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EP 83: Make More Money. Help More People. Riggs Eckelberry, CEO/Co-Founder of OriginClear Water

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This week on The Millionaire Choice Podcast, Tony talks with Riggs Eckelberry, CEO and cofounder of OriginClear Water. Tony and Riggs discuss his time working at a non-profit and how to use wealth to help benefit the world.

Growing up in a well-off family, Riggs decide to forgo the opportunities provided by his father and delved headfirst into the realm of nonprofit. At age 40, after 20 years of living paycheck to paycheck, Riggs decided that he needed to make money to better help the people in the world around him.

About Riggs Eckelberry

Riggs Eckelberry is the founder and CEO of the innovative water technology company, OriginClear, which is delivering water solutions for industrial customers worldwide. Riggs came to the water industry from a quarter century in high technology, specializing in commercializing breakthrough technologies. During the dotcom, he worked on a series of tech successes, such as Quarterdeck’s CleanSweep, security software vendor Panda Software, and the sale of companies to EarthWeb, BeFree, and BellSouth. Just prior to founding what is now OriginClear, he helped drive security software company, CyberDefender, to an IPO on the NASDAQ as its President and Chief Operating Officer. The son of an international businessman, Eckelberry learned management in the nonprofit space and as a commercial ship captain and officer. He enjoys skiing and sailing and transforming the water industry to deal with the growing water challenges of our time.

Learn more about Riggs Eckelberry,

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Show Transcript

Tony (00:00):

Welcome back to the millionaire choice show, we're gonna have some fun on the show today, cause I'm gonna learn something today from Riggs Eckelberry. He is the chairman CEO and co-founder of OriginClear water. And, before we get going and hear, Riggs' story, I really want you all to listen because he's doing something very unique and interesting in the water space. I'm not gonna give all the details away because I'm gonna be learning on this call as well. And, welcome to show Riggs. I'm really excited to hear what you've got to say. It's always fun to learn about not just new investments, but new things that people are doing to make the world a better place.

Riggs Eckelberry (00:38):

I really appreciate the opportunity. Let's let's have some fun.

Tony (00:43):

So, this whole show is about inspiring people to believe. We give them the mental power. We help them reprogram their mindset to what we call "a millionaire mindset." That's the big thing going around in the industry right now, and I was a broke guy. I've gotten some calls. I love getting calls from single dads or young ladies at 25 years old and grew in a broke family. A lot of people think that millionaires are born with silver spoons in their mouth, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Riggs Eckelberry (01:13):

I would say that it's very hard to succeed with that silver spoon. You're gonna have to remake yourself to actually be- I pity people- you and I have known trust fund kids and they are lost. It's not their world. It's their daddy's world.

Tony (01:27):

Oh, absolutely. And, so you didn't grow up in a rich family or a wealthy family. You had to figure this out, but before you figured out finances and a better way to live, what was it like for you growing up?

Riggs Eckelberry (01:39):

Well, really what it really was, riches to rags to riches. I grew up, son of an international businessman at the time, in the fifties and sixties when the dollar was king. And, I remember my mom saying to me, when I was like 10, "Riggs, your dad makes $40,000," which was a lot of money back then. That was like 61.

Tony (02:09):

That was a lot.

Riggs Eckelberry (02:10):

And, of course, my dad did not mind the French ladies and all that fun stuff that came with that. He was like John Ham in, Mad Men. It was a lot like that. In other words, nice guy, but not nice. But, one thing that I got out of that was a rootlessness. We moved and moved and moved and moved. And, I came out of that with a sense that I wanted to do something about the world. My dad was pulling strings to get me into Harvard and this and that. But, I said, "no, no, no," and I took a different path altogether. I went into the nonprofit space, I was making $10 a week.

Riggs Eckelberry (02:54):

Which, "that was a lot of money in 1969." No, but seriously, even then it was not a lot of money. But, I loved it. And, I worked there for about a decade before I started really becoming interested in, "okay, what's gonna change the world outside of working on a cause?" I started getting interested in how you can change the world in business while also making money, like, "do both. Make money and do good for the world." And, I saw that technology was really what it's all about. So, I landed in New York city and started doing technology work. I ended up in the .com, and basically from nothing- I had no resume. I'd been a nonprofit dude for years- so I worked my way up from nothing, no college, and no business experience.

Riggs Eckelberry (03:59):

I made tremendous mistakes, to this day I cringe. The saying goes, "experience is a great teacher, but she sends in big bills," right. That's a kid. Oh my God. So, I ended up in the early nineties with experience; landed in the .com. I fell in love with .com. The idea of using computers, not for accounting or to run manufacturing, but to communicate with; that was super cool. And, it was revolutionary for me, and I got involved with all kinds of interesting plays. That's when I started making some money. But, I started getting quick exits, "Hey, guess what? Riggs, we sold the company. Woohoo! By the way, everything you built, it's going away. Nobody cares." I'm like, "okay, I'll take the money," and it's good for a little bit.

Riggs Eckelberry (04:53):

But, after a while what I really would like to do something that lasts. Fast forward to the two thousands; I help take a company- by then I'd work my way up through marketing, product manager, a job that I loved, VP marketing. And then, finally, I was a second in command of a company on its way to the NASDAQ. I was president and chief operating officer. And, of course, when you're the number two, you're sure you can be a better CEO than the guy in charge. "I can be better than that guy." Well, I happened to say that to a fund and they said, "Riggs, we can make you a CEO." "Really?" "Yes, we can. And we're gonna launch you, but by the way, it's not gonna be high tech.

Riggs Eckelberry (05:41):

It's gonna be this different space." And, it was this space called Algae; in 2007 it was the hot item for biofuels. And, I ended up on all kinds of talk shows, Stuart Varney, he said, "I'll call you Algae-man," and all that cool stuff. I was on CNN and MSNBC- everything. It was a lot of fun. So, fast forward to the oil price crash, which happened because oil decided to have its own technology revolution with fracking, and all of a sudden you couldn't make algae for biofuels because the price of oil's gotta be around $120 a barrel. And, that was back in 2007. So, we managed to do a pivot. We took the same technology we had for algae, and we took it into water. Water treatment; purification of water.

Riggs Eckelberry (06:40):

We learned something very interesting; when you're in water, you're invisible. Nobody cares. I mean, people say, "oh, water's super important. Gotta have a lot of clean water," but nobody wants to know about sewage. Like, those concrete cisturns down by the river. That's that sewage thing. So, I had to really understand, "how are we gonna A) make a difference because water companies are huge and slow moving. And, B) how are we gonna get publicly noticed?" Because as the public company- ticker symbol; OCLN- we had to get visibility to have a stock that mattered. You don't wanna trade by appointment. It's one of the big lessons you learn about public companies; don't be the best kept secret. And, that's been our quest ever since, "how do we accomplish meaningful change that excites people?" And, I think we've arrived at that point.

Tony (07:35):

Well, that's wonderful. So, originally you said you had a riches to rags to riches. So, you were born in, obviously your dad making 40 grand, which, it's funny because, you said, I think you said it was 61. He was making 40 grand. When I got outta school in 94, that was my first year's income was $39,000; right at that 40 grand range. So, it went from being a rich dude in the 60s to, "Hey, this is kinda, not bad, but not great," in the nineties. So, what was the pivot for you where you went from the riches of your family; your dad's doing well; down to the rags. What happened there? And, then how did you bounce back?

Riggs Eckelberry (08:17):

Well, it was self-inflicted. First of all, as I said, right outta high school, I went straight into the nonprofit space. Didn't make much money, but it had lots of adventures. I became a ship captain and sailed the Pacific. But, I didn't make much money. Went into technology in New York city and made a huge big, splash, but my company was under capitalized and it was a very difficult experience. It was basically a business failure. And, out of that I just went off sort of, on retreat, so to speak. I ended up in the mountains of Colorado, and I remember my birthday year, 40th birthday, 1992. And, I looked at what I'd made that year. It was $16,000 that I made that.

Riggs Eckelberry (09:10):

That barely paid for my health insurance at the time because foolishly, I continued to pay for my health insurance. So, at that point I was like, "okay, do something." And, it was good because I was ski bumming and it was the best, had the best time ever, never slept, just skied, like a madman and partied and behaved like I was 20, but I was 40. And that was good. But by 1994, I was like, okay, "I gotta get off the mountain. I gotta marry somebody good. I gotta make a family." And, I went back to LA and, found a lovely lady. From that point on, just started building a business. But, by now I had the nonprofit experience where I'd actually been in command of an ocean going ship, which teaches you a lot.

Riggs Eckelberry (10:04):

I'd been in New York business and really had a horrible time of it in the end. But, the guy that took over the business, made a good go of it, but I didn't. And, then this sort of intervening period, when I made, $16,000 a year from that point forward, I was in a tech company. I finally learned something that I had not done before. Apprenticeship to me is the most important thing you can do to succeed in life because you'll learn the ins and outs of it as opposed to coming in from left field. Like, "I can do this, no problem!" Like, I paid somebody off and I got a seat license and now I'm driving a truck kind of thing. So, don't do that. You want an apprentice, you wanna work your way up. And, in prior years, I was too impatient to do that.

Tony (11:02):

Any arrogance going on there too?

Riggs Eckelberry (11:05):

No arrogance whatsoever. None, no arrogance. So, that was my, really my downfall. By like 95, I was paying my dues in a software company. And, I learned a trade it's called software and product management, which is a great job. It's the best job because everything's now. You are master of no one; responsible for everything. You basically, you're a ninja warrior for your product. It's kind of fun. And, I had a product success was seriously good and that built my reputation from there. That's when I started really going up the ladder. Yet, each step of the ladder this time I learned what to do. And, that's where the change happened.

Tony (12:07):

I love that. I think you just hit a place that is interesting. You said you started your turn around at 40 cuz a lot of people I talk about in the financial space, either, as they get older, they're like, "oh, it's too late for me. I wish I had done that, 10 years ago or 20 years ago." What I find from the people I talk to and hang out with; it doesn't matter how old you are. You just gotta get going. You just gotta get started. It's not too late. I talked to a wonderful guy the other day, his show will be coming out before too long, probably out before yours. His name's, Taylor Welch.

Tony (12:43):

He's a 33 year old multimillionaire. He know his net worth, I believe it is over 25 million. And,I'm like, "Hey, how long does it take for somebody to get to financial independence in your estimate when you work? And, he's like , "seve