Riggs Eckelberry is the founder and CEO of OriginClear Inc. (OTC Pink: OCLN) and a pioneer in the battle against our global water crisis. The idea for OriginClear, a Florida-based company with manufacturing in Texas, came to light when Eckelberry discovered that the method his company invented for removing algae was also useful for extracting waste from water. The pivot became OriginClear as we know it today, on a mission to help businesses seamlessly take over their own water treatment. Eckelberry is also launching a dual-coin system to unite the world in providing clean water while aggregating the resources to make it happen.
Where did the idea for OriginClear come from?
The idea for our company started with the mission of making algae the next biofuel. And that was very exciting, but eventually was overcome by very low crude oil prices. As a result, we pivoted by applying our algae separation technology to remove the solids out of sewage and this put us right into the water industry. Since then, we have been focusing on disrupting the water industry because we found it to be very slow-moving, to have a lot of issues, and to be very resistant to change. We are confident that we’re on a path to making big things happen in water.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There are always a lot of fires that need to be put out. And as a CEO, you’re constantly concerned with things that are coming up that are unexpected. You have to deal with them, but it’s very important to then figure out why that fire came up and resolve the underlying issue. I think a CEO who doesn’t constantly get to the bottom of why he’s getting a lot of emergencies will soon fail. Secondly, it’s a big piece of my job to create the ongoing business model and people don’t realize that business models evolve rapidly. For example, we saw what happened to Airbnb in early 2020. The CEO later said that they did 10 years’ worth of work in 10 weeks as they adjusted to the new reality of COVID. So, the CEO really has to drive the adaptation and the communication of new strategies. In our case, we have ended up with a strong four-layer business strategy which is starting to really be set in stone, but it wasn’t that way for a long time. And the final thing is to really make sure that we’re constantly improving our business processes, people are working collaboratively, we’re using better systems, and implementing best practices so that the organization becomes more and more excellent. That is generally what fills my day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The main way to bring ideas to life is to be wide open to what is happening in the real world, both with the company and the economy, and in your own industry in general. It’s very important to be in touch with all the trends and to have listening posts set up. For example, as we found in 2020, we learned that there was a real need to finance water projects so that customers didn’t have to come up with the capital and this led to our creation of the Water On Demand™ program which is being rolled out. That program basically enables customers to sign up for water equipment for their location without having to pay upfront. That idea came out of the fact that we were seeing a tremendous number of stacked up projects. I think at one time was over 47 potential customers for one division of the company, averaging a quarter million each, that weren’t really moving because many of them were lacking the finance to move ahead. So, that need to accelerate these contracts led to the idea of taking away the biggest barrier, which was capital. I think it’s really about being well connected to what’s going on out there.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The really exciting trend in the world is decentralization and we’re seeing it happen on two levels that really matter to us. One of course is the decentralization of water because central infrastructure is starting to fall apart. People who live in Fort Lauderdale know full well that the sewage system is in real trouble. But unfortunately, the funds are not really coming to fix these systems and the billions of billions of dollars aren’t happening. More and more businesses, industry, and agriculture must do their own water treatment, which leads to more water being treated where the water is being polluted in the first place and as a side benefit, reduces the load on the central systems and therefore reduces the amount needed to fix these municipalities! We have 150,000 municipal systems in this country and many of them are dysfunctional, but they can cope if they have to do less work, that’s decentralization of water. The second big trend is decentralization of finance and that is a big deal because we’re seeing rapid inflation, nowhere more than in water rates which are exploding and becoming unsustainable for many business and consumer users in the country. That means the US dollar is in real trouble, so we’re seeing the replacement of the US dollar with decentralized finance, otherwise known as digital currency or cryptocurrency. People have treated that as a kind of a crazy idea, except it’s really starting to happen. That’s why we’re creating a cryptocurrency for water itself, because eventually that’s going to be the reality. Those are the two big trends.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Speed is key to be faster than anyone else. When I get a problem on my plate, a communication or something to deal with, and I move really fast at the speed of light to resolve it, I can usually get way ahead of other people. As a result, it drives people to be faster themselves, but also gives me a competitive advantage. I first started learning this in 1996, when I was really using email as a marketing and corporate weapon to control outcomes by being the first to communicate, the first to respond, and the first to resolve issues. That always comes down to speed and rapid turnaround. Without that, I don’t think I could survive even a minute.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self, don’t assume that you know. If you’re entering a new business or space, do some apprenticeship. Don’t just jump in with both feet assuming that you’re going to figure it out. If you’re smart, you figure it out, but you waste a lot of time, a lot of money, and it can create failures. It’s very important to learn at the feet of somebody who knows the new space. Let’s say you want to start selling your product. Go to somebody who has a clue about it, instead of trying to do it right away. I think that’s the key for any activity. If I’d done more of that in my younger self, I think that I would have done more good in the long run.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think it’s true that all media is manipulated. I don’t mean left media, right media─all media is manipulated. If you understand that, then you understand first of all, how to evaluate the information you’re getting on a constant basis from all sides. And again, I’m not pitting CNN against Fox News or anything like that, I’m saying all media is manipulated by its sponsors. Once you have that understanding, you can really evaluate it and then yourself start to work it to your advantage. Anyone can harness the power of media to get a voice, but they have to recognize that media is a tool. It is not inherently a voice of truth (unless you make it so), and that’s a very difficult lesson for people to learn these days.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
What I do over and over is when I say that something needs to happen, I make sure that I don’t let it go. I’m like a dog with a bone. Let’s say that I go, “Okay, we’re going to get a certain video done by Thursday.” Well, you’re going to hear about it from me, and I’m not going to let that go. You’re going to keep hearing about it until it happens and that does two things. Number 1, it gets it done. Number 2, people to realize that if they get something from me, they’re going to have to do it because they’re going to hear from me again and again. Now, the key is to not be strident or not be antagonistic. Just patiently remind people, just patiently nag them, “Okay, have you done this? What’s the outcome? What do they say? What’s going on? Have you escalated it to a phone call?” That constant reminder action frankly, is a pain for me, because I constantly have to do this stuff. AKA, herding cats. However, it’s really vital so that finally when you’ve got your team trained, they will take what you said the first time and do it rapidly. So they won’t hear about it 12 times again; and that’s a very, very important operating principle.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Constant adaptation. We chose a very challenging space, water, where it’s basically either you’re very, very small fry, a family business, or you’re one of the very, very big water companies. In between, it’s very hard to succeed. So, we really had to define a path for ourselves to break through that very conservative, structured environment that is the water industry. Now, this meant that we had to find a way to finance the development of what we think is going to be Water Company 2.0™, OriginClear, therefore, maybe a billion dollar company one of these days. I compare it to Tesla, who were being built over the longest time, were losing money along the way. But because they were actually doing it, they kept their funding and ultimately became highly profitable and they dominated their industry. What I’m saying is constant, persistent adaptation to find the way to succeed, is really key. That’s probably the number one thing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I started a business in New York City in the 80s that quickly acquired a payroll of about 12 people in Manhattan and I really had no capital. We were doing very advanced work and putting a lot of companies onto computer based systems that were operating on paper accounting systems. That was pioneering work, was very hard, and we just had terrible time. I remember the nightmare of trying to meet payroll every other week, which I never failed to do, but it was just horrendous. Ultimately, I lost heart and I went, you know what, this is ridiculous. I’m working so hard to be the first implementer for these paper-based companies and it’s not worth it. So, I gave my client list to my best salesman and I basically moved on. Years later, I had to go through a personal bankruptcy to clear things up for me, and what I realized later was, especially when I spoke to my successor a while later, he said, “You know, I still have all your customers.” This was five years later and he became a millionaire in the process. I realized what I didn’t know, was the power of the ongoing revenue stream from these clients. I’d only thought of the very inefficient first implementation. I wasn’t really thinking of the ongoing, month after month payments these companies make, which is really what makes a business like that profitable. What I realized eventually was that I could have continued, there was no reason to stop. From that, I’ve realized that there’s never any need to fail, there is just giving up. So until you’ve given up, you haven’t failed and I’ve applied that ever since.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s a huge trend in transportation as a service. We’re moving towards robotics in transportation. In five years, it’ll be normal for you to call a robo cab and there’ll be nobody driving it. And the same thing for trucking, there’s going to be a lot of that. It seems to me that will be the domain of some very large players because it takes a lot of computer intelligence to make these things work, so big companies are going to dominate this. What’s the opportunity for building a business in this new upcoming transportation as a service? Things like multiple fleets. There’ll be multiple fleets competing for your business and then there should be ways to optimize that to have a kind of search engine that enables you to call up the one you want. That would be an important little independent arbiter for who would service your call, so there’s going to be Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Mercedes or whoever is going to have these services and they will be in competition. There could also be an app that bubbled to the top kind of like Yelp, but for transportation. So, I think there’s something there to be done.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ve done a lot of work to understand that there are some amazing supplements out there, and I personally started investing in one called C60. I now take it, and while not cheap, it is a very powerful antioxidant. We are living in very toxic times, both with pandemics, industrial toxins, and so forth. And the right supplement can clean things out. As inevitably we grow older, we need to pay attention to things that are going to counteract the effects of industrial pollution on our bodies. That is probably the best money I could have spent because I need to be 100% on top of this company for a very long time. It’s essential to pay attention to those things.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We’ve adopted a service called ClickUp very aggressively in the company to track all our task management. It’s proven to be very useful, especially when it comes to managing external vendors and partners. It’s a way to keep track of who, was what, to whom. We experimented with different platforms, but they weren’t quite up to it. And while ClickUp is not perfect, we’re using it to have a mind of the company. I think without good task management, there’s no mind, no memory, and you can’t rely on emails alone to remember everything for you.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I tend to gravitate towards books about technology disruption. I think the one that is the most interesting is called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” The book was written by Clayton Christensen, a brilliant influencer, and it talks about how innovation is usually suppressed when it comes to life inside a large corporation and how it has to escape to get an opportunity. Then when it escapes, it usually destroys the company it came out of, which is really interesting. It’s a very readable book that talks about real-life histories and I strongly recommend it.
What is your favorite quote?
The French writer Saint-Exupéry who wrote “The Little Prince,” had a quote where he said, “Your greatest luxury is human relationships,” and I carried that quote in my wallet in the original French for a long time throughout my teens, and it resonated for me. I think there’s nothing more important than human relations. Everything else is there to enable them to happen. We’ve got to remember that the most important thing you can do is pay attention to other people. Because otherwise, why are we here?
- As a CEO, you’re constantly concerned with things that are coming up that are unexpected.
- The main way to bring ideas to life is to be wide open to what is happening in the real world, both with the company and the economy.
- When I get a problem on my plate, a communication or something to deal with, and I move really fast at the speed of light to resolve it, I can usually get way ahead of other people.
- If you’re entering a new business or space, do some apprenticeship. Don’t just jump in with both feet assuming that you’re going to figure it out.
- “Your greatest luxury is human relationships,.”
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.