Today we meet John Sherwin, co-founder of Hydrant. Hydrant is a rapid hydration mix brand that is created to be used daily for total hydration, performance and wellbeing. John and his business partner Jai created the company after finding that traditional solutions to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance were either ineffective, too sugary, or full of artificial ingredients, starting as strictly DTC before moving into bricks-and-mortar stores. How does the business cope with the uncertainty of the retail sales cycle? How have they harnessed the power of community to learn and grow? Let’s find out!
I am the co-founder of Hydrant, the rapid hydration mix brand. I was born in New York, grew up in the UK and moved back to Brooklyn after studying at Oxford University. I am a trained biologist and was an early employee at Quartzy, a Y-Combinator and Khosla Ventures backed startup that made software tools for scientists with the goal of accelerating research where I learned firsthand how venture-backed companies scale fast. Hydrant was the first business I created and is now my full focus.
Hydrant is a daily wellness solution for total hydration, performance and wellbeing. I had been working on the idea for about a year as a result of my personal experience with dehydration in college due to long hours studying, playing multiple sports, the occasional party, and would often give myself an electrolyte imbalance (and the associated cramps) by just drinking a ton of water. After reading up on the science behind hydration, I started testing all the products on the market to help me stay hydrated and feeling great throughout the day. They all were either ineffective, too sugary, or full of artificial ingredients with a horrible taste so I set out to solve the problem myself. Hydrant was formally launched in September of 2018 with the addition of my business partner, Jai Jung Kim. Jai dropped out of Wharton after about three weeks and invested his tuition money in the company. We now have an expanding team based out of New York.
As a brand that debuted exclusively as DTC, we’re now growing in the brick and mortar space for the first time. We’ve increased from virtually zero stores last year to now thousands. We’re also regularly rolling out new innovations like our recently launched SLEEP. Moving forward, we’re continuing to innovate with SKU’s that address various parts of the consumer’s day or different needs.
One big challenge in growing our business, like many in the CPG world, is working around the timing of the retailers’ category review dates and coping with the uncertainty of the retail sales cycle. Most of the retailers review new brands once a year and you have to operate under their timeline. Resiliency and the frequently positive feedback we do get from retailers is a huge motivator when coming across these types of obstacles.
We’ve had a lot of success recently announcing the beginning of our athlete ambassador program. To start, we announced quarterback, Josh Allen, a recent investor, who is now also a brand ambassador. We’re working to integrate him cross-promotionally from ads to social to PR.
We use a texting platform called Repeat that notifies customers when it might be time to restock. It takes cues from when you skip the notification, go to the site, or purchase more products and adjusts notifications to become more personalized over time. It’s a great tool to remind customers to opt in for their next order, especially those customers who prefer to opt in rather than subscribe.
Perfectionism is your biggest enemy. If you wait too long to ship new products or features, you’re using up time to launch something without feedback. It’s almost always better to launch quickly and get real feedback from customers who are not your family/friends/co founders.
The most valuable source of learning for me has been communities. In every industry there is some community of other founders who are working in the same area. In CPG there are Facebook groups and Slack groups where you can ask questions of other founders who may have direct experience of whatever problem you may face. I’ve always felt that the best source of advice is a founder in a similar industry that is 1.5-2 years ahead of you growth-wise. You’ll get relevant insights from someone who has recently been in your shoes.
My favorite book about starting a business is Shoe Dog. A lot of great takeaways and it’s a compelling read.
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