Dan Flynn, Founder, Thankyou Water
Charity By The Bottle
Nine hundred million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Globally, consumers spend $60 billion on bottled water each year. In the face of these stark mathematics, most might give a resigned shrug and consider it someone else’s problem. Thank you Water Founder Daniel Flynn was 19 when he discovered the alarming facts about the world’s water. His response? Make it his business to change the world.
CALL TO ACTION
How do you feel about bottled water? Whether you loathe it or live by it, chances are you have no idea of the size of the industry. In 2011, Business Insider reported estimated global bottled water profits of $86 billion. With 200 billion bottles, we’re talking a volume of 115 million cubic meters of water sold globally each year. As a basis of comparison, a poky 168,000 cubic meters (6 million cubic feet) of water tumble over Niagara Falls every minute. We’re talking enough bottled water to keep Niagara Falls roaring for 11 hours.
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Daniel Flynn was still a teenager studying his first year of project management when he discovered 900 million people in our world don’t have access to clean water. The grim facts of what he had read unsettled and stuck with him, and he knew it would become his life’s mission to change this dire situation.
Flynn’s passion for the cause comes out in his delivery. “How is that still going on?” he says. “How do 900 million people still not have access to clean water?” He continues: “It probably wasn’t the big fact that got me; it was the individual stories of kids who literally spend their entire day going to collect water for their families.” That’s what really caught him off guard. “4,500 kids die every day from waterborne disease. There are stories of kids bringing water home and it’s that water that ends up killing their siblings. I had this moment watching all these videos and stories, sitting there tearing up. I was thinking, what if that was me?”
Flynn set up Thankyou Water as a social enterprise. With the profits from every bottle of water sold, they fund clean water projects in the developing world.
Thankyou Water’s initial product range was bottled water. Yet it’s not quite a standard bottled water business and not quite a charity. “Our business is 100 percent owned by our own charity and then 100 percent of the profits we make goes out to our charity. 100 percent goes out to our partners,” Flynn says. “Our priorities are to bring consumers a product that’s better than competitors. And the knowledge that by buying it, you’re changing the world.”
The idea to start a bottled water company was not from any particular love of the product itself. “I personally think bottled water’s pretty stupid,” Flynn says. “It’s just one of those products that we probably shouldn’t buy because we get good tap water for free.” Despite this, he says he still stands among the ranks of bottled-water buyers, nothing that you end up paying for the convenience.
With that juxtaposition in mind, he says he initially wanted the brand to exist “for the sole purpose of funding water projects in the developing world and essentially empowering Australians to make a simple switch. By doing that, they’re doing something that they’ve maybe never done before.”
It’s a truly impressive endeavor. Most entrepreneurs these days will tell you they’re trying to make a positive difference in some way. But when held up against Daniel Flynn’s raison d’être, others pale in comparison. And yet, starting a social enterprise was never part of his plan, with a five-year goal to move into property development. But start one he did. And with his band of cofounders, (including his now-wife Justine) he’s become something of a local hero in the process.
The course of true love never did run smooth. The same goes for world-changing enterprises. Never one to simply shine on the gloss of success, a long string of obstacles and failures is still fresh in Flynn’s mind. “It was kind of like a movie, with issue after issue, setback after setback.”
Hurdle number one? A national product recall only days after launch, when the labels in their first pallet were “scrunched beyond comprehension.” In fact, in five years, Flynn was beset by more problems and struggles than most businesses face in a lifetime. With factories botching up entire runs, supporters going bankrupt, an endless stream of rejection, followed by retailers going so far as stealing the Thankyou Water concept. In a journey more fraught with disappointments than a Ben Stiller comedy, it’d be enough to make anyone want to give up business completely and go become a cave-dwelling hermit. “We did have it pretty tough particularly the first three years,” Flynn says.
And money was never there to assuage their fears either. “We started getting paid at the three year mark.” Even then, Flynn describes the pay as “charitable standard pay”. In short, not much. To make ends meet, he worked as a traffic controller and in call centers, and in a Vodafone store selling phones. “I was getting shifts on the weekend and afterhours shifts to pay the bills, so I could keep working on Thankyou. It was tough.”
When people ask Flynn whether he ever felt like giving up, he responds, “you have no idea. Probably there wasn’t a week that went by in the first three-and-a-half, maybe four years where I didn’t feel like giving up. The only thing that really kept me going was the vision that this should be out there.” After every setback, this drove him to “just get up every day and just go again. People can say no a hundred times, it doesn’t matter because I’m driven by something deeper.”
Flynn’s Christian beliefs also play a core role in his journey. “I’m waking up to help people. I go to church, so it’s part of what I believe. I grew up learning that, I believe that, and for me, Thankyou is a way that I can live that out.”
For having a marketing budget that’s close to zero, Thankyou Water has experienced unprecedented levels of exposure and is now famed for its juggernaut social media campaign.
“For three years we couldn’t get even one bottle of water into the major retailers,” Flynn says. Despite hundreds of independent cafes stocking Thankyou Water, “none of the big players were interested.”
The dam finally broke with 7-11, the first major retailer to get on board. Without a marketing budget, Flynn took the fight to the social space. Two weeks prior to meeting with 7-11, he launched a call-to-action video, asking fans to rally behind them and let 7-11 know that if they stocked Thankyou Water, people would buy it. “We asked people to upload a video or a post directly onto 7-11’s Facebook page. Within the first day, they had over 400 posts.” This gained attention from the media. “We were able to get featured on a primetime program called The Project that night.” With just under a million viewers at the time, Flynn says, “that night it went crazy. People were uploading videos of them singing, dancing, rapping, it was absolutely unbelievable and just hundreds, even thousands of posts going on 7-11’s Facebook Page.”
“It was the invitation to change the world with the backing of the online community that sealed the deal,” Flynn says. How did 7-11 respond? “I think they were really impressed. They ranged the product. It was one of the fastest new product launches they’ve ever done. When that happened, we outsold Evian.”
In July of last year, they launched a campaign targeting the major Australian supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths. “This was the 7-11 campaign but on steroids.”
“Again we booked a meeting with both of them and two weeks prior to that meeting we launched another video on YouTube, which went viral.” Again it called for people to let the retail giants know if they stocked the Thankyou range they’d buy it.” Tens of thousands of fans responded. “For two weeks, every few seconds saw more and more uploads on their Facebook pages; whole schools got behind it. And we had about 15 celebrities show their support, which was pretty humbling.”
About three days before the presentation to the supermarket giants, two helicopters, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, carried 10,000-square-foot signs saying: Dear Coles, thank you for changing the world (if you say yes), and another saying: Dear Woolworths, together we can change the world (if you say yes) “We flew them round the city, up the freeway during peak hour and then around their head offices for about 20 minutes.”
“That was all sponsored by the helicopter companies,” Flynn says, “and a donor paid for the sign. He loved the idea and couldn’t believe how crazy we were attempting it.”
They caught the retailer’s attention. “Five hours after the meeting with Coles, they called. It really caught me off guard, but they said that they would take the range nationally. And literally three hours after the Woolies meeting, they called to say they would take the range nationally as well. It was an epic couple of weeks.”
So what impact is Thankyou making on the world right now? Through its project partners, Thank you water is working in 11 countries, and has funded more than 100 projects. That breaks down to more than 78,340 people gaining access to safe waters, through long term projects like wells and filters. The company has also helped more than 62,000 people get health and hygiene training and 60,000 weeks worth of food aid.
Flynn acknowledges the disconnect that often exists between supporting a cause and tracking the actual effects of the contribution. To rectify that, they developed a program called Track Your Impact. Every product they sell has a unique tracker ID enabling consumers to see the GPS coordinates of the project they’re funding. “You can literally see the village, and the rooms in the village, it’s that detailed.”
As of July last year, Thankyou Water has rebranded and renamed the organization from Thankyou Water to Thankyou Group. They’re a for-profit business with 100 percent of their profits paid to a charitable trust that funds its projects. Now Thankyou has 16 staff, a big office and a growing team. “Because we’re a social enterprise,” Flynn explains, “myself and the other directors don’t have any equity in the business, and we never can. We don’t get shares, we don’t get dividends or profit. I could go and earn more working as a traffic controller but instead I’m doing something I’m passionate about. Most people in our situation would be self-made millionaires. That’s not a priority to us.”
And they’ve progressed beyond the idea of simply tackling clean water shortages in the developing world. Now they’re combatting global poverty too with new food and body care products.
Dan Flynn’s Thankyou Water is not without its detractors, ranging from those who think he’s doing too much, to those who think he’s not doing enough. Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, Thankyou has played a large role in a consumer paradigm shift. Flynn has helped popularize the idea that a consumer meandering down the halogen-lit aisles of a local supermarket can actually make a difference in the world, depending on which product their hand reaches for. In short, companies like Thankyou Water are changing the way we shop. For good.
ZERO TO GLOBAL: 3 TIPS TO CREATING AN ALTRUISTIC EMPIRE
Flynn shares his advice for those who want to become entrepreneurs and create successful enterprises within five years.
1.BUILD A GREAT TEAM
If you try and build something on your own, you’re setting it up to fail from the start. We built a great team around the idea and that’s what has got us to where we are today. Even then, you can have a great team and you can have a great idea but you can still not actually go anywhere.
2.PRESENT OPPORTUNITIES, NOT IDEAS
People listen to ideas. You can book meetings, you can have coffees, you can do whatever and you can share ideas, and people will listen. But they partner with opportunity. We’ve had to learn how to create an opportunity that is too good to miss. With our retailers campaign, we pitched opportunities for our largest retailers to look good, to make money and to change the world. You need to think about how to create that opportunity that people want to get involved with.
People want to be involved with something that has momentum. Once you have momentum, it changes the game. You can ask for things you could never have asked for without it. Look at the campaigns we ran: we launched a video, people got behind it, media got behind it, then celebrities got behind it. But it would never have happened unless we found a way to create that initial momentum.
- What it takes to create a social enterprise
- How to do work that truly matters
- The interesting struggles an entrepreneur has when starting
- How to build momentum
- How to create a movement
Full Transcript of Podcast with Dan Flynn
Nathan: Howdy. Welcome to the “Foundr” podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I am your host today. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to share your earbuds with me. I hope you’ve all been having a great week. Things have been pretty hectic for me. I’ve been working on crossing out a few magazine issues and also working on another product we’re about to launch. So, yeah, things have been really busy for me. It’s actually starting to get quite sunny here in Melbourne, so that’s always pretty exciting. A lot to do. A lot of things to see and a lot of events on. So that’s always awesome.
Today our guest is Daniel Flynn. He is the founder of Thankyou Group. The company is very well known in Australia. They’re a non-for-profit organization. And in this interview, you’re gonna get an insight into what it means to be totally selfless around what you believe in and your vision and what it takes and what it means to totally commit your life to changing the world. I know this is something that I think gets, to be honest, thrown around way too much around changing the world, but Daniel actually is making a massive impact on the world.
I won’t dive into this too much because we cover a lot of it in his story but pretty much Thankyou Water is a truly epic charity and they’re in pretty much everywhere you go now. Supermarkets, convenient stores all around Australia. And this water, a percentage of it goes to charity. But what’s really cool about this company is it’s not your standard non-for-profit. This is a social enterprise.
So eventually one day when Thankyou Group is, you know, a $100-million-company Daniel actually won’t get to see any of that. Even though it’s a company he founded, he told me himself he doesn’t get paid that much. He doesn’t earn a ridiculous salary. Everything he does, he does because he wants to make a difference. There’s a lot to be said in that. I know a lot of the founders that we feature are people that make a lot of money, and at the end of the day, who doesn’t wanna make a lot of money? But at the end of the day, also it’s about the impact and the value and what you’re doing to help other people. How much do you care? This is the stuff that truly matters.
And Daniel is an extremely humble person, somebody that I respect personally so much. So in this interview we cover his challenges that he faced, his struggles, and really how to bring a vision to life, and what it means to keep going when all of your odds are down. And also, he reveals some really powerful strategies and tactics around how to get into some of the biggest retails in the country. So there’s a lot you can learn from him. So that’s it from me guys. Sit back. I hope you enjoy the show.
Today, I’m talking with Daniel Flynn. At the age of 19, Daniel Flynn discovered the alarming fact that while 900 million people around the world did not have access to safe drinking water, Australians spent $600 million on bubbled water each year. As a result, Daniel founded Thankyou Water. So Daniel, look, I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time, man.
Daniel: No worries. Thanks for having me.
Nathan: Absolute pleasure. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got started doing the work you’re doing today?
Daniel: Yeah, man. Sure. I was in first year of uni and I was studying project management so I had a bit of a…I suppose a rough kind of five-year plan to get into property development. So that’s where I was heading. I grew up, I was, kind of, that kid who was, you know, at school selling Gobstoppers to other kids if Gobstoppers were kind of the craze or I remember selling and just heaps of crazy little things like that. Lots of little businesses and little ideas and I’m not sure where it came from but that’s just sort of how I tick.
So as I grew up that’s where my headspace was at. I’m at uni, I’m sort of, you know, working on my future, you know, my plan and I remember doing some research and I just came across this fact that 900 million people in our world don’t have access to clean water. I remember sitting there…you know, I grew up in Australia my whole life, so I don’t really have much experience overseas or, you know, really I know we’re about, you know, in our country we have 23 million people. So I thought, “Gosh, 900 million people. Like, how is that still going on? Like, how do 900 million people still not have access to clean water when we have such a developed world?”
So I did a bit more research and it probably wasn’t a big fact that really got me. It was just the individual stories of kids who literally are spending their entire day going to collect water for their family. And I remember, sort of, just being really caught off guard by that because…I mean, that’s insane. An entire day. I mean, some kids are spending half a day but even that is crazy. And the stats say that 4,500 kids die every day from waterborne disease. There’s stories of kids who bring the water home and it’s that water that ends up killing their siblings. You know, even maybe one day then, you know, them.
And so I had this moment where I remember sitting in front of my computer. I’d watched all these videos and stories and I’m sitting there and I’m tearing up. Like, I’m starting to cry because I mean, you know, “What if that was me?” And I’ve got twin sisters that are younger than me. So imagine if, you know, I walked day in and day out for them. You know, let’s say I was born in, you know, sub-Saharan Africa. I’m walking day in day out for them. I watch them die. Then someone comes along and says, “Oh, the water you got them killed them.”
And it’s just like it’s a crazy thing that I’ll never have to go through, but I suppose I got really uncomfortable that we live in a world that other people are going through that and part of me just wanted to do something about it.
Nathan: Wow. That’s a really, really powerful…one of the best realizations I’ve heard. So how did you start? How long ago was this?
Daniel: So this was back in 2008. So about five, five and a half years ago. I sat down with a couple of close friends and, you know, two in particular. Jarryd, who’s now one of our co-founders and directors, and Justine, who’s another co-founder and director and also my wife. So we were sitting down and there was a few other people there and we’re talking about this problem. And anyway, I basically shared that there’s this massive issue. And while I was researching I also was pretty staggered by the fact that in our world, you know, even in our country, we spend $600 million on bottled water.
I personally, you know, think bottled water’s pretty stupid. It’s just one of those products that, you know, we probably shouldn’t buy because we get good tap water for free. But from time to time, I do because I’m thirsty and I don’t want a dirty bottle of Coke. I want something healthy and I kinda end up paying for convenience. And I pay $3 for a bottle. I slap myself in the face like, “What am I doing?” But I’m not alone and in our country, yeah, we’re spending 600 million. Globally, we’re spending $50 billion on bottled water and it’s just that crazy…it’s unbelievable because, you know, we’ve got this industry that at the same time we’ve got 900 million people who don’t have access to clean water.
And so we talked about this idea of launching a brand of water, a brand of bottled water and the idea was that the brand will exist for the sole purpose of funding water projects in the developing world, and essentially just empower Australians to make a simple switch and by doing that, they’re doing something that maybe they’ve never done before.
Nathan: Yeah, I have to say I love what you guys are doing. It’s extremely honorable. It’s extremely impressive. And it’s an example of using business as a force for good.
Daniel: Yeah, correct. And, look, we set up as a social enterprise which is just a bit different to a charity but again a bit different to standard business. So the way it works is that our business is 100% owned by our own charity and then 100% of the profits we make, they go up to our charity. A 100% of that goes out to our project partners. And so it’s a model where essentially we exist all for the cause. Obviously you know, costs involved to make products and make it all happen but after that, you know, we’re funding these projects.
Nathan: Wow. And can we fast-forward to now? So where’s Thankyou Water at now? I know you have some other products.
Daniel: Correct. Well, we’ve actually rebranded it into the…renamed the organization from “Thankyou Water” to “Thankyou Group” and that happened in July last year. We kind of made that transition to Thankyou Group. And we’re now trading under the brand name Thankyou. Just one word, real simple, Thankyou. And our brand…I suppose you could say our brand mantra is, “Live every day, give every day.” And so the idea has, sort of, grown from water to now we’ve launched a food range and a body care range.
So in the food range we have muesli, muesli bars, oats and quick oats. And every pack you buy, provides a week’s worth of food to someone in need. So that’s a week’s worth of physical food aid. Plus, it also funds a long term sustainable food program. And then our body care products, we have like hand wash and hair lotion. It’s a really premium kind of product. All natural, you know, really high quality but by buying that you’re funding health and hygiene projects.
Part of the entire product range, we have a system called track your impact built in. So I don’t know about you, man, but I, kind of, have always had a bit of an issue with, you know, you supported a cause but you don’t really know what is the impact that you make. I mean, you know, you’re giving money but like what’s the impact of that? So we developed this program called “track your impact” and it took about a year and a half to develop but every single product has its own unique tracker ID.
And by that I mean, like, there’s literally no two bottles of water or two muesli bars with the same code. And you jump on our website. You track your code in to the website and we zoom in on Google Maps with GPS coordinates to the exact project that you’re funding which is kinda cool because you can literally see like the village…you know, the roofs in the village. Like, it’s that detailed. And then, you know, 6 to 12 months later, once the project’s complete, we can actually email you a final field report.
Nathan: Wow. That’s really cool and it’s really impressive. And I just wanted to know how much impact are you making on the world right now? Can you throw us with some numbers?
Daniel: Yeah, man. We’re working on 11 countries at the moment through our projects and our project partners, and we’ve funded over 100 projects in those countries. In terms of impact, so we’ve helped fund over 67,000 people get access to safe water. So that’s through long-term programs like wells and filters and all that kind of thing. We’ve helped over 62,000 people get health and hygiene training, and funded over 60,000 weeks’ worth of food aid to people in need.
Plus, we’ve just started some great long-term programs. So that’s kind of the early stats. A lot of these products for us, you know, the water has been around for five years but the food and the body care range, they only launched here in supermarkets about three months ago. So they’re really new.
Nathan: Wow. Now like I said it’s really amazing what you’re doing, man. And one thing you have done is it kinda leads well to my next question is you got all your products onto the shelves of Kohl’s and Woolworth and 7-Eleven, so our biggest supermarket retailers and one of our biggest convenient stores in Australia. How did you do that?
Daniel: That’s a good question. It wasn’t easy as the answer to that. I think now there’s something like over 4,500 stockers. So there’s all the majors that you mentioned plus guys like Starbucks and IGAs and heaps of independents, and it’s crazy to see everyone getting on board but, you know, for three year, really, we couldn’t get even just one bottle of water into major retailers. You know, we really struggled. And we had a couple of hundred independent cafes and, like, small chains on board but none of the big players were interested because, I mean, to them any new product is just risk.
And they look at it as well, “If we’re putting you on the shelf, we’re giving you that space that we could give to another big product,” and because you got, like, the Coca Colas of the world and all these big companies who literally pump millions of dollars into product launches, what it means is now that retailers, they wanna see that you’re literally gonna put maybe three million bucks on the line in marketing, in advertising to support the launch and that expectation, you know…look, it’s not everywhere but it’s pretty common that they just wanna see significant support.
And the tough thing for us is we don’t already have that money as, you know, most sort of people in the social space don’t have that but even startups. Like, $3 million, $2 million. Just crazy money. And if we, did we wouldn’t just go chuck it into billboards. I mean, in our case we’d, you know, we’d be funding more projects.
So we had this problem and we’re a bit perplexed because we’re like, “Well, we know it will sell. We know people will get behind it because we’ve talked to consumers, but it’s convincing the retailers of that who just…doesn’t matter how good the presentation slides are, doesn’t matter how good our, kind of, our plans are, they’re just not buying into it.” And so we realized that we have to take a pretty bold step. You know, we have to do something that maybe has never been done before because we needed a result that hadn’t been, you know, hadn’t been done before.
So anyway we came up with this idea and it was back in 2011. We picked 7-Eleven, so they were first. And the way it worked is we booked a meeting with them, and two weeks prior to the meeting we launched a video on Facebook. And the video was a call to action to our fans and other Australians and it said, you know, “Two weeks from today, we’re presenting to 7-Eleven Australia. But we don’t wanna walk in alone, we want you to come with us and we want you to basically just let them know that, hey, 7-Eleven if you stocked Thankyou Water, I’d buy it.” So that was the call to action.
We asked people to upload a video or post directly onto 7-Eleven’s Facebook wall and it was a bit of a bold move, but when we launched within probably the first day, they had over 400 posts on their Facebook wall which was pretty epic because, you know, they had maybe…they’ll get maybe four to five a day at the time. So, you know, the campaign was off to a good start. You know, 7-Eleven obviously didn’t know about this. They just knew they had a meeting with us and so when the campaign launched, we got some good media behind it.
We were able to get one of the main programs called the “Project on Board” that night and they had at the time, I think, just under a million viewers. So we were on there. We were talking about…they briefly mentioned the campaign but they were talking more about our story. And then that night it went crazy, man. Like, people uploading videos of them singing, dancing, rapping. It was absolutely unbelievable and just hundreds and, you know, even thousands probably of posts going on their wall. And more and more media got behind it, and it just began to spiral which led to the meeting in 7-Eleven.
Obviously they, you know…this hasn’t happened before so they said their CEO Facebook and, you know, we go in there, we present and this time the pitch was a little different, because this time we weren’t saying, “If you get behind this, media will get behind you, the public will get behind you.” It was more like, “Well, as you can see, the public are behind this. As you can see the media have got a lot of buy in to this story and, you know, if you sign on, not only are you just selling a great product that is gonna make money for you because it’s a commercial offer, but you’re also gonna help make, you know, change the world.”
And they sat back and I think, you know, they were really impressed. They were…you know, it was probably a bit annoying for them but at the same time they saw that, you know, that this has potential and they arranged the product. It was one of the, I think, one of the fastest new product launches they’ve ever done. And when that happened, you know, we outsold Evian and then we outsold Evian in Coolridge, and the brand just went from strength to strength. And, you know, 7-Eleven really partnered with us. They got really behind the cause.
They ended up taking out their home brand water which was called “Munch Water” at the time. So they took that out of the fridge and they replaced it with our water which meant that we had, like, almost more space than any other brand and we just went on to sell…you know, went from, you know, hundreds of thousands of bottles to literally millions overnight which was pretty epic. So that’s 7-Eleven.
We then took it a step further than that. So the campaign was successful. We were pretty hesitant just to do it again for the sake of it. Like, we knew that…you know, quit while you’re ahead. It was a good success story but over the next two years…so if we fast-forward from…you know, we landed 7-Eleven in year three. So fast-forward two years to year five when we launched for the supermarkets.
From those two years, about a year and a half of that, we were developing the new food range and the body care range. And I mean, as you can imagine these products were a lot tougher than water and we put a lot more work into it because our priority is that, number one, we bring you and consumers a product that’s better than competitor’s. Number two, by buying it, you’re changing the world. And number three, we’ll prove that. So the reason that order is really important is because, I think, if we made lame products that didn’t taste good or were just sort of a bit substandard, like, we’d go buy it once because it’s a good cause and then we’d go back to what we actually enjoy.
So we are first a product company because we wanna, you know, actually…you know, I’d love to think that these products would sell just as good if, you know, without the cause, but the moment you add the reason why we exist, then it’s like people will sign up for life. That’s kind of the idea.
Anyway, we developed the products. We developed track your impact. And then we launched on the 17th of July last year. We launched the Kohl’s and Woolworths campaign. Now this was…obviously the 7-Eleven campaign pretty much on steroids because now we’d pinned the two biggest retailers in Australia, sort of, against each other in a sense that we branded it Kohl’s and Woolworths campaign. It was a pretty big risk, you know. Again we booked a meeting with both of them and two weeks prior to that meeting, we launched a video on YouTube and the video went viral.
I mean, on day one it had about 10,000 views. Within the two weeks it had over or just under 80,000 views which is pretty epic but the video was a call to action. And, again, saying, “Hey, get on the Kohl’s and Woolies Facebook page. Let them know that if they stock the Thankyou range, you’d buy it.” And thankfully literally like thousands and tens of thousands of our fans got behind it.
And their Facebook walls for two weeks every few…likem every few seconds, every few minutes, it was just more and more uploads and, you know, whole schools got behind it with videos and we had about 15 celebrities show their support which was pretty humbling and they posted videos and then we had, during the two weeks, 90 mainstream media features so…it was just off the chart man. Like, we’re a brand that has, like, low to no budget for marketing and we had enough to make a good video just so they get out there and go for it.
And to see the media…and the media were, you know, they were really positive but some of the media was just like, “Are you guys nuts? Like, do you realize that what you’re doing? Like, you’re, sort of, taking on the biggest retailers out there and…” You know, there’s a lot of skepticism. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work and a lot of people thought that we were, you know…they thought a lot of things but anyway look, we got through. We presented.
About three days before the presentation, we actually had two helicopters. One in Melbourne and one in Sydney, and they both flew carrying a 10,000 square foot sign each. So the one in Melbourne said, “Dear Kohl’s, thank you for changing the world,” In brackets, “if you say yes.” Because they hadn’t said yes yet. And then we flew that around the city up the freeway during peak hour and then around their head office for about 20 minutes.
So the helicopters, like, literally…it’s the biggest sign you’d ever seen flying right over the roof, like, did laps. We did the same at Woolworths up in Sydney at the same time. And that definitely caught their attention and that was all sponsored by the helicopter companies and the donor paid for the sign just because, you know, he loved the idea and couldn’t believe how crazy we were attempting it.
And then we walk into the meetings. Five hours after the meeting with Kohl’s, they called and that call, you know, really caught me off guard but they said, “We’re taking the range nationally.” And, you know, after the Woolies meeting, literally three hours later they called to say, “We’ll take the range nationally as well.”
So it was a pretty epic couple of weeks.
Nathan: Yeah. I can imagine man. And these are, like, seriously the ultimate pitches.
Daniel: Yeah, I suppose in hindsight they are. And look, going into it, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to do the ultimate pitch. I’ve read this thing on Facebook once about the status quo. So the status quo is, you know, the way things have always been done. And this is a typical Facebook comment but it was, like, one of these memes or something that said, “Sometimes, you need to high-five the status quo in the face with a chair.” And it’s, kind of, a violent picture and that’s why I like it because I mean, we literally did that. We just had to go cool.
So there’s a way that you’re meant to do it. Like, go call, present behind closed doors. Don’t tell anyone. If you get in, then you announce it year later, but, you know, we just went that way. We’re going public. Make or break. We went for it.
Nathan: Yeah. you used the power of social.
Daniel: Yeah, totally.
Nathan: Yeah, look, that’s a really amazing story, man. And, look, I just wanted to switch gears and talk about the vision and being in love with your vision because like you said these past five years it was a struggle, right? There were some tough times and we actually have some mutual friends. So while you were working on this massive project, you were working fulltime or part-time at another company. And you’ve seen some hard times. So how has being in love with your vision and getting your team members in love with your vision, how important is that to you?
Daniel: Yeah, man. I mean, obviously it’s crucial. I think, you know, we did it pretty tough, particularly the first three years. So we started getting paid at the three-year mark and that was a tough three years. Like, we volunteered. You know, we knew that when we got paid, it’ll only be charitable stead pay, but who cares, man? Like, when you work in…I worked jobs as a traffic controller. I worked in call centers. I worked with, you know, our mutual friend in a Vodafone Store just selling phones. And I was getting shifts on the weekend and, kind of, after hour shifts just so I could pay the bills so that I could, you know, keep working in Thankyou. So, yeah, it was tough.
I suppose being in love with your vision, it’s one element to it, but to be honest with you, like, people have asked me before like, “Oh, so did you ever feel like giving up?” And it’s like, “You have no idea.” Like, I literally…probably there wasn’t a week that went by in the first three and a half, maybe four years where I didn’t feel like giving up because, you know…and one thing, you know, we haven’t really touched on but there was so many setbacks and so many issues and so many hurdles. And the only thing that really kept me going is, you know, there’s the vision and it’s like this should be out there. It should be massive but it’s also just the why behind what I do and because, for me, I’ve got such a strong why.
I’ll literally get up every day and just go again and you can say no a 100 times. It doesn’t matter because I’m driven by something deeper. I’ll just keep going. And, for me, it’s real personal but sort of two things, two elements to that why. You know, I’m waking up, you know, to help people. So that’s one element. The other thing, too, is that I go to church and so part of what I believe and, sort of, foundational to I suppose who Dan Flynn is, if I put it like that, us this concept of living your life for other people.
So I grew up learning that. I believe that. And I suppose, for me, Thankyou is a way that I can live that out. Like, I can actually every day, I’m waking up not for me but to live, you know, to impact others.
And so with that kinda core deep why factor, that’s what helped me get through the hurdles. That’s what helped me keep going. And I suppose the why is gonna be different for each of our team members. You know everyone’s motivated differently. The one thing that does unite us, because we do come from a whole bunch of different backgrounds, but what does unite us is the cause and is that, “If we succeed we will help not just tens of thousands, but one day hundreds of thousands and then one day millions of people.” That’s a pretty exciting thought.
Nathan: No, for sure. And you can’t put a price on that.
Daniel: You can’t, no.
Nathan: You talked about setbacks and values. Tell us about some of those, man, because I don’t like to just shine on the glossy things.
Daniel: Yeah, our first order went out to one of the largest private distributor in the country. So the order goes out for 50,000 bottles. We get one pallet delivered to my parents’ house and as we’re unloading it, we freak out and the whole team is silent because the third of the product in every box, the label was scrunched unto the point you couldn’t even read it. And it turns out that the whole run was affected. The factory had some quality issues and they said to us their quality control guy was away when they ran our product which is an absolute joke. But anyway, so we…like, a few days into our launch of the brand, we had to do a national product recall. So that was hurdle number one.
You know, from there we built up 350 outlets stocking our water over the next six months and then our factory, who promised the world couldn’t really deliver and over three…actually over five weeks they couldn’t…well, they didn’t supply any water. And it was pretty epic because, you know, five weeks to some people doesn’t sound like long, but it meant that we lost 300, about 350 stockers because they said, “We’re not working with you. You’re just kids. You don’t know what you’re doing.” And they went back to the other brands, you know, the bigger brands on the market.
And that was real tough because at six months into our journey, a year into the whole startup process, and it’s all falling apart. You know, the whole idea came crashing down. And then we went to relaunch the brand and we relaunched and we got a couple of distributors on board for the relaunch. We got a new factory. And when we relaunched the big distributor that took us on up in Sydney, they took a truckload of water from us. They were confident they’d get us in about 2,000 outlets in a month. So we were like…we were stoked. We were thinking, “This is huge.” And then they go bankrupt. So we get a letter from a legal accounting firm to say they’re now in liquidation.
And I mean, this is the relaunch of the brand. It’s failing to launch. You know what I mean? Like it was just…it was kinda like a nightmare, kinda like a movie, man. It was just bizarre. Issue after issue, setback after setback. And, you know, from there we had, like, couple size…medium size retailers in our country who were interested. They both looked at the product. Both of them didn’t go with it which was pretty discouraging. But then they both came out with their own bottle that went to Funny Water projects which was, like, even more discouraging. Like, we love the cause so we’re happy about that. It just sucked because we were talking to them for a lot longer before they did that and it was sort of…we got through that. We moved on.
Then we just had, you know, every retailer in our country, big or small, at the three year mark, we had a story about them whether they’d promised to deliver and hadn’t delivered. You know, some announced on national TV that they were gonna stock our product and then they never followed through with it. It’s just, you know, pretty epic, the kind of things that happened. But we kept going. We had a why what we do. We had something deeper that we existed for. We had a team who were committed and we were not gonna give up.
Nathan: Yeah. And now it’s going from strength to strength.
Daniel: Yeah, man.
Nathan: That’s amazing, man. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up and I have a few more questions for you. One of them was can you tell us about what you’ve had to sacrifice to get where you are today? What did you have to give up?
Daniel: Luckily, I haven’t had to sacrifice anything. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding, man. Sacrifice is like the one part that no one tells you about. It’s like the bit that, you know, if you knew the sacrifices going into it you, may never have signed up for it. As we got into it…I mean, it’s definitely worth it now. Now that we’ve made the impact that we make. But I think the sacrifice is…there’s a couple.
So one of them obviously was time and we were putting maybe 30 to 40 hours a week into Thankyou Water at the beginning and that was tough, man, because we were balancing. You know, you need to graze…Justine and I got married kinda early on in the whole process. So if you could imagine that, like, we’re married. We both have a part-time casual job with no security and we’re doing that after hours to earn money just so we can pay the bills like week to week so that we can work in Thankyou Water and we’re both trying to finish uni.
So we potentially signed up for maybe more than we should’ve but it was a pretty epic first couple of years and I’ll never forget that living week to week, kind of, like, you know, money dries up on the Friday. You get paid on a Tuesday kinda vibe and so you like…how’s this weekend gonna work? You know, and it was, kind of, tough. I mean, on top of that, I got to the point where we were successfully failing at everything. If that makes sense. Like, we weren’t getting anywhere and I just went, “We’re gonna have to give this everything or we’re gonna have to let this go.”
So I actually deferred from uni or pretty much dropped out and never went back. So three years into my degree, I just said no. You know, we’re gonna have to go hard to get this off the ground or it’s just gonna keep going nowhere. I suppose that’s not really a sacrifice. It’s kinda now a cool story. I dropped out of uni. But at the time, it was that decision of I have no backup plan. You know what I mean? Like…
Daniel: Like, there’s no backup. If this fails I’ll just go to my other job that I’ve also landed. It was, like, no, we’re just going all out of this and, you know, if it fails, go back, repeat subjects or to go do another year at uni. And they kind of…when all your friends are graduating, you know, and they’ve got their degrees and you were kind of like putting all on the line, that was pretty scary.
But then even the other organization’s up and running and, you know, we’ve got 16 staff now and, you know, a big office and my growing team and, you know, we’re paid now which is cool, but from, I suppose an entrepreneurial point of view, because we’re set up how we’re set up as a social enterprise, so myself and the other directors, we don’t have any equity in the business and we never can and we don’t get shares, we don’t get dividends or we don’t get profits.
So we essentially have…we’ve got a job which is great but I mean, I could go in more working as a traffic controller on roadworks. But instead, I mean, I’m doing something I’m passionate about but most people in our situation now, you know, they’re self-made millionaires and, you know, they got that story and they do it in that, kind of, vibe whereas…I mean, that’s not a priority to us, but at the end of the day, that’s one of the sacrifices, the choices we’ve made is that we’re gonna build something that won’t just be, you know, we’re worth tens of millions but soon, you know, hopefully hundreds of millions and so on.
By the end of the day, we won’t see that personally which is cool, man. Like, it’s not…sacrifice is a funny word. Like, we chose this but it’s just one of the realities of it. Yeah, man. So that’s just a couple of things for you.
Nathan: Yeah, no, look, thank you. Often you hear and you see of these big-time entrepreneurs. You’re doing these amazing things and it’s obvious that you would’ve had to give up a lot and I just wanted to touch on that because you don’t always hear about that stuff.
Daniel: Yeah, man. Totally.
Nathan: So yeah, look, I have one last question for you and that is what’s the best advice you would have to someone that wants to become an entrepreneur? How do you build something and scale like you have?
Daniel: All right. Well, look, there’s a lot of things to it and so I’m sure, you know, people subscribe to there’s gonna be heaps of different tips and, you know, everyone’s got different things. You know, there’s things that…I love teamwork. I think if you try and build something on your own, you’re kinda setting it up to fail from the start. So we built a great team around the idea and that’s what has got us to where we are today and that’s cool.
But, I mean, even then you can have a great team and you can have a great idea but you can still not actually go anywhere. And I’ve learned that, you know, people listen to ideas. You can book meetings, you can have coffees, you can do whatever and you can share your idea and people won’t listen, but they partner with opportunity. Our journey has been how do we create that opportunity that is too good to miss? And so I’ve given you like two examples of…we’ve talked of the 7-Eleven campaign and Kohl’s and Woolworths campaign that were creating opportunities for our largest retailers to look good, to make money and to change the world.
And we set it up in a way that we weren’t just sitting in meetings sharing an idea which we had many times before and got knocked back every single time. But we presented an opportunity. There’s probably another 50 examples where we’ve done that on a smaller scale when it comes to raising capital or, you know, just heaps of little things we’ve done. It’s all about, “Okay. We can share this idea, but how do we create an opportunity? How do we create something that people wanna get involved with?” Because, you know, we’ve learned the hard way that people wanna be involved with something that has momentum.
And so the entrepreneur’s role isn’t to say, “Oh, I have an idea,” because, I mean, there’s a lot of people that have an idea. And there’s a lot of people who are not entrepreneurial who have a great idea. They’ll tell you at a party or over dinner, “I’ve got this idea. We should do this, you know.”
But, I think ,the entrepreneur’s role is to get the idea and then create momentum and find a way because once you have momentum, that changes the game. I remember sitting down with the CEO of one of the biggest companies in Australia and he was doing a bit of mentoring for me at the time, which was pretty exciting. And he’s sharing some stuff but he said, “Dan,” he said, “Get momentum and keep it because when you have momentum you can ask the things you could never have asked for without it.”
And that’s a powerful statement because, you know, once you get a bit of momentum and, like…you know, look at the campaigns we ran. We launched a video, we put it all on the line. Some people got behind it. Then more people saw people getting behind it. Then media get behind it. Then celebrities get behind it. And then it just kinda spirals out of control. But it would never have happened unless we found a way to create that initial momentum. Yeah, so that’s one of my big tip.
Nathan: Yeah, no. That’s really profound, man. That’s gold.
Daniel: Thanks, man.
Nathan: I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time, Daniel. It’s been an awesome chat with you, man. Like, really, really inspiring. And yeah, I love what you guys are doing. Yeah, look, thank you for taking the time.
Daniel: No worries, man. Appreciate the chat.