Young Guns: H2O Made in the U.S.A.

Filtered water from a plastic bottle.

Anyway you write it, the concept doesn’t really blow you away.

But what if you add a charitable cause, reusable bottles (sustainability!), a made-in-the-U.S.A. label, and three thirsty entrepreneurs.

Well, then you might just have something. (And when I say something, I mean $1.2 million in capital and distribution in dozens of Whole Food stores.)

The Philadelphia-based company is called Hydros, and its founders—Aakash Mathur, Jay Parekh and Winston Ibrahim— all in their early twenties--started the business to change the way people think about drinking water.

“I think we’ve benefited greatly from American manufacturing…"

- Aakash Mathur, Hydros CEO

“Hydros is more than a product, it's the start of a movement,” said Mathur, the company’s CEO. “We are connecting consumers to the fight against the global water crisis by selling an innovative, useful, and eco-friendly product.”

For each bottle, a dollar of the $24 dollar price tag goes to a clean-water project. So far, the company has handed over $10,000 to causes in Africa.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference, and already we’ve been able to help provide clean water to villages for life,” said co-founder Parekh. He also says there is a big opportunity in the States to make a change.

“The wasteful habits in the Western world are significant, and the Hydros bottle gives me an alternative to bottled water,” he said.

And the wasteful habits are horrible: According to reports, 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away ever single day--and most wind up in landfills. The Hydros team also said—excitedly—that they manufacture 100% of their product in the U.S.

“I think we’ve benefited greatly from American manufacturing...and the pricing is surprisingly competitive,” said Mathur.

He says between shipping costs and unexpected situations, Hydros has had an advantage working with companies like the Asbury Park (N.J.) plastics manufacturer Flex Craft.

“We have very close relationships with all of our manufacturers, and that’s helped from a logistical point of you,” he said. “American manufacturing is underrated, and I think over the next few years you’re going to see somewhat of a comeback because there is value in it and customers do care.”

Six Shooter Q&A:

1. What is your favorite quote and why?

Jay: It is hard in this world to do well. It is hard to do good. When I hear a claim that an institution is going to do both, I reach for my wallet. You should too. - Bill Gates. I like it because it encourages people to support endeavors like ours.

Winston: My favorite quote is from the 16th Century Japanese Warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu: “After a victory, tie the cords of your helmet.” I really like this advice. Don’t get too swept up in the pleasure of a temporary achievement and assume that you have won everything. Always try and focus on the next challenge, because no matter what you think you have accomplished to date, as soon as it is done it is in the past and is no guarantee of future success.

2. Who inspires you and why?

Aakash: My parents are a big inspiration for me.  They have always challenged me to pursue my dreams and have supported me unconditionally.  Their experiences have instilled the belief that a high work ethic today off tomorrow.

Jay: Blake Mycoskie because he's proven social entrepreneurship can be a viable business model, despite all the critics who doubted him.

Winston: In the annals of 20th century we don’t really consider President Lyndon Johnson much these days, but when you look at his life it is hard not to be moved. Here is a man who grew up so poor he used to take the place of a horse, personally be harnessed to a plough to till the fields. Yet his ambition, political skill, and relentless drive would take him on to be a Congressman by his late twenties, the most powerful majority leader in Senate history by his fifties, and eventually carry him to the White House. It is an amazing example of the opportunities afforded to all Americans by endless hard work, really motivates me every time I think of it.

3. How does Hydros differentiate from the competition?

Winston: You could say we are like the iPod of our industry. Unlike our competition, which favors commodity-based products, we designed Hydros to stick out as a premium item in a class of its own. This is reflected in its unique design, the only one of its kind to offer a side fill port and easy drink spout on the top. Then, of course, there are the benefits of the built in antimicrobial and the fact that we are dishwasher safe. It is also highly stylish, something you would not be ashamed to be seen carrying, and not have to worry about breaking in your hand. And of course, part of each sale goes to build clean water infrastructure in the developing world as part of Operation Hydros. This is a unique package, which no one else in our industry had developed. We have taken a non-sexy basic product, accelerated it to the next level. Just like Apple did with the mp3 player. There is a reason why we are carried by places like Whole Foods, and can successfully command a higher price point than our competition.

4. What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

Jay:  It sounds cliche but things really do take twice and long and cost twice as much to get done.

Winston: That it is simply impossible to pursue every great opportunity out there. As an Entrepreneur you want the absolute best for your business every single time. But, even with the deepest of pockets, it is impossible to pursue everything. It is a pretty wrenching experience to have to pass on something you think could pay off big, but you can’t do everything at once. This is a hard lesson our entire team has had to learn. The upside is that we are more focused than ever on our core goals and hitting key milestones.

5. Why manufacture in the U.S.? And what was the process like? 

Aakash: From the start, we felt compelled to find a way to keep jobs here and really support local manufacturing.  It was definitely a challenging process --we were 21-22 years old, and knew very little about the industry.  However staying local let us develop really close relationships with our suppliers, helping Hydros keep more efficient inventory levels and better manage cash flow.  This kind of support would have been difficult to accomplish with distant, international partners.

6. With such high levels of small business failures – why risk being an entrepreneur

Aakash: There is something hugely satisfying in bringing an idea into existence, bringing a raw concept into reality.  I love randomly coming across people using the bottle or getting a Tweet from an excited customer.  This one payoff, (and there are definitely many more), outweighs the risks by far.

Winston: Yes, when you hear the numbers it is daunting. Most of the people who start businesses fail. I suppose I have some native optimism in this regard, because to me failure is not an option here. I think more broadly I also enjoy the risk. Yes it can at times be terrifying. But there is no greater joy than snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, flying by the seat of your pants. Ultimately I think this is part of a broader culture of rebelliousness in entrepreneurship. We have the great opportunity of taking our dreams and making them a reality. It may not come out exactly as we pictured it in our heads, but it is a big step up over never taking the leap and regretting missing the chance later. To me at least this totally justifies the high risk, long hours, and meager pay by a long shot.

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