27 July 2010
SEA Desalination Corporation
Mike Wofsey writes 27 July 2010:
I read your excellent interview in CNET, I looked for it because I trust people but not organizations so much, and WikiLeaks seemed a bit fishy to me from the get-go.
But something strange happened while I was looking at the article, I noticed the photo. By some twist of coincidence, I happened to be wearing the very same blue plaid shirt with the open collar that you are wearing in the pix, and just a few hours earlier my wife was complaining that I need to throw it out. Then I looked at the photo and saw that you were standing in front of 2 Penn Plaza, the building in which I used to work when I worked at McGraw Hill. Then I looked at your photo more carefully and I think that I recognized you from years ago, when I was a lifeguard at The Paris Health Club. (I'm not positive about the last one, and my mom has an apartment on West 103, so it might be from there.) Anyway, it felt like kismet, so I read your interview more carefully than I would normally read such things, and found that at least as presented in that interview (which might be total b.s.) you are apparently an honest person.
I figured what the hell, I would ask you for help. I'm hoping to ask you for a recommendation for someone to help me. First the background ...
About seven years ago I lived in NYC with my wife and two daughters, down in Battery Park City, we had a decent life, lots of fun, mostly broke, but I had a job at McGraw Hill and I was working on my MA in physics at CUNY on 34th Street. I figured I had a future back then.
But then our 3-year-old daughter started getting sick, I reckoned from the concrete dust and asbestos from WTC that was all over our neighborhood, but maybe I'm just a bit paranoid. She was hospitalized, but things got better, then McGraw Hill broke my contract and laid me off, so I had no job, but since I had a small at-home business (http://www.galaxygauge.com/) I couldn't get unemployment insurance. I was done with the MA, and it seemed like the right time to move to where my mother-in-law was, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (I'm originally from Colorado.) I joined the Ph.D. program for physics down here, figuring I would do well when I finished, after all, who has ever heard of an unemployed physicist?
I studied, failed the qualifier but studied some more and then passed the qualifier, finished my classes, jumped off the theoretical molecular physics track and got into desalination physics, spurred on by the desire to help all the people in the world who were dying of water-related illnesses. I struggled some more, fought some more, invented some new types of ultra-cheap solar desalination systems that could save lives in developing nations. Got some decent seed funding to start the company, got a research grant from the EPA, things seemed pretty bright. Then I struggled some more to finish my Ph.D., did some (in my opinion) kick-ass research on desalination with ion polarization, finally finished my Ph.D.
I had no money and a lot of debt, but the future still looked pretty good since I had a company that was manufacturing and marketing my solar desalination inventions. I was selling a few of them through some modest advertising on the Oracle Broadcasting Network (my favorite liberty radio station). This was four months ago, the future still looked good.
But now it's nearly August and everything went south and I'm asking for help from you. (I don't want money, just so you know, but I'm nearly at the critical point of this email.
As soon as I finished my Ph.D. at U of Alabama, my teaching job in the department stopped too. Suddenly no income. And no jobless benefits because of that home business that makes all of $50/week at the moment. My wife owns a yoga studio, but yoga is a tough sell in the land of football and barbecue, so we're broke.
But something is wrong with this picture of misery, because I also own the majority of a $3 million company (that's the value based on the three patents and the revenue return on our advertising.) Here is the website for the company: http://www.seapanel.com/
And my company just took on a new CEO who used to be CEO of a public-traded environmental engineering company. We also got a new director on the board who is about one of the coolest quantitative analysts on the planet, etc.. But the company is flopping in the water, because we have no money to advertise, and thus no way to sell product. I'm sure the company will get some VC or angel investing at some point fairly soon, which will probably take another few weeks to show up in the account, but for now, I'm broke with no salary.
I sometimes wonder if any of the famous entrepreneurs in history went through a time in their life when they saved half of a Hot Pocket for later. And things are bad. I have to borrow money to buy food, I sold off all of my 401k and my stocks to pay for rent, I'm busted, with the looming wall of about $150k in student debt for the Ph.D.. I've applied for lots of jobs, but apparently nobody needs a desalination physicist. (I guess I'm 10 years too early on that.) Out of 100 resumes for a variety of positions I got a call-back from G.E., but it ended there. I can't even get a job at Radio Shack. I'm not clueless in the job hunt either, back when I was younger I landed a science journalist job at The Wall Street Journal. But maybe I'm too old now, I'm not sure.
And then things got harder ... health issues. Thankfully I switched our health insurance to one that doesn't suck, but the year pre-existing condition doesn't expire until November, so it's out-of-pocket until then. So now, I can't move our family back to NYC even if I wanted to, because our health insurance won't transfer. I'm considering just moving to NYC and staying in my mom's apartment, and sending money back to support my family, in the style of Pakistani cab drivers. That might work, since I can always be sure of finding work at least driving a cab, but the horrible thing hanging over my head is that if I do that, I would essentially have to throw away my $3 million company, which is essentially worth nothing right now, because I'm too broke to advertise it.
And I'm okay doing that if necessary, support for my family comes first, but there is this nagging thing inside of me, that I have an obligation to all the developing nations children of the planet whom I can help save with this invention. It truly is a remarkable invention ... a 3 lb. chunk of plastic that will make over a gallon of pure distilled drinking water from any water source, including ocean water and contaminated ground water, and all at the low price of $25/child for 4-6 year life device, so it comes to the cost of $5/child/year for enough clean water to keep them from dying from diarrhea or cholera. Surely many people would love to have a such thing? Non?
Probably, but I can't make many sales! I don't know if I'm just having bad luck or if my failure is part of some imbalance in the cosmic luck plane, or just the bad economy, but things are just not working right for some reason. And I'm decent at selling things, when I used to have my own small printing company down on Varick Street I sold all sorts of printing, and pulled in plenty of cash. But now? Pfft. Is it because I'm in Alabama and not NYC?
Thus we're at the end of this miserable tale ... my dear John, you are an architect, undoubtedly at the helm of some key projects. Do you have any friends or acquaintances to whom you could refer me who might be able to either buy some kick-arse solar desalination systems for Developing Nations (at a big discount from our retail prices on the website). Or could you recommend me to someone who could evangelize these things to people in a position to be able to buy some? I'm just asking you for some sales leads, if you don't mind, I'll even pay you a commission on them. I'll run my fingers to the bone manufacturing them, I'll carry the inventory until delivery, I'll work hard. I'm just hoping for a few sales that can keep me going -- actually rescue me -- until VC or investment comes through.
And ideas? Thanks.
Mike Wofsey, Ph.D.