Tap In To The Water Revolution: Our New Favorite Water App
“I went on Google Maps and tried to find that water fountain…and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s ever put clean drinking water on a map before!’ That was my eureka moment, of realizing one of the reasons why people drink bottled water is that they can’t actually find water.”
We have all been there: you fill your water bottle before you leave the house to run errands, and a short while later your bottle is empty; you aren’t headed home any time soon and you are thirsty. The dilemma unfolds. Should you stop at a gas station and buy a bottled water?
In the past, the obvious answer was find a drinking fountain. Most stores, parks, shopping centers, and malls all had them. Multiples usually. Throughout history, humans have carried various versions of a water bottle: the canteen, the flask, the bladder, hollowed out animal horns, etc. As humans have evolved, so too have our methods, but one constant remained: our absolute dependence on water.
I was recently introduced to a company called Tap. My knowledge of them was minimal: they help you find water. But what did that even mean? I gathered my laptop and phone and sat down to call the founder, Sam Rosen, who had graciously agreed to chat with me about the company. I was completely unaware of how motivated I was about to be by his words. Not to mention how frustrated at our world with how we have monopolized the most basic human necessity: water.
Tell me a little about how this company came to be and where the idea came from?
The idea came to me when I was traveling through an airport about a year and a quarter ago. I had my Hydroflask (my water bottle) walking through the airport, and I went to one of those standard water fountains, not one of the new water refill stations. The water didn’t really taste that good. I went on Google Maps and tried to find that water fountain to review – just like we might review a Lime scooter or a Lyft ride – and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s ever put clean drinking water on a map before!’ That was my eureka moment, of realizing one of the reasons why people drink bottled water is that they can’t actually find water. When I searched ‘The number one reason why people buy bottled water’, overwhelmingly it was ‘convenience’.
That is a huge problem, but it seems Tap is on track to fix that.
One of the things that we have to do is index clean drinking water around the world to start solving that problem. We have now grown that database to over 50,000 refill locations or stations in the world, in over 30 countries and counting.
What types of refill locations are there and what types of water?
We use naturals springs and existing water fountain structures, for example; a water fountain in New York City or Venice Beach. But we had this idea – why can’t businesses and restaurants who will give you a free cup of tap water also be like a water fountain? So, we built a network of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops to do exactly that. Now, where that seems commonplace in America, in places like Japan that is actually a revolutionary thing. Businesses there don’t give away free water. The Cokes, Pepsis and Nestles have marketed as such to make more money by, quote ,‘shutting off the tap’. In the U.S., Coca Cola had a program called ‘Cap the Tap’ that they got in trouble for, where they told businesses to not give away tap water but to instead charge people for a bottle of water.
That’s horrible and beyond frustrating, but you guys are combating that.
We are. You may be familiar with what we call water ATMs. Sometimes you see them outside a grocery store, where someone might fill up a five-gallon jug. In other parts of the world, lets take India specifically, those machines are being deployed at train stations and other locations. For people who need access to clean water, all they have to do is bring a bottle and fill it. The reason we can provide it for such a cheap price is that once the packaging and transportation is removed, about 60% of the cost is removed. Tap water is 2000 times less expensive than a bottle of water.
What are the benefits for a company of participating in this program?
Well, for one, foot traffic. Businesses spend so much money trying to get people in the door, but why not give away free water and drive in people that way? Lululemon for example is an athletic store and has a fountain and will happily fill up your bottle for you. Let’s take La Colombe coffee shop in New York, one of my favorites; they have free sparkling and still water on tap. What they didn’t have was a connection to google maps. Someone could be walking by looking for water, they might be two blocks away and would have never known.
How are you going about getting in contact with all these businesses?
We started by reaching out directly. We signed up thousands of locations that way and now it is like a marketplace, where companies sign up themselves.
Tell me how the “Drink Different” movement got started.
The “Drink Different” movement was inspired obviously by Steve Jobs – his ‘Think Different’ campaign. We went to about 500 different influencers and asked them to take a 30-day pledge to not drink from single use plastic bottles, and challenge others to do so as well. That was shared to a combined almost 100 million Instagram followers. In particular, we got started in the yoga community. Now, it has expanded out to a sort of a grassroots movement of people in their local communities who are choosing to drink different. That one small change of refusing single-use plastic water bottles for 30 days, for a lot of people, heightens their awareness of just how much single use disposable plastic is in their daily life.
What are some of the single-use problems you see showing up predominately in the next few years?
I think, first, just the pure trash and environmental concerns. You can’t go to the beach now and not see plastic pollution everywhere. That just didn’t exist when I was a child. Microplastics have been found in even the most remote areas on Earth, from the bottoms of oceans to the tops of mountains. They have been found inside fish and birds, causing animals to wash up on the shores dead because they think the plastic is food. The second thing is it has been found in us. It has been found in human feces. These small microplastics get eaten by small fish that get eaten by larger tuna, that get eaten by humans, and it starts to go up the food chain.
The water bottles themselves, due to the nature of how thin they are, when they get hot the microplastics literally leach hormone-like chemicals into the water that we drink. The long term affects haven’t yet been discovered. Third, I think it is ridiculous that these companies have bottled our water supply and are now selling it back to us. The government has allowed this to happen. How we combat this is everyone banding together and carrying a bottle and refilling it and not buying the bottled water.
It’s crazy to me that we need to retrain everyone to carry a bottle when not even 60 years ago that was the norm. Even as a kid in the 90s we carried our canteen with us.
That’s absolutely right. Bottled water started to take off in the 70’s, revolutionized by Perrier, but it didn’t really take hold till the 90s, like you said. That’s because they started to take out the drinking fountains. I often say that ‘a symbol that once divided us no longer exists today to unite us’.
I didn’t even think about that. What once was such a big deal with segregation, that separated us, no longer exists. What do you see as the future for Tap?
What’s obvious to me is we have the ability to enable people to take back their water. From helping us identify where it is, to building crowd-sourcing tools to allow anyone to upload a water station, to starting to hit on a digital product where we can actually give the water quality a rating or score. I think that is important. There was a news article recently that stated that bad tap water was linked to thousands of California cancer cases. Flint, Michigan is going on its fifth year of not having access to clean drinking water. People are literally drinking bad water. So, with Tap, you will not only be able to find drinking water but you can trust that it is clean drinking water. We want to be the search engine for thirst. We like to call ourselves a ‘software’ drink company.
Even for me personally, it’s such a comforting thought that I can confidently bring my bottle and know that I will be able to refill it all day long and not have to purchase a single-use plastic bottled water.
If we want to make a difference, we have to make a choice. With your water bottle, don’t leave home without it. Show up to a party with it, get a collapsible one that goes in your purse; put one in your backpack. Take it everywhere you go. We have to educate everyone.
I do think this is something that can quite literally change the world, and I am excited to share this. I am so appreciative that you carved out time to chat so that we can get this out there and hopefully reach even more people.
Article shorthand (some takeaways):
- Take the pledge to bring your reusable water bottle with you wherever you go
- Download the Tap app or use Google Maps to find 1000’s of refill locations worldwide
- Become a #waterwarrior and spread the word about Tap so that others can make the change as well
- Let companies in your area know about Tap and encourage them to sign up.