As 22-year-old entrepreneurs, Nick Friedman ’10 and Brandon Pollock ’10 started marketing their new business using social networking and the Web. But they also know that to secure clients they need to make old-fashioned connections. Next step? The alumni network. Or, as Friedman put it, “trying to use the warm market and then rely on referrals to generate a fairly large portion of our leads.”
These college seniors are cofounders of Blue Reserve, a bottleless water cooler company that they plan to run full time after graduating in May. In December they received a $5,000 grant from the Libra Future Fund of the Libra Foundation, and in February they received their first order.
The movement away from bottled water has been gaining momentum, as some consumers have become concerned about the environmental impact associated with bottled water. “It’s the energy that’s used for the manufacturing, the bottling, the transportation of these five-gallon water jugs,” said Friedman. “It’s almost silly to think that you’re driving water around, you know?”
With bottleless coolers, which look similar to typical coolers that hold five-gallon bottles, Blue Reserve offers filtered water at about half the cost, according to Pollock. “That whole industry is very wasteful, it’s costly, and it’s inefficient,” said Friedman. “And so we’ve come along and really tried to offer businesses a much more cost-effective, but also an eco-friendly, alternative.”
Blue Reserve is primarily a service company. The Colby students lease the coolers to businesses and contract with a plumber to install them using an existing water line. While they don’t do the installations, they have learned a lot about plumbing and throw around words like saddle valve and splitter. But installation is simple, they say. “It’s exactly the same as if you wanted to put a refrigerator, a coffee brewer, an icemaker into an office or your home,” said Friedman. “There’s no change to the existing infrastructure of the building.”
The device, which has spouts for cold and hot water, filters the same water that flows through the tap and removes chlorine, lead, pesticides, sediment, and odor, according to Blue Reserve literature. The monthly cost is $39.95, which includes free installation and changing filters once a year. The price for bottled water delivery varies and, of course, depends on how much water is consumed, but an office that leases a cooler and goes through six bottles a week can expect to pay somewhere around $120 a month.
While other bottleless water companies do exist, the Colby students believe that they are on the cutting edge. “The nature of the business right now is it’s more of a land grab,” said Friedman. “Our technology and our coolers aren’t very different from our competitors, however businesses do not know that this exists. So it’s about us reaching them first and securing the sale now.” With their first order in hand, they expect to have a unit installed at a law firm in Massachusetts in early March.
So far, interest has been robust, the cofounders say. They receive regular phone calls from people requesting more information. And Erik Hayward, president of the Libra Future Fund, understands why. In offering Blue Reserve a grant, the organization saw a company that can be successful, sustainable, and that has potential for growth and adding jobs in Maine. “We also look for teams—and I think this was evident in Blue Reserve—who have done their research, who understand their market, and who have what we think is a competitive product,” Hayward said. “In the case of Blue Reserve there’s another positive externality, where they are reducing the environmental footprint of these companies they are serving.”
Friedman, an economics and philosophy double major, and Pollock, an economics major with minors in administrative science and philosophy, say that the resources at Colby, both in and out of the classroom, have made this possible. “I’d say that studying economics and, actually, studying philosophy as well, really gives you a more theoretical framework of how to conceptualize the interactions that need to take place when starting a business,” said Friedman.
The two have also made the project an independent study, under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Administrative Science Linwood Downs, and they have tapped the resources of the Career Center. “I feel like there’s a lack of knowledge in the student body of how many resources Colby really has to help you do these things,” said Pollock.
Blue Reserve and its cofounders are not the only Colby students interested in starting a business. “We do have a number of Colby students who visit my office who are interested in entrepreneurship,” said Career Center Director Roger Woolsey. He is currently working on starting an entrepreneurship program that will bring alumni and local businesspeople to campus, “basically informing students and teaching students the principles of entrepreneurship and how to plan for their business prospectus,” he said. “My vision is that once we launch something this would be for students who want to create businesses in the state of Maine.”
That’s exactly what the Blue Reserve founders plan to do, working from Colby this semester and in Portland after graduating. “We were looking on the alum network and there are many, many—I mean we’re talking hundreds if not thousands of—alums who are still in Maine,” said Friedman.
They can expect a call.