Exclusive Q&A with Ryan Emmons, Founder of Waiakea

Have you ever heard any 25-year-old who start his/her own company and impacted 750 million people with his/her startup? If you haven’t, let me introduce you to Ryan Emmons.

Ryan Emmons is the Founder of Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water. He started his venture in his early 20’s back in 2012, and at 25, he is one of the youngest CEOs in the food and beverage industry. And he entered with a bang, trying to disrupt an old (read: classic) industry run by the older generations: Bottled water.

Ryan Emmons, Founder of Waiakea Volcanic Water

In this Q&A, I have a wonderful chance to interview Ryan. We talk about his innovative startup, the water bottle industry disruption and more. Check this out:

Ivan Widjaya (Q): Hi, Ryan! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Ryan Emmons (A): Aloha! My name is Ryan Emmons, founder and president of Waiakea, the first Hawaiian Volcanic Water and triple bottom line premium bottled water of its kind with a unique platform of healthy, sustainable, and ethical attributes and initiatives. Our mission is to sustainably provide delicious, naturally healthy Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water while simultaneously promoting and contributing to clean water access for people in need throughout the world.

Q: You started a premium water company, Waiakea, at a young age. Can you share your background story with us: Why starting a water company, where many young entrepreneurs are launching tech startups?

A: I was born and raised in Santa Barbara California but spent winters and summers with my family in Oahu and the Big Island. Growing up in these places gave me an incredible appreciation for the environment and the active lifestyle they promote. I also began getting involved with NGO’s in Africa at an early age, and the combination of these two things led me to begin developing the concept for Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water in the Marshall School of Business at USC over 3 years after discovering my Hawaiian family had access to one of the most naturally healthy, pure, and sustainable water sources in the world.

Ha ha – so many of my friends launched tech startups in college. Most of them failed, some had some moderate success, and one or two had gigantic success (definitely check out the startups that have come out of USC’s Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies).

Honestly, I thought of launching 1 or 2 tech startups when I was brainstorming my Freshman year. At the end of the day though, when I looked at those concepts, they weren’t truly as scaleable and most importantly, they weren’t meaningful. Truthfully, it was also the fact that I became obsessed with tangible products after my first came to life in high school, Santa Barbaraopoly (Yes its exactly what it sounds like, but with 100% of the proceeds and sponsored spots going to those affected by Katrina).

Corny as hell but hey, I was 16.

Now, I was definitely jealous of some of the valuations some of my entrepreneurial friends received over the last few years, and the ease to which some of them raised money, but the VC world can be a very toxic environment, and with whatever I did, I wanted to be able to have a shot at growing a brand for the longterm (and maintaining ownership) I saw an early opportunity in water when I was a freshman in college after a number of articles came my way.

I looked at the bulk water, desal, water conservation and management technologies, you name it. Most of these weren’t possible because they require too much capital, and even premium bottled water normally has huge startup costs. But I saw an opportunity as no bottled waters were addressing the wants and needs of consumers, especially the global media attention on environmental concerns.

I had a chance to create a lifestyle brand that was scaleable (premium bottled water is the most scaleable in the industry), which meant it was a great platform to promote the global water crisis as well, while I also could create positive industry change (you can only do it from the inside). In addition, I was providing this incredibly unique, naturally alkaline Hawaiian volcanic water that could improve people’s health. After 3 years of feasibility, I felt that the product was ready and something I truly could believe in.

Q: Your company slogan is “Drink Healthy, Drink Sustainably, and Drink Ethically.” Can you tell us a bit more about it?

A: As I mentioned Waiakea is the first Hawaiian Volcanic Water of its kind, and its unique filtration process through 14,000 ft of porous volcanic rock through the Mauna Loa volcano enriches it with a variety of trace minerals, making it electrolyte rich and one of the most alkaline natural waters in the world.

Unlike other alkaline waters out there, Waiakea is alkaline through the naturally occurring alkaline minerals present in the water such as magnesium, calcium, etc, whereas other alkaline waters are filtered tap water made alkaline artificially through electrolysis and the addition of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). In addition, Waiakea’s unique filtration enriches it with silica, which is beneficial for hair, skin, nails, while studies have shown that just 7mg naturally occurring in water can reduce the chance you get Alzheimer’s by 11%.

With regards to sustainability, Waiakea is the first domestic premium bottled water to be certified CarbonNeutral for our variety of Eco-initiatives. These include using one of the most sustainable fresh water resources in the world (recharge rate of 1.4 billion gallons/day), being the first premium bottled water to use only 100% RPET bottles (90% smaller carbon footprint than competitors), utilizing low-emission shipping, and actively participating in regional reforestation and other carbon projects. We hope to create positive industry change with this platform.

Lastly, but certainly not least, for every liter bought Waiakea donates 650 liters of clean water to people in need in rural Africa, primarily in Malawi and Zimbabwe. No other premium water has a more significant platform. Fiji for example, is a part of the 1% for the planet foundation, which is a mere 1% of profits.

Q: Most of our readers are Gen X who are interested in entrepreneurship / own a business. Please share your tips on how to start a company that matters, even disrupting a ‘classic’ industry.

A: Make sure you do your feasibility analysis. It shaped my business and outlook on the industry into what it is today. I was obsessed with research, and otherwise Waiakea would never have gotten off the ground nor would it have the potential to be a global brand. Honestly plenty of people start companies they don’t necessarily care about, and have a wide range of success. That’s up to you. But starting something you love and being able to incorporate elements and values you believe in makes you work harder, and allows other people to gravitate towards you and support the company in an unbelievable way.

Lastly, if you have done your feasibility, and truly believe there is a market opportunity for your product, don’t be scared by what the naysayers say. At the end of the day, if you really believe in your concept or product, you will make it happen, regardless of the barriers to entry. You might have to evolve things in certain ways, but there is always a different way to do things in any industry. Keep trucking and Kūlia i ka nu’u, Strive for the Summit!

Many thanks, Ryan, for your time!