Start-Up Stories – Watt Water
New brands are bringing innovation across FMCG, especially in the drinks industry. A start-up at the forefront of this is Watt Water. In this chapter of Start-Up Stories we got to know Reece Best, Founder & Brand Guru of Watt Water…
So, what is Watt Water?
Watt Water is a calorie, sugar & artificial flavouring free alternative to coffee & energy drinks. Each bottle looks & tastes like water but has the same effect as coffee, with a caffeine kick equivalent to a double espresso shot.
What does a typical customer look like?
Watt Water has a really broad target demographic. We’ve been very careful not to pigeonhole ourselves as a sports-related product because the benefits exceed the gym or exercise. You can grab a bottle whenever you need a boost, be that on the way to work, when in the gym (killing two birds with one stone – hydration and energy) or when burning the midnight oil working on a project or assignment. We like to say that anytime someone would reach for a strong coffee or Red Bull they could instead grab a bottle of Watt Water and get the same boost, without the cost, fuss (rush hour coffee shop queues are the worst) or unhealthy downside.
Did you always want to start a business? Was it what you expected?
I always wanted to work for myself. My mum has a great job in a huge corporation & although it has its perks that kind of career & the bureaucracy & rigidity that comes with it never appealed to me (I think I eavesdropped on one too many 9 AM conference calls).
“I love to question rules & try to do things in unique or different ways.”
I knew that the ability to do that was stifled in larger organisations, so starting a business was at the forefront of my mind from a young age. In a lot of ways, it was what I expected & in others very different; I knew a lot of work would be required but didn’t appreciate how important the role of coincidence, luck or good timing could be.
How did you come up with the idea?
While at University I did an exchange year and studied abroad in Germany. One night I went to a 24-hour Techno rave in a Forest (completely legal & above board…probably) and when you asked for water at the makeshift bar the label on the bottle said ‘Water with Caffeine’. It wasn’t available in any German shops or something I’d seen elsewhere & I so I presume it was made specifically for the event to keep people going all night. At the time I remember thinking “why isn’t this a more popular thing!?”. I’d always loved energy drinks & coffee and when I returned to the UK for my final year I’d needed the boost they give more than ever to tackle the workload. It was then that the downsides of the two became more apparent. Take out coffee was expensive & the morning/midday coffee shop queues were a nightmare, so my budget & productivity took a hit. On the other hand, energy drinks were cheap & fairly convenient but packed with calories, sugar or artificial flavourings & so had a negative impact on my health & waistline. This is when I started to take the idea that became Watt Water more seriously.
Did you have any drinks experience prior to Watt Water?
No, none at all. A friend of mine had started a juice business whilst at University & I helped him with some research & marketing, but this didn’t really provide any insight into the industry or how drinks businesses worked. I literally just walked around Waitrose, looked at what juice drinks were available & made a note of their name & price, so I had no practical experience in the industry before starting Watt Water.
Watt Water is the only caffeinated water product in the UK, was it challenging bringing such a unique product to market?
Yeah. There have been many hurdles to jump through & many that we’re still in the process of overcoming. Initially, I couldn’t find anyone to manufacture the product; I must have contacted 20 companies & couldn’t get any traction. Some thought the idea was silly, some wanted minimum orders in the tens of thousands on the first product run, one or two couldn’t make the product to our requirements & one bizarrely thought it would be illegal (to this day I have no idea why!). On the consumer side we’re still trying to explain the proposition as best we can.
“When people hear about the product some think it is cold coffee or coffee flavoured water.”
As our product is new and unique in the UK we’re still trying to get our tagline ‘Looks like water. Tastes like water. Works like Coffee’ understood by first-time consumers.
How did you go about creating the product itself? What were the first steps?
At first I drove my family & friends mad by making samples & using them as energised Guinea Pigs. After I’d refined the recipe & dosages the next step was finding a manufacturer. As I mentioned this proved to be far more difficult than I’d initially anticipated, so this process took several months. Right around this time I came across a Virgin sponsored Crowdfunding competition on Facebook with a simple premise – pitch your business in a paragraph. The best ideas were entered into a competition to see who could raise the most capital in 72 hours & we were lucky enough to win & raised over £10,000 in product pre-orders. The timing was perfect; I really don’t know how I could have paid for that first batch of product without the Crowdfunded money!
“As is often the case with startups you just have to figure things out along the way.”
The fact that so many people pre-ordered and liked the sound of the product was also great; it really helped to reaffirm my belief in the idea and illustrated that there would be a demand for it.
What do you love most about your job?
The freedom it entails is definitely up there. When starting Watt Water a lot of people had opinions about every aspect of the business, from caffeine dosage to bottle size & even brand name. Being able to go with your gut & make the executive decisions in these situations is something I relish. I can take risks & make decisions based on my goals for the brand; being able to take action in the direction I think is best without having to compromise or get a majority decision is something I love and is probably a reflection of my fear of working for a rigid and bureaucratic corporation. On another note, something else I really enjoy is hearing comments from people who love Watt Water. When I started the business there were many consumer groups that I didn’t even consider for whom the product is an ideal match, from cyclists to people on busy morning train commutes who understandably don’t want to be holding a red hot coffee.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I actually work part-time alongside the business in order to pay the bills – so every day is different. On days at my part-time job I wake up early and do some work on Watt Water – typically checking emails and online sales & planning social media ads. Days off I can devote fully to the business. Despite our product being a coffee alternative my favourite place to work from is coffee shops (know thy enemy) and so I typically spend my morning doing all the work that can be done remotely. Lately, I’ve been part of a food and drink accelerator course and so many a day has been spent in Manchester with other Food and Drink SMEs. Everyone has a unique or innovative product and it’s been great to share info and knowhow. In the summer I’ll be doing a lot more promo and be all over the place sampling product our product.
Where can people find your delicious drinks?
You can buy from our website, or if you’re a student or work near a University, hopefully, we will be rolling our product out to most UK higher education institutions throughout the year.
What’s next for Watt Water?
We’re working a new flavour ‘Summer Fruits’, just in time for warmer weather. We’re also looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint; at a smaller scale this has proved to be difficult, but with growth, we’re hoping to be able to reduce our impact on the environment. We’re also looking to work with other brands and events that share similar values, so funnily enough Watt Water might be available at a bar, but probably not the bar of a 24 hour illegal Forest rave.
Watt Water are absolutely smashing it and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for them! Be sure to check their website out here.