Thankyou Water sells bottled H2O, but not to turn a profit. And while making money was never its goal, there are some great lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs in the story of its success.
The company’s founders convinced Visy to let them use the design for a bottle mould worth $150,000 for free. Channel Seven and Nine have given them pro-bono ad space and – amongst several other helping-hands – 7-11 stocks their product, replacing their own in-house version with Thankyou Water.
Basically, they went into meetings knowing they didn’t have the upfront funding required to get companies to work with them, yet still pulled it off.
Managing director and co-founder Dan Flynn told Business Insider that Thankyou Water was established with the aim of giving impoverished communities access to safe drinking water. But a noble idea alone is not enough to secure the backing of more profit-minded business partners, he notes.
“If you think about how many great causes are out there, it’s overwhelming,” Flynn said. “People ask ‘why the heck is everyone else not passionate about this.’
“We had the boldness to say ‘this is going to market, and if not with you then with one of your competitors’.”
Any business idea — not-for-profit or shamelessly money-hungry — needs partners to get off the ground, and more than anything, Flynn said he has learnt ideas mean nothing unless you have “momentum”.
Money raised through the sale of Thankyou Water’s bottled water goes towards providing access to safe drinking water, and buyers can even track the progress of the company’s projects through a recently-launched GPS app. The organisation has sold over six million bottles.
“People don’t like ideas. They like momentum and opportunities,” said Flynn.
“It’s the opportunity to do what they do everyday, which is selling drinks, but they can change the world as well.”
Commercial television stations have an allotted amount of free ad space which they donate each year to worthy causes. That amount is around 1% of the airtime available, Flynn said, meaning there is not always enough to go around to every single not-for-profit.
“We had about three or four grand to make the ad. Everyone said, ‘Right – we’ll film with a white screen and someone speaking.'”
Instead of taking the no-frills option, Flynn said they approached a film maker, using the allure of commercial television’s mass-market to get them to do the ad on the cheap.
“I said we could pay for your flights to Cambodia [where it was shot] and some food and that’s about it.”
Then — with the film maker on board — Flynn said he was able to take the idea back to Channel Nine and say that their ad — while still qualifying for the free space — would be much more impactive, and better value for the station’s viewers.
“Then we had momentum.”
“I said: ‘this will be one of the best CSAs [community service announcement] you have ever seen, and if it’s not then don’t show it.’
“Part of the key was having an ad that inspired them.”
All told, between various Australian TV networks and film professionals, Thankyou Water has benefited from approximately $120,000 worth of donated production value, Flynn said.
It only took one meeting for Thankyou Water to reach an agreement with the bottling factory through which the company produced its first 50,000 units. Flynn said the team turned up with a home-made A3 poster, and a lot of self-belief, and they signed then and there after one sit-down.
While that required some luck — and executives who supported their charitable goals — the momentum from the factory’s support enabled them to get their distribution agreement with one of Australia’s biggest operators, which while not free – is a good deal.
“The factory laughed their heads off and said: ‘You will never get in, they’re too big.'”
But they did, more-or-less by telling the company: “You can be part of something massive and all you have to do is what you do every day.”
There’s also the story of how Thankyou Water got the ubiquitous convenience store chain 7-11 to stock their product.
“We had had two-and-a-half-years of knock backs from every retailer,” Flynn recalled.
So when the company scored a meeting with management, it launched a social media campaign — telling people that they were meeting with 7-11, complete with a countdown timer on Thankyou Water’s website.
“They said they wanted to make a bigger impact because this [Thankyou Water] was incredible.”
The response was overwhelming, and played a big role in the future discussions that eventually saw 7-11 and the Thankyou Water team pen a deal, and even take one of the company’s directors to Cambodia.
“If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say momentum is everything.”
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