Turkey’s Sukolay taps water delivery for disruption

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Turkey is a country of plastic bottles - in cafes, on the street, and in the home.

Although many parts of Turkey do generally have clean water, it’s rarely drunk because of its heavy chlorination. Instead, millions of people rely on bottled water, putting their thirst at the mercy of water vendors.

Eren Erdem turned that inconvenience into opportunity with the mobile app Sukolay ('water easy' in Turkish), which he cofounded in July 2015.

Although Turkey has advanced rapidly in other technologies, Erdem tells Wamda there’s been no changes around water delivery solutions for 15 years. Customers call the vendor, order to their address, and wait for delivery. Although it’s a routine purchase, there’s no way to schedule orders or easily coordinate deliveries. Without an app like Sukolay, Erdem says, there was no easy way to compare prices or delivery hours.

Like many startups, it was the founders’ need for a solution that sparked the idea for Sukolay.

The Sukolay app. (Images via Sukolay)

Erdem worked late, long past water delivery hours.

“Once when I got back home there was no water, and I had to drink [boiled tap water] from the kettle,” he said. Standing around waiting for water to boil, along with a host of other inconveniences, demonstrated the need for an app.

Unlike other delivery services, water is not an optional purchase - it’s a necessity. With ordering food online “you have alternatives. You can go to the restaurant and you can cook at home. [But] you can’t make water at home.”

Erdem at Etohum’s Entrepreneurship Summit 2016 in Istanbul.

Sukolay’s benefits reach more than just the consumers - it’s a boon to the vendors as well.   Erdem says other competitors, like the app BiSu, just show average prices and working hours and transmit orders by phone call. With Sukolay, “We cooperate with exact vendors. So you see the right prices, right promotions, right products, right working hours that vendors have.

"When the vendors work with other companies, they have to have a computer with an internet connection to confirm the orders,” Erdem adds.

But sitting in front of a computer all day isn’t possible for mobile water delivery. Sukolay’s app allows for much more flexible ordering, where the vendor and customer can coordinate delivery time either through the smartphone app or by SMS. The app also allows them to advertise discounts more efficiently than dumping fliers throughout a neighborhood.

So, Erdem says, “there is no communication problem between customer and the vendor”. In return, Sukolay takes a 10 percent sales commission.
Cofounder Eren Erdem with some of Sukolay’s vendors.

That easy communication has brought in around 1,000 water vendors and more than 50,000 users. Unlike many Turkish startups, their market extends outside of major cities like Istanbul and Ankara; they’ve also expanded into smaller cities along Turkey’s coasts.

All of this has been done with a team of five.

"Since our users and vendors can directly communicate, even if we grow ten times bigger than now, we will not need a lot of employees,” Erdem said.

Sukolay has also drawn investment from one of the founders of Evidea, a popular online furniture store in Turkey.

In the future, Erdem plans to offer beverages like juice and soda through Sukolay, and hopes to streamline the delivery process even further.

“The best direction that the water ordering system could go is to a predictable subscription order. The system could take the payment automatically from your credit card, so we can remove even the ordering part.”

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