Marianna “Yana” DeMyer, founder and CEO of Roving Blue Inc., may come from a tiny community in Oconto County, but she’s got huge ideas. The Lena entrepreneur launched her portable water purification company in 2012 when an idea she couldn’t let go presented itself. She’s gone on to offer multiple products, including the O-Pen pocket water purifier and the soon-to-be-available GO3, which fastens to a water bottle to deliver ozonated water. She talked with Insight about the entrepreneurial process and how even though it’s challenging at times, she wouldn’t choose any other path.
How did you become interested in developing a portable water purification system that uses ozone?
Yana DeMyer: I was introduced to it when I had another company responsible for raising money for entrepreneurs. I was completely captivated by it and its potential impact on so many industries. The company that we were going to help was funded by another group and eventually went out of business, but I couldn’t let it go. I kept the contacts that I had made during that time, and I had recently sold another business I had at the time. I was really interested in pursuing something that I could be passionate about. This felt very inventive, and I’ve always thought of myself as an inventor, but I never did anything with my ideas. I wanted to be able to do something with the best idea I ever had.
Why are your products so timely and needed right now? Probably the biggest movement that I’m most excited about is the no-more-plastic movement. Our technology has a direct bearing on what people can choose to do when they choose to drink water. They don’t have to reach for a plastic water bottle. They can fill their bottle at any tap and know with full confidence that they can drink that water. Because our products utilize no other chemicals but the water itself and because our sanitizing agent, ozone, reverts to oxygen … it’s a fantastic solution for so many things, not just drinking water but for industries that have fluids going through tubes. Imagine beer or dairy lines needing to be cleaned. They have to be shut down to be cleaned. If they had our systems online, they could reduce those cleanings tenfold. Another move, of course, is to save water. Especially out in California where water is very much an issue, our systems will reduce water use too.
How have you gone about marketing your products? Being a small company with a small advertising budget, we have definitely first focused on social media. We have a Facebook page, we have Twitter, we have LinkedIn, and we regularly post content. When people visit us, every now and then they’ll like us, and we’re building our stable of followers. We invite people who buy our product to post their experience with it. We’re just going to be coming out with a new series called “Where in the World is Roving Blue?” We want to encourage (people to post) pictures from far-flung places, and they would get a gift certificate if we use the photos. We also use brand ambassadors.
How do you handle product development? It’s three people: me, myself and I. The original product, the O-Pen, was presented to me by the inventor, and we were the ones that funded its development, so I didn’t come up with that one. But I did come up with our new product, our water bottle. It’s going to be called GO3.
You’ve taken advantage of some available export assistance, including WMEP’s ExporTech and the WEDC’s Global Trade Ventures. We’ve done ExporTech twice, and we’ve done several trade ventures. We did Japan, South Korea, India and the Middle East. You pay for your plane ticket, but they arrange all the meetings. If you’re in a country where language is a barrier, they
give you an interpreter. They give you a driver. They prearrange the business meetings. Even tiny companies like us should take advantage of it because it’s the best deal out there.
Once you pass ExporTech, you qualify for IMAG — International Market Access Grant — $25,000 a year for things such as internationalizing your website. If you go to Roving Blue, you’ll see we have it in Chinese, Korean, Japanese. It’s visible in China on the other side of the Great Firewall. Anybody that’s making anything, the biggest market is not actually in the United States. The biggest market is overseas. They’re far outgrowing us.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in launching a startup? Challenge No. 1 is always raising money. We were very lucky that the technology really sells itself. We’ve been able to raise the money that we’ve needed to this point. We’re very blessed with a current angel investor relationship that’s 100 percent behind what we do.
The bigger problem is awareness of our technology. Our best future customers don’t know that they want our technology. We can make inroads anywhere from textiles and paper to dairy, food and beverage, food processing, and medical and dental. We’re in the process right now with our Fast Forward participation of trying to define the best way forward and which industries we should focus on now.
What do you see for the future?My goal is to work with beverage manufacturing equipment, like a beer company or something, so we can put systems in restaurants that would allow them to program when they want their lines cleaned and report when it’s done. It would be a service, not an equipment sale. Businesses would pay a monthly fee. That’s one part of the business that I wanted to develop — something that isn’t just a one-time sale. We need industry partners. We’ve got the technology, but we don’t want to invent the wheel. We want to make your wheel better.