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From basement to business: 5 years of Shayp

Since the beginning, Shayp’s mission has been clear: to help preserve the world’s most precious resource, water. Over the past 5 years, we helped public and private property management organisations save more than 5 billion litres of water. 

Yet, it all started with three passionate individuals and building prototypes in a basement. So, how did we go from there to a thriving enterprise? 

To answer that and to celebrate Shayp’s 5-year anniversary, we interviewed Shayp’s co-founders: Alexandre McCormack, Grégoire de Hemptinne and Zineddine Wakrim. We talked about the beginnings, the biggest challenges, mistakes and everything else that got Shayp where it is today. In the end, the co-founders share their best tips for starting and building a company.

The evolution of Shayp

“That’s how it all started: with an old friend of mine and someone I met through a common passion.”, Alexandre McCormack, CEO and co-founder of Shayp. 

Alexandre, Grégoire and Zineddine: three different personalities with the common goal of improving water efficiency standards in buildings. We wanted to hear the story right from the beginning and find out how the three of them first met.

Alexandre: I have known Zineddine since I first arrived in Belgium when I was 18. I remember having Moroccan tea and fantastic pancakes his mother made for us while playing video games and watching TV together.

Zineddine: Alex and I also breakdanced together. I don’t do it anymore because it’s too painful. I would break myself!

Alexandre: But then we lost touch as the years passed. Then, when I first started researching leak detection technology in 2016, I posted about it on Facebook, and Zineddine reached out to me. He saw that I was working with IoT and was interested.

He was able to take something I’d been working on for three months and build a better version in just a week. 

Zineddine: I remember the mess in my room during the period when we had to deliver the first prototypes. There were 5-6 prototypes, problems to solve… We had to stay up to finish it. Not all night, but almost. But we delivered on time!

Soon, Grégoire joined and pushed the idea to the next level.

Alexandre: I met Greg at a conference and immediately liked him. I was actually actively looking for another co-founder, someone who was more software savvy.

Grégoire: There wasn’t even Shayp when I arrived. It was just Alex sharing the idea on a stage, pitching it at a conference. I remember thinking: “Whoa, the problem of water leaks is huge!”. For me, everything started from that point.

Once the three co-founders officially established the company, the team started growing.

Zineddine: So, it was just the three of us. Then another person joined. Then another. And so on. But we were still just a small group of people trying to save water. It felt like a family.

Alexandre: Yet, there was a shift in the company culture. It went from a bunch of people trying to figure things out to an actual team.’ 

Grégoire: Today, we have an amazing talent with great energy. We work with people who strive for impact. They are genuinely passionate about what they do.

Zineddine: We also choose people we work with carefully. I personally don’t hire if I’m not sure. I would rather have no one on the team than the wrong person.

Alexandre: At the start of this year, during one of our general company meetings, I looked around the room, and it struck me: we are no longer a group of individuals but a team. At that moment, I realised how far we had come.

Zineddine: I’ll admit, in the beginning, I thought that could be the next Google or Facebook. I thought we could be the next big thing and make a lot of money. But my vision changed when I saw that we could have a significant impact. Now, it is all about saving water!

Powering through tough times

Not everything always goes smoothly. Growing a business is challenging, even in the best of times. In 2020 Shayp, like so many companies, had to learn to manoeuvre a pandemic while keeping their business afloat. 

Grégoire: The beginning of the COVID pandemic and the lockdowns were a tough time personally and professionally. My family grew; I’d just gotten twins, and the cash was low. Our investors were also putting things on hold. Things didn’t look bright.

Alexandre: I certainly had moments when I doubted myself. I questioned whether I was right in my role as CEO and whether I had what it took. But there was never a moment when I was ready to throw in the towel.

Zineddine: It helps that all 3 of us have an engineering background. We look at a problem and want to solve it.

Grégoire: At one point, Alex and I sat down to choose one focus. We decided to work directly with municipalities and figure out how to best support them. I couldn’t believe how fast things picked up from there! We’d never had such traction before.

Just about a year ago, we passed the ‘1 billion litres of water saved’ mark. Today, that number has passed 5 billion litres! That’s five times more in just a year!

Alexandre: What always kept me going is the fact that we’re building something where we can see a clear, measurable impact. It’s visible to us and to our customers.

Gregoire: In the beginning, we were keen to move in all directions, regardless of where it would take us. But the more you grow, the less flexibility you have. Now, I’m looking forward to building a company where everything is streamlined, almost automated, from sales to delivery so that we can scale with a reasonably small team.

Zineddine: I am proud of what Shayp has accomplished. It all started in my room. And now, there’s not enough room for all of us in a 130 m2 office!

Alexandre: While the first phase was fun, this one is exciting!

Shayp's co-foundersShayp's co-founders: Alexandre, Zineddine and Grégoire.

A word of advice

Finally, we asked the co-founders to share their best advice for all those starting their own companies.

Alexandre: A coach once told me: Love the problem, not the solution. 

As an engineer, you might have a tendency to fall in love with the technology, but it might not be the right solution for your customers. 

When you learn to love the right thing, you will learn to listen to the market and focus on the things most beneficial for your clients and your company.

Zineddine: Before developing any product, try selling slides. In other words, sell your idea first to confirm it has value! This way, you ensure you have clients ready to invest in your product.  

Grégoire: Don’t stress too much! Be confident, and you will perform much better. At one point, you will have to stop doubting whether you’re the right person. Just go forth!

The story of Shayp now continues where it started: with people uniting behind a common cause. Though the company’s size may have changed, the goal remains the same.

Alexandre: Our aim is to make water efficiency a norm throughout legislation and utilities. We are entering a time when water is not only an economic priority but also a social issue. 

I’ve never been more certain about what we’re doing!

In 5 years, Shayp has grown from a start-up to a valuable company with an ambitious team that helps save water, a precious resource threatened by climate change. Their achievements and company ethics have been rewarded with sustainable certifications and a growing portfolio of partners and clients. 

In the current energy crisis we are facing, Shayp’s importance will only grow. About half of the water price is determined by the energy used to make it potable. With energy prices increasing, saving water can become an even more valuable way of cutting costs as well as saving precious resources.   

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