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Ludwick Marishane, the brain behind the so-called Waterless Bath, was one of the opening keynotes at The Accenture Innovation Conference. Dubbed the DryBath, his product is literally a type of gel that people can use to clean themselves. No water required. Marishane took the audience through his journey of creating an interesting product through the process of reverse innovation — a concept he hopes would inspire more young South African entrepreneurs.
“Growing up I wanted to be a scientist,” he says. “They were always the guys who came up with the cool inventions. My journey has gone from trying to develop my own biofuel inspired by a Top Gear episode. Another idea was creating a healthy cigarette where I actually used tea leaves.”
He says that the first product that actually broke-even was a mobile dictionary he put together. This he sold to his friends at school at a time when Mxit was really taking off. Alas he shares, “the ideas didn’t really fly, but the knowledge stuck all the way.”
“We have great patents at the university, but few of them really manage to get into the market, to execute,” he argues. “I found that South Africa invests so little in R&D.” This is something he would see himself later address.
Another trend that Marishane picked up on was that there was a problem with the innovation process. He explains that traditional innovation happens in such a way that products are usually born in developed markets and then adapted to emerging ones. “This is why most of my initial products didn’t really work out,” he explains. “They didn’t address a specific need in our market.”
After chatting to a friend, they realised that showering and the popular bucket bathing were an actual problem for low-income communities.
“Essentially, we wanted to make democratic products. Created from a need of an emerging market, by adding value to that market. If we can get 10% of the world to skip a bath once a week, we will delay water worlds by a year or two,” he quips.
For three years the product was just a dream but Marishane met up with a technical co-founder who developed a prototype. “I immediately got a lot of press and soon the multinationals started approaching. We were selling the product on the basis of Use DryBath to Save Water.” That was a fundamental problem.
“We decided to start doing more market research,” he says. “About 40% of our customers were using DryBath outdoors when they went camping. The other 60% is made up of guys going into the office, house wives and people traveling abroad.”
Marishane says that they revamped the website and refocused the target market. Sales jumped by a 100% within the last year just because they were able to understand the market better.
He even recalls how a R30-million retail deal with an Indian partner fell apart because of the product was too low-cost. “One sachet went for around R1 which was way too low to sell. The economies of scale just didn’t match,” he says. This changed after his team finally understood where the product stood with the market it wants to serve.
“We have finally built a machine where you put R1 in and R1.50 comes out,” he explains. Today, he is working with Pick ‘n Pay which is looking to sell the DryBath for around R5 a sachet within the next six months.
Beyond the DryBath
“I’m more of a philosopher than a business man,” he shares. “I’m an expert in nothing, my only mission is to validate.”
“Our mission behind DryBath was to get off the ground and prove our capacity to innovate. We don’t always want to be known as the DryBath guys,” Marishane envisions. He explains that he wanted to give back to South Africa’s innovation scene.
We started looking at other challenges. There is still a struggle of getting quality entrepreneurial youth. We noted that a lot of companies are giving away need-based bursaries. Students study alone, live alone and carry around a lonely mentality. It’s not that efficient.
Marishane approached an asset management company to help companies manage university bursaries. They providing private tutoring, professional speaking to the students. Increased academic performance by 10% within a few months trail period, we cut the drop out rate by 50% within the next year.
Moreover, he started an initiative, called Polymath Innovation, that’s responsible for advisory service setting out to help established organisations develop value-adding innovation initiatives in-house. He explains: “We want to make it beneficial for corporates to buy future disruptive tech.”
After a woman from the crowd asked if she could invest Marishane he explains that money has never been the problem. “We’ve raised over R1-million throughout the year. It wasn’t the problem. The problem was the business model,” he explains. “Entrepreneurs don’t always need money. There are other ways. Ways that would actually make you a better entrepreneur.”
Pointing out how people can contribute, he notes that he’s running an initiative called Not Bathing Weekend where corporates can sponsor a school and donate R50 000 worth in order to save water and introduce people to the DryBath product.