How SimpleLab Turned an Arsenic Removal Failure into a Lab Logistics Success

In the challenging yet ever-evolving world of water tech startups, sometimes what seems like a failure can pivot into a tremendous success story! Such is the tale of SimpleLab, who initially embarked on a mission to remove arsenic from drinking water, only to discover their true calling in revolutionizing lab logistics. Let’s explore it:

with 🎙️ Johnny Pujol – CEO & Co-Founder of SimpleLab & TapScore

Apple PodcastsSpotifyDeezerStitcherGoogle PodcastsPodcast AddictPocketCastsCastBoxOvercastCastroPodtail


🔗 SimpleLab’s Website

🔗 TapScore’s Website

🔗 Come say Hi to Johnny on LinkedIn

🔗 My conversation with one of Johnny’s Investor, John Robinson

🔗 The Rethinking Water Conference in New York (and my coverage of the Water Crisis in America)

🔗 My conversation with Megan Glover from 120Water

(don't) Waste Water Logo

is on Linkedin ➡️

Teaser – SimpleLab – TapScore

Full Video:

From Arsenic to Insights

The journey began with a technological attempt at removing arsenic, a prevalent and dangerous pollutant. Johnny Pujol, the driving force behind SimpleLab, started with a technology developed during his time at Berkeley, which had been effective in Southeast Asia. However, trying to implement this in the U.S. presented unexpected challenges and high costs, leading to disappointing results in practical applications.

Despite these initial setbacks, the process uncovered a critical gap in the market—not in removing arsenic, but in testing water for various contaminants. As Johnny explained in this week’s interview, the realization came during a conversation with his father. They recognized that the real opportunity lay not in the arsenic removal itself but in responding to a growing demand from individuals and small towns wanting to understand what was in their water.

Pivoting to Meet Demand

This pivot was not just a shift in product but a complete transformation in business model and target audience. SimpleLab moved away from a heavy engineering solution to a user-friendly, consumer-oriented service. They started with a simple Shopify store and basic Google ads to reach out to individuals directly, offering water testing kits that could easily be used at home.

This new direction quickly proved to be the right choice. The consumer demand for these testing kits was high, and the company’s straightforward, transparent approach to selling them turned a struggling startup into a burgeoning business. People not only bought the kits but shared their positive experiences, driving even more traffic and sales through word-of-mouth.

Leveraging Consumer Focus for B2B Success

The insights gained from focusing on the consumer market provided another unexpected benefit: they translated well into the business-to-business (B2B) sector. SimpleLab discovered that the clarity and simplicity that made their kits a hit with consumers were equally appealing to businesses. This led to the development of SimpleLab’s B2B arm, where they applied their consumer-tested approaches to serve larger clients like utilities and engineering firms.

Streamlining Complex Processes

One of SimpleLab’s significant achievements has been simplifying the traditionally complex process of water testing. They have streamlined the collection, testing, and analysis phases, making it easier for anyone, regardless of their technical expertise, to order test kits and understand their water quality.

Moreover, SimpleLab has built a robust network of labs and introduced software that helps match customers with the best labs for their specific tests. This not only saves time and money but also ensures that results are reliable and actionable.

Continuous Innovation and Customer Focus

The journey from an arsenic removal experiment to a leading lab logistics platform exemplifies the power of adaptability and customer focus in entrepreneurship. By continuously listening to their customers and innovating based on real needs, SimpleLab has not only created a successful business model but also significantly impacted public health and safety.

Their approach to problem-solving—seeing failure not as a setback but as an opportunity to pivot and innovate—has been a crucial factor in their success. This mindset, coupled with a commitment to making water testing accessible and understandable, has set SimpleLab apart in the environmental and public health landscape.

Looking Ahead

As SimpleLab continues to expand, both in the U.S. and internationally, they carry forward the lessons learned from their early challenges. They remain focused on making water testing easy, understandable, and accessible to all, proving that even a failed attempt at one solution can lead to significant success in another, entirely unexpected area.

My Full Conversation with Johnny Pujol on Lab Testing made Easy

These are computer-generated, so expect some typos 🙂

Download my Latest Book - for Free!

Antoine Walter: Hi, Johnny. Welcome to the show.

Johnny Pujol: Hi, Anthony. Thanks for having me.

Antoine Walter: I’m pumped up about that one.

When I was looking up SimpleLab and Tapscore, I wondered what was the first challenge that you wanted to solve? Was it the B2B part where utilities want to test their water? Or was it the B2C part where customers want to test their water? What’s The number one, if you have to pick just one,

Johnny Pujol: it started with the consumer, the customer, the person at home.

Since the beginning, there was Tapscore. There were people at home who wanted to know what was in their drinking water. They had questions, concerns. We started really focused on the individual, mom or dad, somebody who didn’t have a background, a professional background in either analytical chemistry or in toxicology or water quality or water at all.

That was our first customer.

Antoine Walter: But is it tricky to have these two different? End markets, basically the two ends of the same market. Isn’t it a challenge as a pretty young company?

Johnny Pujol: Yeah, and I wouldn’t necessarily do it again. Uh, I think you find ways to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. We initially went to the place where there was the most demand and the least amount of supply.

Don’t quote me on my econ. Terminology, but businesses weren’t helping people at home test their water. It was a really uncharted territory. Laboratories didn’t like walk ins. This is their terminology for small customers, usually residential. Customers who call up a laboratory and want to do a water test.

Of course, Flint had transpired and that tragedy really woke up a lot of people to the question of water quality. And so. Suddenly, that disparity between people wanting to know what was in their water and laboratories chiefly being responsible for answering that question, the disparity between those two sides presented an opportunity that we were present to answer.

We started down this consumer path because, because of that heat, there was traction. We were able to run ads on a very basic Shopify store and actually have a great ROI on those ads. Quickly mean to say people were searching for water testing kits and we were running ads dinky ads Like we barely had the ability to create the graphics we needed We had no idea of what copy was gonna sell a water test We had a storefront That was built by an entire team that had never worked in the water industry before and we were still able to make money Selling water testing kits and more importantly we were able to make people happy Namely, they would like tell their neighbors that they bought a water test kit from tap score that they liked it And so it just worked.

People came and bought from our store. And this consumer business of mytapscore. com took on a life of its own, became really successful in spite of us not having a lot of background in these fields.

Antoine Walter: We’ll go into the depth of that, but if I’m right today, the. Part of your business, which is, I mean, both seem successful, but the one which seems to be taking off even faster than the other is Simple Labs.

So the B2B, right?

Johnny Pujol: I hope I’m not being arrogant and saying like, honestly, they’re both still taking off. We’ve been incredibly lucky. I don’t think it’s not without explanation. Someone once said it’s, you know, it’s easier to make sense of what you did. In hindsight than it is, you know, looking forward, we never had a great idea about how the future was going to look, pursued it, and everything actually worked out that way.

What really happened is we focused on individuals who needed water tests. There were people at home who knew nothing about drinking water quality, who were scared of, like, snake venom and microplastics in their water. And they knew nothing about How to get the answers they needed and so we got obsessed with answering that question with them for them Building like a product that held their hands and told them about their drinking water quality no matter what their questions were, right?

So that focus ended up teaching us about the user experience of laboratory testing So that obsession with the end user with the individual turned out to be just as applicable and helpful for businesses and engineers and Fancy people who sign contracts for software. There was this awesome learning experience that transpired in those first three or four years of just tap score, where we got the opportunity to really sit with every little nano step of the experience of getting a water quality test.

And then we learned. Just almost by luck that the business community had many of the same questions. And so we said, okay, aha, there’s an opportunity here. Now, Tapscore isn’t going to work as a water testing solution for large utilities or engineering firms. It’s too consumer. It’s very friendly and helpful.

And it’s awesome, but it’s not the kind of service you would deploy. for compliance testing. So there are differences, but I want to hit home the importance and the value and just the awesome experience it was to kind of spend so much time with the consumer early on and how that really informed SimpleLab, our bigger business today.

Antoine Walter: Before going into the full story, talking of SimpleLab, what would be your elevator pitch to the company as it is today? And then we’ll see how you shaped it.

Johnny Pujol: Streamlined sampling kits and laboratory testing. If you’ve ever collected water quality tests before, this is it. You’ve experienced the decision paralysis of what lab am I going to use?

What methods am I going to use? What MDLs and RLs? There’s all this technical jargon. Then there’s the actual collecting of the sample. Are you rowing out a boat into the middle of a pond? Are you collecting it from a tap? Are you going out after a major rain and collecting it from a sewer? There’s a lot of really complex questions there.

We make all of that easy. You can beat anyone. And with Simple Lab, we’ve streamlined that whole experience of like ordering test kits. Understanding is key. Even if you think you’re a brilliant analytical chemist, you might not know how to row the boat out to the middle of the pond. And this is the case for, you know, many elements of our customer base.

We just make that whole process of ordering test kits, collecting the samples, sending them into the laboratory, getting the results back, Easy. That’s kind of what the software does. It just simplifies what was I think hitherto a very complex series of questions people were often unfamiliar with.

Antoine Walter: You’re hitting home with me.

You know, I used to before being a goofy podcast host, I used to be a water professional. I’m still a water professional. And I was ordering lab tests because we would working on micropollutant projects. And so I was collecting samples and sending the samples because we had one lab, which was a partner lab.

And then they would call me and say, Hey, do you prefer GCMS or LCMS? It was like, like, I care. I want to know what’s inside and I have no clue what jargon you’re using. So I got to learn the jargon, but if I could have avoided that, I would have been so thankful. So it hits home with me at least. So I guess it, I hope it does with the people listening to that.

But. What I found super fascinating with your founder story, and you’ll tell me if I’m right with that, is that that’s absolutely not the place where you started. You were building an arsenic removal water tank. And if I get it right, in order to remove arsenic, you probably need to test your water to get the level of arsenic and you found out that that was an even bigger problem to solve and hence you pivoted towards that.

What’s the story of the arsenic removal tech? Does it still exist? And how does the pivot happen?

Johnny Pujol: For three months, I worked for a consulting engineering firm, Corollo engineers, I’d done. Graduate school work in water quality and specifically on the use of electrochemistry for arsenic and other heavy metal remediation.

I’d worked at this consulting engineering firm. I just, it wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t see myself spending the rest of my life doing it. All of a sudden an opportunity came about to be a principal investigator, a PI on a grant that included a commercialization budget, academic style grant that had a commercialization budget.

And one of my advisors from Berkeley. pinged me and said, Hey, would you be interested in this? And he probably never finished asking me the question. I was just like, yes. And the commercialization was of a technology called ECAR, electrochemical arsenic remediation. It had been successfully piloted and deployed in Southeast Asia for arsenic removal using low cost local materials.

And the question was, Could it be, what’s the word, boomeranged? I may have forgotten. There’s a terminology for when you take a quote unquote third world technology and try to apply it in California’s Central Valley, which is what we were trying to do.

Antoine Walter: ChatGPT tells me, trickle up innovation, if that sounds appropriate, awesome.

If not, come tell me in the comments or send me a mail and pack to Johnny’s story.

Johnny Pujol: Take that technology, adapt it for the U. S. Where there are, as many people know, are many arsenic issues. And for small water systems, those arsenic issues are a real frustrating quagmire. music ends Because you do not have the money to solve the arsenic issue, but you know you’re in violation.

And people in town just kind of put up with that. So many small water systems have this kind of issue, especially the very rural ones, and particularly ones in the southwest. We were going to take that technology and try to make it work in California. We set up a Near Edwards air force base in a small town.

We ran our own pilot. We built our own pilot, which is very funny because I’m not an engineer. I thought I was becoming one for sure. Right? Like I was like, yeah, this is happening. I’m going to be a real engineer. But you know, a couple of months in, I was looking at the numbers and learning more about how you build a technology like that, how you take like even a functional technology out of an academic lab.

And one that has been proven even in the real world and try to make that a product you can sell and make money off of in the United States in particular. And I couldn’t make two cents of it. I was like, how does anyone make a business doing this? This is going to take forever. And there’s tons of unknowns.

And so I remember sitting down with my father actually and Explaining this to him at the time I was selling vacuum cleaners on QVC, which is like the American

Antoine Walter: if you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know what QVC is.

Johnny Pujol: That was how I was paying bills for a while. The water thing wasn’t working. I mean, technology was working, but business wise just didn’t make sense to me.

And so before throwing a towel at a conversation with my dad, and he was like, what’s working? What is working before you throw this thing away? You know, you’ve, you’ve made a company, you’ve filed the paperwork, you have some money in the bank. You’ve learned a lot before you throw this thing out, what’s working.

And I said, okay, we were going to these towns in central Valley. And the best part about it is that when we tell them what’s in their drinking water, because we’ve run a test, everyone is listening. They love it. They want to know about arsenic. They want to know about uranium. They want to know about pH.

They want to know about TDS. And they’re curious about all these heavy metals. It’s like. Suddenly the quiet classroom has come alive. I told him that and I was like, there’s the answer. And he said it right, like at dinner, he’s like, you should just sell water tests. And at first I did that thing. You like every son does when their dad gives them advice.

I was like, no, no, no, no, no. You have no idea what you’re talking about old man, but he was right. And we, we, we pivoted at that point. We built a basic Shopify store. We ran. Ads on Google built a new team that was specialized in this new endeavor, selling water tests. And then it just started working, right?

Like the magical thing happened. People were buying them. The store kept growing and we recycled the revenue back into the product, run more ads. And when you have a positive enough ROI, you can do this. You know, you can just sell product, take the money, sell more product, take the money, sell more product, improve the product.

And that cycle, that virtuous cycle begins. And really has been since day one, one of our secret sauces to our growth of SimpleLab is that we never had to do a lot of fundraising.

Antoine Walter: You do realize how, aside from the no fundraising needed, you’re describing the iconic Silicon Valley story. It just reminds me of Instagram, you know, before Instagram was Instagram, it was Bumble and you could do a bunch of stuff, which nobody wanted to do.

Like. Pin where you were, tell a lot of stuff about all those places. And actually there was one tiny little function to a sharing pictures. And that’s the one which. Sticked people loves the sharing picture. So they got rid of everything else. They kept the sharing picture and it became one of the largest social media of our times.

So sounds like, like very similar to your, your simple app story. I have a question. Does your dad have an entrepreneur? Entrepreneur backgrounds? Or was it just common sense?

Johnny Pujol: He does not, not, I mean, he kind of does. Oh gosh. I hope he doesn’t hear this. I don’t know if he knows if he has an entrepreneurship background.

I still don’t really know what makes a good entrepreneur, and I know that’s a whole conversation, a whole book. It’s a whole library. But no, he’s not like a famous builder of businesses, a titan of Silicon Valley. He was a, a former investment banker though in New York City, and so. Uh, was very competent.

There is some logic. Yeah. Very competent at like understanding what works and what doesn’t. So when I explained to him the numbers and the risk factors of selling an arsenic removal technology, it didn’t take him two blinks to agree with me and say, Okay, yeah, yeah, we need something else.

Antoine Walter: When I listen to your positive ROI from day one and Shopify story, it sounds like something which is a success story from day one.

Yet, I listened to you in an interview you gave to Sean Grady, and you said that the traction starts in 2019, and to quote you, 2017 and 2018 were ugly. And I’m the silly French guy here, so I’m super curious about what was so ugly about that if you had a successful Shopify and Google Ads running.

Johnny Pujol: Gosh, am I be getting my dates now?

Jumbled. But the, the ugly period was when we were making that transition.

Antoine Walter: I see

Johnny Pujol: it is, you know, I’m summarizing what was probably a year long trans transformation and my co founder, a guy named Julio Rodriguez, who came on shortly after my father and I had this conversation, he had been kind of helping us test this out, experiment with this idea of selling test kits for the first year and it was working, but I was still selling vacuum cleaners on QVC and other sorts of ways of making money.

Very scrappy. And I remember him sitting me down. Wooly was like three or four years older than me, so this sounds funny, but he behaves like he’s 30 years older than me. Anyway, he sits me down and he’s like, I need you to take this seriously. This is working, and if you don’t take this more seriously, we’re not going to succeed where we can succeed.

You need to stop doing the QVC stuff. Stop selling the T10s. That’s a whole side, side quest we won’t go into right now. Focus on tap score. And I did. He was right. So we focused on tap score. And that, for the first time, that, that was when I started to pay myself, having like your, your fingers and your feet and like 10 different pots suddenly became, okay, one pot.

That was that experience of, of messiness, I think was just like kind of closing up all those doors and just focusing on the one thing.

Antoine Walter: But on that initial Shopify, on the very first store, what’s your price? product like, because you said very rightfully that 2015 was the Flint crisis. So I would expect lead testing to be like a superstar.

And if you were selling it at the time for the 45 per test, you’re setting it today, that must have really got a lot of traction. You mentioned arsenic. I just did a bit of study and apparently 43 million us people get their water from private wells. So at some point they. We’ll need to get some indication of what’s in the water.

Was all of that existing from day one or what’s the first product or the first set of products?

Johnny Pujol: At first we had a single test kit. We didn’t know anything about laboratory testing and little did we know it was a rabbit hole that very few rabbits have attempted to go to the end of. We were at the very beginning of that journey.

We sold one test kit that we were like, yeah, this is the water test. And soon we realized, gosh, all these people are asking for other testing kits. Some of them just want lead. Some of them want microplastics, and PFAS, and pharmaceuticals. Some of them have really dirty matrices, like effectively pond water.

Others are pulling this from a post RO filtration system. Okay, so we need to handle different matrices. And so, Some of them also have micro bacterial concerns, micro biological concerns that need to get to the lab right away. So we need more labs, and we need to learn more about these different tests.

And we need to start combining these tests in different packages and different kits. Ah, I see the business is happening now. We have to inventory all the materials we need so that we can build all these testing kits, so that we combine all the possible tests people are going to ask us for. And then we need the labs we can send those kits to.

So when customers finish collecting their sample and they send it in, it always goes to a certified laboratory that can run the analysis they want and they need. But in the beginning there was just one test. Yeah. It was quite pathetic.

Antoine Walter: I like how you’re fatherly negative about your first product, which, which I wouldn’t expect to be that scrappy because given the path, it must have hit a nerve.

So you mentioned how you needed limited fundraising. Nevertheless, yes. I had your VC on that microphone a while ago with John Robinson from Mazarine Ventures. If I’m right, he invested in SimpleLab, so the mother company today. At what point do you add this B2B part and why did you need fundraising for that one, which you didn’t need for Tapscore?

Johnny Pujol: Well, in the beginning, actually. When John joined, we were still just focused on Tapscore and he had effectively invested in Tapscore becoming a B2B product. We didn’t really know what that was going to look like yet, but put yourself in 2019, 2020, everyone’s talking about B2B solutions and SaaS. And we were drinking the Kool Aid like everybody else.

And we’re like, well, we’ve got this. Decent direct to consumer success story here. Let’s do the thing. Let’s sell B2B SaaS. And we got swept up in that conversation, just about like,

Antoine Walter: sorry to cut you off here, but that’s super counterintuitive. You have a B2C testing kit, turning that into B2B SaaS sounds like really a maze to solve.

Johnny Pujol: Yeah. And it didn’t, it also didn’t work. We tried it for a couple of years. You were like, Oh, let’s build a SAS product. You get the great valuation. You have to just constantly listen to what your customers actually want. And our customers did not actually want a SAS product. And no matter how we dressed that SAS product and tried to convince someone, it was, we were just doing all the things I don’t like doing.

I don’t like having to sell people so hard on stuff. I want to give people like this, the case of TabScore, make it really easy. I want to make it so easy for people to choose our product and our solution that we don’t need to sell. And we were betraying that when we made this video. really brash attempt to jump from D to C to B to B.

Now, in that process, we built a really high functioning B2B product. We just don’t sell it as a SaaS. It’s free. Go on, create an account. You can use SimpleApp. We just decided not to monetize it that way. We want businesses to come in, to use us as they see fit, And if there are reasons for like a more intense integration, okay, yes, we’ll charge a subscription fee, but it’s pretty unusual.

In 2019, 2020, we were making that, that jump like everyone else and trying to make that work. We had reason to believe it would work. We knew we had built something special by accident, this. Laboratory network. We’d called up and spoken with at that point, probably about a hundred labs. And we’d figured out, okay, well, what instruments do they have?

What certifications do they have? What FOAs, FOAs, fields of accreditation could they address? We’d indexed those capabilities. We’d given them the opportunity to bid on samples, give us pricing and turnaround times. So you could kind of put an order into SimpleLabs network and know very quickly who could test it at what price at what turnaround time.

And you don’t need to call for labs or send a bunch of emails out. We built that and so we’re like, okay, this has B2B use. Surely the lion’s share of this water testing market. 99 percent of this water testing market is B2B, let’s go after it with this marketplace platform thing. So it wasn’t like a total fool’s errand.

I think we were just a little bit overzealous. And like I said, we kind of betrayed our whole premise, which is like constantly go where people want you to go, where they’re asking you to go. Don’t try to force something. And so for a couple of years there, we were trying to force something. It made it a little bit slower for us to really get success on SimpleLab, I think.

Antoine Walter: On that B2B solution, what was the incumbent solution? And what were the. Pains, which you were solving because the very simple parameter might be tested in house and then the advanced one be outsourced. But what is the number one thing which you’re offering? Is it the ease of use? Is it a price? Is it the logistics?

What is it?

Johnny Pujol: There’s no number one. And

Antoine Walter: there’s always a number one.

Johnny Pujol: Come

Antoine Walter: on.

Johnny Pujol: It depends on the customers. So for like one person, it might be that like, hey, their boss told them to go get a bunch of testing done and they don’t know how to do that. You can go in a simple lab and just do it. We’ve made it easy for that person.

For someone else, it might be that like, you know. They don’t want to spend a bunch of time negotiating with labs on prices. You can just go get a price right now on simple lab and order the kits for someone else. It might be like, Hey, I’m tired of using one PDF from Eurofins and another PDF from pace and another PDF from my lab and another one from another lab.

And then reconciling all those Edds simple lab just gives you one. Dataset, no matter which labs you’re using. And this has been frustrating, honestly, like not knowing exactly what that one thing is, cause you’re right. There’s always one thing. That’s, that’s what makes it very easy to sell a product. I think it’s when there is that really resounding one thing.

For SimpleLab, I gotta be honest. We haven’t found that one thing yet. We’ve just found that there’s a patchwork of problems different people are having in water and wastewater testing, lab testing in general, and we have to be very diligent about solving them all so that we can make our promise, which is like streamline.

Antoine Walter: What’s your relationship to the labs? When booking. com started becoming the big thing it is, at the very beginning, hotels looked at it like it’s going to be very easy for people to book their accommodations and hence that’s pretty cool, but pretty fast they understood that booking was taking an 18 person tall and that they won’t be the one making the money anymore, the platform is going to make the money.

Are you a customer? kind of booking vampire or, or do you have a symbiotic relationship to them?

Johnny Pujol: A difference here is that we do a lot of hard manual work. We run a warehousing. Business. Oh, logistics business. So we are procuring materials, preparing sampling kits, taking kind of close track of inventory and shipping and carriers.

And there’s this element that we take on for the laboratory that they very much appreciate because it’s not in the labs core competency to be an outstanding fulfiller of test kits. Therefore competency is. Great test results, accurate test results. By and large, I’m painting with a broad brush. There are some labs who do take fulfillment and customer support incredibly seriously.

But by and large, it’s very easy to go to a lab and say, Hey, what if we did your fulfillment for you? Didn’t charge you anything for that. And in exchange, you tell us what you can do. And you work with us so that we can sell more product with you and for you. We all know this market is growing rapidly.

Would you rather be doing your own fulfillment, running your own operations like you currently are, Or let us take on some of that. In that process, we’ve been fortunate to be able to give almost every lab we work with, just a lot of additional revenue in the beginning was a little bit easier because it was all consumers.

So it was like all business. They were kind of turning away oftentimes. Okay. If someone comes to you and says, Hey, this business you were currently turning away, you can now process and make more money on. They’re super thrilled about that. Obviously it’s gotten a little more complicated over time because we’ve had to demonstrate our value beyond bringing them additional customers.

We’ve had to demonstrate our value in terms of. Providing them, uh, even professional customers with fulfillment services and operations and logistics.

Antoine Walter: If you’re not charging the fulfillment to the laboratories, that means that you’re adding a markup on their prices and that’s what you’re then charging to your end customers.

So is that your business model or is there an additional trick I’m missing?

Johnny Pujol: One way to put it is this, good anecdotes. So there’s a laboratory in Southern California that’s running a bunch of regulatory 1, 4 Dioxane tests on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Let’s say there’s some customer, mom or dad, or a business in Michigan that needs 1, 4 Dioxane testing.

They can either call up every lab and get every quote they can possibly get, spend hours doing that, and maybe eventually they find the laboratory that is already set up to run that 1, 4 Dioxane test, already certified to run the 1, 4 Dioxane test. But most likely they won’t. Most likely they’ll spend two or three hundred bucks on a 1, 4 Dioxane test.

Simple Lab knows there’s a lab in Southern California that’s running 1, 4 Dioxane Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And we know that the marginal cost of adding one more sample there is about 10 percent of that price. So we can route the samples to the labs that can process them most quickly and most cheaply.

And we can make that decision in microseconds. It’s Software. We don’t need to call up all the labs. That’s our business model. We effectively arbitrage that difference. We pass some of the savings onto the customer. We put some of the savings in our pocket, and then we send the sample to the lab that is optimal for that customer.

Antoine Walter: If I try to put you very abruptly in a box, you’re a broker of labs. Yeah. At the end of the day, you, you’re pretty close to the investment banking advice you received at the beginning, which is this arbitrage you mentioned. So it makes sense. Ton of sense. Sounds like very, very clever approach to the market.

I thought at first when looking up what you’re doing and when looking at what 120Water is doing, Megan was my guest by season three of the podcast. So it was long before the huge raises and series A she managed to grab last year. But I thought you would be competitors. And if I’m right, she’s more of your customer.

Johnny Pujol: Ideally. Yes. I mean, we have very different objectives. She and her team are building a compliance software and we have not today. I think ever competed on anything. I don’t even know what that would look like because their role is to sell, I think, two utilities, an outstanding compliance dashboard and management system.

I don’t know very much about compliance. I don’t think anyone on my team does. And it’s incredibly complicated. To get that right in every state and every municipality as the EPA and others change the game continuously, right? So we view our service as a plug in to a service like 120 where, Hey, your customers in their efforts to be compliant are going to need laboratory testing.

And we build our entire product with APIs in mind. So you don’t have to go into SimpleLab and order from SimpleLab directly using our interface. You can configure every kit you need. Every order you want to place inside of your own application so that you don’t have to leave the 120 application. You don’t have to leave the Jacobs or the Trinx application.

You can order it and from behind the scenes, we’re the ones processing it. But you can kind of make that whole user experience inside of whatever application you want. So to get back to your question, no, I don’t think Megan and or Ryan view us as competitors. We don’t behave that way, and I’d like to think that we’re actually just two peas in a pod working really hard to change the way a lot of things are being done.

Antoine Walter: That’s my points with the question. It’s about this working hard because when you’re alone opening a market, it can be super tricky and competition. can help you because if you’re explaining that there’s a better way to do logistics, there’s a better way to look at your lab testing, then you’re not the lone prophet out there in the desert.

So do you have competition or would you wish to have competition? Is it kind of a tricky thought to have as an entrepreneur?

Johnny Pujol: You always have competition. It might not be where you think it is and it might change over time. Our. competition is, I think, most adequately summarized as the conventional approach to environmental sampling and testing, which means someone who needs to collect samples will call up the lab they normally use.

Request sampling materials, receive them, label them, bring them into FedEx, get the results back, et cetera. Changing behavior is our main competition. And that’s a lot of competition. We don’t have like, I think another company that’s specifically taking an approach like ours and viewing the market the way we are, which I think is in a way nice, but there’s a lot of people who say like, oh, it’s great to have competitors.

On Tapscore we had competitors, but we beat them and it was easier in a way. But on SimpleLab, I think it’s not clear if we have a specific competitor. I would like to think that there’s going to be a time when all of the labs are able to really specialize and become outstanding at being labs. And the procurement of their service does not require each of those labs to do all of the stuff.

Each of those labs should not be doing fulfillment and customer support phone calls and Result data formatting into harmonized EDDs. Those are all ancillary services the lab has to provide to make their customers happy. Each of them doing it their own way is causing much more harm than good. For them individually and for us all collectively.

Because that’s making the process of understanding what’s happening environmentally very complicated. It’s slowed down the way we get data. It slows down the way we get results. It slows down the way we analyze those results. So if our business can perform those ancillary roles, the support, the fulfillment, the logistics, the data harmonization, and every lab can plug into us, heck, we can do a ton more testing at a much better price.

with much faster turnaround times, and the data is natively digital, meaning that you don’t have to be translating results anymore from various PDFs so you can write an annual report on water quality. It can all be happening dynamically. So that’s our role. And in that role, we don’t have a competitor.

Antoine Walter: I guess SimpleLab is predictable in the sense that the parameters which B2B customers will ask you to analyze will be the ones linked to that compliance topic.

For TAPscore, I would imagine it to be And I’m wondering if you’ve got like a best seller, like there’s one parameter that people right now would be ordering much more than the others.

Johnny Pujol: Oh, man, dude, people are all over like PFAS and microplastics. It’s weird being in this consumer business because we’re kind of at odds with this.

idea of trusting tap water. We don’t want to be. We are actually the ones who care, I think, as much as anyone else about the importance of trusting your tap water. The thing is, to get people to trust their tap water, you have to give them the resources to trust it. And that’s testing. I haven’t thought of another way.

And so, if people want to test PFAS, they want to test microplastics or pharmaceuticals, in their tap water, you have to give it to them. You can’t say, Oh no, you don’t need that. So we end up doing a lot of that kind of testing. A lot of people who are very concerned about these things they see on social media or they see on the news.

And from the conventional utility industry perspective, you would say like, Oh, that’s not necessary. You don’t need to test your home’s tap water for PFAS. There’s no way you’re going to collect that sample properly, but you have to give people that option. And you have to be very straightforward with them at the, at the same time about how important it is to collect that sample properly.

Because of this role we play dealing with the consumers. every day. Thousands of people coming in and asking for all sorts of crazy tests. We are often, I think, misconstrued as, as an organization that’s like somehow trying to like undermine trust in tap water. It couldn’t be further from the truth. We love tap water.

I drink tap water. I evangelize tap water as best I can. I think people should buy water filters if they want them. But I think a lot of people may be misconstrued the fact that we sell a lot of these very esoteric tests. As some kind of fear mongering, which it absolutely is not. It’s about building that trust because most of the time when you take these tests, the results are negative.

Antoine Walter: When you say the results, that’s something I was curious about because tap score implies there’s a score. And as much as a B2B customer will want a PPM number, I would expect maybe a B2C customer to want a green, yellow, red type of approach. So. Oh

Johnny Pujol: yeah, this is my favorite topic. Okay. So people have all sorts of backgrounds, right?

Like some never went to college, some got PhDs, some studied science, some studied a history of art. There are people who know what PPM stands for, and there’s people who have no idea what a milligram is. And this is all fine. Our service needs to cater to all of them. In the beginning, we tried a number of things to do that.

We tried to like, well, we kept thinking we understood the customer. Until maybe around 2020, we said, listen, new strategy. We will never understand our customer. Let’s operate with that mindset. Build the product that is just constantly needing to adapt. And so what that means is when you get your report back, not only can you change the units, but you have tons of things you can read, animations, colors, clickable links.

You can compare your results, not just to MCLs and MCLGs. Because let’s be honest, more than half of the United States doesn’t even know what one of those things is, and again, that’s fine. You can compare your results to the average bottled water we’ve tested. You can compare your results to the average person in your city, in your state.

You can compare your results to all sorts of things. Context is king. And from beginning to end of our experience, we’ve had to accommodate a very wide net of user experience. And where we are today is like, you know what? Whatever your favorite flavor is, we’re here to make sure you can have that with TapScore.

The score is a great idea of, it’s a great idea in theory, but kind of silly in retrospect. Obviously, SimpleLab users don’t really care much about the score. We still had a foot in the door at Berkeley. The blood of academia flows here. Swiftly through the veins of Tapscore and SimpleLab. We started there, we still live here, our biggest warehouse is here.

And we said, hey, we’re going to spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of PhD hours to take all the epidemiological studies, all the toxicological studies, all the state and the federal and the non profit work on various contaminants and their health impacts. And we’re going to synthesize all of that into an algorithm That scores water quality in terms of its chance of giving you either cancer or some other end point condition risk.

This seemed like the most important thing in the world in 2019 to us. You can’t ever get this right. But some people want the score. Some people don’t care about any of the other stuff. The MCLs, the MCLGs, the bottled water, the average well owner in their county. They just want to see a score and a color.

We’ve been through so many journeys like that to try and get this thing right. And when you have a customer base like Tapscore does, everyone, You need to build a product that can help. Everyone. And I’ll say that with one caveat, it’s still not that cheap paying like 200 for a water test is fine for some people, but for many people, it is still completely unaffordable and probably not even top of mind.

And I think that’s one of the most interesting challenges for Tapscore moving forward is how we, how we’re able to unlock the majority of people who aren’t thinking on top of mind, I need a water test. And, uh, I can’t afford this 200 test.

Antoine Walter: Cheap. And the money is one thing. The other thing is you want to cater for everyone.

Today, everyone is North America, right? Uh huh.

Johnny Pujol: Today, everyone is North America, but tomorrow? That’s my question. Maybe not literally tomorrow, but by next quarter, we will be in Europe. And that is very exciting. Cap score will be in Europe. And I’m super excited. One, it means more trips to Europe. Two, it means opportunity to learn something totally new.

It’s going to be super interesting to see how we manage. The kind of cultural and the language barriers associated with this effort, the economics, like I know half of my family lives in Barcelona, disposable income in Barcelona does not get spent like it does in the United States. So it’d be very interesting to see how that plays out.

And I also know that water is a major issue in Europe. It seems to be having a moment. And so our arrival in, in Europe, I think will be. Especially interesting because of that confluence.

Antoine Walter: So you’re arriving in Europe or do you start with countries? Because the U S speaks English, Canada speaks English in Europe.

It might be a bit more tricky.

Johnny Pujol: Yes, sir. Um, we’re starting, starting in English speaking countries.

Antoine Walter: So UK,

Johnny Pujol: uh, simply. Yeah, Ireland, UK, and then from there, we’ll probably move to Spanish speaking countries, Germany. Those are two languages. We have kind of some in house, we have German and Spanish speakers on our team.

My last name is Pujol. We are all fairly international as it is. Like I said, I think we’re just very excited to do that. It’s going to be fun. Like what kind of water questions do people have there? We are going to need you, maybe, maybe you could help us. We have like a couple people on our team who think they speak French, but as you know, there’s a big difference between thinking you speak French and actually speaking French.

Antoine Walter: So Rolling Out to Europe happens this year in 2024. What’s next? What, what do you aim to build? What’s the midterm and the long term goal?

Johnny Pujol: Well, for Tapscore, it’s. That individual experience of your drinking water, which I think nobody before us has taken the approach we’ve taken, which is information, trust, science.

From there, you as an individual can make smart decisions about your drinking water. What are those smart decisions? Well, those are the topics the water industry is always talking about, bottled water or not. Home filtration or not? Is PFAS a concern? Is lead a concern or not? You can’t really answer those questions top down.

We have tried for decades top down to tell people what they should be scared of and what they shouldn’t be scared of. And there hasn’t been a lot of grassroots up scientifically motivated. Endeavors like this to reinform people to clear the chessboard and say, Hey, we’re with you from beginning to end.

We’re going to help you figure out your tap water so that you can make smart decisions about your tap water. And so you can move on because this is tap water. This is not the most important thing in your life. That’s the goal. And like always in the United States, Tapscore kind of sets the trail for SimpleLab.

We learn a lot from that individual, and we’ve learned that the individuals on the Tapscore side teach us a lot that we need to know on the SimpleLab side. So I think eventually we’ll bring SimpleLab internationally as well. Not ready to do that yet though.

Antoine Walter: Just one maybe tricky question, which I still want to take in that deep dive.

You mentioned how You’re comparing the results of someone’s analysis to what’s happening in the neighborhood, what’s happening with the average of, of bottled water and so far. And so on, that might be super valuable data for. water filter companies, if they knew that that specific region has quite now some troublesome analyzers, then for their sales pitch, they probably would value that data pretty high.

Is it something you’re selling, allowed to sell, willing to sell, or totally off the, off the table?

Johnny Pujol: So we actually have a great question, man. We’ve been struggling for this one for so long. We have a ton of water quality data, as you can see. Imagine we let customers determine if their data is public or private, and we do anonymize some of it so that we can merge it with publicly available data from states and federal government, the United States, and we present it out publicly, we have a URL citywater.

mytapscore. com. You can type in any city in the country and you can see all the data anonymized. You can’t see exactly whose results are whose, but you can see for that city averages, maximums, well water, city water. And it’s not just. Your standard consumer confidence report information. It’s all of the testing we’ve done.

Very cool. It’s free. And we’re not afraid of releasing that data because we think more information means smarter customers, which helps us and others. Citywater. mytapsquare. com very cool resource where you can search water quality data dynamically as updated regularly now every week. There’s a filtration company that reaches out to effectively, you know, wants to buy our customer list or something.

And the answer is just flat out, no, we would lose everyone’s trust, feel pretty crummy about ourselves. And frankly, the whole team would probably just quit if we sold that data to filtration providers. We’re a lab testing company. You have to choose who you are at one point. And we are unbiased and we are independent for you.

We can’t also take that information and despite what we thought in the beginning, make money on both sides of this thing. We can’t. So we chose our site. Our site is the individual and the consumer, and we will follow them to the end of the earth. Now, filtration companies can test with SimpleLab. They can set up SimpleLab accounts, they can build their own testing projects for their own customers and give their customers test kits.

They can do that all day long and build bigger businesses with customers who trust them with their water quality as a result of that. And that’s the closest we’ve gotten to being able to, to, to, to do that. But I will say that on every one of our reports, the TAP score reports, there’s a treatment recommendation.

And we tell you. What technologies you need. We don’t name the brands specifically. We tell you what technologies you need. And then you can go and find a brand. There’s an integration there where you can find WQA professional, Water Quality Association professional. There’s a couple of other integrations, but there’s no affiliate fees.

There’s no, there’s no sharing of data with those filtration companies.

Antoine Walter: I don’t want to open the full sidetrack, but I could see how you wouldn’t be betraying your customers or your team by still doing affiliation because you’re not selling anything. You’re just saying, just in case we’ve validated those filters, uh, we come from a filtration background, so we might have one thought or two about what’s working or not, but I don’t want to.

Johnny Pujol: No, no, that’s a good, it’s a good question. I mean, we think about this all the time. We know we’re leaving like millions and millions of dollars on the table. But we also know that if we open that can of worms, it might be a slippery slope. And I’m very scared of that slippery slope. I think what is better long term is for all the filtration companies to use SimpleLab and provide testing to their customers and for customers to buy testing.

And while I think the internet has obviously proliferated the virtues of affiliate fees left and right, it has also created a bunch of mess. It’s like, can I trust this person or are they just trying to make money on getting me to click, you know, and that distrust is a bigger issue than we’re prepared to take on.

And so it’s very easy. It’s actually nice for us to be able to market and be proud of the fact that we don’t do that. Thankfully we’re, we’re able to make enough money anyway. But yeah, it is a good point. We think about it. Regularly, how do we tie this knot? Because people at home often come to us even complaining that we don’t give them a recommendation on a product to buy.

They’re like, Oh, just tell me what product to buy. And we have to kind of tell them why we don’t tell them what product to buy, but we give them resources. This is how you can figure out what product to buy.

Antoine Walter: You handled the tricky questions very right. So I have to ask you one more. Will John Robinson get his exits?

Or will you buy him out because you want to build a giant and you don’t want to exit?

Johnny Pujol: He’ll definitely get his exit. I mean, we’ve had such a great cap table. Like I was thinking in advance, you know, I know you like numbers and you know, we haven’t raised a ton of money. We haven’t disclosed a lot about our, our business in general.

We have a very intimate cap table. It’s Christmas dinner every time we meet. I love the feeling I get working with our investors. John’s But all of our investors, I really love the relationship I have with them. I can’t imagine running a business that had like 40 investors and trying to manage those relationships and the politics behind them and somehow still building the right product.

I want a small number of extremely passionate, motivated investors and I want to make Just as rich and successful as I think our team and our whole industry wants to be. So if we do ever raise money again, I’ll look for someone with the same amount of passion as John Robinson and every one of our other investors.

I honestly, I mean, this is going to sound like just obnoxious California CEO talking like, I really want to go public. I think our business can go public. I think the world needs a platform for laboratory testing. I think there’s a plan to get there when that day comes. Hopefully everyone,

Antoine Walter: you’re not the first one to say that you want to, to go public on that microphone.

Now that’s others. I wouldn’t believe them, but others, I could envision a path to exit to a major, which is so straightforward that I would bet they won’t go public. In your case, it is true that it resembles the type of business which typically goes public. So I would be amazed to see that. So it’s, it’s me in my, in my humble studio, just, uh, things, things which are much bigger than me.


Johnny Pujol: Oh, me too, man. For all I know, they’re going to figure out all the water problems and no one’s going to need to do any more testing next year. That would, that would be a problem for us. There’s all sorts of

Antoine Walter: things ahead. That’s the good thing is that your risk of getting disrupted and getting out of the market is so limited because yeah, the challenges when it comes to water are not getting easier and with infrastructure, which is, you’ll see that when you roll out in Europe, it’s crumbling.

So greater opportunity for testing. I would say that’s the positive. There’s a negative to that, but that’s another story. I don’t want to take too much of your time, Johnny, because I’m already being too French here and going over the board. If that’s fine for you, I propose to switch to the rapid fire questions.

Download my Latest Book - for Free!

Rapid fire questions:

Antoine Walter: What is the toughest challenge in your opinion for a water tech startup?

Johnny Pujol: Weeding through the noise. of the industry. A lot of noise, a lot of misdirections out there, I think.

Antoine Walter: What would be your best single piece of advice for the founders and managers of the about 1, 000 early stage water startups?

Johnny Pujol: Figure out what will get you happy paying customers and do that right away.

Antoine Walter: What’s the drop of knowledge you wish more investors knew about the water sector?

Johnny Pujol: I’m surprised how few investors, this isn’t really knowledge, it’s more like I wish more investors were investing on the consumer side of things.

It’s super interesting down here. You know, it’s a weird world on the consumer side of water, but I don’t see a lot of investors investing on the consumer side of it. So that would be fun and cool because I love working with other startups. I think that’s the multiplier.

Antoine Walter: I have to heavily refrain me to, to go down a sidetrack here because I’m fascinated by that.

Uh, especially the water filter, water ionizer, all these B2C approaches. It’s you’re totally right. It’s an untold story. Story in the water sector. And it’s a multi tens of billions annual markets, which. Kind of just exists, grows faster than anything else in the market and still doesn’t get the attention of more shiny stuff.


Johnny Pujol: a lot of the incubators are really, or the, like the investors are really focused on this, I think because they come from that world, they come from the world of utilities and engineering solutions, uh, for utilities, that they bring that focus to the startup community, but it’s not serving, The industry or the people as much as it could be if they were bringing consumer Energy

Antoine Walter: to that the full sidetrack is about Does one eventually eat up the other but I don’t want to open the box now because If we do we’re still here in one hour.

It’s gonna be fun Fascinating, but you have a rest of the day on my end of the word. The day is over. So I can ramble. What’s your most unexpected partnership and what did it bring to you?

Johnny Pujol: Honestly, the laboratories, uh, from day one, we were like, are they going to be cool with this? It took us years to feel no more imposter syndrome and to be able to speak with labs and to be able to really understand that they love the service we’re providing.

It was very surprising. In the beginning we thought they’re gonna think we’re competing with them, but that never turned out to be the case. It turned out to be there’s plenty of food on the table here. One, and number two, there’s many things we can do that they appreciate and want us to work on.

Antoine Walter: Super short, profitability or growth?

Profitability. I was surprised that you hesitated because everything you said so far landed to that direction. But again, I’m stopping with the sidetracks.

Johnny Pujol: That’s great. What’s

Antoine Walter: the next profile you’ll hire?

Johnny Pujol: Someone with a background in analytical chemistry. And limbs.

Antoine Walter: When you hire in general, do you look at sector experience or startup experience?

Johnny Pujol: I look for, we look for someone who has a strong desire to learn and be great. They will work hardest. They’ll figure it out and they’ll be excited and I want that.

Antoine Walter: I think you can answer that one, but asking, nevertheless, opening new markets or doubling down on the current ones,

Johnny Pujol: I don’t know. I can hear my dad telling me right now you, you have to do both all the time.

You’ve really. You have to do both all the time because you just don’t know what future brings and you need to be doubling down on what You’re good at so that it’s giving you more fuel in the tank And you need to be expanding so that it’s giving you more fuel in the tank You can’t be lazy and turn your head on one of those two things.

I think you have to do them both hard

Antoine Walter: What’s that tool nobody speaks about but you couldn’t live without

Johnny Pujol: google calendar.

Antoine Walter: It’s surprising how often that one comes up So yeah, good one. Does it really oh

Johnny Pujol: darn I was hoping I was being unique, you know.

Antoine Walter: What’s the single piece of insight your ideal customer profile needs to hear right now?

Johnny Pujol: On the SimpleLab side, your technical support team. Strengthen them, learn how to integrate with APIs. That’s the best way to take advantage of all the amazing work that’s happening on the startup scene. Like most of the businesses like SimpleLabs that are kind of pouring energy and time and money into figuring out better, faster solutions, or at least proposed solutions.

You need to plug into them at some point or perish. And the way of plugging in with them are APIs. And it’s shocking to me how many businesses, how many business leaders don’t know what an API is in the water sector.

Antoine Walter: It’s less shocking to me, but what are you desperately needing and want to raise an open call for right now?

Johnny Pujol: God, can’t even think of something.

Antoine Walter: You’re fulfilled.

Johnny Pujol: Desperately. Journalists should do. More research before they write articles about water. I’m not desperate for that, but it is weird how often I read mainstream journalist journalism that like totally gets it wrong. I don’t know if that’s the case in everything, but 40 second commentary on that one

Antoine Walter: first, please.

I fully agree with you. Second, we had that discussion, uh, at the rethinking water conference. We did a panel on that in New York last year. And there, there seems to be an agreement in that third, you might be right on, we noticed because we are from that sector. And I remember specifically looking at a bunch of Michael Moore movie and thinking, you know, it’s probably over the top, but it’s Michael Moore.

It’s his style, everything. And then he did this. The one on Flint. And it was like, I understand one thing or two about water. So it sounds like that is really over the board sometimes. And then start to wonder if it’s always the case. And you don’t notice because you’re not an expert. So I don’t have the answer, but I share the, the, the questioning, which, which, which you have last question.

What’s Ken and should I do for you?

Johnny Pujol: You could help us, uh, translate our tap score into French.

Antoine Walter: I have 31 bottles of water just on the, under my desk because I’m preparing a piece of content about that. So. If we can find an agreement on you get me some, some, some tests, I can translate a bunch of stuff.

Johnny Pujol: Hell yeah. I mean, that’s great.

Antoine Walter: Johnny, if people wants to follow up with you, um, where should I redirect them? The best

Johnny Pujol: hello at go simple lab. com.

Antoine Walter: Like always, the link is in the description. Just check it out. I think, I hope people could perceive. How is it going? And very, very cool of a guy you are with that conversation.

So I hope you will get some inquiries and if you don’t just, I will have to scream at the people myself and do it. So thanks a lot. And I hope to get to speak to you again because we, we left a lot of doors open and there are lots of additional rabbit holes, which I’d like to explore in the future.

Johnny Pujol: Hey, me too. Thanks for the privilege.

Other Episodes:

Leave a Comment