“Entrepreneurship to me is about “resilience” — believing in something and having the inner strength to pursue it no matter what the challenge might be.” -- Meena Sankaran,Ketos
Meena Sankaran is the Founder and CEO of Ketos, a startup focused on delivering water intelligence to improve use and delivery of good clean water all over the globe. Her company has built innovative, patented hardware, software fabric — and uses data analytics to help drive its impact all over the world
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Entrepreneurship to me is about “resilience” — believing in something and having the inner strength to pursue it no matter what the challenge might be. Resilience enables one to consistently execute, inspire a team, and keep everyone driven to achieve a common goal with positive energy.
What’s your idea and how is your company changing the landscape?
We are revolutionizing the way businesses and people think about water, as it’s a quintessential resource and our future generations will be impacted by what we do today. By applying technology innovations across science, data analytics, smart connected networks and bringing the best of minds to solve problems for monitoring, on not only how we use water efficiently, but also the impact of the water we drink in our day-day lives can create significant awareness and action.
What sparked the idea behind the company? And how did you decide to take the leap?
Water is literally life, yet it’s something fundamental that’s been taken for granted.
After 15+ years of my experience in DC infrastructure, Cloud Management & Networking, I realized my passion was geared more towards applying technology in ways that would have broad impact and solve, big fundamental problems.
Growing up, I’ve always been acutely aware of very real issues involving water and the lack of real-time water monitoring. To me, it was always evident that there was a very high need for affordable, high precision water monitoring so that civic health could be impacted at large scale. This would allow for global deployments to make safe drinking water possible everywhere.
The research I applied towards understanding all the solutions available from large legacy industries, startups, research institutions, available technologies and market surveys showed the validation of the idea, the gaps in infrastructure, and also clarified the demand in the market. My research confirmed what I presumed and pointed me toward the approach I needed to undertake to make this solution possible and succeed in the vision.
So I invested my savings to bootstrap the company with significant milestones prior to raising my seed fund in 2017.
What’s the biggest experience or lesson gained on the journey so far?
My previous startups taught me a great deal (like what?) which I applied early on as I started KETOS.
- Don’t measure success based on “monetary outcomes”.
- Have clear milestones.
- Plan and execute consistently with priority and focus.
- Remember that success isn’t about the amount of money you’ve raised.
I set out to build a sustainable and profitable business instead of falling for the hype with valuation numbers, market buzz and money raised. We worked on setting a company culture that viewed success in terms of achievements in customer experience, product impact, value-add in the industry, was good for the company as a whole. It made it possible to take everything with stride — the daily simple triumphs for the team as well as, failures and mishaps — but as a whole, this approach was a lot healthier for the company.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
VC rules and funding in general, aren’t the same when it comes to hardware startups and software startups, but the range of variance, combined with being a woman entrepreneur has been quite the learning experience. Most investors aren’t ready for the capital investments that hardware startups need in early stages. It’s more talk and less “walking the talk”, so it’s very important as an entrepreneur to separate the “signal from the noise” and be mindful of your time.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business? What’s your professional and personal mission statement?
Patience, Perseverance, and Persistence. These are my “3 Ps” to live by as we grow the business — I remember to apply the “3 Ps” when I need it the most.
My personal mission statement has always been to “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. I strive to live by this everyday to the best of my capabilities.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
One of the key low moments was watching a woman Sarpanch (chief) in an Indian village speak while tearing up about struggling with the ability to have water for less than 2 hours once every 3 days. This was an inspirational moment for me to transform that to a high by understanding the issue deeper, working with her for the solution and optimizing our product to now deliver the capability to her village to serve water every day for 2 hours.
empty One of the key high moments etched in the minds of everyone on our team, was shipping our 100th unit designed, built and assembled all locally in San Jose, CA as a team and celebrating that instance of packaging around 1am at night while listening to trance music!!!
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
Your company and vision will only be as successful as the people within it. You can pivot strategies, change your products and survive most things if you have a team that truly believes in the mission and embraces it as their own vision. As a leader of the organization, the #1 job I have is to be accountable to my team and truly believe in every person I’m bringing onboard the crew — and empowering them. It isn’t about “you” as the entrepreneur, its about “them” I truly believe it takes a village, an ecosystem of people and supporters to make a vision successful. A CEO might be spearheading it, but we should never forget that a CEO really works for everyone – the customers, partners, the team and investors.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
A strong spiritual foundation and the practice of meditation in my upbringing has provided me several tools to help during the surprising situations that life tends to spring on one. The ability to dig deeper and find that balance in times of crisis and challenges is what has kept me going with the determination to continue the journey that I embarked. But immersing myself in nature is one of my best fixes to feel completely revitalized.
What’s the dream for your company? What has helped/will help you achieve it?
- Increasing water availability globally through active conservation and efficiency.
- Helping people enhance their lives with water and food safety.
- Potentially preventing a disease outbreak with all the predictive intelligence we can build through our solution.
Enable every human to have safe drinking water someday.
What does “success” mean to you?
Success to me is measured in simple things — every moment, every passing day, I aim live life to the fullest — even if it’s the toughest day.
As you build a company, It’s important to remember that it’s a journey and not a specific destination, since everything you encounter is temporary and transient. Take all that comes at you in stride.
Nasdaq's Education Foundation helped launch The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in the fall of 2015. Located in San Francisco, it has quickly become the go to destination for the next generation of risk takers and idea makers who take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.