When Vijender Reddy Muthyala moved to Bengaluru to pursue his higher studies at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), it took him some time to get used to drinking packaged water and not regular tap water. As the water supplied to his locality was impotable, he like several residents around him ended up buying packaged water to meet his daily requirements.
It turns out Vijender wasn’t the only one facing this problem. According to Unicef, less than 50 percent of India’s population has access to safely managed drinking water.
His curiosity led him to test a few water samples from nearby localities and he found out that most residents of those areas were consuming contaminated water. In 2015, he teamed up with his roommate Manas Ranjan Hota to roll out DrinkPrime — a subscription-based service for water purifiers that democratises access to clean, safe and healthy drinking water at an affordable cost.
With monthly rental plans starting as low as Rs 339, DrinkPrime enables people to get water purifiers with no upfront investment and free maintenance. The device is installed free of cost and the subscription can be cancelled anytime the client may want.
The DrinkPrime team monitors the performance of the device through a remote algorithm that’s powered by the Internet of Things. The team uses the information to schedule maintenance activities to ensure that the purifiers work optimally.
Easy and affordable access to clean drinking water with ‘smart ownership’
What gives DrinkPrime an edge over other players in the industry, is it’s concept of ‘smart ownership’.
“Most popular brands of water purifiers are not very affordable. Combined with maintenance charges, owning a water purifier can be very expensive for several people. So, we started with building an affordable subscription service that can be easily accessed by the majority of the people in India,” he explains.
Vijender also observed that the quality of water supplied to each locality in Bengaluru differed. “And, why not? Bengaluru receives water from three different sources — the river Cauvery, borewells and water tankers. In any area, the supply is a combination of all three sources and hence the water quality differs from locality to locality,” he adds.
The problem with the existing water purifier brands was that they adopted a ‘one size fits all’ approach, without taking into account the difference in water quality in each area. “As a result, the water was either overpurified or underpurified.”
As a solution, DrinkPrime started building customised water purifiers depending on the quality of water an area gets and then offer it as a subscription.
Even the filters fitted in each of DrinkPrime purifiers is customised based on the data of water quality collected by the startup.
Despite having a business model ready, DrinkPrime did face some initial challenges when it came to raising funds. “We are a hardware and capex-heavy business, which made it difficult for us to draw investors for the initial 2-3 years. People investing in hardware startups are those who are aligned with the brand’s mission. They are in it for the long run,” says Vijender. The Bengaluru-based startup has raised funding from marquee investors like Sequoia Surge and Omidyar Network India.
Powering growth with a digital presence
While it wasn’t as difficult for the founders to get clients onboard, what propelled their growth was getting a .in extension for their website. “We had an online presence from the start. The DrinkPrime website with a .in extension name helped us reach out to a wider audience,” he adds.
The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) has helped hundreds of businesses across sectors and sizes distinguish themselves as a brand with its .in or .Bharat domain — which is India’s Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). It’s among the only internet exchanges in the world to offer a ccTLD in multiple languages.
Being a completely digital company, DrinkPrime was able to expand to Hyderabad and NCR and is currently catering to over 1 lakh subscribers in three cities.
Talking about why the team chose a .in domain name for their website, Vijender said that the choice was an easy one to make as they were building a hyper-local business which was moving towards a pan-India presence. “A .in domain name sends out the message that DrinkPrime is an Indian brand which is trying to strike a connect with Indians. It didn’t hurt that a .in domain name was more affordable than a .com extension,” he adds.
And, the bet did pay off well, if you believe Vijender. “Currently, 40 percent of our subscribers come digitally via our SEO presence that was facilitated by a .in extension. We also roll out digital marketing campaigns on social media which helps us gain more traction and boost customer retention,” he says.
Vijender also stressed on how a .in extension could be a growth driver for small and upcoming businesses. “A .in extension is much more affordable than any other option. It conveys to your clients that you’re from India, whereas a .com domain name would make your brand appear as one with a generic approach,” he says.