Flush with Success

Switzerland’s Teo Borschberg and Bel­gium’s Pierre Rous­seaux are busy sav­ing the world — one urinal at a time.

Ever rushed to the gents at M1NT, Diva or Café des Stagi­aires, unzipped your pants and looked down to see videos of ring girls in bikinis, or perhaps a com­mercial for personal driver app Uber or Cristiano Ronaldo’s CR7 underpants?

If so, you’ve also played your part in helping to conserve water supplies, and you can thank Borschberg and his business partner for the free entertainment.

The two entrepreneurs have drafted an environmentally friendly, and potentially very lucrative, business model that they claim will save Shanghai 100 million liters of water a year by mid-2015. And this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“We basically sponsor water­less urinals for landlords, and in exchange get the right to adver­tise in their washrooms,” says Borschberg, an acolyte of John Mackay and Raj Sisodia’s book Conscious Capitalism. He even reserves free ad space for NGOs.

In a country where per-cap-capita water resources are around 25 percent of the global average, such “conscious” or “impact” entrepreneurship is a step in the right direction.

The company now focuses on bars, clubs and restaurants, targeting the top 10 percent of earners/consumers with tailor-made campaigns. “Most guys spend an average of 55 seconds at the urinal and there’s nothing for them to look at apart from our screens, so it’s the best exposure for outdoor advertising,” claims Borschberg.

The people who sell space on the side of Shanghai’s city buses may, however, beg to differ.

Flush with Success - Good Media

GOING WITH THE FLOW: Selling ad space on waterless urinals is proving a win-win model for Teo Borschberg (right), his business partner and their clients. (provided to Shanghai Star)

There are also constraints. Certain designer brands are not going to pay to have potential customers urinate over images of their $10,000 handbags, but more adventurous brands may appreciate the potty humor this platform offers.

“You can be super creative with toilet ads,” says Borschberg, who also serves as a creative head during the preliminary stages of the campaigns.

“For example, we could run an ad for a pair of shoes and end it with ‘What’s your size?’, which is kind of funny as the guy watching has his pants unzipped.”

The 25-year-old Turkish-Swiss, who speaks four languages, has lived in China for three years. He set up Good Media Shanghai early last year and began implementing the “100 Million Campaign” in May 2013.

Growth is exponential: The company had 30 urinals installed by June, but the network has since grown to 100. In the last 18 months, these have saved a cumulative 7.5 million liters of water. The current network can save twice as much in the space of a year.

They need 650 urinals to reach their goal, which they say should happen next summer.

“Urinals use 150,000 liters of water a year on average, anywhere in the world,” says Borschberg, who studied at Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne. “In a busy club, this can go up to 300,000 liters. We measured it at M1NT and that’s how much it was recording there, before we changed it.”

The five Falcon urinals they installed will save the private members’ club at least 750,000 liters a year. While the shareholders won’t care much about the financial benefits, at least they are doing something good for Mother Nature, and mother China.

“We realized that water is super cheap in China. When I last checked, one cubic meter(1,000 liters) cost 3.45 yuan,” says Borschberg.

“It’s so cheap that it makes it hard for green-friendly technologies to be implemented and be financially sound, so we had to find a model that worked for everyone.”

His original idea was somewhat different. Inspired by Sanifair, which has been providing clean public toilets on Germany’s autobahns for the last decade, he wanted to adopt a similar blueprint and bring it over.

In only took him a few days’ navigating Beijing’s public lavatories to realize there was a demand. According to the concept, people pay a small user fee to cover service and maintenance, for example 1 yuan, and receive a voucher worth the same amount that can be redeemed at any of the company’s partner firms, usually neighboring shops.

“Initially I thought it would be possible to work on this project with the government, but I soon hit a wall,” he says. “That’s when I turned to the private sector and began brainstorming new ways to make this idea work.”

Mutual friends introduced him to Rousseaux and together they co-founded Good Media Shanghai. Their first, and to date only, project has run 30 advertising campaigns. Most run for a month.

They plan to offer different packages as they expand, stratifying into bars, restaurants or KTVs depending on the client’s desired demographic. Because their network is still small, most clients use the whole thing.

They install the urinals for free and help with maintenance costs if needed.

“We’ve only had one piping problem so far. The good thing about waterless urinals is they don’t tend to leak,” quips Borschberg.

He follows three golden rules to foster long-term relationships with his “partners”: Respect Chinese advertising laws, don’t advertise the partner’s direct competitors, and extend the same courtesy to its contracted suppliers.

After the company has conquered China’s fi nancial capital it plans to target Beijing next year and other tier-one cities. “It’s like a happy wheel,” says Borschberg. “More urinals means more advertising space to sell, which means we can afford to buy more urinals, which save more water.”

This article was originally published in “Shanghai Star” edition (October 15-21, 2014) of China Daily.