For most people, breaking into a billion-dollar industry with no money and zero practical experience sounds impossible. Yet that’s exactly what Daniel Flynn and his co-founders did, at age 19, with nothing more than an idea and a naïve dream that they could make a difference.
Daniel’s insight was simple: the bottled water industry was worth billions of dollars – yet there were 900 million people worldwide without access to clean water. So in 2008 Daniel and some friends founded Thankyou, a social enterprise dedicated to providing clean water for those in need. More than a movement, Thankyou has become a profitable company with the infrastructure and strength to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems. To date it has already donated over seven million dollars of profits to fund safe water, sanitation and maternal health programs across the globe.
I managed to catch Daniel for an hour to learn, step by step, how Thankyou became a global phenomenon. Click HERE to access the full conversation. Or here are my five key takeaways to creating a movement through storytelling:
The game changing magic of simple requests
When Daniel founded Thankyou he knew literally nothing about the bottled water industry. All he had was an idea: What if we, the consumer, could change the world – just by purchasing everyday items like bottled water? But this lofty ideal didn’t make for a sound business proposition. So Daniel started small. When he finally got a meeting with a manufacturer his first request was: “If we can find a customer, will you back it?” The answer was yes.
Then he went to another company and said, “If we can find a customer AND a manufacturer – would you be willing to sponsor some bottles?” Another yes. By the time Daniel met with the largest distributor of beverages in Australia – he had already collected a series of commitments. And guess what? On the back of that credibility. They were also a yes.
The power and necessity of epic storytelling
For the first three years Daniel heard only no’s from retailers – but every customer he spoke to loved the idea and pledged their support. So why was there a discrepancy between retailer and customer? What he realised was the Thankyou didn’t yet have an epic enough story that people could share. A story that could be told and retold over dinner tables – one in which the passion of the founders could be transferred from advocate to advocate – across multiple channels.
So he set about creating one. Their first attempt was the 7/11 Campaign—an online video that asked potential customers to hit the 7/11 Facebook page – letting the company know they would purchase Thankyou products if they were stocked. The success of that campaign was so immense that Daniel and his team immediately raised the bar. They created a book about the Thankyou journey and its mission – launched with an unprecedented 7.5-minute online video. The catch? The book had no price tag. Fans could pay whatever they could manage to help spread the message as far as possible. The result? Thousands of dollars in book sales – with one true fan paying an incredible $50,000 for one copy.
Why resilience is nonnegotiable
Early on, Daniel made a lot of technical mistakes. When he finally did get to pitch to big manufacturers they told him his mission was impossible. He was going up against some of the largest beverage companies in the world – they were never going to let him in.
Even when the company got off the ground – but there were still major setbacks. A product recall in the first year caused Thankyou to lose of 300 of their 350 customers. As a result, they were dropped by all of the retailers they had worked so hard to secure. When I asked Daniel how he had the courage to get out of bed that morning – he said he didn’t feel courageous. “It always comes back to why. Why’d I get into this whole thing. What is the bigger picture we are driving towards here. We just kept showing up. We just keep showing up.”
How to hack attention
Traditional mass marketing and a global movement don’t necessarily go hand in hand. And without a huge marketing budget – you need to find new ways of getting noticed in a crowded space. The key? Invite people to get involved with a passionate idea, not a brand – but that means getting personal.
To try and get media coverage Daniel had the genius idea of hand writing a letter – wrapping it around a bottle Thankyou water – and couriering it to the producer of morning television show Sunrise. This letter outlined the challenges of the first three years of Thankyou’s journey and a request for assistance in spreading the word. Most people respond to failure by hiding it, but by exposing their challenges – Daniel’s message hit home. As a result, Sunrise flew him to the studio and became a long-term media advocate.To try and get media coverage Daniel had the genius idea of hand writing a letter – wrapping it around a bottle Thankyou water – and couriering it to the producer of morning television show Sunrise. This letter outlined the challenges of the first three years of Thankyou’s journey and a request for assistance in spreading the word. Most people respond to failure by hiding it, but by exposing their challenges – Daniel’s message hit home. As a result, Sunrise flew him to the studio and became a long-term media advocate.
Letting your tribe to take over
We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” As influencers, letting go of our ideas is often the hardest part of the journey. However, it’s often this final push of faith that differentiates a fledgling brand from a thriving movement. For Daniel, the moment he learned to step back and let his team and tribe take over spreading the message of Thankyou – was the moment the movement came to life.A great leader sets the tone, creates the story and then gives others the freedom to tell it – often in unexpected ways. The moment that message hit home for Thankyou was during the 7/11 campaign – when two pilots spontaneously took to the sky and wrote messages of support in the clouds. So take a step back. Breathe. And remember that owning your influence is about knowing when to step in and when to let your tribe do their thing.
Creating change isn’t easy – mainly because we’re all afraid of small starts. Had Daniel and the team simply listened to everyone that said Thankyou was unrealistic, it never would have left the ground. What ideas do you have that are waiting to be executed, big or small? Either way, it’s time to overcome the fear of starting. Let it be small. Let it be messy. Focus on creating an epic story and giving others the power to tell it. Essentially just show up. Just keep showing up.
Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration of what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes, Spotify or juliemasters.com.