Keri Waters on Water Conservation, Long Showers, and the Tight-Knit Tech Community in Santa CruzKeri Waters on Water Conservation, Long Showers, and the Tight-Knit Tech Community in Santa Cruz
Keri Waters, CEO and co-founder of Buoy Labs, Inc. believes that long showers and water conservation aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, long showers were the inspiration for creating Buoy—well, that and California’s water crisis. In case you didn’t hear all the buzz after this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Buoy is a smart home water device that helps you track your water use, detect leaks, and ultimately save water without forgoing showers, pools, or even a lush, green lawn.
We asked Waters to give us her take on water conservation, Santa Cruz tech, and why she’s good friends with Inboard founder Ryan Evans yet doesn’t ride an electric skateboard to work.
Santa Cruz Works: What’s the most compelling reason a homeowner should invest in a Buoy?
Keri Waters: I believe everybody would benefit from having a Buoy, of course. The biggest reason is we help you prevent damage to your home from catastrophic leaks and get rid of the 10% of water that you’re wasting to little leaks around the house. This is a big deal when water bills are going up as fast as they are.
Can you really still take long showers and conserve water?
That is totally true. In fact, honestly, that’s the real reason that I started this company. I like a long shower. It’s a small pleasure I allow myself in the day. I learned through this journey that I’m not alone on that.
I made some choices several years ago trying to be more water efficient. I put in artificial turf in the backyard where the kids' play area was; I have raised beds for my garden in the back; I don’t have a lot of irrigation. So I thought I was doing pretty well but I wasn’t sure and during the drought, I just felt really bad. I felt really bad about my showers. I didn’t really know exactly how I was doing and that bothered me.
I’m used to being on top of things in my life. I know what’s going on in my finances, for instance, but I didn’t have that information about my water use. So when I got a Buoy what I learned was that I’m actually doing really great so I’ve been able to ditch the anxiety about that.
Buoy collaborated with Inboard, a local electric skateboard company, to create a compact, waterproof battery that holds 8 months worth of power and charges in just two hours. That’s pretty impressive. How did this partnership come about?
This is one of the greatest things about the tech ecosystem here in Santa Cruz: It’s pretty tight-knit; we’re all good friends. I talk to Ryan [founder of Inboard] just about every day and I was sharing some of the challenges we were having around the battery. Our beta device had to be plugged in and we discovered that a lot of our installations were outside so most people didn’t have a convenient power outlet nearby. We began thinking, this is going to be a big hurdle for people and a big unexpected expense. And so we started looking at putting a battery in the Buoy.
My husband and I own an Inboard and I admired what they’d done with their swappable battery. So, I asked Ryan how hard it would be to do something similar for Buoy. He said that it wouldn’t be hard for them at all. They have great battery experts on staff, including Kenyon Kluge who is their VP of engineering, and we were able to work out a deal with them where we paid them to design a battery for us. It's fantastic.
How did you and Ryan meet?
I think we met at one of Doug’s New Tech Meetups. I’m certain that Doug Erickson connected us because he connects everybody. Doug kept saying, ‘You really need to meet these guys [from Inboard]. They have great energy; you’ll love what they’re doing. There’s a lot of overlap.’
I was thinking, on the surface, how much overlap is there between what we’re doing except that it’s both hardware? And then I met them, and of course, we got along swimmingly. It’s been great. They’re now good friends of ours.
Have you ever ridden an Inboard skateboard?
I have many fine qualities, but I’m pretty clumsy. My husband, on the other hand, is great on the M1. He uses it to commute. In fact, he and Doug Erickson commute together to the city and they work at opposite ends of Market Street. Whichever one of them drives parks the car where he works, and the other one rides the M1 to the office.
I’m also grateful to be friends with Kyle Doerksen [CEO] over at OneWheel. Kyle’s a great resource to call on with questions as we’re growing. He’s such an accomplished product designer and has really done amazing things with scaling his company. All the best products come from Santa Cruz.
Your collaboration with Ryan is just one example of the supportive tech environment that exists here in Santa Cruz. Why do you think the tech culture is so different here than in Silicon Valley?
I think there are a couple of really important reasons for that. One is that people who live in Santa Cruz have all chosen to live here. Nobody just ends up here. You live here because you love it.
I’ve never met anyone in Santa Cruz who wasn’t a little bit of an iconoclast. You know, a little bit of a free thinker. And I also think that because we live in a community that’s balanced—there’s a balance of industries and a balance of interests—I think that shows in the products and the companies we build. There’s a creative spark here that’s a little bit different and the people embody that.
The fact that we are a little bit more of a small pond than San Francisco or Silicon Valley also means that we know each other and are able to form these deep friendships.
At the Titans of Tech event, you said you care about three things: Your family, Buoy Labs, and Santa Cruz. Can you talk a little bit about why you believe Santa Cruz is ‘the best place to build a company?’
I myself was a military brat. I grew up all over the country on military bases. I loved that lifestyle: getting to seeing so many places in the country, the camaraderie that came from being part of that tribe. The flip side of that was I didn’t have any experience putting down deep roots in any one place.
My husband and I moved here initially because he knew the area. I love this community and the access to the outdoors. I love going hiking, I love that the University is here and I love the people; the mad geniuses that live here are great. I think it’s such a great opportunity for my kids to get to grow up in a place that’s really flourishing and thriving.
We, of course, have challenges like all communities do, but everyone you talk to loves living in Santa Cruz for lots of reasons. And generally, they’re all working on something interesting. Some of these things are crazy but everybody’s got passion and I can’t think of a better environment for my kids.
To bring this back to our company, most of the people that work at Buoy have school-age kids. We’re not the kind of place where everyone is here at 10 pm at night because people have other things going on in their lives. People leave the office at a reasonable hour and then are home with their families.
Part of that is because we’re here in Santa Cruz. We don’t feel beholden to fitting the mold of what a Silicon Valley startup looks like.
What's one thing you wish more people knew about water conservation?
I wish that more people knew that it’s not as gloom and doom as it might appear. When you look at the big picture and you run the numbers, small changes make a huge difference and it’s possible for us to keep having a great way of life even in a changing world.
Santa Cruz tech companies: Join Santa Cruz Works at santacruzworks.org/membership
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Molly (Lautamo) Ressler is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at mollylautamo.com.