Bottled water is an important product in the Western world, but it raises some challenging questions.
It is something we get for free, yet are happy to buy because we are a consumer society that will pay for convenience.
Daniel Flynn decided to turn this contradiction into an opportunity.
Flynn was studying at RMIT University in Melbourne when he watched a video about the world water crisis and decided to try, somehow, to make a difference on the matter.
He tells Business Insider that he remembers asking: “What if we could turn bottled water into getting clean water, and make it convenient for people who actually need it?”
The idea for Thankyou. was born.
Thankyou. (yes, it has a full stop at the end of the brand name) is a social enterprise that donates profits from its retail sales to fund charitable projects in disadvantaged countries.
“We wanted to tackle a huge global problem with a huge global product, and the product to get us there was bottled water,” Flynn says.
“We felt the link was every important for customers: buying water and funding water, and buying food and funding food, and so on.”
Turning the idea into a business
After spreading the news of his business plan by word-of-mouth and social media, Flynn managed to get the support of a factory which agreed to produce his products with no upfront costs, as well as a deal with packaging giant Visy, which provided him with a bottle mould, also with no upfront costs.
With zero funding, he pitched the product to a director at the largest beverages distributor in the country, Metro Beverage company, which produces Lipton iced tea, Bunderberg ginger beer, Red Bull and more.
“It was meant to be a ten-minute meeting but by the end it went for an hour, and the guy just said: ‘I love it, I’ll take 50,000 bottles’.
Out of shock, Flynn made a rash agreement that he would have the order ready in three weeks – a promise he later realised was probably a bit too enthusiastic.
“We had no idea what we were doing, but that was the moment that changed everything.”
The news of the order inspired Flynn’s mentor, who donated $20,000 toward the project.
“Not as a loan or an investment but they were just so inspired,” says Flynn, “and that was our funding for the first couple of years.
“The experience taught us a big lesson about building momentum behind an idea,” he says.
“We had to prove the concept without the funding, knowing that we needed it, and it worked.”
They started to gain small amounts of interest among the local media, with Channel Seven’s Sunrise program even flying Flynn and his co-founders to Cambodia for a two-day TV feature.
“We were two and a half years in and I thought ‘We’ve done it’, but when we took the footage around the national retailers they would say we were a one-hit-wonder. That was discouraging,” says Flynn.
“I met with a lot of people and told them that we needed money but they would say, ‘You guys don’t know how to run a business, you’re taking on the Coca Colas and global beverage giants…. And it is a very mature industry with only a couple of big players on a national and global scale and the systems are quite set,” said Flynn, “so we decided to approach it with a different mindset.”
“So we decided that before we walked into another retailer we would prove that there was a demand.
“We came up with this whole idea to use social media as our mechanism to prove to retailers that we had potential.”
They took a gamble, putting all their bets on their one and only meeting with 7/11.
“Two weeks prior to that meeting we went public on Facebook and told all our fans that we were meeting with 7/11 and asked to jump onto their Facebook wall and tell 7/11 that if they stocked Thankyou. water you would buy it,” said Flynn.
And they did. Within one day 7/11 was inundated with Facebook posts, and Channel Ten’s The Project TV program gave Thankyou. a national shout out that same evening.
“When we walked into 7/11 they loved it. They loved the product, they loved the concept and the first thing they said was: ‘Well you have clearly proved that you have a demand for the product’.
Thankyou. was on the shelves within a couple of weeks.
“We’d gone from for three years of knocking on door to door, to stocking in these national retailers.”
After their 7/11 success the Thankyou. team then made the decision to expand.
“It was evident to us from the very beginning that we needed to fund more than just a water project to call it a job done.
“It’s incredibly important to have clean water but then there are other issues like access to food, or sanitation, health and hygiene.”
And so the food and body care ranges were formed.
“We kept the developments top-secret… because it had to be good, it had to be better than our competitors once it was ready to go,” said Flynn.
They were looking for a home run. “We had good sales data, we had 7/11 on board, Australia Post, and a few others but we couldn’t get the supermarkets on board. One of them literally said: ‘we’ve got the big brands, we’ve got our own brands, we don’t need your water’.
“Everyone made the point that without them we were stuffed because they’ve got 70% of Australia’s grocery market.
So in July 2013 Thankyou. launched another social media campaign.
In six-minute video on YouTube Thankyou. said: “Hey, we were water, we’ve raised half a million dollars to help 50,000 people but now we’ve got food and body care, here’s the problems we want to tackle and two weeks from today we’re presenting our entire range for the first time to Coles and Woolies and today we’re launching the campaign”.
The video got 80,000 views in two weeks.
Following the video the startup hired to two helicopters to fly around the Coles and Woolworths head offices in Sydney and Melbourne, each carrying a ten thousand foot sign saying: “Dear Coles / Woolworths, Thankyou. for changing the world (if you say yes)”.
“We walked in to the meeting and we presented. Literally less than five hours after our meetings with both supermarkets they both said yes to the entire range… and we were on the shelves within a month, and the sales since then have been crazy.”
Flynn puts the enterprise’s success down to running with momentum and the ability to “cut through” an industry.
“How do you stand out, how do you become an opportunity for these big retailers?” he says.
“The 7/11 campaign in year three was a big lesson learned for us, in terms of cutting through.
“We have definitely felt overwhelmed at times, like what can one person do, but our idea was to empower lots of people… not just thousands but millions to help create change, and we knew if we could do that the impact would be big.”
Six and a half years on, Thankyou. has raised $2.5 million for projects that have given 150,000 people access to water, another 190,000 access to hygiene and sanitation, as well as funding more than 12.1 million days worth of food aid, across 16 countries.