When we spoke with Driptech founder Peter Frykman, he called in from the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is currently mentoring local entrepreneurs. Having originally conducted there the research that inspired Driptech, Frykman has returned in search of new impactful ventures. Here’s what he shared with us.
Where does your passion for social entrepreneurship come from?
Growing up, I was very blessed with opportunities to travel. It was foundational to my learning, as I saw what opportunities there were to have an impact — areas in which I could bring my experience, culture, and in many cases privilege in terms of education, background, and resources.
Have you always wanted to do this?
I didn’t understand how I might best attempt to make an impact until I got into college and started studying Mechanical Engineering.
Once I got into the more senior level design courses, I realized that you could basically use product design skills to have a social impact. My first experience in that area was designing for accessibility. In one of my mechanical engineering courses, we designed a glove that would help a partially quadriplegic athlete hold onto a kayak paddle.
It was really a transformative project for me, and it also opened up opportunities elsewhere. I got to spend a summer learning about and working on disability design at a top university in India. It was the first time I got to do something that combined all of my interests — travel, mechanical engineering, design, good — all at once.
That’s how it all started.
What led you to Driptech?
After my experience in India, I continued pursuing medical design and thought I was headed down that path, until I ended up at a graduate course at Stanford on Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.
It was an interesting course that brought engineers and business people together to solve problems for the world’s poorest customers. In that class, I realized that the majority of impoverished persons in the world were farmers. If I could somehow make an impact on a farmers’ income, it would help to eliminate poverty.
It was then when I got my first chance to go to Ethiopia. I arrived in the middle of the worst drought in years. Farmers had very limited water and needed to be resourceful with what they had. We began looking into which irrigation systems were available, and found that most small-plot farmers were using flood irrigation, an ineffective system that wastes a lot of water.
However, we realized that if we could make irrigation tubes with small emitters affordable and practical, these farmers could use drip irrigation to potentially double their income. That was really compelling for me.
And so Driptech was born from this solution?
Driptech was the idea, yes. We came back to Stanford and set out to make a design that was both more efficient as well as more affordable. It soon became pretty clear that this could positively impact farmers not just in Ethiopia, but around the world. That’s when I quit my PhD and started Driptech.
Through all the ups and downs, I was Driptech’s CEO for 6 years, and I ended up living in India for 4 of those years. Frank (Co-Founder of Bevi) was a Fellow for us in China for about a year. We were in both India and China for a bit, but ultimately decided to focus on India as it was demanding most of our attention.
We had a lot of great people work with us over the years. Over time, we fully developed the technology, set up a factory in India, and created a team to tackle global sales and distribution.
Eventually, we were acquired by the largest drip irrigation company in India, which is the second largest irrigation company in the world.
We had proven that the market was there and really benefited from this large partnership as it helped, and will continue to help, spread our technology and impact around the world. By ourselves, we had gotten our product to about 20,000 farmers, yet this company reaches around 100,000 new customers every year.
It was the right time to sort of step back and let others scale the business.
What was it like building your own company from the ground up?
I think that both the best and worst decisions I made as a first time CEO had to do with building my team.
It was very challenging to get the right people on the team at the right time, as well as make sure each individual role could evolve alongside the company.
After Driptech, I spent a lot of time thinking about team dynamics, understanding the different approaches to being a CEO, and trying to find out which type of team would suit my approach.
That’s what lead me to where I am now: I’ve spent the last two years mentoring other individual entrepreneurs or ones that are apart of incubator programs. Most of my time with them is spent discussing their teams, how to make them better, what or who is missing. It’s an area in which I feel like I can have a magnified impact; I can help others avoid the mistakes that I made while growing Driptech.
Have you seen any impact from Driptech?
Our farmers would get a 3 to 5x return on their investments in the first year. It was unbelievable.
A farmer growing vegetables in the state of Maharashtra would spend $200 on one acre of Driptech drip irrigation and would then make $500-$1000 more dollars in additional top line revenue within a year. The economics were undeniable. Almost too good to be true.
In fact, they wouldn’t believe us. Our biggest issue was often marketing. If someone came up to your right now and said “I’ll double your income,” you wouldn’t believe them either. Ultimately, we focused a lot on convincing farmers. Especially in India, we worked hard to help the farmers overcome the negative connotation of drip irrigation as an expensive and complex solution.
It was very rewarding when we got to meet farmers after they had used the system for one full-cycle. Driptech had doubled their take-home income and therefore had a huge impact on their quality of life. Less water, higher yields, and less labor: it was too good to be true.
Any advice for future entrepreneurs?
It’s important to have mentors.
The best mentors are not necessarily the most high profile, superstar kind of people. Those people can be good mentors, but the most important thing is to find a mentor who cares about you and your success as an entrepreneur.
And this person can be just one or two years ahead of you on your journey as well.
One of my long term mentors started a similar company just two years ahead of me. The company had dealt with all of the same issues I was dealing with. When people found out that he was my mentor, they couldn’t believe it as they saw him as someone who was “still figuring things out.” It didn’t really matter though: he was always a couple steps in front of me so he had already figured it out the things I was trying to do.
What’s in store for you now?
After Driptech was acquired, this first thing I did was travel around Africa, Asia, and the US. It was time to recharge and reflect on my own learnings; part of that meant working with other entrepreneurs through incubators and accelerators like I am still doing now.
I also put a lot of thought into how I personally define impact, and what types of social enterprises I am willing to pursue for years. I’ve come to realize that my motivating factor boils down to poverty alleviation through sustainable business models. And it just so happens that most of the impoverished in this world live in rural areas. All said, two billion people rely on small scale agriculture to make a living, so anything you can do to increase their income — whether through new technology, improving education, or helping them with supply chain linkages — is going to make a huge impact for a lot of people.
As for what he’s doing next, Frykman is keeping an open mind. Ethiopia has about a 100 million people and about 80 million are rural farmers, so it’s a good place for him to start thinking about where to go next.
He hasn’t got a return ticket, so for now you can find him in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Looking for ways to make a positive impact on the world? Meet Bevi, the smart water cooler. In 2017, Bevi help to eliminate the waste generated by 15,000,000 plastic bottles.
Not all company growth requires a brand new office; often times, a few adjustments to the current office layout can make a big impact, ultimately helping your space become both more productive as well as accommodating of future growth.
For quickly growing startups like Bevi, each round of hiring presents a challenge to the delicate balance of the current floor plan. Teams begin to outgrow their original areas, and suddenly 7 people are sitting in a space that was designed for 2. And since many startups have an accelerated hiring timeline, this puts a lot of pressure on Office Managers, HR, or Facilities Managers to change the office layout quickly and seamlessly. No matter what the occasion, rearranging an office space can be stressful — especially when current employees are not 100% on board.
We’ve got your back. We interviewed our own all-star Office Manager, Claire, to put together this list of 11 things to do before, during, and after a change to the office layout. We can’t promise that the office won’t mutiny, but at least you’ll have a contingency plan if they do (see #3 for some of Claire’s tips).
1. Get key stakeholders on board
Regardless of your company’s size, getting key stakeholders on board is the first step towards getting the entire office to buy into the changes. Key stakeholders are more likely to recognize how space adjustments will benefit the company as a whole and can communicate this directly with their respective teams. Especially if you work for a larger company and don’t know everyone by name, employees are more likely to cooperate with someone they know and trust.
2. Use the layout change as an excuse to check in and ask what each team needs
Another strategy for getting each team excited about the change-up is to actively incorporate their goals and needs into the new office schematic. Whether informally in the hallway or at an all-hands meeting, check in with each team to see what they like about their current format and what they would change. By proactively discussing their needs and concerns, you are helping deflect any dissent in the long term.
3. Establish a trial period and streamlined feedback system
No matter how much you plan, there will always be something to work out after the rearranging is done. For this reason, it’s good to establish a trial period, so that in one or two weeks time you can reassess whether the new layout is working out.
During the trial period, have your employees send feedback to a designated Slack channel or survey. This way, folks have a space to express their concerns and you have the ability to mute their reactions until the trial period comes to a close.
If you’re really getting bombarded with comments or requests, ask your own manager to openly address (and shut down) any opposition. It’s always nice to have someone on your side to help deflect any whining — it really gets old after awhile.
4. Keep open positions in the hiring pipeline in mind
If you have the opportunity to make a change, think big! Chances are there are several open positions at your company, so think about how your desks will be populated once new employees arrive. Consider syncing-up with HR or senior management to find out the teams the company is looking to expand over the next quarter (or year) so you minimize the amount of times you’ll have to reorganize the office.
5. Put yourselves in a visitor’s shoes
Whether they’re investors or user testing groups, visitors expect to see people hard at work upon entering your office. Put your company’s best foot forward by making sure the teams closest to your front door (or visitor entrance, if you have a larger company) are typically in the office.
Here at Bevi HQ, we have a stellar hardware team that spends a good portion of their time in our engineering lab a few floors down. Our Office Manager Claire had the foresight to situate the hardware team in the back corner of our office, so our visitors would never be greeted by empty desks.
6. Constant communication before, during, and after
Similar to #2 and #3, constant communication is key. Between Slack messages and email updates, be sure to remind your employees to pack up their belongs 1 week and 1 day before the move as well as on the day of.
Once the layout has been changed, it’s a good idea to send an early morning reminder with the new seating chart and instructions on how to inquire about any missing belongings. Our Office Manager Claire made sure everyone stayed in the loop by giving email and in-person reminders in the days leading up to the reshuffling.
7. Sketches, diagrams, and maps, oh my!
X marks the spot. Before moving anything in your office, sketch out a few options for a new office set-up. Pro-tip: always make sure they are to scale!
Office Manager Claire breaks down Bevi HQ’s most recent layout change.
If you consider yourself visually or spatially inept, ask a designer or engineer to help you realize your vision. They might even have some handy software that can help make testing different layouts much more efficient than using a ruler and graphing paper. For example, Eliza, one of Bevi’s co-founders, helped Claire model different versions of the office without moving a single desk.
8. Strategically pick a time when the office will be nearly empty
While you will need an extra set of hands to make the rearrangement happen, less is more when it comes to having people in the office during all of the shuffling.
Aside from staying late on an arbitrary weekday, the day before a long weekend or holiday is often the perfect time to make your move. Back in November, our superstar Office Manager Claire planned to change things around in the office on the day before Thanksgiving. It worked out well as there were a few folks in the office to lend a hand and enough room to reposition the furniture without disturbing anyone. Within a few hours, everything was readjusted and ready for the new hires starting the following Tuesday — myself included!
Plus, let’s be honest: when the majority of people are out of the office, those who do come into work often look for fun side projects to work on. These people are your biggest asset on the day of the move.
9. Set aside time for furniture assembly
A new layout often means new furniture. But don’t be fooled: you’re going to need a screwdriver and hammer before your furniture looks as shiny and perfect as it did on Ikea’s website.
10. Four hands are better than two
Even the office hero needs a little help once in a while. Rather than trying to rough it by yourself, enlist a few helpers to move or assemble desks and chairs while you double check the diagram of the new set-up. For medium-sized or large companies, you’re better off hiring movers to help you get the job done quickly and efficiently.
11. Label like your life depends on it
With just over 30 people working in Bevi HQ, the office is certainly on the smaller side. Nevertheless, a few things did get lost in our most recent round of office rearrangements. Take it from us: labeling is everything.
Whether with masking tape, printed labels, sharpies, or cute cat stickers, make sure everyone clearly labels the box containing their belongings before anything gets touched. You’ll thank yourself later.
Looking for more ways to keep your office happy and healthy? Meet Bevi, the smart water cooler designed to make your life as office manager that much easier.
Request a free flavor tasting for your office here.
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