Elena Gosse is the charismatic CEO and co-owner of AIS Water. She is a multi-award winning entrepreneur for the following categories in our 2020 AusMumpreneur QLD-NT Awards
- Gold winner – AusMumpreneur of The Year
- Gold winner – Sustainability
- Gold winner – Business Excellence
AIS Water is an award-winning company with a 28-year history of excellence in the design and manufacture of salt, mineral and freshwater chlorinators for commercial and home swimming pools.
Elena is a rule breaker and change maker. She challenges us to think differently about what water means to us, how it is treated and our family’s health when it comes to swimming pools.
She is also staunch advocate against domestic and family violence. Elena has won over 35 national and international awards including Ausmumpreneur of the Year 2020.
When did you start your business?
AIS Water has been in business for nearly 30 years. I decided to join our family business in 1995 initially as company director and secretary. Back then AIS had three staff and a $100,000 per year turnover. I am now CEO, we employ 45 staff, have a multi-million dollar turnover, and our products are found in over 55 countries.
What was the inspiration behind starting this business?
I was forced to make a career switch when I left Russia to live in Australia. Prior to the move I had a career in the entertainment industry, with my own TV show amongst other things. I am also an actress in musical theatre and in 1992 co-founded an entertainment company which employed 67 staff. This was a big deal at that time as in Russia most companies were run by men and owned by the State. After arriving in Australia as a Russian immigrant it soon became obvious that my language skills would not be good enough to continue my career in TV. I joined our family business and traded my career in the arts for manufacturing smarts. You could say that it was a big learning curve!
What are you most excited about in your business?
I am so passionate about our company and it excites me that I am making a difference in the world, and in multiple ways.
I’m a female CEO working in a male dominated industry. I love changing perceptions about leadership and encouraging other women to step into their power and leadership roles.
Our technology is helping to save our planet and its people. Our technology saves up to 1.6million litres of water in just one 50 metre swimming pool each year. Water is life and I believe that we need to respect it and treat it with love and gratitude.
Families are also starting to ask questions about water disinfection at their local public swimming pools, swim schools or school pools. The word is well and truly out about the dangers of traditional chlorine dosing and there is pressure from the community for safer methods of water disinfection.
With our technology swimming pool owners love the benefits of eliminating chlorine deliveries and storage, along with abandoning the additional chemicals to keep water chemistry balanced. Our technology saves them time, money and water. So many families tell us that swimming in a pool fitted with an AIS Water Chlorinator has improved their swimming experience, with no more itchy eyes, skin rashes, or that horrible chlorine smell. Strangely enough, what people do not realise is that ‘chlorine smell’ is not chlorine at all but rather chloramines, a chemical reaction caused by things like urine, perspiration or body oil reacting with liquid or granular chlorine. It’s why it’s so important to shower before you swim. That smell is often the sign of a poorly disinfected pool.
What has been the most challenging thing about starting your business?
After meeting my Australian husband, I moved from Russia to Brisbane. At the time I didn’t speak a word of English.
After studying English and completing an Office Administration course at TAFE, I decided to join the family business. I could see potential to take it in a new direction and build further on its success. Surprisingly my husband wasn’t overly enthusiastic, and I found there wasn’t much support from our staff or industry professionals either.
It was a real battle of the sexes and some people in the male-dominated water disinfection industry did not appreciate a woman with a Russian accent sharing her ideas and vision for the future. I was determined to prove my husband and the industry wrong, so embarked on further studies including a second university degree to improve my business knowledge and achieve the vision I knew could be realised for AIS.
Like most businesses we started with a small loan from the bank, and we needed business to be profitable to service the loan. One of the biggest challenges was deciding to abandon one of the most profitable parts of our business which was selling liquid chlorine and other chemicals. I decided to transform our business to a place of real innovation, with a laser focus on research and development and making world class products.
Much to my relief, my plan worked. The business was very successful. My husband gave up his battle of the sexes game and our staff and industry colleagues changed their perceptions about me. In 2012 I became CEO of our company. Drawing on my creativity, passion and skills from my ‘previous life’, along with the talents of our staff has meant I’ve been able to transform AIS Water into the international success story it is today.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about starting a business?
Follow your dreams no matter what but be prepared for the hard work that success requires.
Also redefine the meaning of success. It is not a destination. Success comes in increments. As you grow and succeed, you then dream bigger and want to achieve new goals.
Avoid dream takers at all costs. If I had a dollar for everyone who told me that I could not or should not do something I would have a larger bank account. Today I concentrate on surrounding myself with like-minded people who share my values of drive, determination, positivity and innovation.
Why did you enter the AusMumpreneur Awards?
I entered for two reasons.
The first is that I am a mother to two daughters and a grandmother to two granddaughters and a grandson. I want to lead by example and inspire them to see what can be achieved when you ‘dream big’, work hard on your business and personal development and never give up on achieving your goals.
The second reason is that I know that so many mothers (and fathers) really care about their children’s health. Parents are concerned about the quality of the water that their children are swimming in at swim schools, school pools and public pools. Accidents do happen and there are many cases of pool operators mixing the wrong chemicals or chemical spills that have cause patrons to be hospitalised.
Poorly disinfected water can cause ear infections, itchy skin and red eyes. Parents do not want their children to be swimming in ‘acid’ and coming home with sore eyes or skin. I am spreading awareness that there is a safer, smarter and simpler way to disinfect pool water. Our ‘Safe Schools’ program is proof where we have our chlorinators operating in over 125 Queensland school pools. We’re getting ready to expand the program nationally in 2021 and know the Ausmumpreneur community will help us.
What did you enjoy the most about being part of the awards?
I cannot stress the importance of women supporting each other enough. Powerful things happen when women collaborate, support each other and come together. The sisterhood is alive and well!
I loved learning about the other finalists and winners’ businesses and seeing their commitment to being wonderful role models for their families. Due to COVID-19 restrictions we were not able to have the final awards ceremony in person, but the virtual version was still incredible. There was such a high level of energy and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to meet everyone in person at upcoming Ausmumpreneur events!
What surprised you most about the awards?
Perhaps it isn’t so surprising, but it certainly was an honour to learn about other Ausmupreneurs’ businesses and to see their dedication and commitment to realising their dreams. I like to think that each Ausmumpreneur is a shining star in a vast universe. Individually each star is beautiful but when the stars are viewed en masse they truly light up the world.
How did the awards help you in your business?
Externally, winning three AusMumpreneur Awards including Queensland Ausmumpreneur of the Year, Queensland Sustainability Award and the Queensland Business Excellence Award provided a great opportunity to share our message and products with a new audience. Internally I unveiled our trophies at our staff Christmas party and thanked our staff for the contribution in helping to win these awards. We are a family owned and operated company and our staff are extended members of our family. Winning awards helps to recognise their efforts and boost staff morale.
What advice would you give to others mums thinking about entering the awards?
It’s a cliché but “just do it”. So many women I know suffer from Imposter Syndrome and don’t think they have a chance of winning.
Many years ago, I felt the same way when I was nominated for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards by a friend. I did not consider to be worthy as I was struggling to fit into the business and life in Australia. At the time I felt I was just surviving against the odds. To my great surprise I became a TBWA Queensland State finalist! This turned on a switch in my brain and convinced me that I was good enough, and that there were people who were inspired by my story. My advice to others is to find and use your voice. No matter what your experience or business there is an audience who needs to hear your story.
What has been the best thing about starting your own business?
It’s definitely being in control of your own destiny. There’s a real freedom in that. When it is your own business you can choose your own path and bring others along with you for the journey. The work-life balance is still proving elusive, but I think that’s par for the course these days. I love what I do and using my creative side to make things happen. Sometimes I work a 98-100 hour per week, but I find what works well for me is to work really hard for a few weeks at a time, and then ‘unplug’ for a week to recharge the batteries and clear the chatter in my brain. I love being my own work in progress!
What’s happening next in your business?
I am determined to build a $100 million business in next three-four years.
We are currently constructing a third manufacturing facility which will allow us to triple our production capacity and expand our water disinfection technology to other industries besides swimming pools.
Armed with independent university research we have identified a huge opportunity for our technology in North America which is the size of 60 Australian markets. During the Pandemic we worked on achieving U.S product certification and making great connections. We are also currently negotiating a pilot project with a 5-star hotel in Las Vegas.
Later this year we will start a national ‘Safe School Pools’ campaign where we will encourage State Governments to invest in safer water disinfection in local schools and embrace safer, simpler and smarter technology for the benefit of their students and communities.
The Queensland Government is leading the way and in the past two years has upgraded its water disinfection technology to our products in more than 130 Queensland Schools. Brisbane City Council is also ahead of the game and has already installed our technology in 16 out of 22 Council owned public pools. We know the Ausmumpreneur community will form a big part of our future, pushing for change at their children’s school or local swimming pools. Parents are no longer prepared to put up with their children swimming in sub-standard quality pool water, or the fact that millions of litres of water are being unnecessarily wasted each year.
What are your big plans for the future?
I love to disrupt the world around me and push the boundaries of innovation both personally and professionally.
I plan to lead our business to new heights and by 2025 reach $100 million p.a by establishing ourselves in the U.S and developing opportunities outside of the swimming pool industry.
Personally, I will spend more time nurturing my body, mind and soul at retreats in Australia and Bali. I am also planning to do more public speaking presenting on topics that are dear to my heart such as ‘Thinking Big in Small Business’, ‘Leading Like a Woman’, ‘The Power of Finding your Voice’, ‘Not Holding Back’ and ‘Overcoming Domestic and Family Violence’.
I am also in the process of writing my own book.
To learn more about Elena Gosse, please visit here.
All images featured here are from AIS Water.
SAVE THE DATE – 2021 AUSMUMPRENEUR AWARDS!
Nominations open Monday 3 May 2021.
AusMumpreneur Awards Nights 8-10 September 2021
Conference and Awards Presentation 14-16 September 2021.