Startup co-founder drinks in new experiences, brings tech expertise to water quality

Aquagenuity co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Chris Jones with his kids. (Photo courtesy of Chris Jones)

Chris Jones‘ family was in the water business, with his dad investing some 30 years in the sector, starting with his own water bottling plant in New Jersey. Jones worked for the company when he was younger, but he didn’t want to make it his life’s work. Instead, he pursued a career in marketing and tech startups.

His attitude recently changed. A woman named Doll Avant was working as CEO of his dad’s current company, Water Transit Solutions, when she became interested in the issue because of the crisis in Flint, Mich. People were anxious about water contamination, and Avant saw the potential for tapping into available data to help inform and educate them. She started investigating customer needs and demand, and developing business plans.

Avant warned Jones that she’d be recruiting him.

“I kind of chuckled. I always supported my dad, but I was never dying to get back into water. It was never a thing I was looking to do,” Jones said. “But what I liked about this business was it’s a tech business and focused on data and has a social impact component to it.”

Jones opted to go with the flow and a year ago became co-founder and chief operating officer of Aquagenuity. This week the startup was one of 200 companies awarded a $10,000 grant from WeWork through a program to support Black-owned businesses.

Jones works from Lake Forest Park, a city north of Seattle, while CEO Avant is in Atlanta. The company allows users to enter their zip code and access water quality data, as well as purchase water quality testing kits and purifiers. They’re looking at selling sensors to detect contamination.

“It’s coming full circle,” Jones said of his career path. His dad is supportive of his move, sometimes providing input.

Chris Jones, co-founder and chief operating officer. (Aguagenuity Photo)

Jones’ first roles were in marketing, and Jones has a marketing and business degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern universities. He worked for Adidas, a beverage company and Mattel. In the mid-2000s he saw the potential in tech and moved into mobile. From there Jones went deeper into technology, helping launch multiple tech-based startups including a company called CodeNgo (pronounced code-n-go), a self-publishing app platform that started in 2011 and is still running.

A few years ago, he became interested in blockchain, helping organize the Blockchain Seattle 2018 conference and working as president of Dragonscale, which supports blockchain projects.

How and why does one go from marketing sneakers to promoting blockchain innovation? Jones said he loves the challenge of learning about new fields and teams up with experts to learn the essentials.

“I have to throw myself into new spaces,” he said. “I tend to do a deep dive and understand the core fundamentals and work from there.”

He’s also thrown himself into literal new spaces, growing up and going to college in the Northeast and Midwest, living in Los Angeles and moving to Australia for 8 years — his wife’s home country — before winding up in Seattle, despite the fact that neither he nor his wife had even been here (they wanted the West Coast and ruled out California cities). The couple has three children, and Jones has coached kids soccer for years, providing an outlet for his enthusiasm for the sport.

When it came to Aquagenuity, Jones was able to merge his long-ago experiences in water with his newer passion for data and tech. He’s excited to bring these tools to the public.

And the business is doing well despite the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Water as an issue and a challenge that doesn’t go away because of COVID. It’s not something that gets pushed too far to the background,” he said. “We’re a little bit fortunate.”

We caught up with Jones for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Lake Forest Park

Computer types: Microsoft Surface

Mobile devices: Samsung Galaxy

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: I use Evernote, Google Drive, Asana and Slack daily. Of course Zoom is standard in today’s world, too.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Right now it’s the kitchen table due to quarantine! I don’t mind though. I’ve worked from home for my years so I’m pretty adaptable.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Try not to be “always on.” It can be counterproductive.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? For business, LinkedIn is the social network that I prefer. It’s a great research tool to use to understand potential partners, investors and vendors.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 32

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 21

How do you run meetings? Clearly defined objectives going in. I try to keep the discussion aligned with the objectives.

The Jones family, masked for COVID protection. (Photo courtesy of Chris Jones)

Everyday work uniform? Quarantine gear: Sweat pants, hoodie or light jacket, slippers or flip flops

How do you make time for family? It’s hard as a startup founder but I make sure to carve our dinnertime and time on the weekends.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? A weekend away. Doesn’t have to be far. It gives me room to disconnect.

What are you listening to? Old skool R&B and ’90s hip hop are my go tos.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I’m a bit of a political junky so I read a range of sites. I’m also a big podcast listeners across everything from soccer to tech to marketing to history.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Currently reading “Troubled Waters” by Seth Siegel

Night owl or early riser? Night owl honed by years of living in Australia and working with overseas clients.

Where do you get your best ideas? In bed or on walks where I can tune out the noise and just focus on whatever problem I’m trying to solve.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? The chief marketing officer at Boost Mobile when I was there was Darryl Cobbin. He was loved by those who worked for him. He had a remarkable ability to listen and ensure everyone felt that their contributions mattered.

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