Real Leaders

How an SMS is Helping Deliver Water To India’s Thirsty

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  • A mobile message informs consumers in India of when to expect water in areas with intermittent supply.
  • Nextdrop has saved one million hours of wasted time – from people waiting for water – that is now put to more productive use.
  • The 28 year-old is the CEO of a company of 20-something’s who feel they have a product that even developed countries could benefit from. 
  • They aim to become the world’s largest water network – informing governments and consumers on water use.

If you want water in Bangalore, India don’t turn on a tap, check your phone for an SMS. You’re likely to find a message that says: “Water will arrive in your area on 2015-12-17 around 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM”

In many countries with water problems, millions of people often find their taps running dry without any warning and wait for hours for piped water to finally arrive. Waiting for that window of opportunity can ruin your day and waste valuable time – better spent earning a living. 

28-year-old Anu Sridharan decided that working with water engineers to determine when water would arrive exactly in a specific area was the perfect solution. She devised an SMS system that would let residents know when to expect water, allowing people to plan their day better. She’s called her company Nextdrop.

“The water utility companies said, ‘Hey, we want to see how this works too’ and so we began giving our data to them.” Says Sridharan. The idea has turned into an app that now allows consumers to lodge complaints and problems.

Those who’ve started reporting water problems have seen how utility companies have begun fixing problems quicker, as they can now identify them sooner. It’s turned into a win-win situation, with service provider and consumer working together to supply a vital service. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2013 Sridharan was a finalist in Unilever’s Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards held at Buckingham Palace and hosted by The Prince of Wales.

She started Nextdrop when she was 23 years old and already feels old. “I have a colleague that’s 20 and the average age in our office is around 25,” she says – stressing the point of how old she feels. She’s already had years of experience working with local governments in India. With Nextdrop now operational in four cities across the country, she’s found government official helpful in getting things done. “They are very helpful in working with start-ups,” says Sridharan. “New ideas are risky, but they’ve taken a chance with us and I think they’re seeing the benefits.”

Nextdrop have calculated that one million hours of potentially wasted time has been saved across the four cities, over the past four years, from consumers using their SMS service. A new app is also in the pipeline, The Water Saver, that will help track the amount of water saved by utilities. “What drives our company is an idea that each product we create should try to make the world a better place,” says Sridharan.

Realizing that social impact should be run like a business, Nextdrop has gone beyond the ‘feel-good’ factor and is charging utility companies a fee for their service. Commercial brands can also sponsor SMS messages that are sent to consumers. Nextdrop wants to ensure that from a business perspective they never get to experience the ‘last drop.’

The company’s humble beginnings have revealed that water problems exist everywhere, even within developed countries. “After four years of being in business we finally have a mission,” says Sridharan. “To be the world’s largest water network that connects governments to the private sector and citizens, by supplying water information.”

Surprisingly, many countries that have far superior technology and infrastructure to a country such as India, have no technology developed specifically for the water sector. This makes Nextdrop an attractive solution, and one that has the potential to scale fast.

“It’s terrifying being an entrepreneur at age 28,” says Sridharan. “However, I don’t think that really age matters – it’s terrifying at any age. I live by a quote I once heard that explains that when you’re an entrepreneur, CEO or founder, things never get easier – you just get better at managing it!”

Fear of failure can drive some people their entire careers and Sridharan is no different. “I had no idea of knowing if my idea for Nextdrop would work, but in a worst-case scenario I reckoned I’d end up back where I started – a university graduate still full of potential. I figured it was worth a shot and I’m glad I took the plunge,” she says.

The best advice she ever got was from a fellow entrepreneur who told her to always be honest about what she didn’t know, and not to be scared of failure. “This honesty should also extend to yourself, the people you work with and your investors,” says Sridharan.

Fear, failure and lack of experience aside, there are still some great reasons that Sridharan is excited about having a company where all employees are under the age of 30. “One of the most beautiful things about building a company like this is that you get to work with really cool people,” she says. “On a day-to-day basis, it’s really all about the people you work with.”


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