My View of Clean TeQ

Waste water treatment is simply an industry that you don’t think about very often.  Likely because it can seem boring, and its not terribly profitable.  Yet, it’s been an incredibly important one ever since it got started.  The industry today has advanced greatly, with technology still being improved, and with plenty of areas still underserviced.  Despite being such an important resource, and having been around so long, the market for water still isn’t saturated.  Developing countries still have a great need for it, as does any country with significant amounts of manufacturing or mining, and developed countries are often looking to upgrade.

The more I learn about it, the more I am reminded of Michael Burry.  He was one of the few to see the financial crisis coming, and afterward, when people inevitably came asking for more amazing predictions, he told them that he was centering his focus on water.  Demand for water grows as fast as the world’s population does, and the world’s population is growing faster than ever, while global warming has lead to increased droughts at the same time.  Thus, it seems that the waste water treatment industry will only become more important in the future, as well as more profitable, but likely for grave reasons.

Clean TeQ’s greatest strength is that of its new technologies.  The methods they have pioneered (or bought the rights to) are often more efficient, more effective, and greener than past ones.  Unfortunately, this also one of their greatest weaknesses: Newer technologies may show these superior qualities in the lab or a few small-scale examples, but without a proven track record on a larger scale, many larger potential clients are unwilling to take the risk on something new.  This is compounded by the fact that Clean TeQ is a very small company, with only 25 full time employees.  With less of a track record, and less manpower to make things happen, it can be easy for clients to worry that they won’t deliver.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for Clean TeQ right now is China.  The government’s focus on reducing pollution has made the country an ideal market for waste water treatment, with no shortage of customers looking to meet new regulations.  Again, though, this also comes with a downside.  While operating in China, Clean TeQ is very concerned with protecting its IP.  This is of course a common issue in China, but no less serious for its prevalence.

I had a somewhat underwhelming but impactful experience this past week.  Usually, I get breakfast at the same street food stand every workday, because it’s cheap, delicious, and the cook knows me now.   His stand was missing one morning, so I went to another.  I had only been here once before and couldn’t remember if the price was 6 or 7 RMB.  I tried to ask the cook using the Chinese hand signals for numbers, but I think I just confused her.  I decided it was best to just give her 7 and see what happened.  She counted the bills, looked and me, and said something in Chinese.  Now it was mine turn to be confused.  She didn’t hand me any change, so I must not have overpaid.  But whatever she had said didn’t seem to be ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’ (at least as far as I knew), so perhaps I owed more.  Unsure, I tried to hand her more bills, but she neither accepted them or waived them away. She just said something else I couldn’t understand.  I remained confused until the man behind me in line gave me a friendly smile and simply said “OK, OK, OK.”  At this I assumed that 7 must have been the right price, and so I moved off, to no consequence.

This was the most impactful of a several situations in which I’ve realized just how little language is needed to communicate in many situations.  The word ‘okay’ is particularly helpful in these times.  I’m reminded of an old book I once read, in which use of the word ‘okay’ has been banned (for reasons I won’t get into).  The main character however, likes to say it anyways, because she believes that perhaps the reason it was banned is because the word has a secret power to make things okay.  While that did not end up being the case for her, it often seems to be in China.

‘Okay’ seems to be one of the most common words English words that Chinese people know if they don’t speak English (right behind “hello”).  This is very helpful since English allows it to be used in so many situations, whether it’s acceptance (“Okay.”), excitement (“Okay!”), confusion (“Okay…?”), or clearing up confusion (“Okay?”).  It always impresses me how little language both sides can get by on.  We don’t need a common language to communicate, just to communicate in detail.  The rest of the time, just a few words and hand gestures are okay.

Nick 7 take 3

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