Amrit Om Nayak of Indra Water – Ask The Climate Startup


Ask the Climate Startup is an interactive series we run at CLIMAFIX that derives key insights from innovative climate startup founders on many different aspects of their startup journey. (See all posts at Ask the Climate Startup)

This series is done as part of the CLIMAFIX Summit 2023, India’s largest climate startup summit, organized by CLIMAFIX & Energy Consortium – IIT Madras.

In this post, we have Amrit Om Nayak of Indra Water sharing his perspectives.

CLIMAFIX thanks Amrit Om Nayank for his valuable inputs.


Basics

1. Are you a first, second, or later-generation entrepreneur?

I am a first-generation entrepreneur. My cofounder, Krunal’s father had his own business but in a different sector. Krunal and I started Indra from the scratch.

2. What has been your previous work or professional experience?

I have worked in the past with TVS Motors, Tata Clean Technology Labs, and Oakridge National Laboratory (on collaborative research work). My areas of work include advanced automotive systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, Stirling engines, ocean thermal energy recovery, thermal batteries, and co-generation clean energy systems. My co-founder worked on formula-style race cars, engines, wind turbines, and tidal turbines (with Pacific Marine Energy Centre) in the past.

3. Were there any special or specific reasons for you becoming an entrepreneur?

Both Krunal and I wanted to build solutions for real-world problems and ensure that they translate into tangible and quantifiable improvements in the lives of people or customers. This journey allows us to play different roles and enable many others to do great work with us in our teams or as partners.

4. Where or how did you meet your co-founder/s?

I met my co-founder, Krunal Patel during my Master’s program at the University of Washington in Seattle. We were roommates and built a very good understanding and friendship by the time we had completed our coursework.


Highlights

5. Was there anything noteworthy you wish to talk about from your first year or the first couple of years of your startup?

We made many mistakes in the first couple of years. Some of our mistakes include:

1. Good technology/product/solution for a pressing problem statement must be backed with an understanding of good unit economics or a logical pathway towards it.

2. Do not assume what your customer wants. Speak to them.

3. Customer relationship management and satisfaction precede everything.

4. Getting too attached to our product or solution is a bad thing.

5. It’s better to start afresh with a clean slate than keep patching up old mistakes.

6. It’s all about teamwork and individual brilliance is not a substitute for that.

7. Businesses are not built on investor money. They are built on a strong business model, unit economics, and an understanding of customer pain points. Equity money must only be used to accelerate growth.

8. Cashflow management is tricky. Get on top of it asap!

9. Learn to survive. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

6. Was there an Aha moment/s during your startup journey that made a dramatic difference ( positive or negative difference)?

There were many Aha moments. The best ones are linked to self-discovery and customer discovery. The most important one was when a customer told us to stop dishing out a buffet. We were great at building reactors and he told us to sell him only that. 2 years down the lane, our vision is to become the default first choice of primary treatment of complex wastewater (with our reactors) just as RO is to polishing treatment in drinking water solutions.

For your reference, wastewater requires primary, secondary, tertiary, and polishing treatment. We do 80% of the job today in a single step with our reactors in primary treatment. Every other component or technology can be integrated with it easily. What this approach has really done is that it has converted all our competitors into our partners or adopters of our technology!

7. Were there any memorable, amazing, or funny memories from your journey?

Many. Seeing sewage splattered all over Krunal due to a faulty pipeline to having the base frame of a system collapse to a V-Shape during system loading only because someone ended up thinking that the support beam at the base did a better job as a height adjustment tool for another system! For the record, Krunal personally monitors every piping and plumbing design and assembly in our factory since that incident! He just won’t accept that the incident was the trigger!

In an important investor call recently, I introduced myself as Krunal and Krunal as me! I realized my mistake and corrected myself but everyone was in splits and that broke the ice! The call went smoothly after that.


Perspectives

8. What was your biggest mistake in the startup journey? Something that you would like other startups to avoid?

Every sector is different. Do not pace your growth or milestones based on what you see in another sector or just because someone asked you to. To ensure the best protection for the customer, shareholder, and team members, focus on building a sustainable venture that prioritizes the customer above all else. No shortcuts. Some things take time and we must respect that in our quest to break things fast and build them quickly.

9. Looking back, what would you have tried to do differently if you were to start again?

I would not fundamentally change my journey as the experience makes us better. I would avoid many of the mistakes mentioned earlier as that would save valuable time for everyone.

10. Is there a question you would like startup founders to ask before they start?

Why do you want to do it? What are you trying to solve? How many share this problem?

11. What keeps you awake at night?

The thought that our vision when achieved would look beautiful and would have changed many lives. The other thing that keeps you awake is a constant ringing in your head that you cannot give up and the journey will be worthwhile. 


Others

12. What do you think are your biggest strengths that are especially helping you in your journey?

1. My team

2. Patience & Perseverance

3. We love people

4. We have the courage to fail

13. How were you able to find – and retain good talent – given the vast, lucrative opportunities such talent has today?

I really don’t think there is a single-line answer to this. If you look hard enough, you will find good people or they will find you. It is important, to be honest and transparent with them at all times. They also understand the difficulties in the journey and we must respect that. People must be encouraged and empowered to make decisions. That gives them ownership and accountability. We must avoid people who destabilize teamwork and dynamics.

14. Was there some support or help you received in your startup journey that proved critical? Who would you like to thank?

A lot of people to thank in this journey.

1. Our team and parents

2. Mr. Sudish Sukumaran, MD of Elmach, for guiding and supporting us when in the early days

3. Our customers who have stood by our mistakes and allowed us to learn and improve

4. Incubators (RiiDL, SINE IIT Bombay, ImagineH2O, etc.)

5. DST with its funding support

6. Our investors who have helped us improve corporate governance, and financial discipline and helped us with critical connections

7. The list is long and I will stop here!