It was during Dan Flynn’s first year of university that he realised the world water crisis needed help and attention. He came up with the idea to start a bottled water business called Thankyou Water where every bottle sold provides at least one month of safe water to someone in need.
How did the idea for Thankyou Water come about?
I was in my first year at university and I was thinking about my future career. I was doing some research online and I came across the world water crisis. The idea that 900 million [people] don’t have access to clean water is a massive problem. I began to look at individual stories where kids would spend their whole day going to collect water for their families. Then it gets a bit worse, some of the stories are about kids who will bring home water and it’s the water that will end up killing them or their families.
Part of me wanted to do something about it but I didn’t know what I could do. I got together with a few friends and as we were talking about it we thought the world water crisis is crazy but so is bottled water. Australia spends $600 million on it every year. So we thought, let’s launch a brand and get as much of that market as we can and help people
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome when starting out?
Funding was a big challenge. We did some research and they said we needed an upwards of $250,000 just to get a bottle off the end of production line. To us, that was overwhelming. We probably only had $1,000 between us, we were just uni students. We also had no idea how to run a business or how to start a bottled water company.
What has been the most effective form of advertising?
Our most effective form of advertising would definitely have to be social media. Probably second to that would be public relations.
How important is social media to your business?
We have built up a community, with 45,000 fans on Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram, we are going pretty well. We want to update them about what’s happening overseas, latest projects and keep people inspired. But from time to time the community has actually been fundamental into taking the idea to the next level.
At one point in 2010 we actually ran a Facebook campaign and got everyone to petition 7-Eleven and got everyone to post on 7-Eleven’s wall, ‘if you stock Thankyou Water, I’d buy it’. We did that for two weeks leading up to a meeting we had booked with them. Fans went crazy and there were videos of them singing, rapping to show their support.
Mainstream heard about it and picked up on the campaign then it spiraled out of control. 7-Eleven was so overwhelmed with the support for the product that it gave us that momentum we needed to get them to look at it seriously and then it took on. But the rest has been history with them and now it’s been an incredible journey with 7-Eleven.
How does Thankyou Water make money?
We’re called a social enterprise, which is essentially a business that runs through social outcomes, kind of like a charity and business all smashed into one. We don’t ask people for donations, we sell a product but the business runs as any business would. Staff are paid, we pay for the bottle, production and all the work that we do and then it’s our profit that goes into funding our water projects. Every quarter we distribute the profit to our shareholder.
The thing that separates us from normal businesses is that there are no individual shareholders so they can’t make profit from the organisation and neither can the other directors. Our shareholder being Thankyou Charitable Trust [which has] got charitable status in Australia. Our profits are going to there and 100% of that goes to our project partners and funds the water programs that we do.
Are corporate partners and private donors enough to help Thankyou Water grow or will you need investors?
Corporate partners are definitely fundamental to what we’re doing, without them it’s very hard to grow. We are looking at a project which will involve, what I would probably call ‘social investors’, [they are] someone who’s willing to make a loan at low interest, less than what the banks will offer you to help fund and grow.
But that model of a social investor is really someone who basically [has] no security and is giving us money to help us grow as long as we pay it back as some point. That’s quite different to traditional investors who want a share of the company and we’ll never open up to that model because it just estranges who we are, from being all about the cause, to being a little about the cause and then about the shareholders and the investors who need to make money.
What do you think Federal and State Governments could do to make things easier for small business owners starting out?
There are a lot of good resources for small business. Social enterprises and such are a new category and there’s not much support from the government on it. I definitely think tax breaks should be offered and more support in terms of getting finance to help grow and organise. More access to funding and grants could be helpful.
Water for Cambodia
Thankyou Water has seven water projects around the world and one of them is an ongoing project in Cambodia. It has fully funded 14 villages and is currently funding 12 villages in Cambodia with biosand filters (BSFs) and wells. BSFs filter out harmful pathogens from water sources and wells provide safe, consistent and accessible water sources. These tools are important to ensure the water is uncontaminated and rural communities are consuming and using safe water. Beneficiaries are being educated on the sustainability of the water solutions and creating better health outcomes for people.