In the crowded water bottle market, HydroJug stands out by giving consumers exactly what they are looking for. Instead of fancy colors or an abundance of features, HydroJug created a simple, 73 ounce water jug made for people who just need a lot of water. I sat down with co-founders and brothers, Jake and Hayden Wadsworth to talk about building HydroJug, how they found passionate fans well beyond their original fitness audience and how their parents’ entrepreneurial backgrounds influenced their path.
Dave Knox: How did HydroJug get its start?
Hayden Wadsworth: The biggest thing that influenced starting HydroJug was a YouTube video we saw of a fitness influencer talking about how all of the jugs on the market didn’t meet their needs. They leaked or they didn’t have a good handle or they just didn’t function well. And we thought, hey, you know what? There’s room in the market to be able to bring a quality product that overcomes all these needs and we kind of just went from there. It has been a snowball effect since we started with everything hitting at once and now, we are experiencing a big boom of growth.
And listening to consumers has remained a huge focus for us since day one. We would go to trade shows and expos and people would say, “Is this insulated? Does this have a straw?” And we would immediately start thinking about how can we insulate this and how can we incorporate a straw into the lid. And it’s always been consumer focused and that’s just been part of our culture and our thought process and how we do things. Everything from product to social strategy to how we do influencer marketing. It is all about the voice of the consumer and how do we make an impact in our consumers’ lives? We have a lot of really talented people on our team today and they all have that same mindset of adding value.
Knox: When you launched, what was the initial niche that you focused on for the brand?
Hayden Wadsworth: In the beginning we were thinking we were going to get the people that were competing in fitness competitions. These are people that take it super serious and need to drink two gallons of water a day. But that target changed really fast. Early on we saw that it was very female driven and it was because we started to resonate with people that were dieting and trying to meet those fitness goals around drinking water. So that changed how we thought about things. You have to be really efficient in your marketing spend and in your influencer marketing expense. Early on, it made sense to use those dollars very efficiently and targeted but as we grew, we really broadened our audience. We found out that the product resonated with teachers and nurses, as well as mothers that are breastfeeding and anyone that was trying to kick a soda habit. That really impacted how we approached everything from product to actual marketing. Instead of just being focused on fitness, we want to make HydroJug a household brand. We want it to be normal for you to see people carrying a half gallon water bottle.
Knox: When you look back over the last few years of running the business, when did you realize that you were onto something special?
Hayden Wadsworth: For me, I think it was really the change in how people were reacting to the brand. There was a time when I would be on the phone a lot with different companies and I wondered when someone would recognize us. At that time, they would ask what business we were with and after I said HydroJug, it would always be “Can you spell that please?” Then I had that moment when someone asked for our business name and for the first time they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I love HydroJug. I have it sitting here on my desk.” That was one of the moments for me where I realized that we can make this a household brand. We can really grow this. People are excited about this and we’re reaching a lot of people. We started out very niched and I think that’s good from a marketing standpoint but it really got broader and we started to have a bigger vision for what the company could become.
Knox: With the growth that you have had in recent years, how have you navigated the challenges of the supply chain?
Jake Wadsworth: It starts with our team. One of the first people we hired was a supply chain expert who is actually our cousin. Hayden and I were doing the forecasting and booking the orders early on. We were struggling with it because we don’t have a background in it. I am an accounting major so very limited expertise in supply chain. But our cousin had a degree in it and was working in that field. I was telling him a lot of the problems that we were having and he seemed to have a lot of answers to it. He built us a model and I looked at it and I don’t think I recognized it for how important it was. So one day I was sitting next to Hayden and he said, “Hey, I’m going to ask Ryan if he wants to work here.” That was a huge hire for us. From there, that team has just grown like wildfire and that hire couldn’t have come at a better time. With all the global events that have transpired, the team has done a great job at forecasting and keeping that supply chain flowing throughout the past two years. They have made the supply chain a lot nimbler. We have a lot more partners, but our suppliers stepped in and has helped us. And on our side, we are investing in automation so that we can fulfill orders in a timely manner and get them to our customers.
Knox: How has the family influence of your founding team influenced the way you have built the business?
Jake Wadsworth: Family has been a huge impact on it. Our parents are both business owners. Hayden and I have worked together at my parents’ businesses since I was eight years old and Hayden was 11. The same with our younger brother. Our parents owned a few Subways and we all worked there growing up. Our dad had a landscaping business, and we would work there together as well. And so, we really have worked together for a long time. That has really helped us learn each other’s strengths and learn how to work with each other.
The biggest thing that we learned from our parents about entrepreneurship is that it is an all the time thing. When our mom had the Subways, she would get calls at 9: 00 o’clock at night. They needed her up there and she would put us to bed and she would head to work. And my dad, he worked as a firefighter full-time and then ran his sprinkler business. And so he would get done working 24 hour shifts and we might see him for a few minutes in the morning before he was off doing sprinklers and landscaping. We saw that sacrifice side of it too and saw kind of what it took to make those things work. And it was almost normal. As I got older, I saw what it looked like for people that were just working normal 9 to 5 jobs and how they were balancing that. With our parents, I saw the sacrifice that it took to be an entrepreneur and that it really was an all the time thing as a lifestyle.
Knox: How has HydroJug been able to maintain your culture during this period of growth?
Hayden Wadsworth: That is something that honestly keeps me up at night. I think in the beginning I was super obsessed with the customer and the customer journey. I would look at all of the touch points and map them out. And I still do think about that, but as my role has evolved inside the business, I think about the people I work with that same way. How do they look at their job? Are they enjoying their job? How can I make sure that they are fulfilled and that they have meaningful work?
While a lot of my day has become meetings and trainings, I made a commitment when we started hiring as fast as we did. I decided that if I got into work early and stayed late to get my work done, that would allow me to spend the day with the people that we have hired to make sure that they are understanding how we run things. Spending time with them would be the chance to our philosophies and ideologies. When you combine that with hiring really good leaders, you have the two big pieces of what we’ve been trying to do to keep our culture intact.
Knox: As you talk with other entrepreneurs that aspire to follow the same path that you have, what advice do you give them?
Jake Wadsworth: My advice is to focus on the solutions. Something that I did early on was accept that we are going to have problems. We are going to have things come up like a shipping container showing up with a bunch of broken lids. It’s easy to dwell on those things and to really waste a lot of your energy on the problem instead of the solution. Instead channel that energy and focus it on the solution to your problem.