'The traditional water purifiers purify water irrespective of the input water quality. They follow a one-size-fits-all concept.'
How do we get access to clean, safe, and healthy drinking water? Seems simple, but it is much more than that. First, most of the water we get in plastic cans isn’t fit for drinking. Second, less than 5% of Indians actually own a water purifier! So it is not just a personal problem but an opportunity to help more people. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Vijender Reddy Muthyala, Co-founder and CEO, DrinkPrime talked about the issue of access to clean and safe drinking water and more. Excerpts:
What do you mean by personalised water purifier, when you define yourself?
Every city has two to three sources of water – municipality water, borewell water, and tanker water. Given this scenario, every locality in a city will have a combination of these input water sources. Due to this, every area will have a different water quality.
But the traditional water purifiers purify water irrespective of the input water quality. They follow a one-size-fits-all concept. So, a user may get either under-purified or over-purified drinking water. They will not get perfectly purified drinking water.
To solve this problem, we consider the input water quality in each area and provide personalised water purifiers to our subscribers. We tailor the filtration process in the water purifier based on the quality of input water.
Since water is a basic necessity and affordability is an important factor, we provide DrinkPrime on a subscription basis. With this, we are trying to make clean, safe, and healthy drinking water accessible to the majority of the population.
You claim that only 5% of the Indian Population own a water purifier, where have you done this survey, what was the sample size of the survey?
Let me explain this to you in simple terms. Every year, just close to 20 lakh water purifiers get sold. This includes both branded and non-branded water purifiers. And every five to six years, the quality of water keeps deteriorating. This means that the consumers have to upgrade their water purifiers by buying a new one.
If you consider the five-year time period, close to just 1 crore households would have a water purifier. This means that, out of 25 crore households in India, less than 5% of households will have access to a water purifier. If you extrapolate it to the population level, you will realise that less than 5% of the people in India have access to water purifiers.
How DrinkPrime products will be working on unsafe water, what technology is involved beyond RO?
Every city has two to three different water sources. This will include municipality water, borewell water, and tanker water. The water in every area will be a combination of water from the three sources. For the same reason, every area in a city will have a different water quality.
Given this scenario, it is not about using reverse osmosis (RO) technology or ultraviolet (UV) technology in a water purifier. It is about using the right technology at the right time so that people do not get under-purified or over-purified drinking water.
At DrinkPrime, we solve this problem by following a completely data-driven approach. We measure the quality of water in each of the areas and identify the technology that needs to be used in a specific area. We personalise the water purifiers based on input water qualities.
Even during our maintenance checks, we make sure to check the TDS level and other parameters so that we can make filter changes if necessary. This is how we ensure that our subscribers can access safe drinking water at all times.
How much difference do you find when it comes to the number of household water purifiers installed between Hyderabad and Delhi?
The National Capital Region (NCR) is almost five times the size of Hyderabad. NCR includes Delhi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, and Noida. And Delhi is one of the biggest markets for water purifiers in India. This is because the water quality is not up to the standards. For the same reason, we realised that there is a lot of potential for expansion in NCR.
We extended our operations to NCR in August. In a month’s time, we noticed that the rate of growth in the region is 5x that of other cities. We believe that NCR has the potential to be one of the major regions we operate in just like Bengaluru.
More importantly, our subscribers, especially in Gurgaon and Noida, are very similar to those in Bengaluru. There is a large number of tech-savvy millennials who want the best options when it comes to their basic requirements. We are sure that DrinkPrime will be the perfect solution for their drinking water needs.
So, if we can conquer the NCR market, we believe that DrinkPrime will be one of the top five water purifier brands in India.
Most of the industries had an impact of Covid outbreak, how did it impact your industry?
The COVID-19 pandemic period was a rollercoaster ride for most businesses. Just like them, we also found that there was a decrease in DrinkPrime subscriptions during the initial lockdown period. This was mostly because a lot of our consumers were moving out of the cities to their hometowns.
Our original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had to shut down due to the restrictions. We also had to consider our technicians’ safety during the COVID-19 period. In spite of all this, we found that DrinkPrime subscriptions increased by 150%. This is because more people realised the importance of safe drinking water.
DrinkPrime belongs to the essential services sector. This means that whether it is pandemic or not, our team has to be up and about to serve our subscribers. By the time we had the second lockdown, we were completely ready. We took it up as a challenge and figured out ways to solve the problems we came across. We got permission to serve our existing and new subscribers during the pandemic. We conducted a vaccination drive for our employees and their family members so that they are always safe. While our partners visited our subscribers’ homes to deliver DrinkPrime, our technicians visited their homes to install DrinkPrime and to conduct regular maintenance checks.
It was during the COVID-19 period that we extended our operations to Hyderabad. We ramped up our production to meet the booming demand as well. All through this, we ensured that our employees were safe.
Apart from solving the drinking water problem, we also realised that there was a shortage of hand sanitizers at the time. To fulfill our social responsibility and to solve this issue, we distributed two to three lakh of hand sanitizers to the people for free.
How do you stand out of your competitors?
The water purifier market is more than 30 years old. But the traditional water purifier brands function on a dealer-distributor model. They utilise a third party to perform maintenance checks and servicing. Given that they do not directly interact with the customer, it will be difficult for them to understand the problems faced by them.
At DrinkPrime, we directly cater to our subscribers. We identify and understand the problems and offer solutions. That is how we came up with personalised water purifiers for our subscribers.
We are also making DrinkPrime affordable to everyone by providing it on a subscription basis. Unlike traditional water purifiers, our subscribers don’t have to make hefty investments to buy the water purifier from us. They just need to choose the most suitable subscription plan based on their drinking water consumption and pay for the water they consume. They can recharge the water purifier every month using our mobile application. If there is leftover water, it will get carried forward to the next month.
Moreover, DrinkPrime is not a water purifier company. We are a water company and we are here to solve one problem – access to clean, safe, and healthy drinking water. In a couple of years, if we feel that there is a need to change the way we provide access to safe drinking water, we will be ready to do that as well.
Do you think Delhi people will also accept DrinkPrime the way Hyderabad and other cities have done?
We extended our operations to five cities in the National Capital Region (NCR) – Delhi, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, and Noida in August this year. We learned that the potential subscribers in NCR, especially in Gurgaon and Noida, are very similar to those in Bengaluru.
Our rate of growth in NCR is 5x that of the other cities we are in. This proves that people in NCR have already accepted DrinkPrime. It just gives us even more energy to work harder to make safe drinking water accessible and affordable to more people.
Final one, how will you tackle the North Indian customers, because here the mindset of people is totally different from South India?
When it comes to accessing clean and safe drinking water, there is no difference between people living in different cities. It is a basic necessity and it is for everyone.
We spoke to a few startups in the region and conducted a survey to understand the people in the region a little better. We realised that there is a difference between the people in NCR and the people in Bengaluru and Hyderabad
– The level of expectation is bigger when it comes to people in NCR. Once they have subscribed to DrinkPrime, they want the water purifiers to be delivered and installed quickly.
To meet the demand of our subscribers, we changed the way we deliver and install DrinkPrime in homes. In Bengaluru and Hyderabad, we have a partner who delivers DrinkPrime and a technician who installs it. For NCR, we trained our delivery partners to install the water purifiers as well. This helped us meet the expectations of our subscribers in NCR.