"The 'H' shaped solar panel HUB that will transform the standard of living of millons of people."
Hi Marco and welcome to our inspiring startup talks with entrepreneurs! Firstly, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up becoming an entrepreneur?
I am a Singularitarian and a Transhumanist, interested in artificial intelligence, clean-tech, robotics, futurism and law of accelerating returns. I am trying to create business models that could be soon run by AI (Artificial Intelligence). I am not interested in dealing with business models that in 10 years will simply be extinct. Making money today by destroying the planet is not my business. For that reason, I do not sell hyper sugar saturated drinks to people, or sell unhealthy fat hamburgers made out the extermination of animals. I believe in a world of abundance for all. I strongly believe in ‘human beings’ for what they can become as opposed to what they are at present. There is a destiny for us as transcendent entities, that will give us the opportunity to rebuild what we have destroyed and possibly to remake it even better. Entrepreneurs are those who shape their lives as well as the future of the world. It’s really a lifetime constant mission, for that reason, I think you do not simply “end up” becoming an entrepreneur, you can only consciously choose to be one.
You are the man behind Watly, the revolutionizing technology which addresses the basic needs of a human. Would you like to share a few words about Watly?
Watly is conceived through innovative design and unconventional engineering approach for that we like to think about it as the most advanced and beautifully designed solar HUB in the world.
Watly purifies water from any source of contamination, and it can as well desalinate ocean water. It generates electricity off-grid and allows connectivity anywhere in the world. It does all that by exclusively harvesting solar energy. Watly is a stand alone machine if taken separately but it can become an intelligent network whenever two or more of them are connected together. We are building the future “Energy-net”, the real Internet of Things.
Watly provides Life, Energy and Future.
What inspired you to build this technology?
We are inspired by the 3rd Industrial Revolution paradigms and its potential. The increased energy efficiency and accompanying productivity gains that come with the shift into a Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure, prepares the way for a sustainable circular economy. Using less of the earth’s resources more efficiently and productively and making the transition from carbon based fuels to renewable energies, is a defining feature of the Collaborative Age and a future of Abundance for All. Watly will be one of the protagonists of this technological and social revolution.
Who is Watly targeted?
Watly is targeted at customers around the world, ranging from the governments and the public sector in general, schools hospitals, big corporations and NGOs. Geographically speaking, Watly is addressing a global market. We are now negotiating with some African governments, budgeting large investments for solving their water and electricity issues. These countries are seriously considering renewable energy as key solutions. We have also been contacted by prestigious Indian representatives, as well as by powerful potential customer of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. These are super rich countries where the sun shines 360 days a year and where ocean water is everywhere. The ideal conditions for a technology like Watly’s to transform their arid landscapes. Surprisingly we have received manifesto of interest even form countries you would never expect such as California and Australia, places where water is becoming more and more of a problem. We are also aiming at big corporations and NGOs. In this case we are talking more of sponsors than customers but still the added value we can offer to them is significant. We can increase the overall impact of their social corporate responsibility campaigns or help foundations to raise funds in a more transparent and efficient way.
How does it work?
Watly efficiently desalinates ocean water, eliminates all pathogens and microorganisms from previously polluted water, including: viruses, bacteria, parasites. It removes inorganic compounds as well as poisons: arsenic, benzene, heavy metals (such as lead), chlorine, chloramines. It purifies water from any organic compounds and liquid contents of latrines. It does not need membranes or filter substitutions. It even purifies radioactive water. The physical principle underlying this innovative system is called vapor compression distillation. It is by far the most effective and powerful method of water purification and desalination available. It is anodyne to say that our know-how is not based on the simple basic principle of vapor compression distillation but on the engineering of the thermodynamical systems. Our thermal engines are designed and engineered in a way to achieve outstanding level of efficiency (97%). Watly in terms of efficacy, outperforms reverse osmosis, nano-filtration or ultraviolet purification methods. Watly also generates electricity through photovoltaic technology and access to Internet through 4G or Satellite connections. Mostly of the product out there, behave as simple water filtering machines whereas Watly is a technological HUB.
Watly is one of the first few companies to benefit from SME Instrument, Horizon 2020 and you have also made it to the second batch of European Pioneers. How was this possible? Would you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
Indeed, we are one of the start-ups taking part of the European Pioneers (grant 150.000€), approved in Phase 1 SME Instrument Horizon2020 (grant 50.000€) and approved in Phase 2 SME Instrument Horizon2020 (grant 1.800.000€). We are also among the top 5 finalists and strong winner candidate for one of the most prestigious awards in Italy (till the 26 Nov, the name must be kept confidential).
How is this possible? Do I have some suggestions to my fellow entrepreneurs? Of course!
Here are two rules to strictly follow: work “your butt off” and “do never give up”.
It takes years of hard work and pain to be “an overnight success”. Your future successes are based on your commitment to your idea, your willingness to get to the goal of your mission, on delivering the maximum of your possibilities at every step up the ladder of your success. Work every single day of the week and do not take holidays as long as you do not reach your goal. Once there, take two weeks off, and then get back to work by setting another goal.
One of the most important things to be done in such programmes in order to win the hearts of the juries is to give a stellar pitch about your company. On that note, would you have any tips for the other entrepreneurs?
When it comes to make a first impression on any specific audience, pitching is indeed your “master tool”.
Pitching requires subtle communication techniques but most importantly a real passion and deep understanding of neural decision making of the jury or the audience. Pitching nevertheless, can be an extremely poor and superficial activity if you do not have a real mission underneath. If you do not believe in what you say, pitching should not be your main concern. Finding out the “Why” you do and “What” you do, is a must. Build a story around your mission, do not sell it, just make people believe in it.
Winning people’s hearts is an art!
You must have gone through various stages from coming up with an idea to making the idea work. Can you share the different stages that you have gone through?
The first step was building Watly 1.0 out of components we had at hand in our warehouse, a flat thermal solar panel, a thin film photovoltaic panel, a car battery and few other things. Watly was originally assembled on a wooden pallet. A few weeks later, we gave Watly an aluminum frame and we placed some painted grey plastic panels on its sides. It was brutally simple, but it worked right from the very first beginning. Once the MVP was established, we could work on tuning. The flat thermal panel inclined at 45º offered a good compromise, but the sun would have optimally irradiated it only during specific hours of the day. We wanted to increase performance and the only way to do so was to have bigger thermal surface perpendicularly exposed to the sun. Ideally, the thermal surface would have moved following the sun during the day; however, a mechanical moving system would have proven to be too complex and not reliable in the long term.
It was about establishing an unconventional approach to the problem and with Watly 2.0, we made not one, but two significant steps forward. We abandoned the flat thermal solar panel and opted for an “arch” shaped array of thermal solar vacuum tubes. They were more efficient and versatile.
The “arch shaped” array was simulating a sun tracking system because it always had a part of the tubes facing the sun at the optimal angle. The beauty of the solution was that we had avoided the use of any moving parts. With Watly 2.0, we had also started getting serious about water quality, electrical production and connectivity. Thanks to Watly 2.1, we started to think really big.
We designed photovoltaic telescopic wings, which by sliding would have exposed the thermal vacuum tubes underneath. It was a solution that minimized the space occupied by Watly once inside of a standard container. That was the idea: designing a modular structure of pre-built components that could be assembled only once they arrived at the final destination. After increasing overall performance (Watly 2.1 was 5 times bigger than Watly 2.0) we started to think about scalability. Designing Watly 3.0 was inspirational but in following few months we are going to build it, and this is going to be amazing.
Which stage did you think was the most difficult and why?
Building a business where there are not easy answers, is always hard. Watly is disrupting old industrial paradigms but it is still in its infancy. Any antagonist approach, lobbyist interest or simply ignorance, might jeopardize the future of this start-up. So far our journey has proven to be difficult, extremely hard, some time has been joyful but mostly stressful and in some cases even humiliating. We wake up, we try, we build, we fail, we succeed, we repeat and we are always ready to do it all over again the following day. There are not insurmountable obstacles but there are certainly great menaces and uncertainties ahead. We are dealing with fundamental human needs not fancy trends or cool gizmos so we might fail in delivering the ultimate solution to the market but we are not going to miss the shot for not having consider the right amount of constraints and difficulties. We have committed our lives to this company and we will not easily give up no matter how hard is going to be. We feel privileged and at the same time condemned to make this happen. We are ordinary people trying to do extraordinary things.
A very important thing that affects the sales of a product is its price. How do you intend to approach your pricing strategy from preventing it being considered as ‘too cheap’ or as ‘very expensive’ by your customers?
I’d rather say that the very important thing that affects the sales of a product is its core value proposition to the customer. Price just reflects how deep is the customer’s need and desire for that product. The myope race toward costs reduction can only generate the humongous amount of trash products we have on the market right now. I believe that a company can only strive by delivering revolutionary products to people and that, sustainable business creation comes from providing benefits to customers, not by exploiting them. As long as I am the CEO of Watly, this company’s race will be toward exponentially increasing customers’ benefits. For that reason, we are going to create different products for different kinds of customers.
Could you share the key milestones of your Watly journey with all the highs and lows?
Let’s start with the “lows” first. We have been told “thank you, but it is not our focus” - “unfortunately it does not fit with our investment strategy” - “I don’t see how you are going to make money” - I do not get why you are not been already funded with big cash something must be wrong”…..
The list of accessory failures is long and boring. I could write a book by collecting the options and feedbacks of the naysayers we’ve met and we are going to meet.
But for every “No” you get, you are closer to a “Yes” and this is why even the list of successes is quite long. We have been selected among some of the best start-ups in world by different competitions and accelerators. We were among the 10 startups at the Startupbootcamp XL 2013, Top 5 Finalists at ACCIO Forum Barcelona 2014, Top 8 Finalists Repsol Foundation 2015, Selected by Kic Innoenergy 2015, Top 7 finalists at Pioneer Festival 2015, among the unicorns 20 start-ups at Menorca Millennials 2015, Top 3 BetaPitch Barcelona 2015, Top 4 Finalists at Shift Challenge 2015, Top 3 TechAllStars 2015, Winner Wildcard for European Pioneer 2015, Top 3 Finalists in Challengers 2015, won different awards such as Premio Creatic by Tecnocampus University 2013, the Foundation Aquae 2015, Spanish Advanced Design 2015, and of course among the 13 start-ups participating at the European Pioneer, approved in Phase 1 and Phase 2 (Jan 2015 and August 2015).
In your previous interviews you have mentioned that you have a wide range of potential customers from different parts of the world. How did you make Watly visible in the eyes of your customers? What is your marketing strategy?
Practically we are attending almost every major start-up events and fairs around Europe as well as putting a lot of effort in marketing our message and company mission, through our web channels. We are approaching potential customers as well as partners through 1to1 personalized and focused communication. We also pay attention to networking with field partners and advisors around the world. We talk to every body from industrial partners to media, from NGOs to big corporations. We ask and we are not afraid to get emotionally involved with people. In the digital economy, the most important marketing asset is access to the right information and most importantly to the right people. It is a systematic approach towards a final goal. Systematic does not necessarily mean linear, it means adaptive, liquid, responsive and most importantly genuine or even unconventional.
Lively Philanthropy seems to be a very interesting initiative taken by Watly. Can you tell us more about the app?
The mission of this company is about improving global living standards and the standards that need to be mostly improved are those of about 5 billions people still living in the developing world. The buying power of these people is extremely low for that reason the only way to economically sustain our mission is to call to action philanthropists and donors around the world. We have designed an application called ‘Lively’ that allows international philanthropists and donors to help people in-need around the world. By means of their contributions that can provide people with water and electricity for free. With Lively we directly convert donations into clean water and free electricity. We could call it “iwater”
The difference with other “already seen” donating platforms, is that with Lively, you can actually engage with the beneficiary in real time through live images and videos (that can also be shared with your family and friends). With a simple click, you transfer a credit (through a secured system), to the person in-need (a kid, a young woman, a mother, an old man). She will be able to “download” clean water or free-electricity instantaneously. You immediately get involved in a profound emotional experience being at the same time “assured” that the money goes directly towards benefitting the person you have chosen.
What is the next for Watly?
In the following months we are going to build our two-first units of Watly 3.0. They will be fully functional units, absolutely identical to those which will be sold later in 2016. We will present one of them in the city of Barcelona and in the same occasion we will organize one major gala event, inviting elite entrepreneurs, investors, potential customers, international philanthropists and even celebrities. The other one will be sent to final destination (we think somewhere in the West Africa) for major media impact and launch first official partner. We are not going to be alone, since it seems that one of the biggest high tech manufacturer in the world will sign a partnership with us very soon. We are also going to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. We are already working on the development of a new machine (complementary to Watly 3.0). More is to come, so stay tuned!
Before we let you go, where can we find you online?
I’d suggest to visit our website www.watly.co where you’ll find links to our twitter @watly1, Facebook fan page https://www.facebook.com/Watly1 and Vimeo channel https://vimeo.com/watly.
We are also one of the protagonists in a new Discovery Channel’s series expected to be live around April 2016.
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Sindhu Chandrasekaran is a very confident and enthusiastic journalist who loves to take up responsibilities and challenges. My quest for learning and keeping myself abreast of any developments in the field have been a drive to experiment new things. Both, the interest that I have in meeting new people, make connections and flare for writing that I am blessed with has moulded me into what I am today. You can follow Sindhu on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.