Winifred, Katie, Kenya, Bathrooms: Anything Can Be Entrepreneurial

My mother-in-law is a very unique woman. To give you an example of how unique, I’ll tell you about one of her collections. She has travelled the world, but her world travels started thirty years ago, so convergence of product had not occurred yet, so toilet paper was much different all around the world. She started collecting toilet paper from the countries she travelled in. Some or her samples were much like ours in the US, but some we very different. Some were scratchy, some were like wax paper, and others had pictures. Her collection has even made it into the paper where she lives.

Even during my travels, which are not as extensive as hers, I have seen a few countries that had very different bathroom facilities. In Kenya, there is what is called an Indian toilet. This is just a hole in the ground, which reflects a heavy eastern influence. I remember when we were travelled from Nakuru, Kenya where we were staying to Buffalo Springs where we were going to safari. As we were travelling we stopped to get gas, and Katie had to go to the bathroom. My mother-in-law turns to my wife and says, “should we tell her,” as Katie walks to the restroom. My wife responds to my mother-in-law and says, “let’s see what she does.” Katie comes out thirty seconds later and says, “I’ll wait.” It was a hole in the ground. It was the look on Katie’s face that was priceless.

The worst restrooms I have every seen were in Russia. I had travelled to Kaluga, Russia with a music group from church. The band would put on concerts at night, and we would evangelize the young people that came to the concerts. The restrooms at the concert hall were filthy, and the owners of the hall had removed all of the walls around the toilets. When you went downstairs to use the restroom, if you had to do number two you were in front of everyone. Needless to say they were not used very often.

You might be thinking what does this have to do with Entrepreneurship? It appears that the Japanese have done some pretty exciting things with toilets. In fact, they are calling them smart toilets. These smart toilets are app filled commodes that will play music while you do your business, sync with your smart phone via Bluetooth in case someone calls, or even heat the seat for more comfort.

These smart commodes with built in bidets are very popular in Japan. “Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by one of two companies, Toto, Ltd or Lixil, Corp.” Lixil has purchased American Standard, a major toilet producer in the US, and plans to bring smart toilets to America. The price for a smart toilet ranges from $5000 for high-end models to more reasonable prices for the lower end smart commode. I am not too sure what the differences are between a high-end and low-end model, but I am sure you will be able to tell the difference.

Whoopi Goldberg has said, “that her Toto Washlet is the greatest invention on the face of the earth.” Pretty high praise for something so basic! However, I laughed hysterically when Homer Simpson was confronted with a smart commode in Japan that shouted on when he entered the bathroom, “Welcome, I am honored to accept your waste.”

American Standard thinks there is a market here in the United States for this product. They are going to spend $3 to $5 million in advertising to promote their smart toilet and bidet combo. Many luxury hotels have contracted Toto to supply these new smart commodes in their guest rooms. It appears that these new commodes also used less water per flush.

The Japanese are obsessed with cleanliness, where we in America see “Japanese toilets, with their menu of smartphone-like buttons arrayed alongside the bowl,” as daunting. One analyst said this, “Nobody wants something so biologically mundane as going to the bathroom to be more complicated than it has to be, right now, every high-tech toilet reminds me of R2-D2.” Maybe if we are constipated we can cry out “help me Obi-Wan-Kenobi?”

I do apologize for “wasting” your time discussing smart commodes, but the sarcastic side of me won out today. I could not help myself. However, the lesson is clear, anything can be entrepreneurial, even something so mundane as sitting in the “library.” I do think the opportunities are endless with this product. Can you think of the many improvements to the process of going to the bathroom? “Siri, what can I do about my son missing the bowl and wetting the floor?” Or, “Siri, how can I get my dog to use and flush the toilet?” Maybe we could even connect it to our smart cars, and plan out a trip while we are regrettably indisposed rather that wasting time looking at a book on how funny parent texting is?

I don’t know if it is true that once we try these new smart commodes we won’t go back. But when it is cold in the morning, and I sit on a cold toilet seat, maybe an automatic seat warmer isn’t too bad. Or how about a keypad that you can put your number in and the seat adjusts to your requirement versus’ your spouses or roommate. The opportunities are endless. See anything can be entrepreneurial.

And that is my thought for the day!

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