Stefano Ladavac: Smart showers are also an important part of IoT future

 In Sažetak razgovora

In a new inspirational talk about IT business in Rijeka, we are presenting you an exciting company Infinity Luxury focused on something not many people would consider interesting – showers. 

Stefano Ladavac finished college in 2017. At that time he decided to start producing outdoor smart showers. The idea came to him when he was working as a receptionist in upscale hotels. He noticed that showers there were leaking offered no extra features and were an eyesore in the otherwise luxury space.

At the time he knew about another entrepreneur that started embedding IoT and other technology into benches. Giving park benches the functionality that was an unimaginable couple of years before. He got the drive to do something to change the way people in the industry perceive showers. His mind was set to bring this idea to life and now we are going to find out how he did it.

One evening we were talking and…

I started around four years ago after finishing college in Rijeka and I got my first job in hotel Milenij Opatija. One day I was with my friend, just a regular evening and we were talking about our lives and what can do and so we came up with an idea about an indoor smart shower which will mix water with shampoo.

But when we decided to go outdoor, we learned that it is forbidden to use shampoo on public beaches so the idea to combine the two wasn’t possible. And yes, that idea is not the same as the one we are doing today. We were figuring out how to do the first one but when I got my first job I saw that outdoor showers are really — old. I started to think about how to improve on this.

As there were a lot of night shifts, I got the time to think, and step by step I started creating the concept of an outdoor shower. I didn’t know what I can do to start calling my product smart, but I had an idea and a concept. So the first thing I did, I called my father and I told him that I want to build an outdoor shower out of stone because he was in the stone business. 

But why all this?

I always liked to do things differently since my childhood. I was always looking for other solutions. That is why I started to think about how to improve showers. You cannot reinvent water. So I needed to think about how to make them smart. The first thing I wanted to change — design.

Every single manufacturer makes them from stainless steel, aluminum, or PVC. So I asked my father who was in the stone business can we build them from — stone. He told me I was crazy. So I said why do you think that and he said that is impossible because it is too heavy, etc. And I was like — so help me figure it out. It took me around two months of persuading him to help me with building one. It wasn’t much of an investment and after some time we figured the design concept. Meantime, I met one guy who is an expert in hardware who came with an idea based around electronics. I was at first stunned because you know — electronics and water — but he proposed some lighter electronics. Thanks to my friend, I came up with an idea of solar panels and after that, a friend of mine helped me to develop the motion sensor system.

The first shower we did in our garage and when I saw it I said — this is it, that is the product I want to do. My father fell in love with it and he told me that I did more than a shower. I made a sculpture.

Simple to say it

There are a lot of motion sensors on the market and actually, the first solution we did is nothing compared to this one we have today. We have spent the last 12 months developing a new shower with two motion sensors, completely different technology.

The first one was just a prototype; we could use it a few times and then it stopped working. When I’m speaking with somebody they like to say „oh shower with a motion sensor and that is nothing special. Believe me, a lot is going on in the shower.

Mindset between sales and wires

I can never be thankful enough to my family (parents and grandfather) that pushed me to go to college; before that, I was the guy working with hands and I was always with my grandfather helping him in the service around stone cutting machines.

It wasn’t that hard to switch my mindset after college but as I said; I am grateful to go to college where I met people who changed my mindset and showed me how to become an entrepreneur or business and showed me how to things in life which I could never dream before. 

The Decision

The day I saw the shower wasn’t the day I decided to create a company. I was still working in a hotel as a receptionist and one night and I was told by my boss to peel some oranges.
I started to think— I can continue this way or I can focus 100% on my vision and my product and my goals. That was the moment.

The next morning, I woke up and I called my boss and I told him this was it for me. From today’s point, it wasn’t the best decision and I can be honest because I had zero experience, zero contacts and I think it would be better if I continued working for at least the next six months because I would get to know some people and shared some experience. But I’m still happy today.

The first one out the door

I was 100% sure that I have the right concept for sale after I produced my prototype. It took me around six to eight months to sell the first product and I sold it to our football player, Dejan Lovren. It is one of my biggest achievements because selling the first one to a famous player was an amazing situation. But… I need to be honest that the first ten to fifteen showers were a bit problematic and we had to repair them at least three to four times. Only on the first one, sold to Dejan Lovren, I never had any service. I don’t know what happened we changed something in the manufacturing process (grandfather & me) which caused some problems but we quickly fixed that.

Now I can say that six months ago we made a product that can be sold anywhere in the world; all before were just prototypes. From one point of view, I am happy, from other not so much that we didn’t go big before because we would have a lot of problems with a product.

Business philosophy behind showers

As we are a manufacturer, it is very hard to maintain a business-to-client relationship. Especially if you have to go over the borders. So from this year, we have distributors in Croatia and outside (one in New Zealand!). So if you asked me about the shower, I would forward you to our partner in Rijeka who would discuss the details with. Completely B2B but one month ago I saw that someone nicknamed us not B2B but H2H — human to human.

HPL revolution

I started with stone as my family was one in the stone business. Unfortunately, it is “difficult” material. It needs special machines and tools and as it ages it requires maintenance. And the weight; how the hell am I going to export a product that weighs around 350 kilos. It is not easy to do in Croatia so the question was always what is going to look like when we ship it out of Croatia.

Of course, we ship stone showers but I wanted to have something else. So I had to find the right material that won’t be steel as that would move me back where the others are. So we came with the HPL which is still unknown and that is his biggest weakness; people still don’t know a lot about it and it is one of the best materials you can find on the market. It is super resistant to all external conditions (temperatures, salt…) and it is very light! It has around 70 kilos with all the equipment.

Maybe the biggest step we made was around a year ago when the manufacturer of ceramics, Marazzi, funded our idea to make showers out of ceramics. We are now creating a new brand, Adaquo. It is going to be based only around smart showers made out of HPL and with integrated motion sensors.

The magic behind the showers

All the showers have sub-construction and its material depends on primary choice. Aluminum goes for HPL and ceramics showers and galvanized steel is used for stone showers. Then we put flexible pipes for water; a lot of plumbers told us that we are not using the right pipes as they were prone to breaking in extremely cold weather but I always told them if they ever broke, they are easily replaceable. In four years there were no such cases. One of our biggest goals was to create a shower that is going to be easily maintained even after 20 years. 

Other internal components depend on the model we are building; motion sensor showers have a control board, two motion sensors, batteries, solar panels. In the simpler models, we have a shower mixer and every single one of them has a shower head. These two things we get from an Italian manufacturer. One extra feature we have is ambient illumination lighting that we get from a Croatian manufacturer, Filix. They did the special lighting for our showers.

Solar panels aren’t there to stand and look pretty 

They are used for providing electricity. In situations where an electric cord cannot be brought to the place where is the shower, we have a solution in solar panels.

Showers against nature

The shower is completely closed from the outside so there is no single way for water to come inside the shower. But even if it does, all the electronics are in one IP68 box. We have two service doors but when they close they are completely sealed

Spelling smart in showers

The hardware and software we started to develop at the end of 2019 when we received EU fund (around 1,2 million kunas; non-refundable) and I finally got the opportunity to hire people. For almost two years I worked only with the help of my father, grandfather, and friends. In just 12 months we changed everything inside; I have two of them (Marin & David) working on the system and they are completely in charge of the R&D field in which —I must be honest —am not an expert. I’m more of a sales guy, the one who likes to meet new people and create new products. To summarize — all the things we used before are now ten times better.

LinkedIn and opportunities

When the pandemic started, I didn’t use too much LinkedIn; I had it but I didn’t know too much about it. Today I spend maybe around 10 minutes on FB and Instagram; all my time on a social network is dedicated to LinkedIn.

We don’t have a tactic. We just want to get an opportunity to talk with others and to explain to them my vision and intentions. It is not just about the showers; I want to educate them about the importance of showers that don’t have to be mine You can’t sell a product by pressuring someone. I like to do things very calmly and casually and I am always thinking before approaching someone how to be different than the guy who messaged him ten minutes earlier. I don’t want to do the sale; I want to talk with him/her about stuff we and they do. I like listening to creative architects. I always say to them — if you have an idea on how to improve our shower, tell us. 

We are using LinkedIn to educate and share our stories. LinkedIn even helped us to find a new distributor; it is not easy as there are no recommendations and the trust is hardly gain. In my opinion, trust is the most important thing in business. If I trust you and you trust me, we will work together for eternity. That is why my goal is always to gain your trust when I get the opportunity to talk with you. And I can only get that by being myself.

Going down the green alley

The idea to save water from the shower came up after seeing the old system on the public beaches; you press the button and the water starts running for around 15 seconds. You can then wash your hands for two seconds, go away and the water will be still running for another 13 seconds. That is one of the reasons why we have developed a motion sensor system so when you are under the shower the water keeps flowing and when you leave — water stops. There is no single drop that will come out if you are not under the shower. 

We also did one thing where we reduced water pressure by combining air and water. It is lower by 50% but you don’t feel it as we are using big shower heads. 

Also, one of the reasons we are using the HPL material is because it is an eco-friendly material. I think that we need to show as a company that we can change the world with the first step from each person and we want to help by saving water. It is not only about saving money; it is about improving the mindset of people and their life.

Showers in pandemic future

My goal is to have a company that will in five to ten years have at least 40 employees. At this moment we have two new products that we will be launching this year but be selling in the year. I need to introduce new things in my company every single year. I have already planned three new products but it is really hard to say if they are going to be finished this year because in the process of developing them you will always encounter some small problems.

And we are also still a startup company so the financial situation doesn’t allow us to develop as much as we would want. We are growing and we are opening a lot of new markets. 2020. was the best year so far for us. We also have one more thing going on that I am still not speaking about as it is a very big thing that will be finished in the next two to three weeks.

Not your average CEO

My goal is always to keep on going and growing. I must be honest that is hard to work with me sometimes as I always want to do more. It is not easy to share the same mindset as my head is always in hundred different places. I am not your average CEO; more of an innovator and salesperson. But I have people in the company that can calm me down and shows me what we need to focus on now. I think that our future is bright.

The most important thing is to have people around you that will be with you when the situation is not good; that is the most important thing in the beginning because the situation is not always good in startup companies. 

It is not easy to keep the positive energy when a lot of things are going downhill and you don’t know how are you going to pay the bills. In these situations, it is very important to have people that will be by your side and tell you when needed —better days are coming. I am really happy to have people who support me.

Two years ago I was working with a friend on a shower in a garage and it was around midnight. As we were finishing the shower and starting to turn it around, one part started to fall and I managed to take it without it breaking it. The problem was that the next day we were supposed to deliver the shower and it takes time for the glue to dry. At that moment I said — I’m quitting, I cannot do this anymore. And my friend was there to tell me that there are a lot of things that are worse in my life than this shower and that I should stop complaining. I figure then that there will always be bad moments in my life but that there is always something good ahead of me. 

Made in Croatia

It is not easy. It is impossible to create the whole product in Croatia because you can’t find all the pieces you need here. We tend to find as much as we can Croatian companies to produce some things but some of them we just import from other countries like HPL (Austria), shower mixers and heads (Italy), ceramics (Italy).

We mostly use stone from Croatia (Istria or Brač); sometimes we import it from Italy or Spain. But we intend to use Croatian products. A great example is flexible pipes that are being produced in Croatia and that is very strange as there are not a lot of similar manufacturers of flexible pipes in Croatia. And the sub constructions are also being made in Croatia.

It is a very big value for the country to have a lot of manufacturers; good examples are Rimac or Ivan Mrvoš from Solin who started at the same as I did. And I know that the manufacturing business is not easy as you are getting around twenty pieces that you have to combine into a product. 

To be brave or to peel an orange

To people who are starting, I am always saying to not quit. If the first product doesn’t succeed, the second will or the third, and so on. Just try. You can always get a daily job and don’t be sad if you have to do it. You can always strive by side if you want that. I think that you will get to the point when you say — okay, this is the idea that I want to idea. I had some ideas before that I thought then they will be a game-changer and I didn’t open a company or invest a lot of money.

But I was sure that they would be successful. And then I came up with this one and it was the one for me. I am sure that everybody in this world has an opportunity to become what they want as we have the same options. For everybody goes the same advice: if you want to start, start. The worst thing that can happen is that you get a daily job which is not bad.

Learning curve 

It is very important to find a mentor who suits you. If someone is okay for me, it doesn’t mean that he will be good for you. Secondly, it is very important to have a mentor privately in the company. I am 26 now and I have been doing this for almost four years and you can imagine how much experience I have.

I have something but I’m far away from people who are in their forties or fifties. So I am always trying to find experienced people with a similar mindset to learn from them. With most of them, I became friends and that is also one beauty of business. So it is very important to have someone that will push you.

 This was never a run for the money

I am looking at my company as it is my baby. And I need to invest in my child so that in ten to fifteen years it can work by itself. I figured out that very soon. I am driving a normal car; I am never thinking of buying something for now. Yes, I want that too but I will still rather invest in a new machine or just in development. 

It all comes to this view of how I’m looking at the company that I explained. That is why I’m always cutting my wage in half. One half goes back as an investment and the other half is for me. I am doing all of this for the company because I want to create something. Money is just something that comes and goes. If your ultimate goal is money, then you will be finished before you even started. But if you are doing it for yourself, then things will soon start to fall in their place.

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