It’s a hot summer Sunday, and you’re about to give your four-seat sedan a home car-washing. Rag in one hand and hose in the other, you’ll use an average of between 80 and 140 gallons of water for one cleaning. Not the DIY type? At the car wash, your waste factor will go down to between 30 and 50 gallons, assuming the use of recycled water.
That is, unless you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and can drive to Eco Green Auto Clean carwash in Redwood City, Calif. There, you can get your vehicle showroom shiny -- using just one conservation-minded cup of water.
The business, the brainchild of Dinesh Gauba and Anton Van Happen, is based on a plant-derived surfactant product Van Happen and a chemist developed in 2007. Van Happen, a Dutch native, aspired to bring the technology to the United States,, where he hoped to create a paradigm shift globally around how water is used.
Gauba, meanwhile, was in the process of exiting Mozaik Multimedia, a start-up he had cofounded and just sold. “After 20 years as an electrical engineer in the Valley, I was looking for something new. I have a passion for keeping cars clean, so when Anton and I met, we clicked right away,” he says.
Gauba traces his passion for clean cars to his childhood in Dubai, where cars are washed almost daily. At age 16, when he moved to the United States, his obsession with clean cars continued.
When he and Van Happen connected by chance at the CEO Space business Forum in 2012, the stars aligned. Six months later, they launched Eco Green Auto carwash. To date, over 150,000 cars (at their location as well as through car dealerships and rental car companies) have been washed with their one-cup-of-water methodology. In total they estimate that their product has saved over eight million gallons of water since they began the business.
Part of the popularity of Eco Green Auto isn’t just its one-cup-of-water conservation solution but the innovative, disruptive process by which cars are cleaned. "“It’s a green product based on a water-and-plant formulation which allows the dirt to be broken away from the paint," Gauba explains. Dirt is gently lifted off, without harsh chemicals or toxic runoff ending up in storm drains.
Eco Green Auto is clearly an example of disruptive technology. For the lessons it conveys on introducing such technology into the marketplace, here are three every entrepreneur and start-up founder can take away:
1. If you don’t believe 100 percent in your idea, no one else will.
“You’re going to have a lot of naysayers and skeptics that will put what you are trying to do down,” says Gauba. “That’s one of the hardest phases for any start-up to get through.”
Practical Application: Make a list of three to five of the biggest possible “downsides” potential investors and customers are likely to bring up. Think them through and come up with a well-crafted -- and authentic -- response that is rooted in statistics, facts, examples, stories or your personal feelings as to why that downside just isn’t one.
2. Be willing to adjust early on to accommodate customer perception.
Gauba points to a survey he and Van Happen did before they started. Nine out of ten people they polled said, “There’s no way. What are you talking about? I can’t wash my car with basically no water.”
“There was the perception out there that it was not possible,” says Gauba.
However, when the partners asked people about an "eco-friendly" car wash, nine out of ten said they'd prefer it. “We had to connect the dots for people by switching the terminology from 'waterless' to 'green' and educating them on the difference," Gauba says.
Practical Application: Use a simple online tool such as Survey Monkey to test the core aspects of your idea, such as your product or company name, pricing, options for use, etc. Then gather a group of people (not related to you), and conduct an open focus group, asking them to come up with as many challenges as possible as to why your idea won’t work.
3. Find a partner who shares your passion.
The fact that Gauba was slightly obsessed with clean cars before he ever met Van Happen made them a perfect team.
Practical Application: Before joining forces to make your idea the next big thing, make sure the underlying driving connection between you is more than just making "the next big thing." Shared values, passions and vision can be the difference between a partnership that breaks under the strain of a startup and one that thrives. Consider holding a one-day off-site meeting facilitated by a coach or consultant to discuss these softer issues before finalizing your agreement to work together.
Recently, The San Francisco Chronicle did a news story on Eco Green Auto, hailing the duo as drought busters. The following day, a slew of local TV stations, including Fox News, CBS and ABC, lined up for live coverage at the carwash site. “It was a media frenzy,” says Gauba, sounding somewhat stunned at the response.
But the media response shouldn’t have come as a surprise. In a country where 200 billion gallons of water a year are literally washed down the drain to clean cars, a process that could potentially bring that number down to less than a billion gallons per year is something to shine about.