Anu Sridharan was 23 years old when she became the chief executive officer of a startup in Hubli- a town some 500 kilometers from Bangalore in Karnataka.
“I mean, I’m 23 going on 24 years old, and (surprise surprise), I have never been a CEO before,” Sridharan, born to Indian parents in America where she was raised, wrote in 2011 on her company’s blog.
Today, more than 5000 people pay her tiny startup called Nextdrop Rs 10 every month to get a text message delivered to their phone. For them, the text message is crucial as it alerts them when water begins to flow from the municipal water tap nearby.
For people in most Indian cities where water supply is erratic, the 160 character message is a life saver. Those who really need it, do not consider the service costly. After all, it costs more money to subscribe to “funny jokes” or cricket scores from the mobile service provider.
In rapidly growing Hubli, the startup which began as a simple information broadcasting system, is already making a big impact. It is now a full fledged company with 10 people on the rolls and a few products lined up for commercial deployment.
It all began as a college project, recalls Sridharan. One of the co-founders, Emily Kumpel, was in Hubli as part of her research project at the University of California at Berkeley. Kumpel, who needed frequent water samples to test its quality, found herself waiting for hours without a clue as to when the public water tap would start working.
She took the problem back to the class in Berkeley where Sridharan and other co-founders came up with a mobile based solution. Soon they conducted a pilot project which won a prize from the Knight Foundation and Nextdrop was born.
“My whole life has been somehow connected to water,” says Sridharan. “Our first product line is SMS information system for water in Hubli. We are developing a low cost system for utilities,” she said.
Nextdrop now has two pilot projects in Bangalore.
“We are building a low cost scada system for utilities. It costs anywhere between $10 mn – $100 mn globally and we are building an alternative for that,” said Sridharan. “India loses 30%-70% of water through mismanagement and lack of oversight,” she said. The system helps utilities keep track of the precious resource.
Nextdrop also has a contract to monitor reservoir levels in Hubli in real time.
How does that help?
When a particular tank is short of water, the municipality is alerted and water from another tank can be pumped in so that it doesn’t affect consumers relying on water from that particular tank. “It becomes a more proactive system than a reactive one,” she says.Nextdrop is in talks with investors to raise funds and scale up its operations. For the young entrepreneur, who had spent only 6 months of her entire life in India before starting up in Hubli, business was full of surprises. “Things you expect to be hard might be easy and simple things might turn out to be the hardest,” she says.
The startup, is a classic example of how challenges can often be turned into opportunities and businesses can be built on top of it. We hope to see more of these in the coming days!