over 10 years on 2008-06-01


the idea:  bottle nyc tap water, ship it to china, sell nyc tap water as a premium brand.  this is an idea that i half-jokingly presented at a bain dinner as a business idea three years ago.  it fit perfectly into the category of ideas i most appreciate - it sounds downright absurd, but actually makes a ton of sense.  everyone laughed at me, but i still bet that long term something close will actually happen...

today, while in a deli, i saw a news brief about a man named craig zucker who has started bottling new york city tap water and selling it locally as a premium brand.  his philosophy on selling the water is totally different than what i was going after, but his plan is close enough i feel like blogging about my perfectly sound, but perfectly silly sounding, idea.

so, why on earth should we bottle nyc tap water and sell it in china?  every day china ships us tons upon tons of physical goods on container ships.  we have almost nothing to ship back (our only exports are really capital and ideas).  because of the shipping imbalance the 'backhaul' shipping prices (from the us to china) are absurdly low - far below the one way operating cost.  if you don't put anything in the container ships they go back to china empty. 

so, what physical good do we have in the us that we could possibly ship to china and generate value in so doing?  the only thing i can think of is water.  first, china has serious water problems at a baseline.  second, there is a burgeoning middle class in the impoverished contry that is going to want guaranteed clean bottled water.

why nyc tap water?  because it is delicious, very well treated, and a common good (sort of).  it is near a major port (no longbeach, but still huge).  finally, nyc, i must believe, carries some cache with the chinese.  you can take advantage of a "naturally occurring" brand on top of commodity water with exceedingly low shipping costs.  simply by moving water from nyc to china you are creating value. 

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010