A former Netflix creative director just got $1.6 million from big names in tech for Liquid Death, which is water in a tallboy can

Liquid DeathMike Cessario.
  • On Tuesday, the former Netflix creative director Mike Cessario announced he raised $US1.6 million for Liquid Death, a canned-water startup. Science Inc. led the round.
  • The funding came from other tech notables including the Dollar Shave Club’s founder and CEO, Michael Dubin; the Twitter cofounder Biz Stone; and the Away cofounder Jen Rubio.
  • Cessario’s background playing in punk and heavy-metal bands influenced Liquid Death’s branding, which speaks to the “extreme” straight-edge punk crowd that abstains from alcohol and drugs.
  • Cessario worked on several promotions for Netflix, including campaigns for “House of Cards,” “Narcos,” and “Stranger Things.”
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Water has gone punk.

With $US1.6 million in fresh seed funding led by Science Inc., the cofounder and CEO Mike Cessario is ready to bring Liquid Death, his direct-to-consumer canned-water startup, to prime time. That’s right: Despite the name, Liquid Death is nothing but good old-fashioned H2O, served in a tallboy can.

Cessario is familiar with eye-catching marketing, having worked on viral promotions for the Netflix original series “House of Cards,” “Stranger Things,” and “Narcos.” He tapped into his background playing in punk and heavy-metal bands to come up with Liquid Death, because, he says, “nothing’s better than water at murdering your thirst.”

“When we first started, we wondered why is it that products and [consumer packaged goods] products have to play by these 1950s bland and boring rules, while other entertainment things can play by much more fun rules,” Cessario told Business Insider.

The former Netflix creative director’s new venture is backed by tech notables including the Dollar Shave Club’s founder and CEO, Michael Dubin; the Twitter cofounder Biz Stone; and Jen Rubio, the cofounder of the buzzy luggage startup Away. Tuesday’s round brings Cessario’s total raised to $US2.25 million.

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Riding the straight edge

Cessario’s “straight edge” contemporaries were looking for a water brand that spoke to them, instead of to “Whole Foods yoga mums,” as he puts it. Straight-edge punks are sober, Cessario said, but still otherwise all in on the punk lifestyle.

“Red Bull blurs the lines – are they an energy-drinks company or action-sports brand?” Cessario said. “You just don’t see that in the health space and with the healthy brands. I don’t drink soda or energy drinks, and neither do most of my friends.”

Liquid Death is available only online. Interested customers, punk and not, can purchase the sustainably sourced Austrian water in 12-packs of tallboy cans. Cessario said that while his company was initially designed for straight-edgers, he’s still selling a product – that is, water – that could appeal to any demographic.

Liquid Death 211 croppedLiquid DeathA Liquid Death 12-pack.

“Initially some of our thinking was, we wanted to take more inspiration from the beer category because one thing we know in marketing is if you want younger people to want something, you have to market to people in their 20s because teens want the thing they can’t have,” Cessario said. “At first we knew the easiest crowd for us is anyone into heavy metal, punk rock, and that kind of world because they immediately get the joke and get the humour and have never seen anything like it. What makes this appealing for such a large group is that it feels like a niche thing.”

Aside from Liquid Death’s marketing, Cessario believes the punk community will also appreciate the brand’s eco-conscious stance. Aluminium cans are more environmentally friendly than boxed or bottled water, and in Cessario’s view they look cooler as well. Liquid Death plans to donate $US0.05 from every can sold to help clean up plastic garbage from the ocean.

“If you think about it, it makes sense – everything metal and punk is extreme,” Cessario said. “Being vegan is extreme. Protesting the deforestation is extreme. There are more vegans at a heavy-metal show than Taylor Swift show. We are by far the most sustainable option for packaged water, which is a big driver for why people want to buy from us.”

After only two months on the market, Cessario said, his team would continue to focus on plain noncarbonated canned water but was open to the idea of taking on other popular water brands like Hint and LaCroix in future expansions.

“In 2019, if you want to communicate this is small and craft, you have to look and sound and do things that a big company would never do,” Cessario said. “Everything we’ve done so far has been so scrappy, and we’re excited to continue scaling our efforts, especially marketing.”

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