Pia: Barbara and I constantly vacillate between optimism and world-weariness when we look at the daily news. How do you feel, Niko, when you look at the world? Speaking of climate change, politics, … how optimistic are you that we, as humanity, can still handle it all?
Niko: I’m not optimistic about that, I have to say in all honesty. There have always been advanced civilizations. There have been the Babylonians, there have been the Greek, I have no idea about all the things that have existed. And I’m not saying that we’re all going to be wiped out and there’s going to be a zombie apocalypse or anything, but, I do believe that this hedonistic way of life is going to break our backs, sooner or later. And nobody is willing to let go of it. I think you can compare it a little bit to the Bible and this apple. When you’ve eaten this stupid apple and you see and you know everything, why should you now go back and say, okay, I’ll forget everything again.
My approach is more like: How can we use this time that is given to us in a way that we grow beyond it on another level? I mean on a spiritual level, for example. The one says: Okay, these tasks make us realize what the big picture is.
Founded in 2017 by current CEO Niko Bogianzidis and his CoFounders, ÖKlo rents out and sells dry toilets in Austria and Germany and is the market leader in this segment in Europe. öKlo currently has over 2,000 dry toilets set up across Austria, making it one of the top 3 for portable toilets and a successful competitor to chemical toilet providers.
Since its founding, ÖKlo has grown by more than 100 percent every year and now employs more than 50 people throughout Austria. Its 5,000 business customers include cities and municipalities, the construction industry, event and festival organizers. These include the City of Vienna, Strabag, Asfinag and ÖBB.
- Product consists of mostly local wood species
- Power supply using green electricity
- Fleet consists of 4 e-vans
- The toilets operate without electricity or water and reduce contamination of drinking water with hormones, fecal germs, medications, plastics, drugs or hormones
- Every time you go to the toilet, up to five liters of drinking water are saved. In total, that makes almost 20 million liters of drinking water per year.
Barbara: And if you look at this transformation, whether we make it or not, what are you as a person and with your company doing to make it happen?
Niko: Raising awareness! Simply raising awareness and saying: It’s not all there infinitely. We can’t just flush the toilet endlessly and then it’s gone. Following the motto: What I don’t see is no longer a problem. And there are a lot of other people and companies that are doing something in this direction, whether it’s on a relationship level or environmental issues or something like that. So I think we have reached a point in time where raising awareness is very, very important.
Pia: And what exactly does this “raising awareness” that you’re doing with öKlo look like?
Niko: We are raising awareness for the topic of water. We want to raise awareness for possible ways to process fecal waste, a very taboo subject. We want to say: Okay, that’s part of us, you don’t just have to flush it away and ignore it. For example, you can generate energy with it, you can make biogas, compost or fertilizer… because everything else is shit, in the truest sense of the word.
Barbara: Then the next question that would be of burning interest to us is: What was a game-changer moment for you? What was a game-changer moment for you? Whether it was a particularly relevant setback or some kind of turning point or a special success, something that turned your world upside down?
Niko: There are some every day. But for me, the game-changer moment was when I was walking through Vienna and saw an öKlo toilet in a park. And that was the moment when I thought to myself: I don’t have to set up, build, sell, maintain and service every toilet myself, but there are others who take care of it. … I really am an activist and not just someone who says: I dream of a better world.
I really am an activist and not just someone who says: I dream of a better world.Niko Bogianzidis
Pia: That’s a nice transition to the following question: What does success mean to you personally? And when are you successful with your company, when is öKlo successful?
Niko: When joy equals or exceeds suffering. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in my role as a father, or in my role as a partner, or in my role as a manager and colleague. As long as my joy is greater than my suffering, I am successful. And in terms of the company, I would probably assess it the same way. As long as it somehow works, it is successful.
Barbara: And let’s say you don’t know your numbers in the company, they’re not a benchmark. What is it then?
Niko: Then it would probably be an empty warehouse. …We are building, and somehow the warehouse isn’t getting any fuller… because the demand is there.
Pia: The counter-question to success: When is it enough?
Niko: I don’t think there’s such a thing as “enough,” and I’m not talking about profitability. I’m not talking about the fact that even if I earn a hundred million euros, it’s still not enough, but we’re doing something that makes sense. We are trying to do something good for the environment and there is always room for improvement, I think. So there is no such thing as “enough.
Barbara: That means more is better if the fundamental idea is right?
Niko: Yes, exactly. Raising more awareness, reaching more people. And I don’t implicitly mean more sales, more work, more revenue. I’m someone who says infinite growth is cancer. But in the case of raising awareness and sharing good ideas, I don’t see it as infinite growth, but rather as a super-organism that keeps going.
Pia: And personally – when do you know you’ve had enough?
Niko: People like me have to endure themselves. And long stagnation or boredom equals frustration for me and something new always arises from that. I think when it’s enough, someone would tell me. Then the question would rather be: Do I listen and can I accept it, or not. But I also just like to push the limits, I have to say. My own and those of others.
Barbara: You’ve probably explained this x times in pitches, so really in a nutshell: What is öKlo’s business model?
Niko: We design, produce, rent out and sell mobile sustainable sanitation systems for construction sites and public places & events. This means we do not use water or chemical additives for our toilets. And have the ability to separate and process feces through our system.
Pia: And what’s the vision behind it?
Niko: It sounds kind of big-headed, but ushering in a new era, just like the Romans did with the canal. In a word: Pushing forward the sanitary turnaround. Ultimately, for me it’s simply a matter of bringing öKloLand to all the countries in the world that have a need for it.
Barbara: And what does öKLoland do?
Niko: öKloland is a completely self-sufficient ground, where all biogenic waste from a municipality is collected. That means kitchen waste, green waste, bush cuttings, grass cuttings, animal waste, chicken manure, horse manure, liquid manure and human waste. And these are then to be processed into fertilizer, biogas, electricity, biochar and water. And this is then to be returned to the natural cycle.
Barbara: And that’s a regional concept? So every municipality has its own öKloland?
Niko: Yes, exactly. So just as you have sewage treatment plants today, in the future there will be öKLoländer then in these communities.
Barbara: How is your company embedded in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, or how do you contribute to shaping it?
Niko: Well, I think that happens automatically, actually, because waste is constantly being created. The number of people in the world is not going to decrease, at least not in the next few years. That means there will be more demand for food and all the things coming with it. This means that waste will also increase, not only feces but also everything else. And in this respect, there will simply be a need for recycling. In addition, due to population growth, rural areas are becoming more and more attractive or are being redeveloped to create new settlement areas. And this is where a change in thinking is already taking place. In Vienna, for example, there is the first municipal building that has this EOOS toilet inside, where the urine is separated in the toilet. That’s not just one household, that’s an entire municipal building, and that’s just a test. But it also shows the direction in which things will and can go in the future. And that’s why I think that if it’s possible to recycle waste well, then municipalities, especially communities and large farms, will make more use of it in the future.
Pia: Are you actively lobbying for the sanitation turnaround?
Niko: We actually only actively lobby when it comes to the legal framework for composting, where we can actually celebrate small successes on a regular basis.
Pia: Do you do it all on your own, or are there partners who assist you?
Niko: No, of course not alone. For example, this struvite precipitation that we’re working on now, which is really a big thing – I couldn’t have done it alone. No one has ever done that before us. It’s completely new. And I myself have nothing to do with it directly. I just got the right people together, told them: Okay, let’s try this. I now know what struvite is. Three months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about it.
Pia: According to what criteria do you bring people together?
Niko: When I sense that there is a will and an interest and also this rebelliousness to say: I really want to change something. If I sense that, then that person will get a chance with us. That applies to research and development. … when it comes to our future, I look for people who I feel have the same goals and values as I do.
Pia: What are those values?
Niko: Familiar, friendly. Think and act in the infinite cycle.
Pia: öKlo is not just you. Many others are now committed to it. How do you manage to keep this vehicle moving in the same direction? So that everyone is acting in concert, as the saying goes?
Niko: Yes, not everyone does that anyway. Haselsteiner always said: If you manage to have two thirds going in the same direction, then you’re very good. I think we are better.
Barbara: What would your people say about the team spirit?
Niko: So we do team meetings once a month where everyone sits together and this topic actually gets discussed again every time. How are you guys doing? What’s the mood like? And the majority are very, very grateful that they have found a home with us. We provide a lot of stability in the team. Precisely because we have a partly somewhat unusual staff. We don’t have very educated people, but also some long-term unemployed, people who don’t fit into the system, people who don’t fit in. And that is also why I do it. Because it’s a really good feeling to know that economic success is not the top priority, but also when you have someone on your team for 6 years who was looking for work for years before that. The social component is important to me.
Pia: Is that a conscious decision or did it evolve to that?
Niko: I think there are values that you as a person bring to your business. We come from the music sector and used to organize reggae festivals. One love and Equal Rights and Justice are what count there, so you can’t suddenly say: Now I’m the boss and none of that counts anymore.
Barbara: Closing Question. Which band would you like to see as our federal government and why?
Niko: Music is incredibly important to me. I can’t just say anything now. I have to think about that carefully.
After all, there are great bands that are just great. But I need a reason why they’re in the federal government. It’s not that easy. Crap! No, you can’t use punks, that wouldn’t work. Rooster wouldn’t work either. Yeah, politics is just crap in a way. That’s the problem. It doesn’t fit together at all actually. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time. I actually have to ask myself the question now, what do I wish for in our federal government?
Pia: What do you wish for?
Niko: Yes. So what I would like to see is: Far less escalation and more de-escalation in all areas. Maybe we could even force a bit of a standstill, because where we are right now, there have been too many reforms. Sometimes I get the impression that the reformers themselves are not keeping up with their reforms. And I would like to see a council. That’s actually what I would like to see much more than all these hobos sitting in there. A council.
Pia: Something like a citizens’ council, you mean? Or councils of experts?
Niko: Yes, I would rather say that there should be representatives from all areas or from several areas. Just like you said, parent representatives and people from the normal population, where you can say: They have a normal job. But then you also have scientists, for example. Possibly you can think about theologians, but if, then only from various religions, not from a specific one and where you then try certain topics….
Dude, no! Sorry, sorry, all back to the initial question. I mean, I can go on and on, but I actually have my answer. The band is called ChatGPT.
Barbara: ChatGPT as the federal government?
Niko: Yes. That’s my opinion, and I’m treading on very thin ice here. I believe that artificial intelligence makes us humans better humans. And I believe that many value decisions that are made emotionally or based on ego, pride or anything else, especially in politics, in a domain like this, could be better made by a computer, that is maybe not on coke at the time, than by most politicians.
Barbara: Very fascinating. That makes me think. And I think here’s a good point to end the interview. With a cliffhanger to keep you thinking. Thank you Niko for your time and your openness!!