by David Schwartz, founder and president of The Water Scrooge
Not long ago, I became fascinated with Israeli water conservation techniques. I knew the green industry was the next big thing, and I was excited to make my mark. Unfortunately, I had a serious problem: I worked in the jewelry business. I probably knew less about water conservation processes than the average person at the bus stop.
I didn’t let that deter me, however. I knew that if I wanted to change industries, I’d need to understand the market. I didn’t even know what my product might be or who my competition was, but I knew I had to start somewhere.
Rather than wishing that I’d made a different decision years ago, I started asking questions. I read books and articles. I looked for environmental challenges the industry seeks to solve, and I thought about what the market lacked that I could provide. My studies showed me the immensity of the global water waste problem, and as I delved further, I discovered that multiperson residency buildings (like hotels and apartments) were one of the biggest culprits of waste.
The source of this waste? Showers.
When I spoke to landlords about the problem, they told me they’d tried to curb costs but had little success because they couldn’t control residents’ behaviors behind closed doors. I recognized any solution that depended on residents would be ineffective, so I decided to take the process back a step.
By designing a tamper-proof, behind-the-wall flow limiter, I managed to cut down on waste dramatically without letting users know they were using less water and, more importantly, by taking the decision to cut back out of their hands.
Now, I’m making a difference for both the environment and for property managers worldwide. And I didn’t have to return to school or rely on expensive consultants to make the switch; I simply had to throw myself fully into the problem and dedicate myself to finding its solution.
If you want to change industries, know that it isn’t easy — but it is possible. Follow these simple steps to get started on what could be one of the most rewarding changes of your life:
1. Read, read, read.
Read anything and everything about the industry you want to enter. For instance, before I began looking into the water conservation industry, I had no idea that Americans use 1.2 trillion gallons per year showering. That’s enough water to supply the states of New York and New Jersey.
Ask yourself some essential questions about the industry to guide your research: What are the consumer problems everyone is trying to solve? What price are consumers willing to pay to address these issues? Where do the current offerings fall short?
Even now, as an established force in my industry, I sometimes come across problems that I lack the skills to solve. Self-education is an ongoing process, so I’m constantly researching government regulations, water infrastructure, the market effects of droughts, and new flow-limiting concepts.
2. Scope out the competition.
Once you know the problem, identify who is trying to fix it and how that person is going about it. LinkedIn is your friend here — you can learn about competitors’ networks, company histories, and even gain insights into how they wound up in the industry. Read competitors’ company blogs; you might get lucky and stumble on a post explaining their business methodologies or product design.
Particularly if you’re switching into an industry focused around e-commerce, Alexa can help. Type in a competitor’s URL to view traffic rankings, search analytics, load times for the site, audience insights, and more.
3. Get hands-on experience.
Even more than you need industry knowledge, you need to learn how to put it into practice. When I first started, I didn’t just speak to property managers and contractors about my product and vision — I visited more than 5,000 apartments and, to date, have probably seen every shower fixture on the market today. I installed the first 2,000 units myself to learn about installation procedures and the product’s real-world performance.
Learning a new industry is a difficult process, but don’t despair — expertise comes with time, and your background has given you a perspective different from others in the industry. So if you want to switch industries, then be brave — the only person holding you back is yourself.
David Schwartz is the founder and president of Lynbrook, N.Y.-based The Water Scrooge, which offers maintenance-free, tamper-proof water conservation tools to landlords and homeowners.