Employee number 4 here. I want to start out this weeks post with some brutal honesty. Yes I am employee number 4 but to date, we have 5 employees ;-) When I started working at a “real” job in 1990 I really had no desire to work the rest of my life, I wanted to marry rich, have a bunch of kids and be a domestic goddess and A1 soccer mom. As unimportant as these factoids are I hope it will help with perspective on why I am the one writing these weekly reviews and why I am so passionate about helping every portfolio company we bring on board in any way I can. Sort of like the soccer mom of the incubator. Don’t get any ideas folks…
It is with great pleasure that I was able to interviewed Manu Pillai, CEO and Founder of Waterbit. I have only known Manu since May, but what I do know is this man is smart (and I am not talking run of the mill silicon valley millennial smart} but rather top of the DFX Hardware Manufacturing food chain smart. Three words that describe Manu are driven, passionate and soulful. With some good jazz music or some smooth classic rock, Manu will be in the zone always creating, solving, and pushing!
Waterbit was founded in May 2015. That’s right folks, just 5 short months ago an idea for a product that in Manu’s words “would solve a problem worth solving”. That problem is water. Now I am not talking, AHA…we found a secret well of unending potable water, but rather a sensor that can be placed in the soil to measure moisture and nutrients. Simple as that! This sensor will give a space and time view of water use and soil nutrients to farmers. If the farmer knows what is going on in the soil they can do something about it. Hence farmers use less water and use the water they have more efficiently, we all win! Waterbit filed their first Patent September 24, 2015 for this save the world sensor.
To understand the passion and the drive of this team, I want to fill in a few details about why this, where did the idea come from? Manu grew up in the “Bush” in NorthWestern Nigeria. The drought in the Sahel region of the 1970’s was devastating and wiped out crops, livestock and just under ½ a million lives were lost. This struggle and memory of the sights was seared into his memory at a very young age. So with his childhood it was not enough water, and into adulthood in India it was bad water.
So after a move to Silicon Valley and a successful corporate career with several product designs and launches, and more, alas dark days reared their ugly head. Manu was in a tough spot, and family to support. It was do or die time. Like some sort of miracle it was then that he was approached by a colleague and now business partner who said “here is some cash, go create a product to solve a problem worth solving”. Manu’s response was to reach out to his network to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit and come up with an idea that they could bring to fruition.
The Waterbit team, is almost as important as the product offering itself. The team is comprised of 6 members including Manu and 2 Investors/Mentors. Leif Chastaine, Co Founder of Waterbit, Sales and Marketing Extraordinaire, joined early on when Manu called him and asked him “If you were to fix a problem between water and air which would you choose?” The answer was clear. Leif has a long history in marketing and sales as well as a former Marine (honor, courage, commitment) who has the vision, drive and loyalty to push the Waterbit to the finish line.
Tsung-Te “Ted” Lai, razor sharp, PhD in Computer Science and Information Engineering, originally from Taiwan. Ted could not be a better fit for Waterbit, in 2013 he was part of a study on Mapping Water Pipelines using a Mobile Sensor Droplet. Now don’t ask me what that all means, but I am pretty sure it means that Ted knows water/sensors, engineering. Ted is also a pool shark in his spare time.
Other team members are experts in cloud computing and business intelligence, mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, hardware design and more.
Finally, Tark Abed, the few times I have met him, he was intense, another driven and focused person on this team. Tark is an amazing Industrial Engineer and Designer, with over 12 years at Speck Design. As Manu says he ”builds beautiful products that are superbly functional, he gets it”!
What does the future hold for WaterBit? Currently WaterBit is on site at UC Davis Testing their sensors. After only a week in the ground the results are astonishing, surprising and all around exciting. Without giving away the secret sauce recipe, lets say the range at which the WaterBit sensors were originally thought to have met, are being far exceeded. Next steps are all product improvement, fundraising, customers and building a product and company that will impact everyone.
What sets WaterBit apart from the competition? What doesn’t set them apart, Price, performance and ease of use and installation. The WaterBit initial product is easy to install, maintain, is survivable and damn it looks GOOD!
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