Angered by the Rise of the ‘Raw Water’ Startup? Don’t Be.
My, you could hear the howls as the headlines flooded social media platforms. “‘Raw water’ start-ups are cashing in on Silicon Valley’s controversial craze,” read one news site. “Meet ‘raw’ water—ludicrously priced unfiltered water with random bacteria,” read another. And I can’t forget this gem: “Silicon Valley elites are obsessed with dangerous, unfiltered water—and it reveals a hidden economic inequality.” Ah, the San Francisco Bay Area, land of hidden economic inequality.
The dust has hardly settled on abandoned Juicero machines, yet already the world has moved on to the latest tech lifestyle outrage: unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, sold at upwards of $20 a gallon. A recent report by Nellie Bowles in the New York Times noted a rise in untreated water startups—backed by venture capital, naturally—on both U.S. coasts as American consumers spend their hard-earned cash on H2O that is, to paraphrase one person in the story, simply more refreshing. It’s the real thing™!
Fast appear the pitchforks for Silicon Valley. Damn the American consumer who dares to pay for such frivolities, never mind the fact that we spend more than $10 billion a year on bottles of stuff that otherwise flows freely from our taps—and one of the most popular brands ships its product in from a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. Damn the investors for making money on such lunacy, damn the paranoiacs who think the added fluoride in our public water systems is a mind-control drug, damn the Times for running a massive photo of a startup founder who thinks water “expires” and is described as “sitting naked and cross-legged on a hot spring, his long brown hair flowing over his chest.” (As the Internet says: #GTFOH.)
Here’s the thing: We absolutely should be outraged about water, but not this stuff. We should be outraged that California water utilities use a business model that left them with revenue shortfalls after residents used less water during the drought of 2011-17. We should be furious that it can take thousands of gallons of water to manufacture just one of the chips that power the electronic devices we use. We should be indignant that “water is the new oil” (sorry, data) and yet investment lags other categories, the timeline for this revolution being too long for many investors who otherwise seek to change the world.
Boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it, buy it, or imbibe it raw—it doesn’t matter. The biggest risk factor to Silicon Valley and the world at large isn’t overpriced water. It’s none at all.