Born and raised in Indonesia, Piotr Jakubowski spent a career in advertising, which culminated in a stint as the chief marketing officer of Indonesian ride-hailing giant Gojek. He left that job in 2020 to co-found air quality company Nafas, whose monitoring app draws real-time data from a private network of over 200 sensors across 15 cities in Indonesia. The app counts around 20,000 monthly active users. Nafas has raised an angel investment round and is currently raising a seed round.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What led you to co-found Nafas?

I was researching climate-related business concepts, and living in Jakarta, I discovered that air pollution in my own backyard was higher than in the central business district, and much higher than World Health Organization guidelines.

After a little more research, the wider impact of air pollution was clear: Nearly 10 million people a year die of air pollution-related diseases. As much as $8.1 trillion of global GDP is impacted by air pollution, and 90% of the world’s population were living in areas with air pollution above recommended guidelines.

I reconnected with Nathan Roestandy, a high school classmate, who was already building something in the air quality space. We decided to join forces, and from there, Nafas was born. 

For the general Nafas app experience, individuals in 15 cities use the app for their day-to-day air quality insights. We recently launched “Nafas Insights,” a weekly roundup of air quality near your home. Recently, we’ve started to work with institutions as well, helping them achieve their ESG commitments by creating workplaces with healthy air quality. As businesses in Indonesia started going back into the office after nearly two years of work from home, companies are now dedicating more resources towards making the office space healthier. 

What’s special about Nafas’ technology, compared to other air quality companies? 

We want to help people breathe healthily in polluted cities. The [monitoring] ecosystem we’re building is designed to incorporate both indoor and outdoor environments — an experience that is incredibly fragmented today.

Jakarta is the second-largest metro area in the world after Tokyo, and has featured on the world’s most polluted capital cities list for multiple years. In 2021, the average pollution for the city was a PM2.5 level of 39 µg/m3, nearly eight times more than WHO guidelines.

One of the things that we discovered was that in tropical countries, nearly 100% of outdoor air pollution gets inside due to our buildings not being designed to be airtight. This means that air pollution is just as much an indoor problem as it is outdoors. We asked ourselves, why is it so hard to keep air quality indoors healthy? That’s when we decided to design and manufacture our own hardware tech stack consisting of air monitors, purifiers and HEPA filters called Aria.

You have an interesting history in strategy and communications, and most recently, Gojek. What skillset shifts did these moves take?

Transitioning from the advertising space to startups involved a vertical learning curve. The biggest challenge in these types of transitions is the sheer amount of knowledge acquisition that’s required. Flexibility is important, as things can change so swiftly. In advertising, it was the media landscape; at Gojek, it was the competitive market situation; at Nafas, it’s the sheer depth of the air quality landscape. A persistent drive to learn was the most critical part.