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We discuss the inspiration behind the product, its subscription-model, and tips for securing funding
There are a lot of great gadgets and devices that have come out in recent years, but how many of them are looking to solve a real and growing problem?
On the other side of the coin, plastic use and waste continue to grow. For many, the only way to get reliable, clean water is through cheap, disposable plastic bottles.
That's where oollee comes in. The company looks to address poor water purification methods and plastic use at the point-of-contact. The oollee device sets a couple of feet tall and uses reverse-osmosis to clean water.
It also includes smart features and an app, allowing you to see water conditions, as well as the status of the filter and if it is time to replace it. oollee will be using a subscription-model for the product, which will run users $29.99 a month.
With that fee, however, you do receive new purification filters.
I had the chance to speak with the co-founders of oollee to learn more about the product, what inspired the creation of it, and what hardships the team faced early on.
Check out the full interview below.
Care to introduce yourself and your role with oollee?
Umit: My name is Umit Khiarollaev and I am the CEO and co-founder of water provider oollee. I went to Moscow State University as a chemistry major with a focus on filtration elements. While analyzing tap water supply chains, I concluded that it’s almost impossible for governments to maintain the quality of tap water for drinking purposes.
On average, pipelines (the main contamination source) are buried underground for half a century. Therefore, I decided the best approach is point-of-use purification—which is how oollee was born. After successfully onboarding 30,000 subscribers and counting in Kazakhstan, I decided to take oollee overseas and introduce the service to the U.S.
Anatoly: I am Anatoly Aseev, a co-founder of water provider oollee. I am an Earth Scientist currently doing my PhD research at Stanford. For most of my career, I worked for energy companies in a variety of technical and managing positions in Russia and Norway.
I have always had a passion for tech, science, and the Earth and have been thinking a lot about climate, pollution, water availability, and resource sustainability. After many years studying the Earth’s subsurface, I decided to focus my scientific research and began studying at Stanford’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. After moving to Stanford in 2017, I met oollee’s co-founder Umit Khiarollaev; we were constantly discussing environmental topics like plastic pollution, CO2 emissions, and the idea of clean water for all.
In just a few sentences, what is oollee?
oollee is a drinking water provider. It is like an internet provider but instead of installing a modem in a customer’s household, we install a smart water filtration system and charge a subscription fee.
The filtration system is a compact, cutting-edge smart reverse osmosis (RO) water purification device, which communicates with the customer via smartphone. The oollee app shows subscribers' water temperature, quality, and consumption with additional features to be added. And the oollee device gives an almost unlimited supply of clean water.
What inspired the creation of the company?
Water pollution is a tremendous problem. Each year, nearly 3.6 million people die from water-related diseases, most of whom are children. Millions of Americans are exposed to unsafe water, which leads to major health problems.
We have analyzed tap water supply chains for years and found that sufficient government maintenance is almost impossible. Unfortunately, plastic water bottles are not a feasible solution either. Currently, the forecast is for there to be 250 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean by 2025. That’s why we created oollee. We want to make clean drinking water available and affordable in an environmentally friendly way.
Clean water is a basic need. Everyone deserves to have it at home. We are fighting environmental pollution and encouraging people to start thinking about the future and to stop polluting nature with plastic.
For those reading that may be entrepreneurs themselves, what were some early hardships you faced?
Financial problems, a lack of awareness about the oollee brand, and entering a larger market. Despite our Silicon Valley location, we lacked quality advice from experienced entrepreneurs or VCs.
Perhaps we just didn’t meet the right person. All the recommendations we had were somewhat obvious, so we had to learn from our mistakes.
Any tips for other entrepreneurs who may be looking to enter a market with a gadget or subscription service?
Work hard, network, and don't just focus on one marketplace.
Instead, try any and all options to grow. Also, do your research before starting this long journey and be aware that the journey can be really long and unpredictable.
Speaking of the subscription aspect, how do you feel the sub fee will be received? What do users get with that monthly payment?
We make clean water affordable for everyone through a monthly $29 subscription, which is less than $1 a day. With ordinary RO filters, people often forget to maintain it and the water quality deteriorates. With oollee, maintenance and cartridge replacements are already included in the monthly fee.
Users can also download the oollee app, which tells them when to replace the filter element and allows them to place a one-click order and have the filter element delivered to their doorstep. They can also check water conditions before and after purification, in addition to the volume of water consumed, its temperature, state, and so on. It is easy and very convenient to use.
Considering that many people that need access to clean water are also lower-income, do you feel the sub fee will turn people that need it away?
We don’t think so. Drinking just two plastic water bottles a day costs more. So with oollee, customers will save money—and get access to cleaner water.
You recently closed on a round of funding correct?
Yes, we just announced that we raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from investors including Mission Gate Inc and Columbus Holdings Limited. This funding will be used for company growth. Once again, oollee already on-boarded 30,000 subscribers and counting in Kazakhstan and is now expanding in the U.S.
Any tips for others who may be looking to secure funding in the future?
We’re not experts in this. But from our experience, it’s crucial to grow your network and be open to discuss any topics.
Also, be honest. You’re better off getting less funding than hurting your reputation.
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