How One Entrepreneur Is Bringing About Global Change By Solving A Local Problem
There’s no escaping the fact that there is a certain underlying degree of elitism in entrepreneurship.
After all, most entrepreneurs want to solve big problems, disrupt age-old processes, and as Steve Jobs put it, put a dent in the universe.
We tend to think globally and then try to apply our ideas locally. While this makes for a catchy slogan, it’s often easier said than done.
In fact, I’ve found that the opposite is often true. Organic ideas that solve a local problem often are the most impactful when applied at scale.
By thinking locally and then scaling globally, entrepreneurs can create a thriving business and still make a splash on the global stage.
No one I’ve met embodies this more than a Colorado-based entrepreneur Lani Dolifka. You might not have heard of her, but chances are you’ve come across her business.
Lani is the co-founder and CEO of Watermill Express, the largest drive-up pure drinking water and ice provider in the nation. While the economics of the business are impressive, Lani has also been able to make a splash (no pun intended) on the global stage through her advocacy work.
Entrepreneur, heal thyself
If I’ve learned anything during my time as an entrepreneur, it’s that trying to solve a problem you haven’t experienced first hand is far more difficult than solving a problem you do know.
For example, when I first launched BodeTree, I was attempting to make it easier for small business owners to analyze their finances. It was a problem that I thought others experienced, but to be honest, I had never struggled with it firsthand.
Lani, on the other hand, developed the concept for Watermill Express as a direct response to problems she faced in her own backyard.
She lived in Colorado, near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where 600 documented chemicals were discovered in the local groundwater.
The Watermill story began in the mid-80’s when she and her husband were young newlyweds. Money was tight, and Lani developed a habit of carefully reviewing every bill that came through her hands.
One day, while reviewing her city water bill, she noticed a warning printed on the back of the invoice. It stated that pregnant women or children under six years of age should not drink city water.
It was a mind-bending moment for the young newlywed. Here she was, paying a bill for water that was of questionable quality and safety.
Rather than complain or take on the local government, Lani, her husband, a family member and a close friend decided to solve the problem themselves. Through research, trial and error, and pure determination, they developed a revolutionary water purification unit that could provide clean drinking water at an affordable rate.
According to Lani, “If you see something that needs to be fixed, fix it yourself. Don’t wait for others to take action.”
A pragmatic approach to scale
Shortly after the first units were developed and installed, the Dolifkas heard from a family friend in South Texas that their community was also experiencing water quality problems.
In response, they built another unit, loaded it onto a trailer, and drove it down to Texas. The community embraced the concept wholeheartedly, leading Lani to realize that the need for safe, affordable drinking water was an issue throughout the country.
As young entrepreneurs, Lani and her husband didn’t have the capital or resources to continue expanding the business on their own. The sought out partners, investors, and joint ventures to start expanding into different markets.
The real breakthrough, however, came when they decided to franchise the concept.