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Eric Adler: “Good luck getting a mortgage!”

By 2015, California and much of the southern United States were experiencing a prolonged drought. I noticed that cities across the state were encouraging customers to conserve water, but consistently failed to provide them with the necessary technology to do so. It seemed ridiculous that nearly every aspect of homes had become “smart” in some […]

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By 2015, California and much of the southern United States were experiencing a prolonged drought. I noticed that cities across the state were encouraging customers to conserve water, but consistently failed to provide them with the necessary technology to do so. It seemed ridiculous that nearly every aspect of homes had become “smart” in some way, but water was still in the dark ages. This problem was the challenge that inspired Flume.

My two cofounders and I decided to create a simple solution that provides homeowners with real-time insights into their water usage — the Flume Smart Water Monitor and app. The Flume hardware is self-installed in minutes and empowers homeowners with minute-by-minute usage information, intelligent leak detection, and personalized water budgets. Our success with consumers has been noticed by water utilities, who now distribute the Flume Smart Water Monitor to homeowners. With consent from the homeowners, Flume gathers this usage data and provides utilities an analytics and customer engagement platform that creates a more meaningful relationship between the utility and their customers. It’s a space that is ripe for disruption and we’re proud to be leaders in the category.


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 Eric Adler, Co-Founder, CEO of Flume.

As a Central Oregon native, avid outdoorsman and an adventurer at heart, Eric has always been determined to use and support sustainable products and practices. Eric chose to study mechanical engineering in hopes of designing products that would have a positive environmental impact. Inspired by California’s 2014 record-breaking drought, Eric pursued the incubation of a senior engineering project focused on providing water usage and conservation data to homeowners into an IoT startup called Flume. Eric has since grown the team, raised capital and brought to market a leak detection and water conservation product that solves a complex problem across multiple industries. Eric has worked to pursue and secure venture capital funding as well as large agreements with major water utilities nationwide. Flume is currently the leading product in the consumer market and is growing quickly. Eric is focused on the continued growth of Flume’s business while pursuing strategic partners, additional investment and market development.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Building something from the ground up that customers and investors find valuable has been an incredibly interesting experience over the past few years. When you’re fresh out of college, this is not something that you’re accustomed to. One particular story comes to mind in the early days of Flume. I was invited by one of our current investors to pitch to a small group of angel investors. I didn’t know much about the group and figured it was more of a dinner party than a serious investment event. I approached the pitch as a casual conversation and enjoyed an hour of presenting and Q&A. At the end of the meeting, a member of the group approached me and asked how much was available in our current financing round. I said that we were still seeking 500k dollars in investment. He took out his checkbook, wrote out a check for 500k dollars and handed it to me on the spot. In the following weeks, the group invested over one million dollars.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I focus on three main philosophies in my life and career. They aren’t poetic, but they are simple. The first is to make your life meaningful by helping others. If your only goal is to help yourself, it is going to be difficult to feel like what you’re doing matters. The second philosophy is to create value, whether it be in business, relationships or products. The third is cliche, but it may be the most important one — to have fun. It’s easy to work long hours and late nights if that time doesn’t feel like work. It’s extremely important to enjoy the people you’re around and work with, as well as take time to focus on fun outside of the office. I love to travel with friends and meet new friends along the way; I try to do both as much as possible and it is amazing to see how many business connections come from casual encounters.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

By 2015, California and much of the southern United States were experiencing a prolonged drought. I noticed that cities across the state were encouraging customers to conserve water, but consistently failed to provide them with the necessary technology to do so. It seemed ridiculous that nearly every aspect of homes had become “smart” in some way, but water was still in the dark ages. This problem was the challenge that inspired Flume.

My two cofounders and I decided to create a simple solution that provides homeowners with real-time insights into their water usage — the Flume Smart Water Monitor and app. The Flume hardware is self-installed in minutes and empowers homeowners with minute-by-minute usage information, intelligent leak detection, and personalized water budgets. Our success with consumers has been noticed by water utilities, who now distribute the Flume Smart Water Monitor to homeowners. With consent from the homeowners, Flume gathers this usage data and provides utilities an analytics and customer engagement platform that creates a more meaningful relationship between the utility and their customers. It’s a space that is ripe for disruption and we’re proud to be leaders in the category.

How do you think this will change the world?

It is interesting to see how quickly our customers change their habits once Flume is activated. On average, we see a 10% reduction in water usage within two weeks and, since our customer engagement is high, this number remains consistent as time goes on. Part of this reduction is the result of customers finally understanding how much water is being used for certain activities (showering, dishes, sprinklers, etc.). By seeing the numbers, they are encouraged to reduce them, just like a high credit card bill. However, for many of our customers, this reduction is the result of leaks that were quickly detected. Within the first week of installation, 30% of our customers receive a leak notification. Within the first month, 66% receive a leak notification. This builds trust in the product and continues to keep customers engaged.

Detecting leaks and reducing consumption on the residential level may not change the world overnight, but it enables customers to grasp and control something that they never before understood. Most people don’t know if a shower uses 5 gallons or 50 gallons. Flume educates them and encourages a change in habits. We believe our customers will take these learnings and apply it elsewhere in their lives as well. Small shifts in perspective can result in major long-term changes.

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?

I think about this often. Not just in regards to Flume, but anytime I hear about a new tech company or product. In many situations, I am quick to point out the unintended consequences. So when developing Flume, our team often looks at our product roadmap and ensures that we are continuing to focus on identifying and solving real, tangible problems without creating new ones. Considering that water supplies are becoming increasingly impacted by growing populations and climate change, I strongly believe that our most significant risk is taking no action at all.

I won’t say that what we’ve built is perfect, but the problem we are solving is simple. Before Flume, homeowners had no means by which to monitor their water use, which resulted in leaks, high water bills and, occasionally, devastating damage to their property. We’ve created simple hardware wrapped in elegant software to solve this problem and continue to follow Drucker’s theory — “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

In 2015, California was in the middle of the state’s worst drought in over a thousand years. Utilities across the state were actively emphasizing the need for citizens to conserve water and my friends and I wanted to do our part, but we didn’t know where to start. With the exception of our monthly water bill telling us how much we used, we didn’t know anything about our water use or where we could help save.

We designed Flume to help change that. Initially, we set out to provide a better way to understand and use water, but we quickly found that the product does even more. By digitizing water, we’re enabling smarter water use, but we’re also providing leak detection capacity to protect homes and improving people’s relationship with this precious resource.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

Being a leading company in a new category is exciting, but comes with major challenges, mainly generating awareness. People are inundated with product offerings throughout their day. For us to achieve widespread adoption, consumers and utility partners need to become aware that this category exists. Our utility partnerships are rapidly growing and marketing Flume to millions of their customers. Our conversion rates are high and we are confident in our ability to achieve widespread adoption through this unique go-to-market strategy.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Very, very few people have the opportunity to launch a startup, so take full advantage of it

● It is easy to complain about the challenges associated with starting a company, but I am keenly aware of how privileged I am to even have the opportunity. If you have the chance to do it, don’t hesitate.

2. This will likely be painful

● Startups are a rollercoaster. There were times when our bank account was negative and I was sure Flume would crash and burn within a week. Other times we have been flush with cash and could barely keep up with the demand. It’s a wild ride.

3. The chances of your success are extremely low, but if successful, it will change your life

● It is important to realize that the chances of your startup being successful (generating significant profit or becoming acquired) are extremely low, in the 1–2% range. However, the risk is well worth the reward and you must not give up.

4. You will work harder and make less money than your friends

● If you want a big salary and a normal 40 hour work week, startups are not for you. The pay will be small for years and the hours will be long.

5. Good luck getting a mortgage!

● This was a surprise to me. Banks don’t look at CEO’s of startups the same way they look at CEO’s of major corporations. They know that your career is high-risk, making it extremely difficult for you to get approved for loans.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Success is subjective and does not need to be overcomplicated. Find what you want (really, really want) and work your butt off to get there. While you’re doing so, don’t compare yourself to others. Check in on yourself on a weekly basis and see if you’re still making progress towards that goal. If so, you’re successful.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Every startup founder says “if we just achieve 1% penetration, our company will be worth a billion dollars!”. Well, in multiple cities that we’ve partnered with, we’ve achieved well over 1% adoption and are rapidly adding new utility partners to our portfolio. The market is massive, we have a repeatable model and we have proven our ability to execute. At this point, we have no doubt that Flume will be a successful venture.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/eric-adler/
https://www.facebook.com/flumewater/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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