Greta Oost is the founder of Half a Teaspoon, the umbrella company behind Shower Watch and, most recently, 321 Water. The latter invention, a re-useable bottle with a self-contained plunger to filter tap water, was featured on the ABC show New Inventors, and Oost has international ambitions for the product.
She speaks to StartupSmart about tackling the use of bottled water, crowd-sourced funding and pitching the idea on national TV.
What were you doing before you launched the business?
I worked in marketing before migrating to Australia from Holland. Out of the blue, I became an entrepreneur.
I did a big bike ride in South America that took nine months before coming here. That changes your perspective on things.
What gave you the idea for 321 Water?
I’d already created the Shower Watch, that creates awareness of the time and water you use in the shower, and I was looking for the next big idea.
I read Anita Roddick’s book Troubled Water and it really struck a chord. Why do we drink so much bottled water? We have an obsession with it. I thought there has to be a better way – it was like putting one and one together.
One big objective is to approach it in a positive way. So many people look at bottled water in a negative way, saying that it should be banned. We want to make it cool and stylish to drink water this way and with the money from it, we want to help water projects.
What’s the consumer benefit here? Aren’t people happy with buying and drinking bottled water?
People don’t like tap water due to the chlorine taste and so on. To make re-usable bottles appealing to the public, we needed to make it convenient but also stunning.
With the Shower Watch, we wanted to create a beautiful product that blended in well with the bathroom. You don’t have to compromise style. A lot of bottled water is beautifully designed, so we needed to do that with 321 Water.
How did you go about developing the product?
We briefed a designer to come up with the bottle. Following the brief, they developed the carbon filtration system, which means that people can use a plunger in the bottle to filter their tap water.
The benefit is obviously that you can filter as you drink.
We got a Design Victoria grant in 2008 for the initial design, which meant we could go to prototype stage. This allowed us to look at other ways of doing it and we ended up with six different options.
We went back to the very first idea and begun to test and approve it. Proving the concept wasn’t hard – the actual product was hard. It just didn’t work and we had to make improvements.
It turned out that it was over-engineered. It was as simple as having a double seal. We removed one seal and it worked.
We use a business in Bayswater, in Victoria, to make the product and the sealing it done in China. I had to go out there a few times to make sure it went smoothly.
How did you fund the business?
I applied to go on (ABC show) New Inventors and got on within two-and-a-half weeks, in July 2009. We came second to another inventor, which was a shame, but they were enthusiastic about it. One of the comments was that the bottle should be larger.
I’d never done anything like that before. It was a great experience and afterwards I got lots of calls asking for a product that didn’t exist.
All I had was a crappy prototype and it took longer than I thought to get it to market, so I came up with the idea of crowd-funding the product to get it out there as soon as possible.
I was up-front about it on the website – I had it in capital letters that you can buy the product now and get it later, once we had manufactured it.
Once I sold 600 units this way, it gave investors confidence and it demonstrated to the public that the idea was actually happening. It took 14 months in all. We made the equivalent of 8,000, sold 3,000 and raised $5,000.
This allowed us to ramp up distribution and marketing, as well as awareness of the effects of bottled water. The general public say ‘yes, we use tap water’, but then they turn around and use bottled water. The awareness isn’t there.
Did anyone complain about your approach?
I’d say maybe 10 people complained. I would ring them and say we’ve made it clear there would be a delay and explain that it would take time and they were fine.
As long as you’re open about these things, you’re okay. Someone said they like waiting for our newsletters on the status of the product. People felt like they were part of the process.
How have you priced the product?
The pre-sale price is $32.10, whereas the standard price is $39. I looked at comparable prices and initially hoped to sell it for cheaper but margins and overheads meant that it had to be $39.
What are your plans for future?
We got a few investors on board and we are now in our round two phase of capital raising. We are boosting marketing and lodging patents – there’s a big investment needed there.
There’s been so much interest from overseas that it’s silly not to jump into that. We’ve had requests from Italy and the US. A Canadian company has purchased a large quantity of bottles.
We have a fulfilment centre that has a warehouse in the States. We will work through the back end and then partner with a company to sell the bottles there.
In the first year, if we sell 15,000 in Australia, I’ll be happy. We are looking for a big corporate partner so that bosses can pass on the idea and buy 10 units for their staff. We’ll then give them two for free.
I’m so passionate about this. It’s not just a product, it’s a campaign.