Dan Flynn is a young entrepreneur who at 19 years of age established ‘Thankyou Water’, after learning of the effects of the world wide water crisis and seeing an opportunity to direct revenue from the water industry back to people who needed it most. Thankyou water now funds water projects in 9 countries and has just sold its 6 millionth bottle of water.
Dan is a guest speaker at the Luminosity Youth Summit being held in Port Macquarie in July; the summit aims to inspire youth of our region to embrace their ideas and embrace their own strengths to become tomorrow’s generation of leaders.
Dan, where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up and went to school in Melbourne.
During your school years, what were your ambitions for a career?
I was really keen to get into business one day; that was my goal. While at school, I picked up a few business subjects and for some reason I found it really fascinating, and that is where I was headed.
At the age of 19 you founded Thankyou Water … what inspired this initiative?
So, when I was 19, I was in my first year of uni and I came across the World Water Crisis – the fact was, that 900 million people don’t have access to clean drinking water. That for me was an overwhelming thought, and it wasn’t the big fact that got me; it was the individual stories of kids who would wake up and literally spend their whole day just collecting water.
So I was thinking about that from my perspective of going to uni and thinking about a career … but there were these kids just stuck collecting water in the Sahara in Africa and other parts of the world.
And then, the stories would get worse, because the water they brought home could end up killing their siblings or their family. So I thought about that in my situation; I have twin sisters who are younger than me – imagine that – I’m collecting water for them, they die, and they die from water I brought them! And there was just such an uncomfortable feeling I had – that this goes on in our world, and I am lucky not to be a part of it, but some kids are.
So the idea came: well, what if we could do something about it? The idea around bottled water came in that research, and we discovered that worldwide the bottled water industry is worth $50 billion and in Australia, we spend $600 million! I have always seen bottled water as silly – and I still do! I mean, we get good tap water for free! (Laughs.) But people buy it; I buy it! I mean … it’s hot day and you’re out and about; you don’t want to drink soft drinks, because you want to be healthy.
So you end up paying $2 or $3 for something because of health and wanting to be refreshed. So I am part of, along with the rest of Australia, this $600 million industry … the idea was let’s get in there and try and get as much of it as we can and give it to people who really need it.
It was big idea for you to take on. What were the first steps in launching the business?
It was a tough one. I mean, with most people when we sat down with them and told them our idea – particularly anyone who had any business background – they just shook their heads. Basically they would say, “Look guys, it’s a great ambition, but it is a flawed model. One: how would you get the money; you need investors.” To which I said, “Well, there won’t be any”– this has to exist all for the outcome. And in the typical business world, that kind of confused people a bit: the model where we wanted to run (a business) and give our profits quarterly so we could continually fund projects all the time.
People would say, “Well, you can’t do that; you need to retain your profits and retain your earnings for 3 – 5 years and then start giving. So I suppose, traditional business concepts just … well, we challenged those traditional views.
So who did get behind the project and believe in you?
A couple of people, and initially it was just a small group of friends who kicked it off together.
There were a few groups also who got behind us: a large bottling plant that actually ended up producing the product for us without any upfront costs. Also, Visy Packaging Group, who donated 30,000 bottles as a one off donation; and we did also have two business people who were pretty inspired and helped kick the project off and donated $20,000 as a one off. That really helped us get started and from there, we built on that.
It would have taken a lot of self confidence through the start up. How did you stay motivated, even when people didn’t think it would work?
I suppose there were a few things. I think being younger helped. Young people are often told that they are naive and that is looked on as a bad thing, but I think it is a great thing, and we were really naive ‘cause we didn’t know. It’s funny, when people tell you that you can’t do something, you almost want to do it! It makes you want to go a bit further; and the big thing with Thankyou Water was, “You know what? If we pull this off, which we think we can, we think this should exist … the cool thing is this is about helping thousands and millions of people”. So I suppose there were a lot of deep motives for pushing through and not throwing in the towel.
So fast forward to today; you must feel really proud.
Yeah, we are getting there. We have just sold our 6 millionth bottle to date.
So 6 million bottles of water and all profits go back into funding the water projects … what are some of the most recent accomplishments?
Well, we fund projects in 9 countries and have over 70 water projects, of which 50 of them are fully funded, and we’re working on 20 new ones at the moment. The projects range from water solutions for community, including water filters, to wells and pipelines and rain water tanks – some really innovative technology. So we fund our project partners, who carry out the work, and then our partners report and visit the site to make sure everything went well.
The big part of what we are doing is we really want to win the trust of the consumer, so we have just launched ‘track your impact’, where you can actually track where your bottles’ funds go.
What is the vision now?
The next step is that we have a really long way to go here in Australia; there needs to be more awareness and the product needs to be more available through the bigger retailers, and we are working on that at the moment. Hopefullly later this year we’ll be able to launch with a lot more retail partners, which will help us sell more water and help more people – so there is a lot of focus going into that.
You’re 24 now, and when you speak at the conference in July it will be to those your age. What words of wisdom do you have for them beforehand?
Come ready. I remember hearing stories when I was younger of young people going and doing extraordinary things that were a little bit out of the box. And it was hearing stories like that and reading books like that, that kind of plants the seed in your mind that maybe it is possible to do something extraordinary – not just ordinary.