing those bacteria with yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and similar is common.
So putting down the bacteria as opposed to annihilating everything is what we should be doing. Mother nature has done that for eons.
Bandholz: I love your business model. You’re not shipping liquid.
Patel: Right. Our products come in 2-ounce concentrates. Customers then mix the water themselves. Shipping liquid costs a lot of money. Cleaning products, including ours, are 95% water. So why pay to ship that?
Plus, one of the key tenants of the business is to be mindful of the earth. If we can reduce our carbon footprint, that’s what we’re going to do. By shipping only concentrates, we eliminate a 24-ounce plastic single-use bottle, which could end up in a landfill.
Bandholz: Do you have quality control issues with the different types of water — hard, soft?
Patel: We use distilled water when formulating the product. Even in the 2-ounce concentrate, a portion of that is water. We haven’t seen any issues with customers using tap water.
Bandholz: Is this your first business?
Patel: It’s the first business I’ve built from scratch. My husband and I owned a gelato franchise here in Austin, Texas, from about 2006 to 2009. We sold it, and I’ve been in corporate America since then. Hopefully, Hyve will be my full-time job soon.
Bandholz: You’re in the early days. Tell us about wins and losses thus far.
Patel: I’m a solopreneur. I should have plugged into the entrepreneurial ecosystem a lot sooner. There’s an amazing ecosystem of consumer-brand founders here in Austin. I’m slowly getting plugged in, and I’ve enjoyed it. Also, having a more solid marketing strategy would have been beneficial.
Bandholz: For 20 years consumers have read, “Kills 99.99% of bacteria.” How do you change their mindset?
Patel: You nailed it. Education is the most difficult part. If I have a chance to speak to someone and explain how the bacteria work, it’s a lot easier. And I’ve got the website.
But, yes, we’re trying to undo all these years of marketing that said all bacteria are harmful. That’s just not true. There are more beneficial bacteria than harmful.
So that is the challenge — educating consumers.
Bandholz: You have a 13-year old son, a corporate job, and this side hustle. How do you do it all?
Patel: I have a very supportive family. I grew up in Austin. I have many aunts, uncles, cousins in this area, and my mom and sisters. I’ve got an amazing husband who carries a lot of the burden. So it’s been pretty easy because of my family.
Bandholz: Your product fits the subscription model.
Patel: That’s right. We’ve had quite a number of people sign up for the subscription because, much like me, they just want the product to show up. With our subscription service, customers can set the quantity and frequency.
Marketing is the biggest thing for us now. It’s a new brand, and it’s all about trust. We’ve been working with a handful of influencers who have used the product and believe in it.
Bandholz: Are you running into cash crunches?
Patel: We have no profits yet. I’m working my full-time job to fund it. I’ll keep doing that as long as necessary.
Bandholz: You’re a perfect example of the sacrifices that entrepreneurs make. It’s very admirable.
Patel: I’m a bit of a risk-taker. And I really want to change the perceptions of bacteria. There are lots of people in the world who drink harmful bacteria in their water. If I can make Hyve a success, I can take those funds and help millions of folks who don’t have the privilege of drinking clean water.
That’s my ultimate goal. That’s what I want my legacy to be. It’s why I’ve got Hyve.
Bandholz: Where can people support you and reach out?