Alexandre Mahe of Sküma: “Don’t come up with a problem unless you already have a solution in mind”

The first piece of advice comes from my father, who told me “Don’t come up with a problem unless you already have a solution in mind”. This really helps me when I’m brainstorming a project with third parties, because it’s difficult to move forward if you’re always expecting someone else to come up with the […]

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The first piece of advice comes from my father, who told me “Don’t come up with a problem unless you already have a solution in mind”. This really helps me when I’m brainstorming a project with third parties, because it’s difficult to move forward if you’re always expecting someone else to come up with the solution to your problem. I first try to think of solutions myself, and then ask others for their contributions.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandre Mahe, CEO and Co-founder at Sküma.

Disrupting the bottled water industry might seem like a heady goal, but Alex Mahe has taken Sküma from a dream born in a small Montreal apartment to a company now worth more than half a million pounds. Alex is an industrial engineer with a strong passion for health and wellbeing, who showed his entrepreneurial streak when he launched his first company aged just 17. This gave him the freedom to make mistakes early on, helping him to gain extensive knowledge of his field.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

First of all, thank you for having me!

As a child, I was lucky enough to move around to different countries frequently. This gave me experiences that I might not have had if I had stayed in one location, and made me more open-minded. It also sparked a curiosity about some activities that people often take for granted, like the simple act of drinking water.

Then as a young adult, studying Engineering made me very aware of how small improvements in systems can have a massive impact on society. I became fascinated by how water is becoming a strategic resource, when it is all around us and should be available to all. We’ve seen evidence of this recently with the droughts experienced in South Africa.

I felt that it had to be possible to use my knowledge of hardware to create new ways to deliver clean drinking water.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The effect of bottled water on the environment is widely known. But even in countries like the UK and US, where the tap water is freely available and of excellent quality, consumption of bottled water is still increasing. In fact, it’s increasing by about 10% every year.

This is generally because although the tap water is high quality, people don’t like the taste of it. So our Sküma water mineralization devicetakes the tap water and first purifies it to the highest standards. Then it adds back minerals into the water, giving it the same specific mineral content and great taste of your favourite brands like Evian or Volvic.

Our goal is to disrupt the bottled water market by increasing the consumption of tap water in preference to bottled water. Through this, we aim to standardise water consumption all over the world, country by country.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I really believe that making mistakes is an important part of the development process. Great ideas don’t just pop up fully formed.

I remember when I first started developing the Sküma device, most of the initial work was done at home with prototypes that I created on my 3D printer. Without getting too technical, our system has to run under high pressure to purify the water, and I was testing this out at home.

My older brother was watching from a safe distance, and I could see him pulling nervous faces. He said ‘I’m sure that’s going to explode’, but I told him not to worry so much.

Sure enough, the whole thing blew up, soaking both me and my brother and giving the plants a good watering at the same time!

That day I learned to listen to advice, especially from my older brother!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

In February 2019, early on in the Sküma project, we got in touch with a high-end product development agency in London, called Alloy. Our contact there was Tan Tran, Director of Industrial Design and Innovation.

He had some considerable concerns about our idea when we first presented to him. And of course, I became very defensive, a natural reaction to criticism of a project that I’d been nurturing for some time.

But after taking time for some reflection, I got back in touch with Tan again, and we continued our discussions. Alloy is now one of our most trusted partners, and Tan has had a huge impact on the way that I take constructive criticism on board.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Good question!

I think disrupting an industry is positive when you grasp an opportunity to change the way that people live and make an impact on the world. This can really get people excited about the possibilities that you’re creating, you can really cause a buzz. And that can be helpful when you’re trying to raise funds as well.

On the negative side, I think disrupting an industry can make things harder for you in some ways. You’re trying to do something that no one has successfully done before. You might even have to prove to investors that the problem you are tackling actually exists. And people can be very resistant to change so disruption can make your job harder.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first piece of advice comes from my father, who told me “Don’t come up with a problem unless you already have a solution in mind”. This really helps me when I’m brainstorming a project with third parties, because it’s difficult to move forward if you’re always expecting someone else to come up with the solution to your problem. I first try to think of solutions myself, and then ask others for their contributions.

The second piece of advice was given to me by a potential investor, when I’d spent nearly six months trying to find investors for Sküma. He told me “Don’t always look to raise funds, just work on it”. Raising funds for a project is a very time and labour intensive process, and it was diverting my attention from other matters. Having a clear structured path to market, and identifying what can be bootstrapped and what can’t, is a crucial element of entrepreneurship.

And finally “Don’t try and make things too complicated, simplicity is key”. I can’t remember where I heard this first, but it’s at the heart of my work. Keeping your product simple to use and understand is so important!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Disrupting the bottled water industry is a big goal, but Sküma’s dreams don’t stop there. Creating mineral water by adding minerals to purified tap water is great, but what if we could add the vitamins you need as well?

We envisage an interactive platform that takes data from applications like Fitbit and UberEats and uses it to estimate your mineral and vitamin requirements. Then the Sküma device will add the exact levels of vitamins and minerals into your water.

It’s a big goal and will need a complex system with a lot of development, but I’m very excited about the potential.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’ve been listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast on YouTube for about three years now.

On one of his shows, he was talking to Jordan Peterson, who was a professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto at the time, about the idea that self-discipline is the most important trait that anyone can possess.

They were specifically relating it to working out on a daily basis, and how self-discipline gets you through a workout on those days when you’re struggling to find motivation. So no matter how tired or low you’re feeling, you get through your workout session and that’s something you’ve achieved that day.

I think the same can be applied to entrepreneurship. If you have self-discipline, it can make the difference between a task taking one day or one week, and that can have a real impact when you’re self-employed. Discipline is a skill that can be learned, and by embracing it you can push yourself to achieve goals that might otherwise have been out of your reach.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“No one will complete a task you need as well as you will”

At the start of my entrepreneurial journey, I tended to delegate jobs to other people, in the belief that it was better to pay a ‘professional’ to do the job rather than doing it myself. But I found that I was often dissatisfied with the result, and that meant that I had to do it again which just wasted both time and money.

I soon learned that the best way to feel satisfied is to do the job myself the first time!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone knows that drinking bottled water is bad for the environment, but they know it in a conceptual way. You can’t see the consequences happening in front of you.

But if you traveled to the Philippines, you’d see plastic from Europe washing up on their shores. It’s not just a theoretical problem, it’s a real problem that’s happening right now.

So what if everyone who is reading this article made a pledge never to buy bottled water again? Medium.com has about 500,000 subscribers, and the average person buys bottled water 3 times each week. In a month, that would be 6 million plastic bottles that don’t end up in landfill or in the ocean.

What do you reckon, is it worth a try? If not for you, then for the generations that come after us?

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow us at www.skumaltd.co.uk to see how you can lead the change!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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