How long can you survive without water? Not a thing most of us in developed countries have to wonder about. But, if you haven't a clue, I'll lend you a hand. While it is possible to survive without food for 3 weeks, without water you wouldn't last longer than a week. In fact, the average adult human being is made up of 60% water, it's a huge part of our makeup. According to Cornell University and the World Health Organization, around the world 1.2 Billion people lack clean water. As a result waterborne infections are responsible for 80% of all infectious diseases. Just considering the malaria-carrying mosquitos that breed in this infected water, they are responsible for 1.2 to 2.7 Million deaths a year. Scary stuff. Global clean water needs have been the primary cause of many new companies looking to solve a global epidemic which has been a primary focus for the United NAtions, Unicef and WHO for decades. I'm going to introduce you to one in particular; Elliotforwater.com, a socially conscious search engine founded by Andrea Demichelis.
Andrea is from a small town of 2,000 people about an hour outside of Turin, Italy; an important business center for the northern part of the country. Andrea had a childhood like most boys in Italy. He wasn't the child of entrepreneurs, he played futbol (soccer) frequently and had big dreams to be wealthy and powerful. In college Andrea studied Finance with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship. It was there in Paris where his perspective was changed and his eyes were widened to the possibilities of the world. Back home when he would speak on starting a business, instead of getting a job, people would respond as most do. Telling him that path is "too much", in an attempt to discourage him from doing something that they couldn't see possible for themselves. It's funny how that works. In this world, the most dangerous thing that you can do is to allow others to project their insecurities on to you. In Paris, big ideas were common and everyone was working to achieve something. It was in Paris where he realized bigger dreams. It was in Paris that he realized that he really could have his cake and eat it too. He could make money and a positive impact on the world.
What inspired 18 year old Andrea from a small town in Italy to move to a big city in France? Interestingly enough it was the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. In the movie, the main character played by Shia Labeouf is a wall street broker focused on renewable energy. Like, funding companies that turn water into energy by separating the oxygen and hydrogen molecules to ultimately use Hydrogen combustion, endlessly. This motivated Andrea to seek this path for himself, to see how he too can make "Green Profits". By the way, if you haven't seen Wall Street, whether one or two, you should definitely Netflix it asap.
Have you ever heard of a company called Google? Of course you have. If you didn't know, the core business for Google is their search ads. That's how they got started and that's how they became a multi billion dollar company who went public in 2004 with a company valuation of $23 Billion. Knowing this, Andrea had an epiphany. "I was not looking for that idea, it just arrived by it's self." Andrea decided that he too could start a search engine company based on the same model but instead use the profits to purchase water purifying machines.
Andrea who's not a computer coder, knew that he needed to find a computer engineer in order to create this company. One week after the idea came to him he met a guy who was one of the best computer coders from Greece. He had been working in Australia but was in Italy for a week to visit a mutual friend of Andrea's. When Andrea met him he told him about his idea for Elliot For Water and asked if he could create the search engine that Andrea had in mind. "He said yes, he stopped in Italy for 8 months. He was there for vacation, but he stopped there and we worked together for 8 months. And the same week I found a web designer that liked the project, he helped me with the design." Maktub.
Andrea and his team run a search engine by syncing it with Google's search engine. When a user clicks a paid for ad link, Google cuts Elliot For Water a commission for the that click. Elliot For Water then uses 60% of that commission to purchase a water purifier to deliver to a community in need. What I found to be most impressive was Andrea's desire to keep his operations as vertically integrated as possible. You see, in most non profits, more than 2/3rds of the money raised is used to run the company and the rest is used to achieve what ever mission they are committed to. Andrea, keeping this practice in mind, decided that it'd be best to run the distribution of the water purifiers instead of giving the money to another organization to do administer the distribution. "This is an important thing, we do everything ourselves. That way we can directly follow the project. If I give the money to another association, let's say 100 euros. They have to pay their wages, they have to pay the cost and the tax, what you have left over goes towards the project. What we have is our costs to run the website, and the 60% goes completely to the project, we don't take anything out. So if we have 100 Euros to send, we use 100 Euros to buy the machine and we bring them into the villages."
Andrea gets the water purifying device from a company called SolWa that uses recycled materials to create a water purifying machines by utilizing solar power. The machine costs between 300 and 1,000 Euros and can create 10 liters or 2.5 gallons of clean water per cycle. In February 2016 Andrea and his team will be making their first delivery of a water purifier in Guinea-Bissau, which is one of the poorest 20 countries in the world and suffers greatly from poor water conditions. Elliot For Water is working closely with a London based organization called Well Found to identify the location in Guinea with the greatest need.
When starting a business, one of the greatest things that you'll need to do is create strategic partnerships. It's important to understand what part of the process you're best at and what helps save you money and time. More often than not companies are really good at the sales process or the manufacturing process. In Andrea's case, his team is really good at the sales process by driving traffic to the site versus another search engine. He reached out to do business with SolWa because it was cheaper and a better business move to buy the device from them, rather than creating it on his own. When creating technology, research and development can be so expensive that many companies run out of money during this process. So, more often than not it's more beneficial to find a company to partner with, at least in the beginning, that has a similar technology that allows you to do business. Andrea chose SolWa due to their great reputation, rewards for their technology and recognition by the United Nations. They are located 3 hours from where Andrea was living in Italy. He contacted them, because they had a similar mission SolWa was excited to meet and discuss Elliot For Water. A week later they met in Venice, Italy to develop a contract.
We are aware by now that sustainability is important in any business model. In order to gauge his company's sustainability, Elliot For Water needs to achieve 30,000 daily searches in order to fund a trip. A trip equates to the distribution of between 10 to 15 water purifying machines. Andrea envisions his company being a globally recognized brand as a socially conscious search engine alternative to engines like Google and Bing. He has no limits set for the level of impact that he wants to create, just that he wants to create the greatest impact possible. Andrea's team of five is 100% bootstrapped (self-funded) due to his unique revenue model of using 60% of money earned to fund the company's mission. He considered taking a loan in the beginning, but quickly realized that mathematically is wouldn't be feasible. If he had taken a loan, he would only retain 10% of the profits versus the current 30%.
One of the most difficult things that Andrea had to learn to make this venture viable and successful was managing all of the moving parts. Keeping your designer, developer, timelines all in sync while staying on top of the business development can require some finesse.
What is some advice that Andrea has for those who are starting a business?
"Do it and believe in what you are doing. Do it if you are really interested in creating these type of things, because it's not that easy. If you do it just for fun or just because you think it will give you money. Then it will be more difficult than you think. I think that you have to be passionate, you have to love what you are doing. It can change you, I would advise people to do it, we need more people trying to follow what they want to do. Even if they fail or something, at least they're still doing what they love to do. Having a job should not be your mission in life. Do it! This is my advice. Do-it."
We all have at least a slight desire to help make the world a better place. Most of us use Google searches multiple times a day, why not utilize google searches in a way that can not only positively impact the environment but also your fellow humans. The best part, it would literally cost you nothing. Check out the video to the left and Elliotforwater.com to learn more about how your online searches can help make the world a better place for everyone.