Reinventing Water For Millennials: Soma’s Michael Del Ponte
In 2013, Michael Del Ponte, 34, launched Soma, a San Francisco-based company that produces a water filter designed to compete with Brita. Soma’s signature product is a glass container shaped like a wine carafe, with a filter that tucks into the top half of the vessel. Del Ponte set up the company as a social enterprise. He donates 1% of his revenue to an international clean water non-profit, charity: water, and in 2014 he incorporated as a B Corporation, which means he goes through a rigorous monitoring process that holds him to commitments like treating employees well, opening up corporate governance, relying on manufacturers with high labor standards, and minimizing Soma’s impact on the environment. He says that his millennial customers embrace Soma’s values and he has persuaded investors, including angels and venture capitalists, to invest $9.5 million in the business. Soma pitchers range in price from $29 to $49 and sell at Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Bloomingdales; Nordstrom; as well as in small specialty retailers and on Soma’s site. Estimated revenue for 2016: $10 million. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, he explains how a commitment to giving back has helped build the brand.
Susan Adams: When did you decide you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Michael Del Ponte: When I was growing up I loved leading and taking a stand for issues. I’m from the Bay Area and I went to Boston College, a Jesuit school where students are encouraged to find and follow their calling. The idea is that we’re not put on Earth just to have jobs and make money. We’re here to do something impactful and meaningful.
Adams: What did you do after college that was meaningful?
Del Ponte: I worked as a microfinance consultant in Nepal, and at a child health care program in India that provided services to children who had never been to a doctor. I volunteered at an orphanage in Jamaica. I was searching for how I could have the greatest impact.