Todd O’Gara is is an entrepreneur who founded wanu water (water + nutrients). It is the first-to-market, best-selling nutrient-infused water packed with 10 essential vitamins including 24% of your daily fiber intake providing natural energy that boosts your metabolism and immune system and quenches your appetite while you hydrate.
The product is also immune-boosting, which is extremely relevant right now! wanu has zero artificial sweeteners - it is sugar free, free of sugar alcohols and naturally sweetened which is great juice alternative for children (and adults!).
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start wanu water?
You can say it was a complete lightbulb moment. That moment occurred while sitting through an epidemiology lecture while attending dental school in Sydney, Australia. It was instant, and it led to the creativity and diversification of what the foundation of wanu is today.
How did you get your first three customers?
Starting any business from scratch is hard. The challenges are many, and it takes relentless dedication, perseverance, confidence and a great culture. Wanu was able to secure a spot through those above traits at the Anaheim, California Natural Products Expo West show. This provided a platform to launch our product to the industry masses, where we instantly secured national broad-line distribution and accounts.
How did you validate the idea?
In 2010 while living in Cochabamba, Bolivia working as a dental resident, I was exposed to a myriad of public systemic health issues. Through this experience, I realized that the lack of readily accessible nutrition and clean drinking water was leading to a public health crisis within the community and beyond.
I worked in hospitals, schools, clinics and the Amazon with villagers. I was performing oral surgeries with no anesthetic, along with providing acute healthcare to those in dire need, most of them being children under the age of six. A real turning point in my career occurred when I diagnosed a six-year-old girl with cancer in her mouth. As part of my residency, I aided in the surgery and helped cover the medical costs as her family had no money. This, in my opinion, was due to a lack of nutrition as well as clean drinking water. At that point, instead of going into private practice, I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the world. This was the inception of creating and eventually launching what we know today as wanu water, water + nutrients.
This experience was all the validation I needed to push forward with developing a product that could instantly provide a solution to these problems.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
Saying I had little to no experience in the beverage or consumer packaged goods industry would be putting it lightly. I grew up in a predominately health and wellness-focused family with medical and dental backgrounds.
We were active and loved to be outside along with being keen to proper nutrition and diet. However, I had no business background and, honestly, that this was a blessing in disguise. I feel that If I did have that background in beverage or consumer packaged goods, I might have been more reluctant to go for it and risk it all. You need that “go for it attitude” to make it in this industry.
Have you raised any money? How much?
Yes, we have raised over $30 million, of which $20 million is outside capital.
What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?
We are probably the most efficient beverage company when it comes to regulation with respect to our highly differentiated product. We take pride in our ability to lead with transparency, honesty and being authentic in every facet of the company and business.
What are your target demographics?
The target consumer is female, young professional, active, mom, ages 28-44. A modern woman with a lot on her plate and limited time to take care of herself. She aspires to be healthy + needs support to get her in gear! She is a weekly shopper, aware of what she puts into her body, tapped into current trends and digitally-savvy.
How did you fund the idea initially?
The early-stage capitalization of the company was supported personally and through family.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?
My girlfriend at the time and now wife, helped me navigate the treacherous waters of the business world. My wife is a brilliant marketer and has a keen eye for packaging as well as a digital and social strategic approach. The other member of the founding team initially started out as an intern (all that we could afford at the time) and has blossomed into a prolific businesswoman who is now the senior marketing manager of wanu. I have been very fortunate to be bookend by two strong, smart, vocal women.
Any tips for finding first employees?
Every great business plan starts with culture. Look for employees that aren’t interested in the typical 9-to-5 job, but will share in your passion for being successful, see the long-term dream and work while competing for results, not recognition. In every great, successful company the one thing they have is a great culture. Finding the right people to fit that culture takes time. Don’t rush to hire the next big star employee. Make sure they fit your mission, vision and values.
Did you run any companies prior?
I had no prior experience in running companies.
What motivated you to start your own business?
The catalyst behind starting this business was to provide a product that stabilized and strengthened one’s immunity and to cure infant mortality rates due to waterborne illness in developing countries. Our proprietary formulation provides the tools and building blocks to strengthen one’s immune system while providing healthy hydration with great taste.
Every person that drinks wanu is bettering their overall health and wellness. That alone could not make me happier and appreciative for knowing I am helping those individuals live a better, healthier lifestyle.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
They thought I was insane. Try telling your parents that after additional years of higher education, and a tremendous amount of student loan debt that you have decided not to practice dentistry and sell bottled water. I am sure they were thinking of admitting me to a psychiatric ward. In all seriousness, it did shock them, but they have been my biggest supporters and investors in the company.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
Competition. Striving to be the best and never giving in to failure. Also, knowing that there are other successful brands making it that are inferior to ours motivates and pushes us to be the best.
Our goal is to be the best. To do it better than it has ever been done before. To accomplish more than any other brand before us, while knowing our product is truly helping people.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Trust your gut. It is right more often than you think. Build your team wisely. Building a great team is essential for overall success. Find the people that are looking to build for the future and the end result and not there for just a paycheck. Passion, dedication and loyalty are the principles of building a great team and company. It’s ok to say “NO.” Get comfortable with saying no. Where I got into trouble with people is when I felt I had to say yes to everyone just to appease them. Sometimes what is best for you and the long-term success of the company is passing on opportunities that, from a bird’s eye seem great, but might not align with timing or the strategy at that exact moment.
What has driven the most sales? insta/facebook/pinterest/email?
All of the above. Social has played a tremendous role in our success. In today’s world people and brands have a very strong social and digital presence. Consumers check out your social channels before they even check your website now. A full 360 approach including digital and social is key for long term success and has been a powerful sales tool for our brand.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
Capital. We are scaling the company and have increased demand to the likes that has never been seen before at wanu. It is a very exciting time, and we look forward to capitalizing on all this opportunity.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We don’t shy away from competition, we embrace it. No matter the industry you are in, there is going to be competition. We look forward to it.
We love to compete, and it drives us to be the best through constantly innovating and staying a step of ahead of our competitors.
What are your favourite books?
Getting More by Stuart Diamond and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
What are the next products you’re working on?
We are excited about the future innovation and verticals at wanu and they will be products that will continue to innovate and change the landscape of the CPG industry.
Are there any releases you can tell us about?
We are looking to release some new exciting case packs, sizes and flavors by early 2021.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
Partnering with an industry giant such as Coke, Pepsi, AB Inbev and/or KDP.
Would you ever sell?
Yes, we would potentially look to sell to one of the companies listed above.
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