How Aclarity Bootstrapped its Journey from B2C to PFAS Destruction

In the landscape of environmental innovation, where necessity drives invention, Aclarity stands as a beacon of progress, particularly in the battle against per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This formidable challenge, rooted deeply in the domain of water purification, found a formidable adversary in Aclarity—a company that pivoted from consumer-focused solutions to spearheading advancements in PFAS destruction technology. At the helm of this transformative journey is Julie Bliss Mullen, a visionary CEO and founder, whose insights and leadership have steered Aclarity through its evolutionary path from B2C to a leader in the environmental sector’s fight against PFAS.

No wonder I wanted to get my insights straight from her, hence let’s explore PFAS destruction:

with 🎙️ Julie Bliss Mullen – CEO & Founder at Aclarity

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Full Video:

Teaser – PFAS Destruction with Aclarity

7 Insights in under 7 Minutes with Julie Bliss Mullen (CEO & Founder at Aclarity)

Table of contents

Introducing: Aclarity, the PFAS Killer

The journey of Aclarity is a testament to the power of innovation, resilience, and strategic foresight. Initially conceived with a focus on providing solutions directly to consumers, Aclarity quickly identified a more pressing, albeit challenging, market need—the destruction of PFAS. These toxic chemicals, pervasive in the environment and resistant to traditional forms of water treatment, represented a growing concern for communities worldwide. Recognizing the significance and urgency of this issue, Mullen guided Aclarity through a pivotal shift, refocusing the company’s efforts and expertise towards developing proprietary systems capable of effectively addressing PFAS contamination.

This article delves into the key insights shared by Julie Bliss Mullen on the (don’t) Waste Water podcast, shedding light on the strategies, challenges, and successes of Aclarity’s journey. From harnessing market feedback for product development to navigating the complexities of regulatory landscapes and leveraging strategic partnerships, Mullen’s experience offers invaluable lessons for innovators and entrepreneurs alike. As we explore Aclarity’s transition and the insights behind its strategic decisions, we uncover the principles that have guided the company not just to adapt but to thrive, setting a new standard in the quest for cleaner, safer water.

Pivoting and Addressing Market Needs

At the core of Aclarity’s strategic evolution is a profound commitment to addressing the most pressing market needs through innovative solutions. Initially, the company embarked on its journey with a focus on B2C applications, targeting water purification directly at the consumer level. However, it wasn’t long before a more critical and complex challenge emerged, capturing the company’s focus—PFAS contamination. This pivot wasn’t merely a change in direction but a strategic response to a burgeoning environmental crisis and market demand.

Pivoting with Purpose

Julie Bliss Mullen, with her finger on the pulse of the environmental sector, quickly recognized the escalating concern surrounding PFAS. These chemicals, notorious for their persistence in the environment and potential health risks, presented a formidable challenge. Traditional water treatment technologies fell short in addressing PFAS effectively, leaving a gap in the market that Aclarity was uniquely positioned to fill. The decision to pivot from B2C to focusing on PFAS destruction was not taken lightly. It was a calculated move based on extensive market feedback and the realization that Aclarity could make a significant impact in an area of critical need.

The Role of Customer Feedback

Customer feedback served as a crucial catalyst for Aclarity’s strategic pivot. Engaging with the market, Mullen and her team were diligent in gathering insights from potential users, industry experts, and environmental advocates. This direct line of communication highlighted the urgency of addressing PFAS contamination and the lack of viable solutions available in the market. It became increasingly clear that Aclarity’s technology could offer a groundbreaking approach to PFAS destruction, one that could potentially alter the landscape of water treatment.

A Pragmatic Approach to Innovation

Mullen’s leadership was instrumental in guiding Aclarity through this transition. By focusing on rapid prototyping and iterative development, Aclarity was able to quickly adapt its technology in response to market feedback. This approach not only accelerated the company’s innovation cycle but also ensured that the solutions developed were directly aligned with customer needs and environmental impact. Aclarity’s agility in development and willingness to pivot based on market demand underscored the company’s commitment to not just innovation for its own sake but innovation driven by a clear purpose—to address the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.

Innovate within Niche Markets before expanding

The decision to focus on PFAS destruction within landfill leachate did not happen by accident. It was the result of a deliberate strategy to master a niche market before contemplating broader horizons. Aclarity’s transition to tackling PFAS destruction, under Julie Bliss Mullen’s leadership, epitomizes the company’s strategic approach to innovation and market expansion. By honing its technology and services to meet the specific demands of landfill leachate treatment, Aclarity not only solidified its expertise but also laid the groundwork for future growth.

Nailing the Niche: Landfill Leachate as the Starting Point

The choice to target PFAS destruction in landfill leachate was strategic. Landfills are significant contributors to PFAS contamination, with a substantial portion of manufactured PFAS eventually finding its way into these sites. The complexity and high concentration of PFAS in landfill leachate presented a formidable challenge but also an opportunity for Aclarity to demonstrate the efficacy of its technology. By focusing on this niche, Aclarity was able to refine its approach, achieving remarkable success in PFAS destruction and setting a new benchmark in the field.

Leveraging Success for Expansion

The success in landfill leachate treatment served as a proof of concept, showcasing Aclarity’s potential to address PFAS contamination across a broader spectrum. The in-depth understanding gained from focusing on this niche market has been invaluable, providing Aclarity with the confidence and credibility to explore additional applications for its technology. Customer references and testimonials, accrued from successes in the landfill sector, have become powerful tools in Aclarity’s arsenal, facilitating discussions and partnerships with other industries facing PFAS challenges.

Strategic Expansion: Beyond Landfills

With a solid foundation in PFAS destruction within landfill leachate, Aclarity is now poised to extend its reach. The versatility of Aclarity’s proprietary technology opens up numerous possibilities for application in other sectors plagued by PFAS contamination. Industries such as wastewater treatment, manufacturing, and even the military, where PFAS usage has been extensive, stand to benefit from Aclarity’s innovative solutions. This strategic expansion is not a departure from Aclarity’s core expertise but an extension of its commitment to providing effective, environmentally responsible PFAS destruction methods.

Customer-Driven Development: the Path to Innovation

Aclarity’s pivot towards PFAS destruction was significantly influenced by an understanding of market needs, but it was the company’s commitment to customer-driven development that truly accelerated its progress. This focus on developing solutions in response to pressing market problems has been a cornerstone of Aclarity’s strategy under Julie Bliss Mullen’s leadership. The inception of their focus on landfill leachate, specifically, illustrates how Aclarity has harnessed customer insights to drive innovation and product development efforts.

From Feedback to Foresight

Before Aclarity’s deliberate shift towards serving industrial markets, the company did not employ a dedicated sales team. Surprisingly, this didn’t hinder Aclarity’s ability to attract business. Instead, the company thrived on inbound inquiries, with potential customers seeking out Aclarity’s specialized PFAS destruction solutions. This phenomenon was not just a testament to the pressing need for effective PFAS remediation technologies but also highlighted the alignment of Aclarity’s offerings with the market’s demands. The inquiries and subsequent projects served as critical feedback loops, enabling Aclarity to refine its technology and approach in direct response to real-world challenges.

Inbound Interest: A Testament to Market Fit

The fact that landfill operators and other industries reached out to Aclarity with their PFAS concerns underscored the pressing need for solutions in this space. This inbound interest provided Aclarity with unique insights into the challenges these sectors faced, directly influencing the company’s research and development focus. Rather than pursuing hypothetical market needs, Aclarity’s product development was grounded in addressing genuine, urgent problems presented by their customers. This approach not only expedited the adoption of Aclarity’s technology but also reinforced the company’s position as a responsive and solution-oriented innovator in the environmental sector.

Leveraging Customer Insights for Strategic Direction

The insights gained from interactions with customers have been instrumental in shaping Aclarity’s strategic direction. Each customer inquiry and project has contributed to a deeper understanding of the PFAS problem across different contexts, from landfill leachate to industrial wastewater. This knowledge has enabled Aclarity to tailor its technology and services more precisely to meet the needs of its target markets. Moreover, the success stories and data generated from these customer engagements have become invaluable assets for Aclarity, bolstering its credibility and facilitating further market penetration.

Leveraging Strategic Partnerships and Investments

In the dynamic landscape of environmental technology, strategic partnerships and investments have been pivotal in propelling Aclarity’s mission forward. Under the insightful leadership of Julie Bliss Mullen, Aclarity has not only made significant strides in PFAS destruction technology but has also cultivated a network of strategic relationships that amplify its impact and reach. These collaborations span from financial backers who provide much-needed capital to industry partners who expand the practical application of Aclarity’s innovations.

Strategic Partnerships: Amplifying Impact

Aclarity’s journey is marked by key partnerships that have significantly expanded the company’s operational and technological capabilities. Collaborations with industry giants like Xylem and De Nora have been particularly noteworthy. These partnerships have not only validated Aclarity’s technology on larger platforms but have also provided avenues for real-world application and testing. The relationships with such established companies have lent Aclarity invaluable insights into market needs and operational challenges, allowing for more targeted and effective solutions.

Moreover, these strategic partnerships have served a dual purpose: enhancing Aclarity’s credibility in the market and providing access to a broader customer base. By aligning with well-respected names in the water treatment industry, Aclarity has effectively bridged the gap between innovative technology and market adoption, a challenge many startups face.

Investments: Fueling Growth and Innovation

Investments play a crucial role in scaling startups, and Aclarity’s story is no exception. Financial backing from entities like Burnt Island Ventures and Aqualateral has provided not just the capital necessary for research, development, and scaling but also strategic guidance and market insights. These investors were carefully chosen for their understanding of the environmental sector and commitment to sustainable solutions, aligning with Aclarity’s mission and values.

The investments have enabled Aclarity to expand its team, scale its technology, and explore new applications for its PFAS destruction systems. Furthermore, the financial and strategic support from these partners has been instrumental in navigating the complex regulatory landscape of water treatment, ensuring that Aclarity’s solutions are not only effective but also compliant with evolving standards.

The Importance of Aligned Values

Julie Bliss Mullen emphasizes the importance of aligning with partners and investors who share Aclarity’s vision and understand the intricacies of the water treatment market. This alignment ensures that the partnerships are mutually beneficial and geared towards long-term success rather than short-term gains. The strategic collaborations Aclarity has forged are based on a shared commitment to environmental sustainability and innovation, ensuring that each party contributes meaningfully to the collective goal of PFAS destruction.

Preparation for Regulatory Compliance: Navigating the PFAS Challenge

Navigating the evolving regulatory landscape of PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) destruction and treatment is a daunting challenge, yet it’s one that Aclarity, under the leadership of Julie Bliss Mullen, has approached with foresight and strategic planning. The regulatory environment surrounding PFAS is complex, with new standards and expectations emerging as the scientific understanding of these substances and their impact on public health evolves. Aclarity’s proactive stance on compliance and regulatory matters not only demonstrates the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship but also positions it as a leader ready to adapt and capitalize on regulatory shifts.

Anticipating Regulatory Changes

Aclarity’s journey through the maze of PFAS regulations is marked by an anticipatory approach. Understanding that PFAS regulations are in flux and can significantly impact operational strategies, Mullen and her team have made regulatory compliance a cornerstone of their strategic planning. This forward-thinking approach ensures that Aclarity’s technologies are not just effective but also align with current and potential future regulatory standards.

The anticipation of regulatory changes concerning PFAS treatment and disposal has led Aclarity to develop solutions that are robust and adaptable. By closely monitoring developments within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulatory bodies, Aclarity ensures that its technologies remain at the forefront of compliance, ready to meet or exceed the strictest of standards.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

For Aclarity, preparation for regulatory compliance is not merely a matter of navigating legal requirements; it’s an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the water treatment industry. The company’s proactive measures in anticipation of the Clean Water Act’s evolving standards showcase how regulatory preparedness can be a driver of innovation and market differentiation. By staying ahead of regulatory trends, Aclarity not only mitigates risks associated with non-compliance but also positions itself as a trusted partner for industries seeking to address PFAS contamination within the framework of current and future regulations.

The role of regulation in the water sector cannot be overstated, with compliance often serving as a key determinant of technological adoption and market entry. Aclarity’s engagement with regulatory bodies and its commitment to exceeding compliance requirements underscore the company’s dedication to providing solutions that are not just effective but also environmentally responsible and sustainable.

Strategic Advantage Through Compliance

Aclarity’s strategic approach to regulatory compliance has yielded a distinct competitive advantage. By aligning its technology development and business strategies with the trajectory of regulatory standards, Aclarity is not just reacting to changes but actively shaping its offerings to meet the needs of a market governed by these regulations. This alignment with regulatory expectations has facilitated smoother market entry for Aclarity’s solutions, reduced the burden of compliance for its customers, and enhanced the company’s reputation as a leader in environmental innovation.

Strategic Hiring and Team Building: Empowering Aclarity’s Mission

In the rapidly evolving landscape of environmental technology, the strength and cohesion of a team can significantly amplify a company’s ability to innovate and adapt. For Aclarity, strategic hiring and team building have been instrumental in navigating the company’s ambitious journey from a consumer-focused entity to a pioneer in PFAS destruction. Julie Bliss Mullen’s foresight in assembling a team that complements her vision has been a key driver of Aclarity’s success.

A Strategic Focus on Team Composition

One of Mullen’s earliest and most strategic hiring decisions was to bring on board a Chief Science Officer (CSO). This move underscored the importance of balancing the leadership team’s capabilities, ensuring that Aclarity’s technical aspirations were matched by scientific rigor and innovation. The appointment of a CSO, a role dedicated to spearheading the technical development of Aclarity’s PFAS destruction technology, allowed Mullen to focus on strategic partnerships, customer engagement, and overall business growth. This division of labor exemplifies strategic team building, with each member playing to their strengths to propel the company forward.

Empowering Technical Leadership

The decision to empower technical leadership within Aclarity has fostered an environment where innovation thrives. By having a dedicated CSO, Aclarity ensured that its scientific endeavors were led by expertise and a deep understanding of the technological challenges and opportunities in PFAS destruction. This has enabled Aclarity to remain at the forefront of technological advancements in the field, driving the development of solutions that are not only effective but also economically viable and regulatory compliant.

Building a Cohesive and Motivated Team

Under Mullen’s leadership, Aclarity has prioritized not just the technical skills of its team members but also their alignment with the company’s mission and values. This approach to team building has resulted in a cohesive, motivated group of individuals who are committed to Aclarity’s success. The collective dedication to environmental stewardship and innovation has fostered a collaborative culture within Aclarity, where challenges are met with collective problem-solving and a shared sense of purpose.

Strategic Hiring as a Catalyst for Growth

As Aclarity continues to grow and expand its market reach, strategic hiring remains a cornerstone of its business strategy. Recognizing that the company’s success is directly tied to the talent and dedication of its team, Mullen has emphasized the importance of bringing on individuals who are not only skilled but also passionate about making a difference in the world of water treatment. This focus on strategic hiring has enabled Aclarity to rapidly scale its operations, develop groundbreaking technologies, and establish itself as a leader in the environmental sector.

Bootstrapping and Careful Financial Management

The journey of Aclarity from a concept to a leader in the environmental sector is a story of strategic bootstrapping and astute financial management. Under the guidance of Julie Bliss Mullen, Aclarity has navigated the challenging waters of startup growth with a focus on sustainability and careful resource allocation. This prudent approach has not only ensured the company’s survival through various stages of development but has also set the stage for significant milestones without prematurely diluting equity.

Enhancing Bootstrapping as a Growth Strategy

In its initial years, Aclarity embraced bootstrapping, a strategy that involves minimizing expenses and reinvesting revenue back into the company. This approach allowed Aclarity to maintain control over its direction and priorities, focusing intensely on research, development, and market validation without the immediate pressure of investor expectations. By leveraging grants and awards, Aclarity was able to fund critical research and prototype development, laying the foundation for its PFAS destruction technology with limited resources.

The Strategic Use of Grants and Awards

Grants and awards played a pivotal role in Aclarity’s bootstrapping phase, providing essential funding without sacrificing equity. Mullen’s strategic approach to seeking out and securing these financial resources underscored the company’s commitment to innovative solutions in water treatment. These funds not only supported the technical development of Aclarity’s proprietary technology but also enabled the company to conduct vital market research, further refining its focus on PFAS destruction.

Making Strategic Decisions with Limited Resources

The challenge of managing limited resources has been a constant theme in Aclarity’s journey. However, Mullen’s leadership exemplifies how strategic decision-making can maximize the impact of every dollar spent. Decisions regarding research directions, prototype development, and initial market entry were made with a keen awareness of cost-effectiveness and potential return on investment. This careful financial management has allowed Aclarity to reach critical development milestones and begin scaling its operations more effectively.

Leveraging Equity and Acceleration for Future Growth

As Aclarity progressed, the strategic decision to leverage equity for acceleration became a critical aspect of its financial strategy. The timing of equity fundraising was carefully planned to coincide with significant technological milestones and market readiness, ensuring that the company could command favorable valuations and attract investors who were aligned with Aclarity’s mission. This approach has allowed Aclarity to maintain a strong financial position, readying it for the next phase of growth and market expansion.

Conclusion: A Blueprint for Innovation and Environmental Stewardship

The journey of Aclarity, under the leadership of Julie Bliss Mullen, is a testament to the power of vision, strategic agility, and unwavering commitment to addressing environmental challenges. From its early days focused on B2C applications to its pivotal shift towards becoming a leader in PFAS destruction, Aclarity’s story is rich with lessons on innovation, resilience, and the strategic deployment of limited resources.

Vision and Strategic Agility

At the heart of Aclarity’s success lies the visionary leadership of Julie Bliss Mullen, whose ability to foresee market needs and navigate the complex landscape of environmental regulations has set a solid foundation for the company. Her strategic agility in pivoting Aclarity’s focus towards PFAS destruction showcases the importance of responsiveness to market feedback and emerging environmental concerns. This agility, coupled with a commitment to customer-driven development, has positioned Aclarity as a frontrunner in the environmental sector, ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Unwavering Commitment to Environmental Challenges

Aclarity’s journey underscores the significance of unwavering commitment to solving pressing environmental challenges. Through strategic hiring, team building, and fostering a culture of innovation, Aclarity has developed solutions that not only address the immediate needs of PFAS destruction but also set the stage for future advancements in water treatment technologies. This commitment extends beyond technological innovation to encompass regulatory engagement, strategic partnerships, and financial prudence, all aimed at sustaining long-term impact.

A Blueprint for Future Innovators

Aclarity’s story offers a blueprint for startups and innovators in the environmental sector. It highlights the importance of aligning technological innovation with market needs, strategic planning, and the cultivation of partnerships that amplify impact. Moreover, it demonstrates the potential of strategic financial management and the judicious use of resources to sustain growth and innovation. As environmental challenges continue to evolve, Aclarity’s journey provides valuable insights into the strategies that can drive meaningful change and progress.

Looking Ahead

As Aclarity looks to the future, its foundation built on innovation, strategic foresight, and a commitment to environmental stewardship, the company is well-positioned to continue its trajectory of growth and impact. The roadmap laid out by Julie Bliss Mullen and her team serves not only as a guide for navigating the complexities of the environmental sector but also as a beacon of hope for the possibility of a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable world.

In sum, Aclarity’s journey from B2C to a leading force in PFAS destruction encapsulates the essence of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and environmental responsibility. Under Julie Bliss Mullen’s leadership, Aclarity stands as a testament to what is possible when vision, commitment, and strategic acumen converge to address some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

My Full Conversation with Julie Bliss Mullen on PFAS Destruction

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

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Antoine Walter: Hi, Julie. Welcome to the show.

Julie Bliss Mullen: Hi Antoine, so great to be here. Thank you.

Antoine Walter: I’ve been waiting far too long to have the conversation. You’ve been recommended by. countless guests on that microphone and I’m super excited about what we’re going to discuss today. I found that paper from Alison Ling and I’m sure you read it because actually I found it because you liked it.

That’s a hint.

Julie Bliss Mullen: Yes, I did.

Antoine Walter: The paper shows that there is not enough money in the world to remove PFAS from the environment as fast as we’re adding it. So does that mean we’re doomed?

Julie Bliss Mullen: No, we’re not doomed but that’s such a complex question because are we doomed from a societal from a political impact, from a health impact.

I don’t think we’re doomed in any of those necessarily. With regulations tightening, it is certainly causing a lot of financial issues and economic issues, the economic impacts. There are thousands of impacted communities with PFAS. just in drinking water. So that’s where Ali’s paper was talking about the cost of remediation.

So are we doomed? No, we’re not doomed. But we darn gotta get creative as to figure out how we’re gonna clean it up. And then we also have to get really creative and work with the legislature’s um, chemical companies to try and limit the use and exposure of PFAS so that we can protect future generations because that’s first and foremost really what we should be doing.

Antoine Walter: That’s for me and then I promise the rest of the question will be serious but that one is actually half serious still because I heard that discussing with people if PFAS is in 98 percent of the people’s blood, probably in your blood, probably in my blood, can it be that dangerous?

Julie Bliss Mullen: So there are a lot of studies on this and then there are a lot of studies that are trying to invalidate those studies.

Right? And so, I am an engineer right now. So I like to look at the data, and data’s suggesting that they’re harmful, and suggesting certainly that they’re carcinogenic. And what’s interesting to me is like, look at where PFAS is, in the bulk, in aggregate, in the environment. You do find cancer clusters. I’m not one to like twist the story here, but causation is a real thing.

Those that live by areas with a lot of PFAS have elevated levels of cancer. We live in a world where 40 percent of people, you know, 40 percent technically, there’s a risk of getting cancer, Adam. That wasn’t the case a couple decades ago. And not to say that PFAS hasn’t been around for decades, because it has.

There’s certainly a link between some of these chemicals and cancer. Are we doomed? No. But my gosh, if there wasn’t PFAS and a lot of these other cancerous chemicals in the environment, would the risk of cancer be a lot less? I think so.

Antoine Walter: Before we go into the full story, what’s your differentiated approach with Aclarity and what’s your elevator pitch to the company?

Julie Bliss Mullen: We develop and deploy proprietary systems that destroy PFAS and liquid waste. We focus mostly on destroying PFAS. where it is found, you know, in a decent concentration, decent bulk concentration, we’ve found that destroying PFAS in landfill leachate is a really good place to start. Almost 50 percent of PFAS that’s manufactured ends up in a landfill, in the trash.

And these landfills are under a lot of scrutiny right now. In the past, they could This charge will lead the leachate to a local stream or river. Over the past couple decades, they’ve been sending typically their leachate to a wastewater treatment plant. Now the wastewater treatment plants are under a lot of scrutiny, so they’re charging a decent amount of money to accept this landfill leachate.

That’s the nasty, you know, rainwater. It’s costing a lot of money. There’s a significant amount of downstream risk for the landfills. and also for the wastewater treatment plants. So we’re just doing PFAS, you know, a lot at in landfill leachate, at the landfills. We’re doing remediation work, working with some conventional industrial plants.

In terms of differentiators, what are we competing against? Well, we’re competing against discharge to a wastewater treatment plant, sometimes deep well injection, or maybe concentration into a very small volume and solidification of that, of that liquid, of that PFAS. In drinking water, I would say we’re competing more against activated carbon capture and ion exchange capture.

Antoine Walter: Are you competing with activated carbon and ion exchange in drinking water or are you adding an additional layer on top of them?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Uh, so I think it’s both. In some ways we’re competing, in other ways we’re working with them, especially when it comes to regenerable. media, right? Resins or carbon or whatnot.

If we’re able to regenerate the carbon or the resin, then take that and brine and destroyed PFAS in the brine. Well, now we essentially have a closed lip solution, which is fantastic. I just want to say, too, that EPA, you know, EPA has published a, or is in the process of publishing, best available technology for drinking water, for treating PFAS, and certainly activated carbon in resins, single use resins.

I don’t think they have any innovative, newer type of, of technology, even, I don’t even believe that regenerable media is on there. Certainly just no destruction technology is made onto the, to the best available technology list. I’m talking specifically in the U. S., but I, I would believe a similar in the, in Europe as well.

So that makes it a little bit challenging, but it’s also EPA’s job is, you know, what we’re trying to do when I’m meeting with EPA to try and figure out how we can, utilities. communities try and augment what essentially is going to be a massive supply chain issue when these utilities now are regulated and they have to treat.

If we can regenerate some of those resins and other types of media and then destroy PFAS, it’s complimentary.

Antoine Walter: I’ll come back to the regulation later, because it’s one of the interesting cases for you where regulation can be positive and negative, but more to that later, I just found an article when I was.

Looking, what’s your path? And that article was quoting you. I can’t tell if it’s a journalist’s enthusiasm or if it’s really your quote, but you’ll tell me. And you were saying in that article that your elimination rate is 10 to 15 times that of competitors and your OPEX and CAPEX is 3 to 10 times better.

First, would you confirm? Those numbers, and if you do, when you say competitors in that stage, are you comparing to activated carbon and ion exchange, or are you comparing to the other technologies that eliminate PFAS?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Yes. So we’re comparing to the other technologies that eliminate or destroy PFAS. You know, this is a massively dynamic market.

And so government, end users, partners, technology companies, everybody’s trying to figure out the best way to handle PFAS from an environmental impact standpoint, but certainly from an economic standpoint. In presenting those numbers, those figures, I’m presenting data that’s comparative to other types of destruction technologies.

This could be other electrochemical oxidation technologies. It could be supercritical water oxidation technologies, plasma technologies. But essentially on the differentiator question, which I didn’t quite answer, we use very, very low energy to destroy PFAS, long and short chain, and we’re commercially at scale.

We’re processing wastewater, various different types and sorts, at a full scale. Commercially at customer sites. There are no destruction technologies that are doing that right now, and there are none that can do it economically. And so we can do it in both long and shortchanges.

Antoine Walter: The question might be what exactly folds into destruction technologies because I see what you’re meaning by that and I see To whom you’re comparing.

And in which case I 200 percent subscribe to what you just said. Now there’s a gray zone about the ones, but I don’t want to go into the gray zone or not straight ahead. Actually, your low energy points makes me a smooth transition because if I try to understand what allows you to be lower energy than all the others, the only rational I can find is you’ve.

stumbled, probably not by accident, you’ve looked into it, but you stumbled upon something which is really brilliant and which you patented at the time you were in your PhD research. What happened in 2016 when you find that reactor and you feel like you have to patent it straight away?

Julie Bliss Mullen: You know, I was working on my PhD looking at innovative water treatment technologies specifically for contaminants of emerging concern, but I also did a lot of work with disinfection byproducts and some, you know, a lot of other drinking water stuff.

I came from the drinking water industry and a lot of my work came from, from there originally. I didn’t know anything about electrochemistry, but one of the kind of mini, it was actually really a side project, was looking at different anodes and cathodes, which really a lot of it comes down to the anodes and cathodes and how they’re configured and geometries, flows, all of that.

And yeah, I mean, I was able to do some extremely basic tasks. Let’s put a pH probe around the plates. What happens? Let’s, let’s do the same with ORP. Let’s run some through a spectrophotometer. I’m just trying to quantify, trying to understand What’s happening from a, from an oxidation standpoint, from a reduction standpoint.

I also have a degree in environmental policy. It’s technically in environmental and sustainability studies. So my brain is always like thinking, you know, yeah, I was going for an engineering PhD, but is there something like this out there? This is amazing. We were disinfecting bacteria and viruses, and this was back in 2000 15, 16, and I was introduced to PFAS around 2010 when I was working for the US EPA.

Back then they were called PFCs. When I was doing my PhD, I always was trying to like, oh man, is this going to work for PFAS? Because the thought is, and it still kind of is, so it’s a little bit of a myth now, it’s very much of a myth with the clarity and these other technologies, but. That carbon fluorine bond in PFAS is the strongest bond known in nature, and it’s impossible to break.

And I even had somebody, uh, wrote my first grant to fund the company on PFAS destruction. And somebody said, if you’re actually breaking the carbon fluorine bond, that can’t happen. Like, you would, you would win a Nobel Prize. And there are people that had done this, right? So I’m not going to be the first one by any means.

But it really was thought, you can’t break the carbon fluorine bond. It’s the strongest bond known in nature. and you’re a little bit crazy to think, to think that you could do. All of this spiraled out, all this great disinfection stuff, all the advanced oxidation, potential for PFAS, the tech transfer office at the University of Massachusetts, they essentially said, you got to say something on this because I think there’s something here.

As we had that dialogue, I really made sure that it was done and, you know, hence it’s 2020, it probably could have been done a heck of a lot better than it was, but, but I did get that first draft.

Antoine Walter: At the time you filed the patent, PFAS, if it’s not regulated today, almost 10 years later, it wasn’t regulated in 2015 either.

Do you have that instinct which tells you there’s going to be a market, I need to make it a company?

Julie Bliss Mullen: I spent a fair amount of years trying to understand contaminants of emerging concern, like I said, especially in drinking water. And I looked at 1, 4 Dioxane. I mean, I actually, like, Dioxane, like, like, you know, I was like a chemist, you know, trying to, trying to

Antoine Walter: Just remind me of that, is that in 2015, the big topic was 1, 4 Dioxane, so that was the thing people were looking after.

Julie Bliss Mullen: It was. It was pharmaceuticals and pesticides and hormones, but the thing is, like, they all could be degraded, and I did it electrochemically, but I mean, I spent many years doing other advanced oxidation work with ozone, hydrogen peroxide, UV light, and many other ways, but they didn’t touch people. I kind of inherently knew from working at the EPA as well that we’ve got a big problem here.

It’s incredibly pervasive. We understood the pervasiveness and the relative toxicity. I mean, it was talked about as if it was toxic and carcinogenic at the time. There are still people trying to fight that now, but in my mind, I was like, the best we can do is capture it. And then you just put it back into the landfill or you put it back into the wastewater treatment plant or dump it out and it doesn’t get treated.

So, so I understood. Yeah, there’s gotta be a massive market here.

Antoine Walter: Very bright minds in water academia don’t have it in their DNA to straight away feel like there’s got to be a market and I might be the person to look after that market. So is it natural for you to spin out and to found a clarity or is the big hurdle for you to overcome?

Julie Bliss Mullen: When I started my PhD, one of the reasons I started the PhD was because I had a fellowship from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. And when I was going through the interview process and selecting a school for my PhD and whatnot, I actually told the advisors that I didn’t want to be on the bench, work on the bench for the rest of my life.

I enjoyed the research part of it, but I really liked the applied side. I actually sent that, looking back, I was so surprised that they accepted me. Um, but I knew that I was not going to be doing academic research for the rest of my life. But I kind of wanted to get that base knowledge, but I didn’t know I was going to found, found the company.

It just, it all happened. Um, in hindsight, I guess, you know, it wasn’t magic, but, but I, yeah, I was pretty proactive in filing the patent. Took some business courses. I really changed my focus once, once I really was convinced that there was something here. I wasn’t the best PhD student and I moved across campus.

I’m like half mile away into the business school, took business courses until, until I spun out Clarity.

Antoine Walter: You’ve spun out a Clarity. You, you build up the company, but one of the first hires you make. is Oren Schneider, who you appoint as the chief technical officer, which means that pretty early in the life of the company, that technical baby you invented, which you patented, you give it out to someone else and you say, no, I’m going to focus on the business.

What’s the rationale and is it hard to do?

Julie Bliss Mullen: It was a no brainer to, to get Oren on board. There still isn’t anybody. who would have been better suited to take over the technology side and the science side. He’s technically our chief science officer, and he’s extremely motivated and passionate about making the science and the technology work.

And we were such a small team at the time. And I was really kind of interested in the commercial side anyways. So I needed to make sure we could sustain the company, that we could get funds. Cause funds, you know, enable resources. Every time we’ve leveled up in the company, it’s because of a fundraiser or because of a large amount of money that’s come in or enjoying the team.

It’s been an amazing decision. He’s wonderful. And he helped to drive the technical aspects of the product and of the, of the company while I was able to get funding. meet customers, secure partnerships. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it if Orin, Orin didn’t join the company.

Antoine Walter: When did he join?

Julie Bliss Mullen: He’s still significantly intervening now, right? Orin joined in 2019.

Antoine Walter: You have this bridge between 2017 and 2019. And there’s something I want to make clear here is that. There’s a reason why you’ve been the most recommended person that microphone. I just took that straight from your LinkedIn description.

You’re a 2019 the 30 recipient in science. You’re a 2019 Lemelson MIT award recipient. You’re a 2018 innovator of the year by Nguyen Ngoa. And when I wanted to invite you in person, when I was at Aquatech, we were on the beach. Bluetech forum booth and every time I came across it was just after your spectacular announcement of the series A and simply, I couldn’t reach to you and I wouldn’t have taken the place of potential customers because you go to a trade show to do some business, not to meet stupid French people.

One thing is absolutely certain is you’re brilliant. Yet there’s a big gap to cross between this 2017 where you spin off a clarity and now it’s a one woman band until. You build the team and then the rocket starts to launch. What’s the biggest learning you make between these two mileposts, 2017 and 2019?

Julie Bliss Mullen: 2017 to 2019 was a massive growth period for me. One of the reasons I spun out of clarity was because I ended up winning a university, like, pitch challenge. It was a business challenge. At the time, I secured 26, 000, which is a lot of money, right? I could make a really solid prototype. I already had a customer, like, the week after I won that, A big corporation reached out to me and said, Hey, you’ve got something really cool.

Let’s fund some of your research. So I got more funding on top of it. But the thing is, I had no idea how to sell it. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I didn’t know what the massive pain points were. I was told, Oh, PFAS. You can’t break the hermaphrodite bonds, so PFAS isn’t a market. Maybe you should focus in disinfection.

For me, I was able to make, quickly get a prototype. You know, it’s a prototype I could test.

Antoine Walter: On that prototype, we’ve mentioned that your technology is electrochemical. What’s the shape of that prototype? How does it look like? How would you describe it in simple terms that a muggle like me can understand?

Julie Bliss Mullen: It’s the basis of electrochemical oxidation. There’s an anode and a cathode, at least one anode and one catho. One is negative, one is positive. You apply electricity, water flows through and we generate a lot of oxidants. The way, if you can picture it, and it’s still this way now on the original prototype, was this way and cylindrical if you look inside, and very difficult to look inside of the reactor.

So , not many people have seen the inside of our records. Um, but that being said, the inner parties is our anode. It’s a cylinder. Then, right. Just outside, there’s a gap, which we’ve optimized. We’ve optimized a lot of these things, and there’s further optimization to do, certainly, but we’ve got it to work to a point where it’s functional and economic.

There’s this inner anode, and then right outside there’s a cathode. So the water flows in between the anode and the cathode. So they get the PFAS to stick onto the anode surface, and it’s mineralized. So, and it flows back out. There’s no filter. You know, there’s, when there’s no brine, there’s no waste that’s formed.

It’s just, just, it’s a straight reactor. Right. Some chemical reactions.

Antoine Walter: I didn’t want to cut you off. I just wanted to have a concrete picture of your technology. So you, you’re building the first prototype out of the 26, 000 grant you got at that pitch competition. You have that industrial, which comes and says, I might have an application case for you.

So you’re building the prototype. What’s happened next?

Julie Bliss Mullen: And we tested it and we sent it, sent it to a third party accredited lab for NSF ANSI. P231 testing, which is technically for bacteria and viruses. We were looking at, I don’t know, should this be for a big point of use or point of entry disinfection in homes or buildings?

And that was our first, one of our first big hypotheses. And I did a lot of hypothesis testing. I didn’t realize how important having a technical skill was in forming a business because, you know, I took some customer discovery courses and really tried to understand what’s the value proposition, what are the order of customers really want, right?

You know, it’s like, Really true hypothesis testing and validating like hundreds, hundreds of them.

Antoine Walter: Your first hypothesis is point of views, point of entry. So almost B2C. What stops you from going that direction?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Economics. And actually, like, so we went pretty far with a handful of strategics. We’re really, really interested in and funded some of this work.

But, um, then we discovered that we can destroy PFAS. And then we were like, Ah, if we have a point of entry system that’s maybe going into a home or maybe into a larger apartment complex or hotel, what does that look like? And then we were just trying to understand, what is the value chain? How would we sell this?

Right? So that’s where all the hypothesis testing comes in. The price point that we would have to get down to for, for, for, for, for, for, for, PFAS destruction in simultaneous disinfection because, my gosh, we’re destroying PFAS. We’re also destroying a lot of other things, right? Good things. The price point had to be really low, and we just weren’t able to do that at the time.

I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to understand the economics now, many years later. The cool thing about this is it can scale up. And it can scale down. I still have like a mini anode that we could test if we want to, but it’s wrapped, it’s wrapped up in bubble tape. It took us two years to figure that out.

And then we focused exclusively, let’s see, 2021. We probably decided to make the change to focus exclusively on PFAS. We had a couple other projects too, I guess, so maybe not exclusively, but Now we’re very exclusive in PFAS, but I would say 2021 was the kind of the, the turning point on PFAS.

Antoine Walter: So how do you narrow down?

You have this point of view, point of entry, first hypothesis, which you rule out for economical reason. At some point you focus on PFAS, but you also decide where you want to apply your technology. And at some point you decide to go for landfills, because as you said, the leachates of landfills. Landfills are 50 percent of the PFAS in the world today.

Is that that straightforward or do you test all the stuff in between?

Julie Bliss Mullen: No, I tested a lot of other things, but we’ve got a really solid team at Aclarity now, and we just recently hired. A salesperson, and the reason I’m bringing this up is because the majority of the sales and the, the customers that we have have pretty much all have been inbound.

They found us. The landfill side, they found us. It’s not like we were actively trying to cold call and search, search and, and figure things out. We didn’t figure it on ourselves. They came to us, you know, with a massive problem. And so that’s where we were like, okay, price point’s right. The size is right.

The volumes are right. Everything made sense. Oh, and there’s massive drivers on the regulatory side. There’s massive drivers on the economic side.

Antoine Walter: But that’s at the same time an incredible validation of your hypothesis and the technology. It’s also quite dangerous or it can be quite dangerous because if you’re found by the wrong vertical.

You might then develop something for that vertical, only to find out at the end that it wasn’t the right one. So, are you super clever or are you super lucky?

Julie Bliss Mullen: It’s a little bit of both. Last year was a really pivotal year for us. Last year and the year before, so 2022 and 2023. 2022, we launched our first commercial size reactor.

We validated it at customer sites, at centralized waste treatment facilities, and at landfills. Like, wow, we could take raw landfill leachate with parts per billion ranges of PFAS and get them down a non detect in a single pass. One single pass through a reactor and get the contaminants down the non detect.

And sometimes, if we wanted to be more economic, we could pre concentrate it first. There’s no partnerships coming. Massive theme for a Clarity, but yeah, some customers prefer that, that we concentrate at first and then take that concentrate down.

Antoine Walter: That’s the smoothest of all transitions. Thanks for that. If I’m right, that 2022 commercial reference is the one you did in partnership with Dinora.

Julie Bliss Mullen: We did in 2022, done some work with De Nora. We did a fair amount of, of pilots and of testing and then commercial demonstrations. One of them was Xylem. Xylem funded one of them.

Antoine Walter: Before going into the partnership and explaining what to do with them, I have just a muggle question here. Do you know what does electrochemistry since the 60s?

So 60 years of experience in electrochemistry. Xylem has a certain amount of brands within their full ecosystem. I would think for instance of Vitico who are pretty well into advanced oxidation. Those brands have incredibly more means and money. And people than you with your little startup, which you built on your shoulders in 2017.

So is it? an incredible positive sign that they associate themselves to you because they recognize that you have a superior technology and you are in fields where they are not able to reach? Or is it also, you know, kind of a David and Goliath story where David is pretty proud that he achieved something that Goliath couldn’t?

Julie Bliss Mullen: My first answer is PFAS destruction is hard. It’s a lot easier to break the carbon fluorine bond than we thought originally, but to do it at a commercial scale First of all, to size something up from just a couple of plates, to a prototype that works, to something that can be manufactured, to something that can be deployed at a customer site, and to something that works, that is economic, clearly has taken many years.

And while a lot of these corporations have massive amounts of funding, way more than Little Eclair and me, we have a full team. You know, I, where are we at now? I know, so we’re at 225 and 13 plates, right? So we are all dedicated to destroying PFAS with one product, essentially. We’ve been just laser focused over the last few years on destroying PFAS to the point where we’re able to advance much faster.

Then most other corporations would. Yeah, we figured it out. The others haven’t, right? And so they’re trying to figure out how to get ahead and work with us.

Antoine Walter: It’s a Wright Brothers story, you know. The army was trying to build a plane. They had a lot of money, but they didn’t have the passion. And the Wright Brothers wanted to build a plane.

They had the passion, much less money, but they They did it and not the army and then everybody convenes around, around the plane. So that makes total sense to me. You mentioned how your customers and verticals came to you inbound. Was it the case for Xylem and Denora as well?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Yeah, that’s right. You know, I knew people at both organizations, but way back we actually sold a system to Xylem.

I think we sold a system to Xylem in 2018. Maybe? It was one of our smaller reactors, it’s still the same size anion cathode that we use now, it’s different. I know they were doing some testing, this was back, they were doing some disinfection testing, right? They were doing some PFAS testing, but kind of trying to understand what markets, it could, you know, same, same stuff that we were doing.

Fast forward, we were invited to participate in Xylem’s inaugural, their first Xylem Innovation Labs accelerator, essentially, for companies that had innovative technology that they were interested in. We went through that program and graduated. They funded one of our customer demonstrations. Fantastic.

Like met the, you know, met the customer KPIs up and down and sideways. And so we graduated and have moved on to working with them.

Antoine Walter: That’s for Xylem, which I had the chance to have Sivan Zamir and Max Storto from the Xylem Innovation Labs on that microphone. So we delved into the program and how they are zero strings attached.

I’d like to confirm that with you, but they don’t take any equity. actually a string attached, because they tell me there’s none, but maybe you have a different experience.

Julie Bliss Mullen: There’s no strings attached. That is true. Certainly when you graduate, if they decide to work with your company, then it’s a mutual discussion as to how that relationship works,

Antoine Walter: looks like.

Julie Bliss Mullen: From a true program standpoint, there really is no strings attached.

Antoine Walter: Glad you confirmed it. I haven’t been lied to, I prefer that. Xylem is a bit, you know, the cool kid amongst giants. They have these innovation labs, they have a bit more of that product culture, given the way the company has been built.

Dinora, on the other hand, is more of a traditional company from the image or from the outside. Was it the same experience for you to work with the two majors, or what was different in your partnership with De Nora?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Very different. They’re both strategic relationships. Both are trying to understand the market more.

They’re both trying to understand how they can serve their customers better. It’s been maybe surprising, maybe not surprising to me. It’s very honestly that of all of the channel partners that we work with, Silem and Nora and many others, they look to us to kind of tell them where they should be operating and how they should be operating.

They are in so many, their feet are wet and all around the globe, in all these different applications, they understand the need for PFAS to be available. treatment or PFAS management, but they sort of look to us to try and understand where are the, where are the markets. Conversely, we look to them to say, where are your invalid, what’s your pipeline?

That’s where a lot of the value from a venture capital backed startup standpoint, right? We want to make sure that we’re tapping into their pipeline, their, their sales pipeline, their projects and executing with them. We get the validation, we get the testimonials, you know, certainly we get revenue from it too, but that’s from a strategic side.

That’s where I’m most focused. I am focused from the Xylem and Denora side. Similarly, in that way, both of these organizations have come, come about it in a very different way, which has been very different experiences.

Antoine Walter: You mentioned that you’re venture capital backed. I had the chance to have your VC on the microphone as well, who, by the way, is one of the people who recommended you, but that’s almost what happened in the last segment of your story.

Because as you mentioned as well, let’s talk money a bit. You started off a grant and then you kept getting grants, which finance your path. I just. Can’t wrap my head around how you managed to be that bootstrapped over three, four years and still that successful. Was it? By design, you really wanted to first get your ducks in a row and have the tech ready for the acceleration?

Or was it simply because you didn’t want to pitch to VCs?

Julie Bliss Mullen: No, I think it was more getting our ducks in a row, getting the story right. I’m still getting the story right. Seven years later. It’s a lot better, but you’re going to think in 2019. We had just decided to make a pivot to start looking at industrial markets.

We moved away from the point of view, point of entry, like the massive overarching hypothesis and started looking at, you know, industrial markets. And industrial scale systems. We hadn’t manufactured anything industrial scale. We didn’t really manufactured anything. We made a, we made a fair amount of prototypes and tested them a lot with customers.

2019 I was, I was finally ready to pitch to investors. That was the big thing. I raised money in 2019 and then. Raised more in 2022, I mean, three years later, I was able to get a fair amount more grants.

Antoine Walter: Let me check if my numbers are right. When you were raised in 2019, that was a pre seed round of 700, 000.

And when you raised in 2022, that was the one with Burnt Island Ventures as the lead investor, and that’s 3. 3 million. I’ll take the acceleration later. I just want to understand, if I’m right, you’ve had a total of 1. 3 million dollars of grants plus the 700, 000. Of precedes that makes more or less 2 million.

So from 2017 to 2022, so five, almost six years of the life of the company, you’re living up 2 million, which may sound. A lot of money for someone out there in the field and doing nothing, but. You’re building a team. I guess you’re also paying a team. You’re doing 15 pilots and you’re developing a technology.

And really, I can’t figure out how you did that.

Julie Bliss Mullen: I can’t either. No. Again, the word that comes to mind is scrappy. We had to be really scrappy and manage money really tightly. Because. I wanted to make sure that when we raised, we were able to raise from the right investors. We were able to get good validation from the market in the first four years to enable us to do that.

And I didn’t pay myself. I mean, there’s a lot of sacrifice, you know, there’s a lot of sacrifice when it comes to, to funding a company. But when I believed it, my family believed in it, right? They believed in me, they believed in the technology, they believed in the market. And so I was also able to hire people like Orton.

You know? And then I closed the seed, the seed round in 2022, early 2022 after my second child was born. And then I brought people on like Pamela. Pamela is our COO and is our VP of marketing. You know, I was able to really, really start to bring a cohesive team together. We got people, really super dedicated PhDs in the lab.

I think we ended 2022 with about 12 people. And in 2023 we ended the team. The team was about 24. Crazy amount of growth. An incredibly strong, strong team to help us really, really propel. It’s all about management of resources and making really good decisions. And I haven’t made the best decisions, but I would say that overall, relatively proud of the decisions that we’ve been able to make and the progress we made with such small resources.

Antoine Walter: It might be survivor bias. But from what you’ve built, clearly, I think you can be proud, means nothing. It’s just little me in my studio saying that, but I think you have a track record, which speaks for itself. You mentioned how you wanted to have the right VC on board. I’m sure Tom will never listen to that.

So you can be absolutely open. How is he as your VC?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Oh, amazing. Tom was my first board member. Who else is better for an early stage water startup than Tom?

Antoine Walter: In serious terms, what do you await from your VC? What is he bringing you? If you have like two examples of moments where you had questions from him as a board member or from him as your investor, what did he bring you?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Well, I’ll tell you what others would not have brought me. I probably pitched for my seed round, I probably pitched 80 venture capitalists and great other funders, but mostly venture capitalists. And I was learning a ton with every pitch, right, um, how to re refine my pitch. But also, what I was looking for.

I learned pretty quickly if they didn’t know what PFAS was, they were off my list. Then they would have to, you know, have to educate. But not only educate, but that means that they don’t understand what we’re going through. They don’t know, they don’t know the market. They don’t know the, these long sales cycles.

Or if they were, Only SAS companies, or SAS VCs, they’re not going to understand the challenges of supply chain, manufacturing, customer acceptance. I had to get really smart really quickly about who I wanted to pitch to and who I wanted to get money from. And it worked out, but it could have gone absolutely sideways, and I could have brought in some, some venture capitalists that just didn’t understand what we were doing, and could have made things incredibly difficult.

That is somebody like Tom, who has the Rolodex, he understands the ecosystem, he’s patient, he’s a cheerleader, but he’s also just incredibly connected and incredibly supportive, and he inherently, I say he, Burnt Island. And, and the other investors I brought into the team, and I definitely don’t want to, don’t want to undermine that as well, but they get it.

They know what tough tech, hard hardware, tough tech is hard. Tom technically isn’t on the board anymore, Christine Boyle is, and I made that decision after I closed the Series A. Tom and I, of course, had a really nice heart to heart and, you know, it just worked out best. Tom had A lot of things going on. He is raising his, his next fund.

Christine Boyle is just like a mastermind in the, the water industry. She’s been an operator. She’s CEO, successful exit to Xylem. She’s added incredible value. But for me to have both Tom and Christine, on my team. Singing praise. It’s amazing.

Antoine Walter: Wayne Byrne is on your board as well?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Wayne is, yes.

Antoine Walter: That’s the other, Burnt Island Venture.

Julie Bliss Mullen: It is, but I brought Wayne on as an independent before he was, he was technically, you know, partner with Burnt Island. So he is, he does represent the independent, uh, group.

Antoine Walter: Coming back to your Series A, when I sat down with Tom end of last year, he said that what he would like to do, ideally, is sign the first and last check of a company.

Tom Ferguson: I would not mind if our companies were not re rated a single time until we exited, that we were the last check that they took and they built. a brilliant company just with that money and they compounded it over time and then the MOIC, so the multiple uninvested capital, sorry I’m immediately into the jargon, the multiple uninvested capital stays at one which means that there hasn’t been any re rating of nobody’s bought an extra share at a higher price and then the overall outcome being 36 or whatever and there’s nothing that happens on my kind of reporting to my investors like in between.

Because it means that we still own the percentage of the company that we did before because as you add capital onto companies you get diluted and that’s like fine, that’s just, well, you know, it is what happens.

Antoine Walter: With you, he didn’t sign the first check because you had a pre seed and he didn’t sign the last check because even though, I guess, Burntisland Ventures has been part of the Series A when you’re raising the 16%.

To him, I would see why it might be conflicting. Do I get it really wrong and as a finance muggle, or was it part of your heart to heart conversation?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Tom and I, I would say we used to talk on a weekly basis. We still talk pretty often, but not on a weekly basis by any means anymore. I think one of our first massive heart to hearts was when we were closing the seed round, right?

He was leading the round, I did my negotiations with him, and then we made the decision about who the syndicate was going to look like. When I say the syndicate, I mean like who, who else was joining the round? We made some decisions, right? We brought DCVC on board. DCVC, they fund founders who go on to become billion dollar companies.

When we were having these conversations, you know, it’s like, well, you know, you could bring them this federal, like, like, We had a pretty good list of VCs who were in, which was a great problem to have. Who do you really want? And um, I made that decision to grow the company and change the mindset a little bit, right?

To like, this can be a massive company. Could be. Right. And that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s where that was like kind of the first heart to heart. I think Tom, by leading that round and then us also bringing in some good players in the space, set us up that we are going to raise a series A and we’re probably going to raise a series B and we’re going to grow this to be something that’s really meaningful.

And it’s not going to be, I think Tom knew before he came onto a Clarity that this wasn’t going to be his last check.

Antoine Walter: I was just curious because that makes a ton of sense. Back to, to, to the timeline. In 2022, you have your seed rounds with. Brunton Ventures and 2023 you have this pretty impressive 16 million Series A.

It’s never public information to say how much capital you gave out in that Series A. But I just did stupid maths. When I had Kobe Nagar from 374Water on that microphone, it was Just after they floated on NASDAQ. And at the time the company was valued between 500 and 600 million, roughly speaking. If I do the maths and try to, to look how much equity you would have had to give out to have the same valuation, that means your Series A was 2.

6 percent of your capital, which I’m pretty sure you’re very good at negotiations, but I doubt you would be as good as that. So my. Very stupid, simple bet is that you’ve been raising at a significantly lower valuation. I’m not trying to compare apples with pears, but 374 water was valued at that level because supercritical water oxidation is expected to be one of the technologies to attack PFAS, especially in landfills.

So it sounds like they’re down a similar alley to yours. And by the time they raised money, they had one functional pilot at Duke University. When you have 15 pilots and a commercial reference. So I’m wondering, how do you look at those numbers? Do you think like, Hmm, I may be undervalued or you’re super happy because you’re not public, which means you don’t have the same levels of reporting to do and stuff like that.

What’s your gut feeling about that? Is it really like my observer, stupid, railbird question and for you, it’s absolutely not a topic?

Julie Bliss Mullen: To be honest with you, it’s not something that gives me a bad feeling. too much evaluation of our company. Certainly, certainly it was more than 2. 5 percent of the company, as you can expect, right?

Listen374 are very different companies. We’re attacking a similar market. I don’t think that they’re operating too much in landfill leachate anymore. I don’t think any of our customers necessarily are considering supercritical water oxidation for a variety of reasons, mostly economics and others, right?

Um, but we’re all learning. We’re all learning where we fit best. We closed the series, a equilateral. Led the round, and I cannot recommend them. Allison and Jitin are some of our biggest supporters, of course. But like, they live it and breathe it. That’s been amazing. So, I have collateral on board. We’ve got Heritage Group.

We’ve got Pidra. We’ve got MassVentures, Burnt Island, Nor’Easter. Some, some of these, some other, some other funds have come on board as well. And I feel very good at where the company is, what we’ve raised, what our valuation is. I feel like we’re not over inflated. I think we may, uh, maybe could have reached higher, but you know what, we did a fair amount of negotiating.

There’s a lot of negotiating on both sides. And we ended up in a really good place. And we’ve been able to build a team, build the technology and prove it out in the field on that basis with good people around. And to me, there’s nothing more important than having the right people on board. And we’re not public, which is, which is nice.

Um, yeah, it comes with its own challenges as well. I’m

Antoine Walter: The good people is a red thread in everything you said since the beginning. So it sounds absolutely logical that you’re not at that stage looking just for money, but also for people, partners, bouncing people, which you can just jot ideas to them and they will bounce back or tell you, no, that’s, that’s actually a very good one.

That makes a ton of sense. You mentioned how you’re no longer hunting in the same waters than 374 water. Nevertheless. There’s a pack of technologies which are addressing the PFAS challenge. You have the mainstream main market ones, the one you mentioned, which will be on the list of EPA recommended. So activated carbon ion exchange.

And then just after that first pack, you have your. with electrochemical technologies. I would think here of companies like Axine water, which has been on the microphone before, Oxyle to give you a Swiss example, which has been on the microphone as well in the past. So you’re not alone in that, in that sphere, but I would give you the credit that you’re leading the pack.

There’s supercritical water oxidation, which is, which is something, but you have also pyrolysis, sonolysis, plasma. How would you look at those companies? Is it like you’re all of you. Trying to open a market where you’re trying to bring across the message. It’s not just about separating PFAS from the water or separating PFAS from the leachate, but it’s about destroying it.

And in that exception, it will not be a winner take all. So fine. Everybody will carve its own niche. Or do you see it as, hmm, if Plasma makes it big, maybe that’s a risk?

Julie Bliss Mullen: If any of the PFAS destruction technologies are successful, however we define successful, but if, but even there, there are many successes, and we are successful, right?

The PFAS management market, however you manage it, is just incredibly dynamic and, You know, and so if any one of these technology companies can break through and have some really good traction, it just validates the market even more, and it validates that there’s a true need for this. Now, I can go back and say, okay, well, economics shows that there’s a need, right?

If, you know, a wastewater treatment plant is charging ten cents a gallon and we can do it for less, then there’s a market, right? But it’s not as easy as that. All of that to say, there’s a place for all of us. The market and our companies are learning where our sweet spots are. From a technical standpoint and from a economic standpoint, and I can tell you with very high certainty our biggest sweet spot right now as a company is destroying PVAS It’s a home run.

The other companies, the, the supercritical water oxidation technology companies, the plasma companies and And those kind of in between are all I think still figuring out really where they where they fit from a technology and economics standpoint. And then market. Right? We’re not all going to go after drinking water as fast as we probably would.

Maybe a remediation of a, you know, a lagoon. Typically where we find kind of some of these companies have emergencies. They have all this PFAS, the town is making them get rid of it. They don’t know what to do. They have to truck it. It’s going to cost, you know, many dollars per gallon in order to truck it.

And then they have to incinerate it. And that’s many more dollars per gallon. This is crisis, right? That’s emergent. That’s an emergency where, where, where a lot of us could potentially play.

Antoine Walter: I have two questions for that answer. The first, as you mentioned, you can be much cheaper than 10 cents per gallon, how much cheaper?

That’s my first question. And my second question is in your sweet spot of leachate treatment, I’d like to address your business model, which if I’m right is treatment as a service. So that’s two different, two different buckets, but I put you there. You can choose which one you want to answer first.

Julie Bliss Mullen: First question is how much cheaper?

Everybody’s going to love my answer, but it depends. I’ll explain real quick. So the biggest factors. that influence our economics are the volume of the stream per day, the starting PFAS concentration, and the final, you know, effluent discharge concentration. So you can imagine if you’re taking 100 micrograms per liter, that’s parts per billion, knocking it down by 50%.

It’s gonna take less capital, less equipment, than if we were to knock it down by 99. 999%. So, it’s gonna be more expensive. to do that. On the other hand, if we take something that is high volume and low concentration, we may decide, let’s concentrate it up, that pre concentration step, which is where partners come in.

Concentrate it up, it becomes smaller volume, we get higher concentrations, we’re able to more effectively degrade some of those higher concentrations down to a level that could be acceptable to the customer. Now we’ve got something that’s worth how much less, it truly depends. And I kind of threw 10, 10 cents a gallon out, but that’s typically what we see, 10, maybe every 30 cents a gallon to discharge to a wastewater treatment plant.

We’re talking lots of gallons. I talk in gallons. Sorry about that. It’s a lot, it’s a lot of muddle. You know, we can solve the customer’s problems, at least their economic problem, and then their risk problem. Cause now they don’t have to do all the transportation. They can do the destruction there. It goes to the second question, which is our business model.

We’ve trademarked this as destruction as a service. We are truly, it’s a build on operate model. We deploy the equipment on site. We do all, regardless, right? We do, you know, all the checks, the startup, commissioning, customer acceptance, roll right into a service model. We charge on a cost per gallon basis, you know, on a monthly basis, and we essentially assume the responsibility and liability of that treatment.

Antoine Walter: So that means you’re taking guarantees over the level of PFAS in the treated affluent?

Julie Bliss Mullen: For, yes, for the majority of projects, yes.

Antoine Walter: That’s where. I’d like to understand because I’m not a PFAS specialist. I’m not pretending to be, but when I was reading some articles to prepare for that conversation, there were concerns about your ability to destroy short chain.

So there’s long chain, short chain genics, and everybody agreed, all the papers I read agreed that your technology is awesome for long chain. And although nobody said it’s, it’s shit for, for, for short chain, not saying that, but they express some reserves about your ability to destroy short chain, so would you share those concerns or do you say, no, no, they, Don’t know what they’re talking about.

Julie Bliss Mullen: No, I mean, it’s valid. When we were, when we were first starting with our commercial systems, 2022, 2023, when we were deploying our first commercial reactors, we inherently had a different system than we’re operating now, because the market was just so focused on PFOA and PFOS, we were targeting on, let’s get the system to just knock PFOA and PFOS and a lot of the other compounds down.

to as low as we possibly can for the lowest amount of energy, inherently the lowest cost. And then come early 2023, things change, right? EPA announces the CERCLA, again, I’m speaking from the U. S. standpoint, but it’s fairly similar in Europe. EPA now changes, they say, okay, you know, we’re gonna, we’re gonna really designate PFOA and PFOS as hazard substances under the CERCLA liability.

blah. And then a couple months later, they say, Oh, actually, we’re going to be adding a couple more to, to include PFBS and some of these small, small chain compounds. They did the same thing with the safe drinking water. Then they came back and they said, okay, well, PFOA and PFOS, we need to get down to four parts per trillion.

We can have a whole nother conversation about that. But a lot of these other compounds, including Gen X, you know, there’s this hazard index that they’re trying to meet. The long story short of this is the industry doesn’t just care about PFOA and PFOS anymore, which are long chain compounds they care about.

pretty much down to C4, which is interesting too. C1 to C3. It’s like, oh my, you never appeared with those ones. But anyways, here we are. I have a majority of the legislation now is C4, so it’s four carbon, carbon chains, to C9. Now we’re like, Whoa, you know, we saw this coming, right? So in 2022, we started, we started making some process enhancements and some changes and we got it to a point where we can demonstrate that we can degrade these long chain compounds and the short chain compounds at the same rate, which is actually quite amazing because then that makes the sizing of our systems fairly simple.

If the customer says, my total PFAS concentration is a hundred micrograms, we can then say, okay, well I know that degradation rate constant, just about the same. Now I can design a full scale system for that total PFAS and get it down to, again, that total PFAS number, or individual species if state or the region is concerned about a couple species here.

You can do that as well. Just makes it a lot easier. I will say, we’ve done amazing work in scaling this up. Still struggle a little bit with PFBA. We’ve been able to degrade PFPS along PFH, PA, a lot of the other short chain compounds very well at a similar rate. PFBA, still struggling. We’ve got plans and we’ve got certainly a short chain program here at Clarity to make sure we can get all of them.

Antoine Walter: The same papers I was referring to which were saying you might have troubles with short chain also mentioned how other technologies might have troubles with long chain and so far and so on or Genyx is going to be the troubled someone.

Julie Bliss Mullen: Even GSC. Yeah. I mean, they even, they all struggle. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Antoine Walter: You touched a bit on, on the EPA. I remember because it was my first time in my life in New York, around the time when these health advisory from the EPA came out. And so PFAS in that form is, is a lot of a US topic. We address it quite differently in Europe. It was very, very interesting to speak with people because some were really running around like incredible.

You had all these studies showing how much you would gain. cost for water, wastewater treatment systems, if you had to implement something, the magnitude of the health advisory and some others saying, come on, it’s a health advisory. It doesn’t constrain in any ways anybody. So that was the first step. Now we have these four parts per trillion regulation, which was supposed to come into force end of last year, but to my knowledge is still not in place.

If that comes out right now, I would see that as a bittersweet thing for you. Because if drinking water system have to go down to four parts per trillion, that means they’re going to put massive amounts of activated carbon and ion exchange. So if the regulation says you have to make the water down to that, and that’s it, then you will have a bit more of a market with the ones which want to do that, right.

And which want to take the exhausted carbon and treat it and want to take the brines of the ion exchange and treat it. But if regulation doesn’t force them to do so, it’s basically a cost to be in business, which they don’t have to assume. Now, the other thing which regulation could do is to say, not only do you have to go to four parts per trillion, but you also have to eliminate those PFAS.

In which case, jackpot. I mean, GWI was estimating that just the upgrade of going to four parts per trillion without destruction was a 10 billion market over six years. So if now we say we double down by eliminating those PFAS, you will not even have to pick your VCs, but you will have to simply close your capital because everybody will want to be on board with you.

So how do you see that regulation and how do you navigate a topic which can be a bit of a moving target?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Great question. The EPA has decided to regulate, EV is moving quickly. There are people out there that are saying it’s not, it’s not moving fast enough. And well, I guess I can see their point. This is the fastest I think they’ve ever been.

Especially regulating one, one substance. The approach that they took originally was to regulate PFAS in drinking water, as you said, first. And then they came out with the CERCLO rule, which is not, again, it’s not, none of this is in full force yet. You recently came out with RCRA, which basically would make the stores, handlers, and traders of PFAS waste.

And so they’re coming at it from many different directions. How does that affect a clarity? Our customers are extremely worried. That’s not the best word. They’re unsure. When we work with the customers, they’re typically, the town wastewater treatment plant wants us to meet drinking water regulations. We can’t even test PFAS in landfill leachate right now at 4 ppt.

It’s not gonna happen. It’s too low. There’s too many other things in there and there’s too many interferences and too much uncertainty. They can’t get the method detection limit. But the wastewater treatment plants don’t have a really good answer. The landfills. As to really what the final goal should be.

So those landfills are just saying, basically saying, Okay, we gotta get this down to as low as we possibly can, but we don’t really have a real answer. Until EPA comes in. They’re likely to be regulated, perhaps CERCLA, perhaps RCRA, depending on exemptions and whatnot. But the big one, that all of the landfills, are looking out for.

And most of the industries that we operate in, even outside of landfills, is in the Clean Water Act. And that’s what basically gives states the guidance and mandate to make sure that there’s permits around the discharge. That’s the big one. And for, and for landfills, it’s really this plan 15. So the question is, well, what’s the plan 15 going to say?

I’m just spiraling, going pretty deep in here, but, but. The way that the Clean Water Act works is that they regulate each industry individually. They basically have a prioritized list of which industries they’re regulating first for PFAS and rolling them out. They are just starting to roll them out. The whole thing of this is that it is so incredibly frustrating and worrisome and ambiguous to the industry as to what they really need to treat to, how they’re going to treat it.

and what the liabilities are looking like. We’re just doing our best to make sure that we can meet their needs now and that we have the capability to add on and build to the system as regulations get stricter and more compounds become regulated.

Antoine Walter: I mentioned several times how I’m a muggle. I’m, I doubled down as a muggle when it comes to American politics, given my, my French nature.

In my research, For that episode, I found that there was, I can’t remember if it’s 250 or 400 different PFAS bills at state level in the States, which will be discussed in the Euro 2024. So I guess that state level will have a strong influence as well on your trajectory, not just the federal level, but also at state level.

And I remember, now I’m going to say something more stupid than me because I can’t remember how many states already have PFAS regulations. But I remember that the state of New York, for instance, already has a PFAS regulation. PFAS regulation in place. Federal level is one thing, but the U. S. being a federal state means that the states as well have, have their say here.

I don’t want to take you down a sidetrack, given the fact that I’m already 25 minutes overboard for, for the entire interview. And I still have one question, the deep dive and then the rapid fire. So one thing is you said you want to build. Something big. And that’s an incredible ambition. And I really think that you have what it takes to, to build something big.

Nevertheless, you mentioned how Wayne Byrne is the independent representative on your board. When he was on that microphone two years ago, he mentioned that Typhon, which he was leading at the time was setting itself up to being a knife in a street fight, meaning that when Titans would fight it out, because regulations are For Typhoon, it was regulations on, on vapor mercury lamps, but when regulations would tighten and straighten up the Titan’s markets, they would have to look for something, which is an agile company out there, and then they would grab the agile company as the knife in the street fight.

I could definitely see that happening for you as well. If EPA. Takes super strong regulations. If the European union goes a bit more out of their way and starts to not looking at the total PFAS like they do today, but take even stronger regulations and so far and so on. You were a Suez, Exilem, Veolia, whoever in that market.

You know that you don’t have that agility and that Wright brothers team. Within the company, you need to look for a knife in order to win in the street fight. And what’s the best knife out there? I think we’ve established in the past one hour, 20, that you’re a good contender. Being that knife, when you say build a giant, is it something totally independent or would you see yourself as a competitor?

at some point exiting to one of those groups?

Julie Bliss Mullen: The short answer is very likely we will exit to one of those groups. Even just looking at the history of companies like Aclarity, maybe not companies like Aclarity, but companies in the water space, very common to become acquired. We haven’t seen a market like PFAS.

First of all, the market’s undefined, still, but it’s getting closer. It’s getting closer. And to your point, everybody is trying to put numbers to it, which is good for us. We haven’t seen this type of dynamic market, which does open kind of like Pandora’s box for could this be a massive company? I think we could be a billion dollar company.

Are we going to be a billion dollar company? We’ll see how the market responds. I’m not sure. However, is PFAS management? treatment, remediation, destruction, going to be a part of it, a part of the, the, the, the market. And it’s like, absolutely, absolutely. We’re already seeing it now. We’ve got solid customer testimonials, got full scale equipment in the field.

We’re working with who we think are the right partners and building our partnership portfolio. I talk almost exclusively about PFAS, but I did start the conversation to say, man, this can do a lot. Right? I haven’t talked about ammonia, but we’ve got. Well, there’s tons of ammonia issues with, uh, especially industrial leased water and leaf leachate and whatnot.

Antidermal disinfection, other types of contaminants of emerging concern, BOD, COD, conventional, you know, conventional treatment, I say conventional, but, you know, advanced oxidation treatment, you know, on textiles and other types of industrial applications. We have the ability to spin off different business units and, this is spin off, but, you know, create different business units to solve different problems.

And we have an inherently one SKU, one SKU. broader. I can essentially do it all, which is really quite unique. It’s actually, it’s unique, but it is, it is, it’s a little bit like reverse osmosis. RO membranes, like, you pretty much have RO membranes. Each of them has their own little, you know, their own service characteristics and things along those lines.

RO membranes are very good at removing everything. We have the ability to customize ours, so we can, we can destroy some things, like we can, Destroy PFAS. Or maybe simultaneously we destroy other things. Although we do have the ability to customize it. All of that to say, there’s a lot of potential here.

And it, it just, it, a lot of it’s going to be dependent on the market. And then it’s going to depend on, on what the company really wants to do, who comes along, what opportunities there are. And I’m pretty tight, like I’m, yeah, I’m pretty flexible with the true outcome. But I just know the outcome is going to be really big.

Antoine Walter: I’m a bit frustrated because I had a ton of pleasure to discuss with you in that deep dive and there are so many doors open, which I could go down, but that just means that not only did you have to be there because you’ve been recommended, but you have to be back at some point because we need to go down those different routes and, and those other markets and everything you want to spin off and so far and so on.

So thanks a lot for everything you shared in that deep dive conversation and all the openness. If that’s fine with you, I’d like to switch to the last segment, which is the rapid fire questions.

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Rapid fire questions:

Antoine Walter: What is the toughest challenge in your opinion for a water tech startup?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Market adoption and resources needed to grow the company.

Antoine Walter: What would be your best single piece of advice for the founders and managers of the about 1000 early stage water startups?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Listen to the market.

Build something very quick. Test it. And see if, see how your customers react.

Antoine Walter: What’s the drop of knowledge you wish more investors knew about the water sector?

Julie Bliss Mullen: The first one that comes to mind is not the right answer, but it’s that I think the people in the water, in the water sector are Awesome, super easy to work with, very nice, very good people.

It’s not the best thing that they should know, but I think there’s just, there’s incredible passion and you can’t, you can’t find more passion.

Antoine Walter: What was your most unexpected partnership and what did it bring you?

Julie Bliss Mullen: I’m going to answer the partnership in terms of funders and it was, um, Aquilateral, Aquilateral rating, uh, rating series A.

And what did they bring us? Capital.

But an immense amount of support, resources, they’ve been fantastic. Yeah. I’m with Burnt Island for sure.

Antoine Walter: Super short, profitability or growth?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Growth.

Antoine Walter: What’s the next profile you’ll hire?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Industrial water tech. We need more field people.

Antoine Walter: When you hire, are you looking for a sector experience or startup experience?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Nearly sector experience.

Antoine Walter: I take a sidetrack here and you correct me if I’m wrong, but on your website, there are a lot of people. Several openings. So if you’re listening to that, you found Julie super cool, which I would find she is super cool. Go. On the website, there’s also a job board on Burntisland Ventures website where you can find some more jobs.

And if that’s a fit, I think there’s some, some, some challenges to take on and some, some great time to have. So my, my little plug, you can make big signs if you’re no longer hiring, because all your positions are taken.

Julie Bliss Mullen: We’re always hiring. If we’re not hiring, we’re in trouble.

Antoine Walter: Opening new markets or doubling down on the current ones?

Julie Bliss Mullen: Opening new markets.

Antoine Walter: You gave a hint at the end. It’s gonna be risky. Yeah. What’s that tool nobody speaks about, but you couldn’t live without?

Julie Bliss Mullen: What a lame answer, but Google Calendar. Can’t live without it.

Antoine Walter: Very good one.

Julie Bliss Mullen: I put my family dinners in Google Calendar.

Antoine Walter: What’s the single piece of insight your ideal customer profile needs to hear from you?

Right now

Julie Bliss Mullen: full scale economic PAS destruction is here. Give us a chance.

Antoine Walter: What are you desperately needing and want to raise an open call for? Right now,

Julie Bliss Mullen: we need a proofread. Our team is so good at really good content and getting proposals out and everything, but we lack a proofread on the team.

Antoine Walter: The word is out.

So last question, , what can and should I do for you? And I’m not a good proofreader.

Julie Bliss Mullen: When you hear of companies who have anything to do. With any kind of PFAS problem, bring them to us, um, or our competitor. I mean, honestly, or our competitors. If any of us are super successful, we’re all gonna be super successful.

We play in different markets and we have different strengths, but, um, getting, PFAS destruction is just such a central topic for me. The more we talk about how those myths are broken.

Antoine Walter: Rising tides raises all boats.

Julie Bliss Mullen: That’s right, it does.

Antoine Walter: Julie, it’s been a pleasure. Pleasure again, if people want to follow up with you where it’s the best place for me to redirect them to

Julie Bliss Mullen: email! Email or linkedin

Antoine Walter: So as always those are in the description So go check it out If you have a project if you have anything which was listed in in the needs and and and wants of of a clarity Don’t hesitate to reach out.

It’s been a super pleasure. I’m Super sorry. I’ve been very French on that one. We have 40 minutes of a board, which is not an habit, but gives you a hint at how cool you were. So thanks a lot and talk to you soon.

Julie Bliss Mullen: Thank you so much, Antoine.

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