There’s a lot of water out there now in the marketplace—all the soft drink companies have moved to water as the new cash-cow. But Nicholas Reichenbach believes there’s still room for a truly disruptive company to shake up the packaged water business and give consumers what they want.
“When I ask to book a meeting about water, [people say], Not another guy talking about water!” he admits. But experienced hydration executives who have taken the time to hear Reichenbach out—including the the ex-COOs of Fiji Water and Canadian Springs—have been impressed by his idea.
Flow Water, the company Reichenbach founded, is marketing a product that comes from a place very dear to the serial entrepreneur. “The water coming out of the aquifer has been in my family for over 30 years, and I’ve been drinking it since I was 10 years old,” he explains.
Companies big and small offer ethically-sourced, nutrient-enriched bottled water. What sets Reichenbach’s product apart is everything but the water—Flow Water’s packaging, logistics, supply chain and retail strategy are all unlike anything the industry has seen so far.
Flow Water is packaged in 70% recycled tetra packs instead of the plastic bottles that have become ubiquitous in urban centres. While the product will be available in retail outlets, the company also offers crates of its water via a subscription service run on electric delivery machines. “I wanted to collapse the supply chain and deliver a product as directly to consumers as possible that would be better for the environment and better for the people that are drinking it,” explains Reichenbach.
This isn’t Reichenbach’s first time disrupting a vital industry, but he thinks the word is overused. “It’s a buzzword,” he says. “Most business ventures and startup are¦innovating or they’re inventing. The disruption really comes when you’re changing an industry in a way in which it’s not operating today.”
Here’s what Reichenbach says you need to do to avoid being a want-to-be-disruptor:
Find the white space
Reichenbach says many of his business ideas come from his own experiences as a consumer, or from examining an industry’s history and where it is headed in search of gaps that he could fill.
“The first thing I look for is: Do consumers want to buy this?” he says. Identifying consumer intent isn’t about conducting marketing research or polling friends and family. Instead, follow the trajectory of a particular sector or product and try to be the one to advance it.
That’s what another of Reichback’s startups, the San Francisco-based Rabbit, is doing. The company offers high-quality video chat capabilities. Reichenbach sees it as the next step in a communications evolution that includes landlines, mobile, and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP). “You look at that migration and you ask what is the next level of video chat?” he asks.
Disruption requires that your company advances a sector or field, rather than churning out another me-to product or service. “What we aim to do is intercept a growing consumer base with a very innovative product that’s in the trajectory of their usage pattern,” Reichenbach says.
Tear it apart
Once he’s got a concept in mind, Reichenbach enlists the help of others to evaluate if it’s worth pursuing. “I basically run a warroom session,” he explains. The idea is tested against a battery of questions: “Does it work pricing-wise? Are there consumers? What are other related products? What are the competitive metrics? Where are other people developing?”
Once he’s verified that the opportunity is truly viable in this fashion, Reichenbach can draw up a business plan and start building his startup.
Understand where it came from
To explain the importance of understanding a sector’s history, Reichenbach cites a book called Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today’s Cluttered Marketplace by Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman. “That book really hit it home,” he explains. “[It] allowed me to say: who are the influencers around [your idea], and are they influencers that are going to move the market as a whole? Is this a market that’s already being disrupted from a multitude of different areas?”
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Disruption may have become a buzzword, but that doesn’t mean your business can’t do it. “Everything can be disrupted,” Reichenbach says. “I can be disruptive locally, macro-ly, micro-ly.”
The entrepreneur offers an easy test to see if your idea is truly disruptive, or whether it’s just another want-to-be innovation. “You have to look at whether there’s an industry out there that you’re changing, hopefully for the positive,” he suggsests. “You’re changing it in a way that’s forcing the industry to react to that change.”
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