Adam Scheuer found early in his career that he wasn’t looking to be a cog in someone else’s big wheel. He wanted to make things happen for himself. “My early gauge was my alarm clock. When I started hitting ‘snooze’ too many times in the morning, it was time to jump into unfamiliar waters,” he explains.
After obtaining his engineering degree from Harvard University he moved to Houston, Texas to work in the computer field for Compaq and Hewlett Packard. He returned to BC in 2003 to start Tiger Purification Systems (later renamed as Watertiger) with his father, Wilf Scheuer.
The Stairmaster Stepping Stone
Watertiger was originally born as a diversification strategy for a mechanical contracting company in Victoria. Built to remove arsenic from Bangladeshi wells, the first prototype used an old Stairmaster to power the water treatment system. Bangladesh has what it considered the worst human-caused mass-poisoning in the world, but has little infrastructure to treat the problem. When Wilf’s prototype was flown to Bangladesh for testing, it achieved excellent results. High on their success Adam and Wilf created Watertiger, a name that derived from that first trip to Bangladesh where Tigers are revered.
Education, Education, Education
When setting up the business they absorbed all the support and resources they could from Chambers of Commerce to Better Business Bureau training programs, from online textbooks and social media to mentorship. Although he admits that he had not heard of Small Business BC at the time, he now recommends us as the first stop for any new entrepreneurs, “There’s a phenomenal set of resources just waiting for you when you walk through the door.”
And education is a theme that carries through the business. “In an industry that is not well understood by those in need of water purification, we have focused on client education and providing the best customer support.” Putting their customers first is one of the key differentiators for Watertiger. “We really do go the extra mile (or foot if need be!) for our customers,” explains Adam. Where many of their competitors try to sell one product to fit all, Adam and Wilf spend time to understand the water source and tailor their products to ensure their clients get the right solution. “Healthy, safe drinking water is a critical part of our overall health and security, and Watertiger will protect it for you, regardless of where you live or what your water looks like.”
It’s a strategy that is paying dividends with clients including multiple hospitals, BC Hydro, the Canadian Coast Guard, government organizations, research vessels, resorts and humanitarian relief organizations. It is the humanitarian projects that he is most proud of however. Providing design advice, products and guidance to a number of international projects have resulted in big leaps forward in the quality of life in these underdeveloped communities. Adam explains, “In one project in rural Uganda we were able to reduce adult mortality by 24 percent and infant mortality by 67 percent in the first three years.” An incredible achievement.
Success for Lessons Learned
Success wasn’t limited to their humanitarian work. In the first five years of business, Adam and Wilf achieved an average annual growth of 40 percent. That growth came with some important lessons about managing their cash flow. An early large project seemed like the ideal way to grow their business
quickly, but it rapidly taxed their cash reserves. They delivered the project successfully and learned to better identify the dates and amounts of upcoming cash outlays.
Long-Term Game for Long Time Gain
When asked who inspires him to drive his business, he explained that there is not one specific person but more a type of person; a person who has worked on his or her business for 10-15 years believing in the product and then achieving sudden ‘overnight success’. “To plug away at a business with a slow burn for a long time takes patience and resilience, and then to combine that with the right mix of timing, hard work, market placement and luck, that’s not easy,” he enthuses. “I have enormous respect for those who were able to stick it out long enough to earn the big rewards.”
Playing the long-term game is also the focus of his advice to new entrepreneurs. He cautions that when planning your business, give thought to not only the factors that will impact your business today but to think ahead a few years. “Business models and industries change so fast now, that what used to be a five year plan is now a two to three year plan,” he observes. “Big changes down the road can have serious impacts on your business model, like cheap online competitions and regulatory changes, so make sure your plan has some flexibility to it!”
Responsible Resource Development
As for Watertiger’s long-term game, they continue to focus on responsibility and primarily responsible resource development in Canada. “We are prime protectors of the environment, but also believe that solutions need to be in support of economic development for them to be properly supported by the government and industry,” Adam observes. He is convinced that Canada has the opportunity to become the most responsible player for resource development in the world if the problems are approached in the right way. And water management is a significant portion of that puzzle.
It’s a lofty goal, but we can see that he has the will and determination to make a significant impact. “I don’t rest too long on my successes or my failures. It happens. You pat yourself on the back, or pick yourself up off the floor and get moving to the next challenge or task,” he explains. “I’ve never had much interest in sitting still for too long.”