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)
CLIMAFIX thanks Swapnil Shrivastav for his valuable inputs.
1. Are you a first-, second-, or later-generation entrepreneur?
Yes, I am a first-generation entrepreneur.
2. What has been your previous work or professional experience?
Previously, I had worked mostly in the water space with technologies like wastewater treatment, rainwater harvesting, and water management, and I have also worked at a few start-ups for their product design.
3. Were there any special or specific reasons for you becoming an entrepreneur?
Water was one domain that always excited me, and I had a lot of passion for it. After experiencing some first-hand problems during 2016–2017, I felt that it was a domain I should really work towards and apply technology to bring out innovative solutions.
4. Where or how did you meet your co-founders?
● I met one of my co-founders, Venkatesh, at NIT Calicut. He was my roommate.
● I met the other co-founder, Pardeep, through a professor from IISC, and Govinda Balaji, my fourth co-founder, was a mutual friend.
5. Was there anything noteworthy you wish to talk about from your first year or the first couple of years of your startup?
● The first two years were mostly spent understanding the problems firsthand and also developing the technology.
● During 2017–2019, water wasn’t considered a big problem, and even now we think it’s only coming to the limelight. Convincing others about what you are working towards was another challenge, and working in hardware technology development in India, especially in the early stages, is not very easy. So gathering funds and being patient was important.
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. And one of them was critical to making us realize that we really needed to work on this idea, which happened in 2016 when our college campus was facing a draught-like condition. This forced us to ration water and just depend on a few buckets of it on a daily basis. The pain of it made us understand how life would be for millions of people around the world who regularly face water scarcity issues.
● Another Aha moment came when we were struggling with improving the performance of our technology, as previously we were using conventional condensation-based technology. Only later did we look deeper, research further, and convert our technology stack to a desiccant-based solution that was completely powered by solar energy. That really opened up our value proposition and how we are positioning our product and company.
7. Were there any memorable, amazing, or funny memories from your journey?
● There were many fun memories. We used to work from 6 a.m. till late at night. Having a team of just 4 to 6 people didn’t feel like a company but rather a group of friends working together.
● On a daily basis, it was always fun to be with the team and discuss new ideas that have persisted to date.
8. What was your biggest mistake in the startup journey? Something that you would like other startups to avoid?
For a hardware company, I think gathering funds initially is very critical. We relied a lot on grants and funds from competitions, which weren’t always regular. Going back, I would’ve considered engaging with the academic institution from day 1 and securing enough funds for R&D and technology without facing many constraints from the funding side.
9. Looking back, what would you have tried to do differently if you were to start again?
If I were to start again, we would have better identified the value proposition much earlier. There were many pivots until we got our product to market the value proposition much earlier. There were many pivots until we got our product to market. In hindsight, it might look like it was an easy journey, but while starting up, if we paid a lot of attention to figure that out first, we would’ve made different decisions on both the technological and hiring sides.
10. Is there a question you would like startup founders to ask before they start?
I think it’s one question that every start-up must ask themselves: are they committed to their venture or ideas for the next 10 years at least? And if the answer is a resounding yes, then they should just move forward.
11. What keeps you awake at night?
● At times, there have been moments when there has been a funding crunch or when COVID hit and there was not much work we could fulfill because, as a hardware company, it’s hard to work online. So those are the moments that really kept me awake.
● But lately, the problem set has changed since there is a lot of stress in managing a larger team. In spite of that, I sleep quite well.
12. What do you think are your biggest strengths that are especially helping you in your journey?
One of the biggest strengths I feel I have is the perseverance to keep working on the ideas for a good amount of time and silence all the voices that say no to your commitment. Apart from that, combining technology with design has also been an add-on that has helped us diversify and look into many other revenues for businesses that were previously missing in these sectors by other companies out there.
13. How were you able to find – and retain good talent – given the vast, lucrative opportunities such talent has today?
● I think, early on, we were able to realize that we needed to really attract the
kind of talent needed to work on sustainability and water-related projects.
● India is not really known for its hardware innovations, but for the passionate people out there, there is always an opportunity to look out for companies like Uravu, and that, I think, has been a good way to attract key talents.
14. Was there some support or help you received in your startup journey that proved critical? Who would you like to thank?
● Firstly, I would really like to thank my co-founders and especially Venkatesh, who has been my batchmate and also really was there all along the journey, even at times when nothing was happening and we had not much idea about what to do next.
● I would also like to thank all my other co-founders who joined me later and supported our whole journey, without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today.