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So This One Time, When We Tried To Solve The Galaxy’s Water Problems…

6 Oct

This is post is by Aseem Khan, a process engineer at NextDrop.  Enjoy!

So once upon a time in a city far, far away three entrepreneurs set out to participate in the water accelerator workshop from CIIE. It was Thursday afternoon and they jumped on their bat-mobile and stormed towards the airport with the speed of a thousand horses.

They had super tools which could solve the mystery of missing water and ensure that the residents of the Milky Way galaxy could stay informed about water and never run out of water. This was a part of their plan to compete with NASA who were trying to find water on a different planet, but these three entrepreneurs from NextDrop had a plan in which the world would not need to look for water somewhere else- it could manage existing water resources efficiently.

So coming back to the story- after reaching the airport, the guardians of the galaxy inspected our entrepreneurs to ensure they were not carrying any illegal ideas with them.

They had a pleasant ride in the supersonic airship. In a span of 3 blinks they reached the planet of sun and sands – Jaipur.

This workshop was designed to increase the abilities of our entrepreneurs and equip them with enough tools to fight the battle with scarcity of water.

So these entrepreneurs were in the process of building excellent next gen products that could solve the world’s water crisis. And they had to demonstrate it to the masters and lords of CIIE. After demonstration they would provide them with magic potions and vocal advice which would help these entrepreneurs in their quest to solve the water problems.

So our entrepreneurs, gave the presentation on the 2000000000 inch  screen in a hall where the leaders of different planets were also present. They had 2 solutions for solving the crisis:

Waattr App

An application that would run on the smarter phones of the 21st century and alert the brains of the living organisms whenever they received water and created a virtual platform for the galaxy to share their water information. For example: – If a Martian wanted to move to earth and wanted to see how the water quality in Indira Nagar was, where would he go ?

Valve Badge

An application that would bring transparency and efficiency to the MWGWMC (Milky way galaxy water management council) it would provide the officers and  decision makers data points and suggestions to supply water throughout the world and ensure life continues to blossom in our galaxy.

So our entrepreneurs pitched these two products and they got an amazing response, and they also learned how to reach out to the universe and the latest trends in technology.

They also came back with the following learnings:

·         The designers, developers, entrepreneurs must always talk to the users, if there is a mediator in between then there is always loss of information and personal touch.

·         It’s best to make the plan as detailed as possible even if it means to write down the hourly itinerary.

·          Always be prepared to talk about the company for at least 10 mins or more.

·         Before developing any product, team members should brainstorm about the customer journey.

After that, they took their time capsules, and in 1/10th of a blink of the eye, they were back to their own planet – the planet of unexpected weather – Bangalore.

CIIE – IIMA – Water Accelerator

18 Aug

Over the past weekend (Aug 15th and 16th, to be precise), our team attended CIIE & IIMA’s first Water Accelerator program.

It was intriguing because there were so many different types of water companies at different stages.

Our team spoke on the same panel as the CEOs of companies like Sarvajal and Ecolibrium- and in the process, everyone shared and learnt a whole lot.

We thought it would be nice to share what we brought to the table.

Where our products were concerned:

  • We brought 2 products to the market in the last 2 years
  • We have been constantly releasing product features, many of which fail- but we learn from our mistakes
  • Building product is all about observing user behavior and listening to yourself. Users don’t know what they don’t know.
  • There’s a huge difference between building software products and everything else; distribution with software products is forgiving — everything else is not, and thus requires meticulous planning and foresight

Where HR was concerned:

  • We realized that culture is the most effective mechanism to hold individuals accountable
  • The question we keep asking ourselves is whether we should hire only for roles or for skills? This is not a black and white question, but we believe that when one comes across great talent, one should just pick them up.
  • How do you know if someone is great? They make you feel great.
  • Our 45 days to impact policy– decide on cultural fit of the employee and ability to contribute by the 45th day

Water Status – Experiments in Truth

23 Jul

There are a lot of things that can be thought about and there’s a lot more that needs to be experienced. Thinking about things can only take you so far, and at times it can take you too far into an imaginary world of ‘what ifs’. This can be especially true in a startup when every experience really is an experiment in truth.

The other week I was looking at some data (founders look at data), and this data was particularly interesting. We had just launched an experiment (in truth) to check on data quality seeing if people would verify message accuracy over a missed call. While validating data through this experiment we noticed an unusual amount of people text messaging their address. We shut down the experiment for two days to see if there were any correlation and there were.

For most experiments that we run we have a general idea of what’s going to happen. Sometimes you see something odd, that observation of phenomenon; these are the ones you dream of, because this is how the mind starts to look in a different direction.

I was sitting with Devin one morning, scratching my head at what’s going on and I ask him, “do you think people will missed call when they’re getting water? They’re already sending text messages when they don’t get water.”

Devin, “let’s start writing some tests.”

A few tests and a couple fun hacking sessions later, we had a module that:

  1. sent a text message to people asking them if they were getting water
  2. allowed them to missed call one number for yes and another number for no
  3. record their response
  4. sent them a thank you message

Then our eyeballs flipped inside out as we stared into the weird universe that is disruptive technology. People took this technology and made it their own. They started using it in ways that we didn’t intend or design for. They started to text messaging “yes” and “no” instead of giving missed calls. They started reporting their water status without being prompted and they repeated this behavior water supply after water supply. They didn’t respond at first and then they responded a few weeks later.

What to do when your users react so positively from your experiment? You give them a lot more and then integrate this phenomenon into your core product. We started sending a thank you message asking them to forward the message, to see what this would look like as an acquisition channel.

Some Numbers

  • total number of feedback replies to date- 7100
  • city wise- Hubli: 5349, Dharwad: 781, Bangalore: 492, Mysore 195
  • total number of residents referred- 107

Screenshot from 2015-07-23 17_17_34
So what’s the end result? For the last quarter we had been working to get a design for a smart phone application that we liked. We went through two designs before this and both of them were very alpha. Take all of the learnings from our water status experiment, mix in some rapid deployment and we give you ‘Waattr’, the application built on ionic that changes how the world experiences water. Waattr connects you with your neighbors, and gives you real time information on when you will be getting drinking water, why there was a delay in the last supply and most importantly allows you to “splash” people to get information on your water supply!

Check it out, we released it onto the playstore, download and get yours now

NextDrop Adventures in Varanasi

25 Jun

Hi, my name is Madhu Reddy, I am a chemical engineer and I have been working at NextDrop from the past two years. I manage utility relations and also build products at NextDrop. Here is my first blog post.

I visited Varanasi with my colleagues Bindu and Bhargav for a business proposal. Varanasi is a sacred and one of the oldest cities of the world located at banks of the holy River Ganga.

Our visit was quite adventurous as Varanasi felt the earthquake waves on our arrival, month after tragic tremor in Nepal, however that did not stop us from pursuing our mission.

One of the first things we saw were two over head tanks near by, eager to learn about the field operations we went to one of the tanks. A old man(pump operator) was giving prayers to God, we inspected the tank till pump operator finished his prayers. we learnt from the pump operator that, the tank is under maintenance, also there are no valveman, this was interesting. We tried to explain to him that we are talking about the men who run the water supply system, we didn’t believe him completely that there were ‘no valvemen’.

We got some insights from Govind, our auto driver on his water supply, he said first five minutes they get dirty water, after that water doesn’t smell. He gets water twice a day, for three hours. Govind was kind enough to show us some valves. Govind bought us tea made of ginger which was served in kulhad(earthen bowl), delicious.

River Ganga is indescribable but in humble words I would say she is majestic, lot of people come here to take a dip in the holy water for “paap vimochan” cleansing of sin. Every day there is the ‘Ganga Aarti’  at Dashashwamedh Ghat which is beautiful.

Ganga aarti is the magnificent event during evening in the Varanasi that one must not miss to see it. It makes us experience the great feelings while Ganga aarti become in process. This beautiful ritual makes every moment of the evening period special and fills with the spiritual thoughts. It is performed by the brass lamps which accompanied with the mantra chant in the presence of the huge crowd.

All the priests who have to perform the aarti, wear same cloth, the dhoti and kurta which is tightly bind with a long towel. First they make preparation of the Ganga aarti by making collection of the five elevated planks, a multi tiered oil lamp, an idol of the Goddess Ganga, flowers, incense sticks, a conch shell, a big and heavy brass lamp having a snake hood at the edge of the River Ganga. A group of boats filled with devotees come around the place of aarti at the bank of River. They are very eager to see the event; some of them take live video, photos as well. Ritual of the Ganga aarti is performed by the students of the Vedas and Upanishads which is lead by the head priest of the Gangotri Seva Samiti. The whole event takes around 45 minutes.”””

Walking along the banks of River Ganga reached Harishchandra Ghat, I was curious to know about the cremation. there was a guy standing and watching the people unload the wood from boats, I smiled at him, I asked him where are these wood brought from, he replied nearby woods. I asked him, how much does he sell in a day, he told me around 1-2 tonne. I asked him what’s the selling price, he replied Rs10 a kilo. How much quantity is required for cremation, he replies around 250-350 kilos of wood. Now coming to my business, I asked him about his water supply he said he gets water once or twice a day. He said quality of water is poor, hence he has installed a filter at home.

He took me to his shop and started talking about dirty politics, how the water is not managed well in the city. I asked him how much time does it take to fix a leak, he said it gets delayed, I asked him if he complains to the water board. He told me no, there is a guy who comes around we complain to him. I told him about what NextDrop does, gave him the missed call number to get registered to our service. He told me before Modi became prime minister he was in the ashram across his shop for 6 months. I told him to call the missed call number, he asked my phone number, I gave it to him and said goodbye.

If you fancy fried food you can get some delicious food along the river banks. I tried some raw mustard oil for the first time with chaat, it had an interesting flavour. the presentation of the food was excellent.

Lassi is very famous in Varanasi, it is so delicious, people stand in queue at the famous lassi joints. Lassi in Varnasi is not like in cities where they whizz up in blenders. Here Lassi-wallah’s macerate the homemade yoghurt using big wooden stick in a steel handi, adding little sugar. Before serving they add the heavenly ‘malai’ cream which forms as a thick layer on the top.

Sun rises very early in Varanasi, by 5:40AM the sun is dancing in the sky. When I went for a walk. I saw people cleaning their porch with water, I asked a guy if it was drinking water, he told me that this water was from his storage tank. I asked him when will he get drinking water, he said, he has drinking water stored inside. On asking about his water timings, he said they get water between 7:30AM – 8:00AM.

On my morning walk I reached water board of Varanasi, which was just a few kilometers away from our guest house. I asked the gatekeeper is this where water gets treated, he said you are not allowed inside without permission. I told him I am just interested in understanding the water supply in Varanasi, I learnt that in Varanasi there are no valveman. Water board is very keen on the water quality in the reservoirs, so they don’t let anyone inside without permission. There was a chemist at the gate who told me that banaras has the best water supply in India and the water quality is good and is treated with chlorine.

Bhargav and I were escorted by Mp Singh an assistant Engineer. Who gave us the field visit. Our field visit comprised of visiting Pump house at the source (the River ganga), overhead tanks, chlorine diffusers, Water Treatment Plant.

First stop was Pump house, five pumps pump water to water treatment plant at badini. River ganga has been the source for varanasi since 11th century, and withdrawal has been increasing decade over decade.

We were eager to learn about supply system, so we went to a over head tank at Sunderpur, only to realise that there are no valveman in Varanasi. There was no one at the over head tank as most of the supply is during morning and evening. I saw the first electric valve in water supply system.

Then we went to Water Treatment Plant to learn about the water treatment process. The process starts with settling section for suspended solids, there are four huge tanks. Clear water from settlers is supplied to filtering. Water is filtered through sand bed, then it is disinfected with chlorine.

Next day, Bhargav and I met executive engineer first thing in the morning, we talked about Bangalore, he told us his son is in Bangalore and he is buying an apartment. He was excited about it and then he arranged a meeting with the junior engineer who took us to field to show complaints.

While waiting for the junior engineer, we looked at the storage house which was 120 years old over head tank made of mud and brick, the thickness of the wall was almost 6ft. The Engineer took us for field visit to see the process of complaints redressal. On one of the sites we saw there were 5 people trying to unblock the sewer system, with the bamboo stick. Engineer told us that, they try to do the job manually, if it is difficult then they get the jetty machine. The contractor was a sweet guy, he bought us the cold drinks, which we couldn’t say no to. We went and interacted with the residents asking them questions about water supply, water quality, how much time does it take to attend complaints. We found out that the citizens were satisfied with water quantity, but not so much with the quality and the complaint redressal was not satisfactory.

We also visited the sites where people had complained about pipe damage. An apartment was under construction, they damaged the pipe while trying to dig the bore well. We tried to ask questions around this neighborhood, we found out that this area gets water 24/7, this is because the area is at lower elevation. Hence whenever someone  would plug a pump, water  would be drawn in the pipe and people feel that they have access to water 24/7.

Then we met the, GM of water board. He was very down to earth and he asked us, what changes could we suggest to him in making the water supply system more efficient, we told him they have good infrastructure, but maintenance, needs some work. He asked us if we can help the call center to collect data in such way that we can place the residents geospatially and visualise data. We met call center employees and instructed them to follow our steps in collecting data and left.

Adventurous Journey came to an end with banarasi maghai paan which is world famous, It is expensive so, you don’t get in all the paan shops, the taste was delicious and I started talking in bhojpuri.

The Island of Misfit Toys

26 Dec

It’s funny, most people (and by people I mean media, investors, interested onlookers) just don’t know what to do with us.  Tech people say we are too social, social people say we are too tech.  What box do we fit in? What sort of company ARE we anyway? Are we a social enterprise? Are we a tech startup?  Are we trying to make money or trying to save the world? PLEASE TELL US YOU ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS! That’s really what we are (and so fitting for Christmas)- the island of misfit toys.  I couldn’t tell you what box to check because honestly, those definitions keep changing every day, I can hardly keep up.  But at the end of the day, the classification all comes down to money.  How you get it and what you do with it.

All organizations around the world create value.  The more capitalistic leaning organizations try to capture that value monetarily.  For example, Google captured $17B of their value monetarily last quarter.  The American Red Cross captured $3B of theirs last year. Does that mean that Google provides 6x more value for the world than the Red Cross?  No- it just means they do a better job of monetarily capturing it.  That’s not good or bad, it just is.

Funding structures inform how a company operates.  If you need to pursue grants, you need to tell funders at least a year in advance exactly how you are going to spend the money to hit the milestones that they set.  Which is fine, if you know exactly how you are going to hit your goals a year from now. I would argue that if you are a fast moving tech company, you should never be able to predict exactly how you are going to spend that money to hit that goal a year from now, even 6 months from now.  If you can do that, I don’t think that company is moving fast enough in the agile framework.  Innovation isn’t happening at a rate that would make it competitive in the pure tech startup space.  So the reason the startup wouldn’t qualify for grant funding isn’t because it isn’t making the social impact it said it would (because it would actually do it in half the budget, half the time), but it just outgrew the plan it had in place a year ago for the way in which goals would be accomplished. In the grant world, line items matter. Not so much in the investment space- we give you money, make us more of it. Period.  Again, not bad or good- it just is.

So us.

We move fast and break things. I can’t tell you how we are going to be operating even 3 months from now, but I can tell you it’ll be radically different (and by different I mean better faster stronger) from today.  We put humanity on a more positive trajectory. We believe in good design.  We know what you, the user, wants before you even know you want it.  We will never offer a technology we don’t genuinely believe will help solve a problem you have.  Another thing- we don’t make up user problems.  (Personal pet peeve).  We believe that if you create tremendous value in the world, the money will follow.  And we plan to capture a significant portion of that monetarily (just to be clear).  We love creating, innovating, and pushing the boundaries of what is currently possible. We are those crazy people you sit next to on the bus/train/plane that are talking to themselves,head-phoned in, as they vigorously scribble chicken scratchy doodles into their beat up notebook (ok that may just be me).

But that’s where we are at right now.  The Island of Misfit Toys.  Otherwise known as Team NextDrop.  And I don’t think it’s going to get any clearer in the future.  We will continue to be those outcasts in this tech/social/whatever else is out there world. Which is fine by us.  Misfits are awesome.  Because I said so.

And hey, if you want to a part of this misfit island, we are always looking for people to join our tribe and hack with us.

Happy Holidays

NextDrop is My Tribe: Home For the Smart Creative (Hacking Real World Problems)

20 Nov

I read Seth Godin’s definition of “tribe” a long time ago, but didn’t have anything to relate it to.  At that time, I remember wishing I had a tribe, something I felt so strongly about, something that I felt connected to.  I was sitting in San Francisco the other day, reading Eric Schmidt’s book on Google, when I realized that NextDrop had become my tribe.  I belonged to a set of like minded individuals who were intent on using startup frameworks to hack real world problems dealing with governments and citizens.  Most importantly, we are a group of people who believe that the why is just as important as the what and the how, and at the end of the day, company culture trumps all.

So my biggest challenge: How do I get a like minded group of individuals together to hack problems in this space, but more importantly, how do we create that environment for them to thrive? Those Smart Creatives?   And most importantly for the discussion, how do we do that in emerging markets across the world? How do we do that in India? Kenya? Indonesia? Given the education systems, and the parental structures, and the cultural barriers, how do we a) find those smart creatives and b) create a space for them to..have fun? Feel like they are doing things that actually matter? Feel like they are expanding their minds, (and very selfishly, expanding my own realm of possibilities) to move this tribe to really change the face of government and citizen interaction as we know it?

That seems to be top of mind for me right about now.  It’s a very interesting problem to have.  But I think if we can solve this problem and have NextDrop become the haven for smart creatives around the world, the rest will take care of itself.

Any inputs welcome.

Wow Our Last Post Was From February! But We’re Still Here, Promise.

25 Jul

This is what happens when I can’t think of a better title.  And when you realize that half the company wasn’t even a part of NextDrop when that was posted (which is completely crazy, let me tell you.)


Things are fun.  Crazy, awesome, fun.  It’s a great time to be working at NextDrop (and guess what, we’re hiring! And if you’re awesome and you don’t see a matching skillset, we’ll make a job for you anyway- yes, that’s how we roll). ANYway. I digress.  The point is, it’s been awesome times at NextDrop High.  I have to say, one of my proudest moments at NextDrop came last week, when we were presenting to the Chairman of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (because, yes, we now meet with them on the regular!) and they saw their own data for the first time.  And they started to DO something about it!  In the meeting itself, making plans! YES! Making change! One government utility at a time! It was…incredible.  It was such a rush.  And the best part? They were asking us for MORE STUFF.  More data, more analytics, more predictive models.  When does that happen?  Apparently when you work at NextDrop.  And for the record, they’re a great group of people- they really want to make good things happen.  I love working with them.  Backing up, we actually signed an MOU with them in May to monitor their water supply, and it’s been a wild ride ever since.  If you live in Bangalore, you should be hearing about us soon.  We’re making a push to recruit residents (because actually, the utility itself is asking us to collect citizen feedback- so cool, right?) And if you just want to say hi, or want to re-imagine the Bangalore water supply network, let us know/drop us a line!

Another cool thing happened when I started talking to all the people that work at NextDrop.  I wanted to crowdsource a vision statement for NextDrop- why do we exist? Why does everyone want to work at NextDrop?  And it was crazy how similar the answers were.  And it was pretty enlightening too, because I didn’t think about it before.  But.  The main reasons people love NextDrop are that you basically have the freedom and learning/growth potential of a startup, but the incredible real world impact of a traditional non profit.  They basically said they loved it because it was the best of both the worlds.  The vision for NextDrop was not just an external one, but an internal one as well.  (Not your typical vision statement eh?) Learn something new every day right? Who am I to argue with organic sentiment?

But that made me so, SO happy.  When I quit my job and moved to India about 3 years ago (and wrote this first blog post) I don’t think I could have imagined, in my wildest dreams, what a great group of individuals NextDrop would comprise of.  And now, when we’re working as a unit, I still blows my mind thinking about what the sum of our differences can create. It creates magic.  Pure magic.

And it’s just beginning.  I still feel the same way I did 3 years ago.  Scared. Not sure if I’m doing the right thing.  But I do know one thing now that I didn’t think about then.  That we have an amazing team.  And we’re only going to get better.  We work hard, we make lots of mistakes, but we learn from them, and we get better for it.  We stick by each other in good times and bad, and we help each other out.  It’s such a rush.  I’m so honored to be a part of something great.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to put a dent in the universe.

I can feel it.


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