Guzzle H20 builds a new category of ruggedized water purification device that people with active outdoor lifestyles can take anywhere and know they can use almost any freshwater source for drinking water with push button convenience and speed. Whether you are at a kids soccer game at a park where there is a water faucet, traveling overland in a remote natural landscape, or camping out with the family by a lake, Guzzle H2O makes a drinking water system to support your hydration needs.
There were a couple lightbulb moments on a generally gradual path to building Guzzle H2O. The initial spark was my business partner Sean “Doogie” Couvreux’s. He is a professional sailor and he noticed that the sailing teams he was on were using single use plastic water bottles to support their athletes on the ocean. I’ll let him tell that part of the story.
Doogie: I wrote a rant on Facebook stating that one-time use water bottles in sailing events was out of control. I thought and still think that the governing authority of sailing should ban their use. The post got quite a response from ocean athletes. Tyler and I had worked on some projects in the past, and so we thought that maybe we could provide a solution for this. So we started looking at the latest tech for water purification, and started building prototypes. I knew that it was important that our device be fast, super easy to use, and able to handle a rough environment. So we kept building systems and using them in the real world and got immediate feedback on their pros and cons.
So we started with a really specific problem of how to replace bottled water for these athletes. More specifically, how could we make water at marina useful drinking water. There is always fresh water plumbed to the dock, but people didn’t want to drink it. The demands of sailing teams getting off the dock each day means that a drinking water system needs to work in a relatively harsh marine environment, work super fast, and be dead simple to operate. Existing backpack style systems don’t support the quantity of water a group of athletes needs, or the convenience to be preferable to bottled water. These teams are travelling around the world, participating in events in different places where they weren’t sure about the quality of the available water. Pretty quickly we learned how to make water taste good, and we found a great technical partner that could supply the LED based UV purification technology that ensures the water is safe to drink.
I would say another lightbulb moment came somewhat later when we saw the potential of wider applications for what we had designed and built. Sailboat racers and ocean sport athletes and events is a really small niche. We expanded our vision to include anyone who was into outdoor adventure sports, off grid living, or vehicle supported exploration.
How did you fund the idea initially? How did you validate the idea?
Our first three customers were pro sailing teams. Doogie got us a few projects on the basis that we would develop a custom solution for whatever their drinking water needs were. We had the technology to do the job, but we hadn’t yet figured out the best way to package the system, and even what the best way for it to work was. So we were able to learn a lot in the process of helping these early clients. We also got really great feedback from real customers about what worked and what didn’t work, and we were able to iterate based on that feedback. We were able to get a lot of our development work for the final products paid for by doing these projects. Since we developed our product with customer input, the product validation was built in when we got to the end of our development phase.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
Our expertise is not necessarily in the area of water filtration and purification technology. We have learned and become experts at that. My experience previously is developing ground systems and sensors for unmanned aircraft, and product development strategies. Doogie works with sailing equipment day in and day out. We also live in an outdoor sports resort town, and participate in many outdoor activities. So the intersection of outdoor athletics and adventure, with expertise in tactically functional gear is where we can be the team to bring this to market.
Have you raised any money? How much?
I am really proud of how we funded the early days of the company with custom project work. So far we have not had to raise money. I don’t feel like we were ever lacking, and whatever cost cutting we had to do inspired some creative solutions in our designs. But as we work on increased marketing to drive sales, content marketing to tell our story, and ramping up production it gets more challenging with cash flow.
Who is your target demographic?
We think of our target market around activity segments, more than demographics. Our target market is a collection of niches. We started with the marine market, and quickly found that overland travelers, outdoor guides and outfitters, RV travelers, luxury camping, off grid living, and disaster preparedness are all growing and receptive markets to our systems.
Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?
Doogie and I have known each other for a long time from sailing. The Columbia River Gorge where we are based is the windsurfing and kiteboarding capital of North America. So with our interest in sailing and windsports we both independently ended up here. We had worked on some sailing equipment related projects in the past, so we knew that we worked well together.
Did you run any companies prior?
I have always worked as a contractor in the aerospace industry, so I have a sense about some of the basics of operating a company. I am always looking for ways to apply product development tools like computer modeling, and rapid prototyping from this work to things that could turn into businesses on their own. One of the best examples of this is a project I did with my wife to start peeLUX, which is a device that women use to make peeing in shapewear, like SPANX, easier.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Doogie: I have been sailing professionally for 20 years now. I have always been known as someone “trying to improve the mousetrap.” Tyler and I have done a few small projects together for making sailing parts. I tend to think outside the box and lots of ideas tend to get scrapped. But sometimes, one comes along that has some benefit. One of the parts that Tyler and I have built and sold is used by most top level racing programs now. It’s kind of fun to look over and see all these boats and know that they are using something that you created.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
Doogie: Everyone has been super supportive and receptive of our effort. People in our communities agree that clean water is very important and it feels good to work on something that provides an alternative to single use plastic bottles. But we also believe that if we can make it more practical than buying bottled water, then, being environmentally conscious is actually an after effect. Both our wives are involved in the company with website, advertising, and accounting support.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
We don’t get too down when things go wrong. A lot of the product development part of the project, there wasn’t necessarily a known answer, so we just made stuff knowing that if we put it in front of people, the answer would reveal itself in the feedback. So we approached things with a beginners mind, which naturally means you are going to fall down, but that is where the learning happens.
We look at problems as learning experiences. Everything that does go wrong, and we solve, is just another barrier to any competitor who might follow in our tracks. We document it as much as possible, fix our systems, and move forward.
For someone who is just starting out, build stuff and put it in front of your customer.
What has driven the most sales?
Showing our product to customers at events drives sales. Our product is a new concept to people, and they have to see it to understand its power. So reaching out to our niche markets at events has been more cost effective than digital advertising. Facebook and Instagram have gotten pretty expensive, and they work, but it works better to meet people at events and retailers.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
I like to think that as a small company we can iterate on design faster. Since we participate in some of the niche categories that we find our customers in, we have better insight into what they want. We have moved really quickly to get a new category of product into a blue ocean sort of space, where there aren’t any competitors.
We do have a trademark in final review for Guzzle H2O, and we are currently under a provisional patent for one of our systems. We are currently working with a lawyer to turn the provisional into a full patent.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?
Solidworks helps us develop products in the computer, and allows for iteration that is as close to actually building something as you can get, without actually building. It also feeds into production and inventory management. Certainly, the Adobe suite is great for photos, video, and illustration.
Our website runs on Shopify, and we are working on integrating Asana into our operations.
What are your favourite books and podcasts?
My favorite books are nonfiction that border on text books. I’ll be working on a project, and realize I need to understand a particular topic, like photography, or woodworking, and quickly getting up to speed on a new skill.
The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday is another favorite. Liferider by Laird Hamilton has a great perspective on a multidisciplinary life in sports and business.
For podcasts, we were featured on the Side Hustle School, which was super helpful. It helps us remember there are lots of others out there building businesses from scratch, because it can seem lonely and a bit crazy at times.
How I Built This is really inspiring, and some great story telling about business.
What are the next products you’re working on?
We are working on filling in an entry level product to our lineup. Both to fill in the lower price point in the lineup, as well as to popularize our product concept with a wider audience.
We just released an update of our Stream product at the beginning of the year, and the Stealth is getting a minor update this spring. We have just been through a big product development haul, so we really want to settle into a more routine sales and production cycle, and minimize product changes in the near term.
In 5 years, I would say we want to have built our brand into the recognized leader in drinking water systems for outdoor sports and adventure, and have established this new product category that we have created in the marketplace.
What is current revenue? If you don’t mind sharing
We did about $60k last year, and expect to 3 to 5x that this year. We think we are laying the groundwork with media and events this spring and summer to have some breakout sales, but it is hard to say when the attention harvesting is going to start to connect and drive sales to a higher level.
Would you ever sell?
Not yet, we still think we have a long way to build and it’s going to be really exciting. We are laying the groundwork to capture the value in our work by documenting our designs and processes and pursuing trademarks and patents. Selling seems like a long way off, and we have a lot left to prove.
|Company Name:||Guzzle H2O|
|Founder:||Tyler Bech and Sean “Doogie” Couvreux|