It’s not every day that one gets to listen to the stories of entrepreneurs who carved a niche for themselves in a sector highly dominated by either unorganised or legacy giants. Well, the entrepreneurial journey of Vijender Reddy Muthyala and Manas Ranjan Hota, the founders of Bengaluru-based watertech startup, DrinkPrime starts with a similar hook and an epiphany, of course, one of the most common ingredients in the story of any entrepreneur.
Founded in 2016, DrinkPrime provides subscription-based water purification services to Indian households at costs as low as INR 333 a month, installation and maintenance included. The startup’s RO machines come loaded with IoT tech and are customised to cater to the water purification needs of families living in different localities.
Since its inception, the startup has raised more than INR 70 Cr from the likes of Venture Catalysts, PeakXV and Omidyar Network which reflects investors’ trust in the founders’ business model.
Interestingly, had it not been for the water-scarce city of Bengaluru and their daily struggle to find safe drinking water, Muthyala would still be working as a software developer and Hota as a marketing professional. But destiny had different plans for them.
The story of the duo’s entrepreneurial journey starts with their heavy reliance on plastic drinking water cans. While they were not alone in lamenting about the quality of water they had been exposing their bodies to for quite a long time, they were surely the ones who stood up to bring about change.
The Genesis Of DrinkPrime
Interestingly, DrinkPrime did not come into existence right away. Before its launch, the founders floated an app, Waterwala, to deliver drinking water cans to people. This small-time gig helped the founders study the market closely and comprehend what had yet to be done in a bid to provide access to safe drinking water to families.
But much had yet to be done, as the idea of a more scalable solution to address this challenge kept them awake at night. However, much to everyone’s chagrin, the issue was grimmer than the founders’ anticipation. This is because the water quality varied area-wise, which also meant different contamination levels to deal with and the one-size-fits-all approach would hardly be of any value if they truly wanted to bring change.
The duo then decided to offer subscription-based customisable water purifiers, leading to the incorporation of DrinkPrime. But as they were still in their nascent stages, they knew that investor funding was not an option for them at the outset.
Therefore, as they say, “Innovation is the hallmark of entrepreneurship,” the founders got into revenue-sharing agreements with water purifier manufacturers.
Under this regime, the duo saved themselves from incurring upfront manufacturing costs, a strategy that worked as a major growth catalyst for their newly formed venture.
Today, the founders claim to be EBITDA positive, with the startup catering to more than 1 Lakh Indian households, several hospitals, corporations and schools like Government Higher Primary School, Bidaraguppe, YMC Kayaking Training Centre and Government Lower Primary School, Suggatta.
“We found that many brands used technical terms and technicalities of water purifiers to sell their purifiers, which confuses buyers. But we kept it simple. Our marketing has been all about promising safe drinking water,” Hota said, underlining the core principle of DrinkPrime’s marketing strategy that has helped the startup scale so far.
DrinkPrime’s Hi-Tech Water
The startup’s water purifiers not only offer a seven-stage filtration process but also come with several tech-loaded features. DrinkPrime claims to reduce germs in drinking water while preserving essential minerals. Users can also monitor water quality with the help of the DrinkPrime app.
DrinkPrime’s purifiers are IoT-enabled and employ data analytics to continuously monitor and maintain water quality, all while enhancing user experience. The startup gathers water quality data on parameters like pH levels, total dissolved solids (TDS) and water hardness from different areas. This helps the startup understand the specific purification needs of each area.
The startup’s mobile app is a significant part of its service, as it simplifies the process of renting and managing water purifiers. The app allows users to recharge purifiers, track water usage, and renew or cancel subscription plans. It also enables direct communication with the support team, ensuring users receive prompt free-of-cost assistance.
DrinkPrime also uses analytics to gain insights into improving services and maintaining water quality. It incorporates customer feedback around the clock to improve its services.
Meanwhile, on the support end, DrinkPrime has employed a ticketing system. Subscribers raise inquiries or concerns on the app, enabling its support team to respond swiftly.
Providing Access To Affordable Clean & Safe Drinking Water
DrinkPrime’s value proposition lies in its pricing strategy. It offers purified water with zero purchase, installation and maintenance costs. In contrast, other similar-quality purifiers can cost more than INR 20K, excluding installation and annual maintenance between INR 4K and 5K.
According to the founders, DrinkPrime stands out as the more affordable choice for users, as the company does not charge even a single penny over and above its subscription cost.
“We have crafted well-researched subscription models under which users pay as per their consumption needs. For instance, solo consumers can take a yearly subscription for INR 4K, giving access to 1,500 L of purified water. While a family of more than four can opt for the unlimited supply of purified water for INR 6,400 L,” Hota said, adding that the startup currently has four subscription plans in place.
DrinkPrime’s Future Roadmap
The founders told Inc42 that they approached Venture Catalysts in 2022, as the investment firm has a proven track record of supporting successful companies.
“The investors liked our business model and went beyond offering just financial aid. The mentorship and strategic insights have helped us sharpen our business strategies and effectively navigate challenges,” the founders said.
With the ongoing support from Venture Catalysts, the founders plan to expand their footprint to new geographies. Currently operational in seven cities, including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru, the startup is also running a CSR campaign, #DonatewithDrinkPrime, under which it is providing safe drinking water to over 750 students in Bengaluru’s government schools.
“Moreover, we plan to diversify our offerings to cater to a broader audience,” said Hota. To do this the founders said that they aim to launch water purifiers that could dispense sparkling water or get you a glass of water as per your desired temperature. In the near term, the startup also plans to offer vitamin and protein-based drinks.
According to the founders, this is the right time to make waves in the industry as the investor sentiment is currently ripe towards the Indian water tech space, with quite noteworthy innovation happening in the sector.
It is pertinent to mention that DrinkPrime competes with the likes of Swajal, OwO, OCEO, Livpure, et al. to tackle the challenge of water contamination across India.
“Investors recognise the potential for innovation in addressing this widespread issue. They understand that the major growth drivers for this sector are tech innovations and people’s growing awareness of having access to clean and drinking water, which is also increasingly becoming a basic human need,” the founders said, adding that only 10% of Indians today have access to water purifiers, which makes for a huge white space to be filled in a country where clean drinking water is just another pressing issue.
According to a 2021 report, freshwater resources, vital for the survival of humans, are deteriorating rapidly due to increasing pollution and contamination and disappearing at an alarming rate due to human interventions. Not just this, waterborne diseases affect millions annually, causing serious illness and even death.
Another report, published by the Telegraph in 2022, highlighted the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) data, which revealed concerning levels of at least one heavy metal that is deemed toxic to human health in the waters of 117 rivers of India.
In the larger scheme of things, startups like DrinkPrime, incorporated to solve real-world problems, seem well-poised to grow in the long run. Some of the factors that will play a crucial role in their success will be investors’ trust, cheaper solutions, and tech innovation.
In addition, other things that constantly peeved the two were inconsistent deliveries, unhygienic containers and unreliable water suppliers – and this was besides the questionable water quality that they, and many others like them, were exposed to.
The household drinking water segment was crying a disruption — for there wasn’t even a single startup that was offering access to safe and affordable clean water solutions to the masses back in 2016 , the founders reminisced.
“This got us thinking about how to eliminate the reliance on harmful plastic cans for drinking water, which usually remain exposed to the Sun, resulting in water getting contaminated with microplastics,” Hota said.
That was the time when the duo decided to get their hands dirty and synergised to provide safe drinking water to families heavily reliant on plastic cans. According to the cofounders, at the time when they were still fidgeting with the idea of floating their startup, less than 10% of Indians owned water purifiers.
At this first beacon of opportunity, the duo decided to take the leap of entrepreneurial faith, committed to the intent of providing safe drinking water to many like them.
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