We talked to Ada Yip, CEO at Urban Spring about the new way of accessing water and she had the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ada Yip: Our team and our families are sound and healthy. We have been fortunate to have a great team who are very supportive, understanding and considerate. We have adapted to new social and professional protocol fairly seamlessly.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Urban Spring.
Ada Yip: My first career was in banking and finance and had worked in Hong Kong, Toronto and Tokyo, which had given me a lot of good exposure and training. In hindsight, it had pathed my way to work in a startup that required me to be entrepreneurial and be able to assess different business and operational risks. In 2013, I left banking and finance to explore social entrepreneurship. After working on a few short term projects, I met the founder of Urban Spring, a company with a mission to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bottles by offering well-designed and well-maintained water refill stations. I am inspired by the passion and philosophy that I joined Urban Spring as a co-founder and CEO.
How does Urban Spring innovate?
Ada Yip: Established in September 2015, Urban Spring is a startup with a social mission to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic bottled water by introducing the installation of their signature product “Well井” in the city of Hong Kong. Designed and engineered in Hong Kong, Well井 is an innovative Smart Water Station with data collection and analysis, which monitors the number of refills and bottles saved as well as the operating conditions, with hassle-free maintenance remotely controlled by a service centre. “Well井”, a winner of the Hong Kong Awards for the Industries (HKAI) 2018, incorporates functional technology in a sleek and contemporary look and features that re-establish the trust of the public in refilling potable water outside home and offices.
Established in September 2015, Urban Spring has been redefining the water.
Together, Urban Spring & Well井 have redefined the water drinking experience by building a reliable water refill network at schools, shopping malls, hotels and country parks in Hong Kong. With immense passion and dedication, the pair strives to empower daily life with a smarter choice, ultimately reducing the need for single-use plastic bottled water for a sustainable urban lifestyle.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ada Yip: Sales pipeline has slowed down tremendously. Our customers’ original budgets have shrunk, and projects were put on hold. We were only able to meet 30% of our original target.
We have reacted quickly to cut costs very early in Q1. With the Hong Kong government subsidy and commitment by our investors, we were able to manage our cash flows without letting any employees go.
We have also adapted quickly to increase our sales focus to educational institutions which are not as affected by the conditions of the economy. We are also proud to share that we expand to Singapore in 2020 despite COVID.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ada Yip: We have learned that making decisions and pivoting focus timely are key to run a business. Listening and being close to our customers is critical for us to address our customers changing needs. One example is our clients’ concern about the hygiene of water and the water stations. Within a week, we made a mechanical design change to add a foot pedal which enabled users to activate the water dispense without touching any buttons by hand. Our customers loved this addition, and we were able to address their requests within 2 to 3 weeks. This, in turn, allowed our customers to serve their guests and users better and make a difference.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Urban Spring in the future?
Ada Yip: Hong Kong has lovely country parks. Hiking trails are easily accessible. Being close to nature, seeing trees and breathing fresh air is my way to de-stress. We all spend too much time in front of our laptop. I often find myself working more efficiently and being able to deal with challenges at work after a good Sunday hike. Of course, I also enjoy a glass of wine and good food with friends from time to time. Talking to people and learning new things are ways to open my mind and get new ideas.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ada Yip: There are many players in the market. They offer different product features of water refill, and we all have slightly different brand positioning. We learn from them, and they learn from us. That’s how we all grow and improve our product and services to address users’ needs in a positive manner.
We focus on making data-driven decisions in operating our business and services, which is our biggest differentiation. Internet-of-things is the future. Our model of predictive maintenance is the key to enable us to be on top of the game. We have to continue to build a team that has an appreciation and curiosity and skills in data science and AI.
Your final thoughts?
Ada Yip: We believe in the power of business and technology to do good and do well, enabling everyone to have a quality and sustainable lifestyle.
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