Founder/s: Matthew Parkinson & Josh Ta̅kao
Wai Comply founders Matthew Parkinson and Josh Ta̅kao aim to deliver a high-quality service to the Drinking-Water sector, to help create safer drinking-water. Michael Botur finds out more.
What problems do you solve and what products or services do you sell?
M – In 2016, Havelock North had the biggest drinking water outbreak of gastroenteritis in the world. 7000-8000 people became sick because of unsafe drinking water conditions. So, that’s the kind of problem we’re trying to solve. We’re trying to make universal access to safe drinking water applicable to both the water suppliers who make and distribute it and the people who drink it.
‘Wai’ is the Maori word for water, and ‘comply’ stands for compliance. We offer advice and, in some cases, consultancy advice in water compliance.
J – Because of the complexity of regulations, we’re interpreters for the councils and water suppliers. We try to help them navigate what they need to do. Often, everyone is trying to do the right thing, but they might not necessarily understand all of their requirements.
M – We’re making it a very literate process to understand what they need to do in a simple way to deliver safe outcomes and improve water quality safety.
Who and where are your target customers?
M – There are two aspects to our service delivery. There are regulators like the Crown. So, that’s auditing against regulation and legislation to ensure that water suppliers meet their legal requirements.
The second is working for water suppliers to navigate compliance by providing them with tools, guidance, and preparing them to understand better what they need to do in the compliance space. Both aspects of our business are very drinking-water-safety eccentric, but they have the same goal: achieving safe drinking water outcomes.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
M –I managed to pinch Josh from one of the local councils because Josh’s background was engineering and water treatment as an operator. Josh and I got on really well, so he gave me an honest heads up that he was thinking of moving on. We got chatting about what that might look like, and it turned into a bigger conversation of a collaboration between the two of us.
We have very different technical backgrounds, which makes for a well-rounded and robust service. We re-envisioned drinking water assessment approaches, where we would specifically aim to utilise drinking water industry expertise as part of assessment audit. We believed this approach would result in stronger assessment outcomes and better delivery models. We received a lot of positive feedback.
We decided there was an opportunity to roll this out on a wider platform and develop services to improve water quality outcomes and directly drive safety across the sector, and Wai Comply was born.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
J – Exceeding our own expectations and proving that Wai Comply as a service/business was viable.
M – Goodwill is something we’re proud of with Wai Comply. When Josh and I started Wai Comply, it was quite challenging to get a foothold and get clients on board as a new business. Josh and I had reputationally built a skillset and relationships across the sector. They were more than happy to entertain conversations, and those conversations led to trust. They got us into the door to deliver services. We’ve maintained a high level of trust and credibility in that process, which reflects in our brand as well.
J – Matt and I never expected to start a business and go down this route. It’s probably fair to say we were going to be lifer public servants. We worked for public organisations for a long time. I think for two young guys who didn’t know much about business, we can pat ourselves on the back. We’ve done a lot of growth and a lot of learning on that side of the business. We also have many good people around us that we could talk to and seek guidance from, even before we registered the company.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
M – Initially, our marketing approach has been on several tiers, mainly in performance and word of mouth. The water sector in New Zealand is very small, so that word-of-mouth, trust, and credibility is a huge quotient to our marketability.
We also contribute to professional working groups in New Zealand, working for the Crown, and setting up legislation, working across standards and policies. We’re internationally known as a small company in New Zealand with a good profile.
We promote our professional expertise and experiences through articles, blogs, and white papers. We’re trying to be across research, scientific papers, and the international community for drinking water. It demonstrates that we do have professional expertise that is worth listening to.
In this day and age, getting your brand out there is relatively easy. But make sure when you’re getting your brand out there, you have the backing behind it to solidify what the brand is about and where you want to direct it.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
J – For us, it’s scaling ourselves and growing sustainably. The demand for our services has increased so quickly that it’s exceeded our expectations and our planning. So, trying to keep up with that has been quite a difficult task. At the start, we were just the two of us, and we both have young families and still need to be there for them. Not wanting to work massive, massive weeks was a bit of a struggle.
There’s not a huge amount of people to draw from as well. So, we’ve tried to get creative with what types of industries might be able to transition to ours, and then we can train them in our way and bridge that gap. That’s probably one of the biggest things we’re trying to resolve.
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
M – Be brave and take calculated risks. There are two types of risks out there. There are uncalculated risks where you haven’t done your due diligence, background, market research, and understanding of the market’s gaps and what you can bring to it.
Then there are calculated risks, so use due diligence, research, and background. Have devil’s advocates, conversations, and people around you can trust to help navigate those discussions. It takes a big drive to move away from relatively secure employment situations. But, use that to drive to take a risk.
It helped to speak through all these things with Josh. We did our homework well before starting Wai Comply. Entrepreneurship is a big step for a lot of people. So, it’s all about calculated risks and applying it through all the work you do.