H2Oscore is a Milwaukee startup that is helping communities meet their water conservation needs. In Part I of this series, McGee Young, Founder of H2Oscore, described the benefits of Water Council membership and the birth of the company. In Part II of this series, Nathan Conroy, the Senior Entrepreneur at H2Oscore, described the concept of social entrepreneurship and how it informs the H2Oscore business model. McGee Young returns for Part III to discuss milestones as an important indicator of growth for startups. H2Oscore was recently announced to be one of the inaugural participants on the Global Freshwater Seed Accelerator program.
As the founder of a startup, you always have one eye on your product and one eye on the clock. We are excited about building tools that empower people to take control of their water use, but as a startup we know that time is of the essence. We can’t wait around to be “discovered” and we know that others are racing to fill the same market space.
As a team, we set milestones for ourselves to make sure that we’re achieving real progress rather than settling for “busy work” or trying to achieve “vanity metrics” that look great but mean very little. We also commit ourselves to rigorously testing our assumptions about our business model so that we avoid making costly mistakes (mistakes are inevitable, but they don’t need to be costly). Our milestones are reached when we validate hypotheses about our business model with real customers using hard numbers.
While we’ve routinized this approach in our day-to-day work, there are some opportunities that arise out of serendipity. In many ways, these are the breaks that successful startups depend on. It’s a hard road and you need a little luck to survive.
This past month we launched community-wide water conservation programs in two new cities – Waukesha and Grafton. These were real milestones for our team, as it meant that we successfully deployed our customer-validated software and our Conservation Rewards program, which enlists the support of the local business community to incentivize residential water conservation. We also added one new full time employee and two new interns to our team and moved into a “real” office in downtown Milwaukee in order to manage this growth.
These results came about because of our disciplined approach to building products and the willingness of city leaders to take a leap of faith on a new way to encourage water conservation. However, while these milestones are important, they are also baby steps. When we see images of drought, read reports of water shortages, and hear from concerned citizens who want to help, we know we can make more of a difference. And it can’t happen quickly enough, as far as we are concerned. So, while we celebrate significant milestones, we have to manage expectations as we take these baby steps toward a scalable, sustainable solution.
One year ago we launched our first online dashboards in Whitewater, WI. One year before that, we dared to think that water conservation could be done differently. One year from now we hope to be taking big steps that are built on a foundation of milestones and a fair amount of serendipity. We are looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
McGee Young is the Founder of H2Oscore. He is Associate Professor of Political Science and Entre-preneur Faculty Fellow at Marquette University. He is the author of Developing Interests: Organiza-tional Change and the Politics of Advocacy (Kansas 2010). He received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University and lives in Milwaukee with his wife and two daughters.