We caught up with Jesse and Jonno, the founders of memobottle. Memobottle is a bloody great Aussie success story.
This story is one of mateship, travel, Kickstarter, good breaks, ups and downs and a product that has lovely form, function and style. Enjoy.
Jesse and Jonno, what's your backstory?
Our friendship goes back to Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula (an hour south of Melbourne). It’s where we’ve been bouncing around together since primary school until we lived together through uni. So I guess you could say we know each other pretty well!
We’ve both always been pretty entrepreneurial. While living together, we were always brainstorming and stress testing little business ideas.
The general idea and concept for memobottle was a frequent conversation we had. We eventually decided to focus on a few years later when we were both living on opposite sides of the globe. We’ll touch on that more a little later.
I’ve always had a strong passion for design and have fortunately had a natural ability for maths and physics. I stumbled upon the Bachelor of Product Design Engineering at Swinburne University of Technology and found the perfect fit.
It was a course that celebrated both the left and right brain. I underwent a 6-month placement at a design agency in China for my Industry Based Learning subject during my studies. This was huge in establishing knowledge and experience around making ideas a reality and collaborating with industry.
After graduating, I was fortunate enough to land a job at one of Melbourne's most technical and innovative Product Design Consultancies (Tricycle Developments). During my time at Trke, I developed an eclectic range of products within the environmental, consumer, and health sectors to improve society.
I spent 3.5 beautiful years there, which really set me up to create and manage my own products.
I was always drawn to business. I wanted to be a Management Consultant from the age of 13 when I went and visited my cousin on Campus at Harvard while he was completing his MBA.
In hindsight, it’s probably a bit of a strange career goal at that age, but regardless, it led me to complete the relevant subjects to get me into a Bachelor of Commerce at Monash.
I was a bit of a uni late-bloomer and found myself leaning towards the accounting and finance units. I majored in Accounting and took on a position at Deloitte in External Audit.
Whilst much of this work was a little dry for me, I loved the opportunity to chat with my clients’ senior management about their businesses. Looking back, these audit skills, conversations and relationships were massive in providing me with a solid understanding of business and how they operated.
I received my chartered accountancy and then moved to the US, working for a consulting firm in Boston and PriceWaterhouseCoopers in San Diego.
Tell us what your company does?
Memobottle is a Melbourne-based certified B-Corporation, committed to inspiring a more reusable society through the design of convenient, everyday products. We founded memobottle in 2014 to challenge how we as a society think about water consumption and to encourage a more reusable society by providing a stylish, practical reusable solution.
We are incredibly passionate about the fight against single-use consumption. That’s why we aim to educate the public about the environmental costs of our modern conveniences.
Memobottle is best known for our flat, reusable water bottles that are designed around the international paper sizes (A7, A6, A5 and SLIM) and fits perfectly in bags, optimised for travel and carry.
We have partnered with events and companies such as Spotify and The Australian Open (tennis). Our products have won multiple international design awards and been endorsed by celebs such as the Kardashians and Anne Hathaway.
We launched memobottle in 2014 via the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter (one of Australia's most successful design campaigns at the time), and now ships to 70+ countries, and has donated clean drinking water to over 11 million people in need through their partnership with water.org.
We estimate that we’ve prevented over 100 million single-use bottles from being consumed through the use of memobottle products.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea of memobottle was triggered by two major frustrations.
Growing up in a small coastal town and witnessing first-hand the devastating impact that single-use water bottles can have on our oceans and environment, is what led to the creation of the memobottle.
The other frustration came about while at uni and our early professional careers; we always struggled to fit cylindrical water bottles in our bags. We’d be left with a bulge and lots of wasted space.
We analysed the other objects that we often carried in our bags and realised that the majority were flat; laptops, books etc.
Jesse went to work on designing a reusable water bottle that was the shape of the international paper sizes and could seamlessly fit in your bag.
We wanted to attach the environmental mission to the unique design and convenience of the bottle to spread the word and inspire people to move toward a more reusable society.
“Memo” has a paper connotation, and we are putting out the environmental memo to society to help us save the planet, which arrived at the name “memobottle”.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
In 2014, we launched memobottle on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. We presented the concept and prototypes to friends and family, but outside of that, we have received no true market validation of the concept.
Through Jesse's work and educational background, we could design and source a (rough) working prototype to be used for the video and photoshoot.
We spent a lot of time evaluating Kickstarter before the launch. We ourselves didn't have a big network to reach out to. We also had no capital to launch the project ourselves.
Before creating crowdfunding and social media, you had to put your house on the line or use life savings to back your idea for it to become a reality before knowing whether it was an ideal solution in the customer's eyes.
The validation came when we launched on Kickstarter. The idea was out in the world, and it was up to the people to decide.
For a crowdfunding campaign like Kickstarter to succeed, the creator needs to set a funding goal in dollar terms. If that goal is reached within a specific timeline, then the project is considered successful, and you need to go to production to fulfil the orders. In our case, we set our funding goal at $15k.
We quickly realised the potential of memobottle when we surpassed our funding goal of $15K within 36 hours. Forty-five days later, we’d received over $250k in funding, and memobottle was away. It was one of Australia’s most successful design campaigns at the time.
The ability of crowdfunding to generate exposure and validate a solution to a problem is pretty incredible. If executed properly, it’s a powerful megaphone marketing tool. Without our Kickstarter backers, the memobottle would still be a CAD file sitting on our computer.
Kickstarter allowed us to create a product, a business and an environmental movement all at once - we think about this fact a lot. Kickstarter is market research at its finest.
How have you grown the business?
The success of our initial Kickstarter campaign absolutely threw us in the deep end. We became a global brand overnight, and we had to scale quickly.
We had over 6,000 orders to be shipped to 70+ countries, so we had to upskill overnight. What was originally going to be an expected 500 bottles shipped out from Jonno's parent’s garage turned into us setting up a network of 3PLs in 5 locations around the world.
We were fortunate enough to ride a wave of free PR for some time. The hype around the Oscars Gift bags inclusion kept social media talking for a while and generated a good base following.
However, after a little while, the Kickstarter hype died down, and we realised it was on us to create momentum and talkability. We also learned that you need to build an ever-increasing and engaged community to maintain the sales required to survive.
We’ve run the business on a shoestring since inception. As a start-up, you can't afford expensive marketing campaigns or high cost per action's. You just need to roll up your sleeves and get creative. We needed more people talking about us. And when they did talk about us, we needed to put a megaphone on it.
We’ve also always felt that if you are going to shoot for something, you may as well aim high. We did this with our first retailer - deciding that we wanted to land Urban Outfitters (in the US and Europe).
We pestered them and finally got accepted for a small (very small) opening order. We then plastered “now stocking in Urban Outfitters” all over our comms and socials. We did the same for a few other stores that we felt would be our perfect launchpad.
We then grabbed our backpacks, set out on foot, and spent the next 12 months travelling and talking to retailers. This created a ripple effect, with hundreds of retailers suddenly wanting to stock us.
We’ve since built a retail, agent and distributor network through international trade shows and overseas travel that has landed our products in over 1,000 stores globally.
We’ve used a similar approach with our collaborations (MIMCO, Spotify etc.), events (Australian Open, Semi-Permanent), and even influencers and high profile personalities. We constantly surprise ourselves when we just aim high and see what happens.
We haven't had many of those Hollywood moments that just set you on your way. We’ve had a lot of little moments, but those moments are fleeting, and it's up to you to capture them and hold on to them. For example, the Kardashians recently posted about us but didn’t tag us or mention our brand name. We had to repost the images/videos everywhere to create the momentum ourselves.
Most of our success is attributed to the incredible community that we’ve built over the years. A large chunk of our time constantly goes towards understanding our customers and what they want to receive, view, and consume. If you lose track of this, everything else starts to fall apart.
What’s your biggest selling product?
It holds 375ml, which is a great volume for being on the go. It’s arguably the most versatile of the memobottles, as it fits in pockets, handbags etc., while also being short enough to be refilled until all tap faucets, which can be an issue with many bottles.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
Ahhhh, man. We fail every day. Where do we start!
Our initial launch on Kickstarter brought about a lot of challenges or failures.
Attempting to manage the interests and needs of over 6000 different personalities was difficult. Some backers wanted to be informed of every detail, while others preferred to be removed from regular update emails.
In hindsight, we managed that poorly. Transparency is key. Initially, we were hesitant and sometimes sugar coating the production delays. When bringing a new product to market, not everything goes to plan – hurdles and production delays are inevitable.
We were forced to switch manufacturing suppliers after we had already completed tooling. They were unable to achieve the quality that we wanted to uphold – resulting in us having to burn about $50k, still with no guarantee that the products could even be made. Communicating this to backers was extremely difficult – some were understanding, while others criticised intensely.
This was all part of the Kickstarter experience and has helped us refine our communication with our customers and build it into our customer service codes.
Another failure of ours over the years is the lack of mentors that we have brought on and used over the years. We could have prevented many headaches and wasted time whilst achieving goals a lot quicker if we actively sought people to assist us.
What day to day digital tools do you use?
I LOOOOOVE tools.
When we first started memobottle, I (Jonno) lived in San Diego (USA) while Jesse was in Melbourne. So everything needed to be online and automated so that it was accessible at any time, from anywhere.
We’ve always encouraged our employees to get out and see the world, and work from wherever they are. This, in hindsight, set us up pretty well for the post-COVID work from home environment.
Some of our fav tools include:
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
Geez, there have been some crackers read over the years. I think the standouts for us would have to be:
- Philosophy for life by Jules Evans
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Robin Sharma books
- The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
We’re both big into podcasts. They’re a great way to spend the commute and get a bit of education and perspective (when we aren't getting the time to read). Some of our go-to’s are
What quotes do you live by?
Not sure of its origins - it has probably been attributed to Mark Twain, like everything else on the internet, but we strongly believe that:
“You are the average of the five people you associate with most.”
For us, it is super important to make sure we are constantly surrounding ourselves with positive, inspiring people.
“Look to this day
for it is life
the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence,
the joy of growth
the splendour of action
the glory of power.
For yesterday is but a memory.
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today, well lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day."
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
- Drink water
- Morning rituals
- Cold showers
- Enforced switch-off time
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
- Just do it - give it a go. There doesn't need to be as much of a safety net in place as in the past. Crowdfunding and social media allow businesses to be started with little capital or commitment.
- Celebrate the wins - it is easy to get caught up in the continuous cycle of business.
- There will be constant speed bumps. Focus on solutions, adapt and keep moving forward.
Anything you want to add?
A bit more on our mission and goals.
Dual impact model:
We track our performance base on a dual impact model that measures:
- The cumulative number of single-use water bottles prevented through the use of memobottle products (to date >100 million).
- The cumulative number of days of clean water provided to those in need. We have a partnership with US not-for-profit water.org that provides five months clean water to someone in need for every memobottle sold. To date, we have provided over 11.3 million days of clean water.
When starting memobottle, our sole aim was to reduce the consumption of single-use bottles. We have now expanded our horizons and are fixated on the war against all single-use products. Unfortunately, we can’t give too much away, but we have some exciting product launches coming soon.
Have a look at our new product line on Kickstarter. It's going really well.
Where can people find out more about your business?