As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Orbital Systems CEO and founder, Mehrdad Mahdjoubi. Mehrdad holds an MFA in Industrial Design, and degrees in Business and Design Management, from Lund University in Sweden. Before founding the company in 2012, Mehrdad was involved in a design project for the Mars Missions at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which became the inspiration for the Orbital Systems technology.
Mehrdad has had the founder of Skype, Niklas Zennström, as a personal mentor throughout his time as an entrepreneur. Among the company’s, and Mehrdad’s, many recognitions are a place on Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 list in 2016, the WWF Climate Solver 2016, and the GOOD DESIGN Award 2015.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Straight after my degree at Lund University, Sweden, I did an academic project in 2012 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, School of Industrial Design. The project I worked on was about ‘living on Mars’ — the mission takes more than 300 days, and there is no water on the red planet. As part of this project, my task was to find a solution for water, and to make it last as long as possible, which meant that it needed to be re-used in some way. While I was working on this project, I soon realized that the innovation I came up with could also be applied outside of space travel. With water scarcity being a huge problem on planet Earth, there is an urgent need for an effective water-consumption solution. That’s how the idea was born, and I founded Orbital Systems.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
A fact rather than a story — I remember the day when I realized that we flush the toilets with drinking water, which I found extremely absurd!
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
In the industrialized part of the world, showers are the biggest consumers of water in our homes. In a regular home, every person uses around 200 liters/per day, and the shower amounts for the biggest part of this water consumption. To give you an idea, a 10-minute shower uses as much as 70–100 liters of water, and I don’t see why so much water needs to be used. Technical innovations have improved efficiency in many areas of our lives, but I still feel that water consumption is lagging behind.
For example, the Orbital Systems Oas shower uses closed-loop re-purification space technology, certified by NASA, to recirculate and purify water, reducing the risk of bacteria such as Legionella. This means that a 10-minute shower will only use 7–10 liters of water and only the dirty (contaminated) water goes down the drain, the rest is getting purified and recirculated. The showers deliver water at the optimal temperature, pressure and flow rate, while dramatically cutting down on water usage.
How do you think this will change the world?
My vision with Orbital Systems is to create a paradigm shift when it comes to domestic water. Water is a scarce resource, but we don’t treat it like it is. Instead, we waste it. The ambition with our unique technology is for people to consume less water, without them even noticing.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
In the case of cutting down on water consumption, I don’t.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The more I researched how we use water today, the more I realized the systemic inefficiencies. For every household application that I analyzed, the stronger my conviction grew. Every day we flush more than 40 liters of drinking water in our toilets, and we wash our clothes with drinking water. We treat water several miles outside the cities, inject chemicals into it to reduce bio-growth, pump it all the way to each household through rusty, leaky pipes, and then we waste 100 liters in a 10-minute shower. It’s one big centralized horror show.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
It will take time to change people’s behavior, so we need to be patient, but raising awareness and highlighting responsible water practices is part of the work.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- People are wrong, unintentionally — All founders wanting to disrupt an industry will hear claims about what is possible, what is not, or how much things will cost. The reason they are “wrong” is simply that they haven’t been in the same situation. Even if they tried the exact same thing last year. Timing is everything.
- Skin in the game matters the most — Learn to detect people who have it. The others come and go.
- Understand the full value chain — even if you only intend to be part of part of it — If you are selling a product that requires an installer to install it, make sure he likes your product.
- Cultures differ, and nobody is necessarily “right” — The definition of “the right way” is highly subjective. Focus on what moves you closer to your goal.
- Ask yourself what you want to do and prioritize that. And more importantly, down-prioritize the other stuff — I’m still waiting to meet the person who has the time to do everything without sacrificing anything.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Spend time to understand the underlying value drivers of different people, and don’t be afraid of building and changing a good network of contacts.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
I would invest in every company that partners with us.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I have been guided by both Stoicism and Epicureanism.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
“You are never better than your last game.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I have a personal social media profile, but they can follow me via Orbital Systems’ socials including Twitter @orbital_systems
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.