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When we created Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water, we focused on incorporating sustainability, health, and ethics not only in our business model, but our business practices and company culture as well.

Founder and CEO, Waiākea

Waiakea is the first Hawaiian volcanic water of its kind, and is the first premium water to adapt an unparalleled platform of healthy, sustainable and ethical/charitable attributes and initiatives.

2,400 miles from the nearest industrial landmass and surrounded by 10 million square miles of ocean, Waiakea volcanic water originates through both snowmelt and rain on the pristine snowcapped peak of the active Mauna Loa volcano — one of the purest environments on Earth. The water is filtered through thousands of feet of porous volcanic rock, producing one of the most delicious alkaline and electrolyte-rich natural waters in the world. The water then re-emerges at its source in a secluded area surrounded by rich and bio-diverse forest preserves.

This unique source is located near the little town of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island, in an ancient subdivision called Waiakea  where our Hawaiian volcanic water gets its name. The name Waiakea itself means “broad waters” in Hawaiian, in part due to the fact that the area gets 360 days of rain a year, and the aquifer it taps into boasts being one of the most sustainable fresh water resource in the world.

Waiakea is constantly flowing and takes less than 30 days to arrive from where it originates on Mauna Loa. This gives Waiakea a superior rating in virginality, and a soft and neutral taste with a hint of sweet. Completely isolated from the rest of the world, Waiakea offers purity in its ultimate, untainted form.

Waiakea’s mission is to provide healthy, delicious, Hawaiian volcanic water with as little impact as possible, while contributing to and promoting clean water access to people throughout the world.

BusinessInterviews.com:  What inspired you to launch your business?

Ryan Emmons: I was born and raised in California, and spent my winters and summers with family in Hawaii. During that time, I gained an incredible appreciation for the environment and the active, nature-filled lifestyle that’s unique to these places. That, coupled with my longstanding charitable efforts in Africa, led me to begin developing the concept for Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water after I realized there was a dire need for a lifestyle brand that could create positive industry and social change.

While attending the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, I developed the concept over three years of intensive feasibility research in the top ranked Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

I graduated early to launch Waiakea and its unique triple bottom line platform into what it is today.

BusinessInterviews.com: Do you have any recent success stories that you’d like to share with our readers?

Ryan Emmons: Our company has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last three years—since Waiakea’s launch in 2012, we have grown more than 5,000 percent, with an average annual growth rate of 170 percent.

From its eye-catching design, to its award-winning and unique healthy, sustainable, and ethical platform, having a product that literally sells itself has allowed my incredible team to focus on things other than product tweaks and consumer testing. This has allowed us to increase our focus on sales and marketing—with so many channels at our disposal due to Waiakea’s versatility, we were able to set key quarterly and annual milestones and leverage each one to accomplish the next.

The first milestone was getting our first local distributor; the second was getting 100 accounts and getting another five distributors; then it was expanding to five more states and developing the natural channel independents; next was getting the national natural distributors on board so we could widen our footprint and have a regional focus in the Southwest; then it was getting Whole Foods…you get the idea.

Having a strategy and execution roadmap, combined with a social mission and a unique company culture that cultivates strong performance, has allowed us to have incredible growth each year. While our distribution has grown, our brand loyalty has as well, and the significant sell-through and re-orders that have come with that have multiplied our growth.

BusinessInterviews.com:  What issue does your core product help solve and how so?

Ryan Emmons: As you know, bottled water is often demonized for environmental reasons. While improvements are needed, and that is where Waiakea comes in, it should be noted that bottled water actually does have the smallest water and carbon footprint of all other beverage categories. There needs to be accountability and change across the entire beverage and larger CPG industry—that’s the reality. That being said, at a time where the only solution for beverage companies’ to ease consumer concerns was shameless green washing, I wanted Waiakea to be an industry leader.

When we created Waiakea, we focused on incorporating sustainability, health, and ethics not only in our business model, but our business practices and company culture as well.

Waiakea is the first U.S. bottled water to be Certified Carbon Neutral for its variety of unparalleled eco-initiatives, including being the first to use 100 percent RPET (post consumer recycled) packaging with a 90 percent smaller carbon footprint than competitors. Additionally, Waiakea has one of the most significant charitable platforms in the industry, donating 650 liters for every liter of Waiakea purchased. We understand how lucky we are to be granted access to one of the most sustainable fresh water resources in the world (our aquifer has a recharge rate of 1.4 billion gallons per day), and so contributing clean water to those without this who are in dire need was a pivotal component of our mission.

Lastly, its natural volcanic filtration gives Waiakea a unique blend of trace minerals and electrolytes that make it naturally alkaline, while other alkaline waters use an artificial process (electrolysis and baking soda).

BusinessInterviews.com:  What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met that challenge?

Ryan Emmons: The beverage industry tends to be dominated by older men, which initially poses some difficulties for younger entrepreneurs trying to break in. My biggest challenge as founder of Waiakea was to “break the mold,” so to speak, and challenge industry norms with a unique mission and culture while simultaneously coming to terms with my inexperience.

We have a tight-knit, young staff (six team members, all under 30) that maintains a creative and collaborative work environment (e.g., group yoga twice a week), which promotes positivity as one of our core values. At the same time, we have a number of seasoned beverage veterans serving as my advisory board, mentors, and investors—that coupled with our traction and financial performance, has helped us establish credibility and overcome obstacles.

BusinessInterviews.com:  What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you/your Company?

Ryan Emmons: As a company, we’re always evolving. Some of the most exciting endeavors on the docket involve furthering our commitment to sustainability and ethics.

For example, in the next year, Waiakea will be the first premium-bottled water to biodegrade in anaerobic and aerobic environments—yes, that means that all our bottles will be biodegradable, even in landfill or ocean environments.

We’re also expanding our long-standing charitable partnership with Pump Aid; to-date, Waiakea’s efforts have led to more than 500 million liters of donated water. This holiday season, we’re doubling our donations (from 650 liters to 1,300 liters of clean water) through our ‘Give The Gift of Clean Water’ campaign.

Even more exciting, in 2016, 3.5 percent of our revenues will be going toward two nonprofits in Hawaii specializing in conservation and education.

BusinessInterviews.com:  Where do you envision your company in five years?

Ryan Emmons: In five years, I envision Waiakea as a successful triple bottom line lifestyle brand that extends to many categories with the same core mission, albeit our Hawaiian Volcanic Water will still be the core offering. One specific area that we continue to focus on is convenient at-home delivery via our e-commerce website—we will most likely have national distribution by then. In five years, if we continue to grow at this pace, we will have dozens of employees; my goal is have zero turnover and for our company culture be stronger than ever.

BusinessInterviews.com:  How do your competitors view you?

Ryan Emmons: Probably as an irritation—I think they may be a bit intimidated by our unique business model (e.g., using 100 percent RPET bottles, sharing seven percent of revenue toward our social impact projects, participating in regional reforestation); this model is unattainable for them due to their narrow focus on the bottom line.

The reality is that most premium-bottled waters are differentiated solely through their origination story. This one is from the French Alps, another is from Fiji. Waiakea has an exotic origination story too, but is so much more as we’ve discussed.

BusinessInterviews.com:  What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone told you?

Ryan Emmons: Don’t let obstacles hold you back—stay true to what you think is right and don’t sacrifice your ideals and goals. You can make positive change if you work hard and surround yourself with a talented, creative team and experienced advisors and mentors. This last part is something I wish I’d known from the start, as it completely changed Waiakea, almost immediately.

I also wish someone would have told me how exciting, rewarding and fulfilling launching and growing your own business could be. All the challenges and ups and downs experienced are well worth it, regardless of the successes or failures.

BusinessInterviews.com:  What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?

Ryan Emmons:  The biggest risk I’ve taken was entering the premium bottled water industry with no experience or the finances to do so. As much as my thorough feasibility analysis gave me confidence in my product, I had absolutely no business getting involved in such a competitive industry that is normally so capital-intensive. But we believed in the product and our mission, learned quite a bit in the process, were able to survive our failures, and kept moving forward and adapting by doing things differently.

Three years later we are now in 40 states, in thousands of stores, have a loyal consumer base, and have exhibited a 5,200 percent growth since being founded—the best part is, there is so much more on the horizon.

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