This Self-Funded Water Bottle Business Is Generating Millions

How A Self-Funded 

Water Bottle Business Generated Millions

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Although “sleek” and “sexy” may not be terms one would typically ascribe to a water bottle, for Bkr founders, Kate Cutler and Tal Winter, that’s exactly how they see their product.

Bkr (pronounced ‘beeker’) was created from the principals of good design,” says Winter. “It’s just enough, but not too much. It’s restrained and simple. We knew edited minimal design is the most difficult thing to achieve.”

What began as an idea for a chic reusable water bottle has today become a robust line of more than 100 iterations of fashionable glass bottles, covered in colorful soft touch silicone sleeves, in sizes that range from Big to Teeny. Bkr is available in more than 20 countries and over 1,000 global doors, including the beauty floors of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. According to the ladies, the multimillion dollar brand has experienced 2,400 percent growth since year one to five, seeing between 114 and 131 percent growth year over year. To be sure, at the core of the Bkr brand is a very purposeful decision to market itself as a beauty product as opposed to a commodity or  sports accessory.

Giselle spotted with a yellow BKR bottle. Courtesy of Josie Girl

“Water is the foundation of your beauty regimen,” says Cutler. “Even if you buy expensive products, they don’t really work if your skin isn’t hydrated from the inside. There’s some kind of magic to our brand. We tell people it will change how you hydrate forever. If that sounds dramatic you just haven’t had one. It actually helps people drink more water.”

Photographed in the hands of celebrities like Gisele Bȕnchen, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, it’s clear these female founders set out what they aimed to; making a common commodity into a must-have accessory that just happens to be a water bottle.

“From day one we envisioned that we were the ‘it bottle,’” says Cutler. “We knew who our customer was;  we said she is the ‘it girl’ and this is the ‘it bottle.’ Our goal was to build a brand that was consistent with that vision and we never veered away from that.”

The idea for Bkr began in 2011 when Winter says she found herself drinking from a ton of disposable bottles, despite knowing that they were not the best option for daily hydration.

“I had the idea because I have always known that drinking water is the the precedent for gorgeous skin,” says Tal. “It didn’t make sense that intelligent sophisticated people like me and Kate were drinking out of trash. Plastic water bottles are not good for your health and they are not good for the environment.”

The two did some guerilla research to see if there were fashionable alternatives to plastic water bottles on the market. What they found were plenty of sports-styled offerings in steel or aluminum, which can be filled with neurotoxins. What was missing was anything that a young, stylish woman would want to carry around in her purse.

“The thing that bothered me the most was that steel bottles smelled gross,” says Winter. “They reminded me of the horrible canteens we used in Girl Scouts. I wouldn’t drink my wine out of metal so why would I drink water out of it?  Knowing what I know now is that steel is three times worse for the environment than even plastic. From the cradle to grave, steel’s effect the environment is three times worse. We both have legal backgrounds so one of our strengths  is knowing how to thoroughly research something, and steel wasn’t a solution for us.”

“We wanted something that was reusable, that would be chic, clean, clear, and effortless. We wanted an iconic design that stands the test of time.”

-Kate Cutler

The glass Winter and Cutler decided on for their prototype is thick, crystal clear ,“endlessly recyclable,” and already about 60 percent recycled. With the goal of creating a timeless shape, the two settled on a soft rounded bottle with a hypoallergenic silicone sleeve, which can be removed and washed separately from the glass component. “If you look under a microscope, plastic is porous so bacteria goes in the material,” says Winter. “The bottle, sleeve, and cap are dishwasher safe, so it’s so easy to be out the door with a clean bottle.”

Bkr founders, Tal Winter and Kate Cutler - Courtesy of Bkr

When It All Began

The two, who met in law school and worked as practicing attorneys before Bkr, joined together with the goal of replacing  disposable water bottles. “The very beginning I didn’t know what to do,” says Winter. “I started talking to people who could mentor me and help me. We hired a designer and put together a pitch and worked with one main advisor, who introduceduse to some engineers and manufacturers. Every day it was one foot in front of the other. You keep pushing yourself, and you just figure it out.” After four years of research and development, Bkr officially launched in April, 2011, with five color options. Despite having no website at the time, Cutler and Winter flew to LA to scout potential distribution for their new line.

“We rented a car and went around in different neighborhoods to see [what kind of store] we should be in,” says Kate. “We were showing buyers pictures of Bkr on our phones. We just tried to see where it fit; where we wanted someone to discover the brand.”

In true startup fashion, the two co-founders took on the customer service themselves, while Winter did the social media for five years. They also did plenty of research to see how exactly they should position the brand, deciding on a luxury fashion accessory. “We’re a beautiful design, but at our core we are a beauty product,” says Cutler. “We wanted to make sure we were creating a relationship with a customer that was into fashion and beauty.”

To keep the line as fresh as possible and to “give cult fans something new and exciting,” Winter and Cutler create multiple Fashion brand-inspired seasonal capsule collections per year. “We are pop culture, fashion and magazine junkies,” says Cutler. “We go to museums, we pay attention to street chic, runway trends, and we are curious, interested, artistic people. We create what we can imagine. We trust ourselves and if we like something we believe others will too.”

According to Cutler some of the best selling shades to date include Naked, a match-with-everything nude, and Tutu, which Cutler and Winter describe as the perfect pale pink. “We are always on the hunt for the more pink,” says Winter, adding that nudes, pinks and pale shades tend to sell the most. “We feel we’ve hit on the best tones of pink.” The company, which is completely self-funded, and was started on a $200K friends and family round, is currently made up of about 14 employees, plus consultants and is based in San Francisco. Available in luxury beauty retail doors in 21 countries, Bkr’s top markets include Sweden, the UK, Germany, South Korea and Dubai.

“It’s a bootstrap self-made company,” said Winter. “Neither of us is a risk taker but we are definitely risk takers when it came to being entrepreneurs, but when we go to Vegas we don’t gamble.” When asked what was next for the brand, the girls didn’t give details, but they promise that there is excitement to come.

“There is so much more we are going to do,” says Cutler. “We will be growing our product offering in the direction that resonate with our audience within luxury and beauty in exciting different ways.”

The Quick 10

1.What app do you most use?
Kate: WhatsApp.
Tal: InstaCart.

2. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Kate: Run to my 4 year-old, who is my human alarm clock.
Tal: Drink an entire liter Bkr of water.

3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Kate: Natalie Massenet.
Tal: Tamara Mellon.

4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Kate: Mascara.
Tal: The jumpsuit.

5. What is your spirit animal?
Kate: A box of doughnuts.
Tal: A ninja.


6. What is your life motto?
Kate: There’s no free lunch.
Tal: What would Beyonce do?

7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Kate: Cherry lemonade Nerds.
Tal: Peanut M&Ms.

8. What’s something that’s always in your bag? 
Kate: Sunglasses.
Tal: Lip balm.

9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
Kate: Morocco.
Tal: Tokyo.

10. Desert Island. Three things, go. 
Kate: Sunscreen, magazines, spiked lala Bkr.
Tal: Deet, Kate, big tutu Bkr.

 

Belisa Silva

Belisa is an editor with more than 10 years of experience. Prior to SWAAY, she worked as freelance writer, covering lifestyle, fashion and beauty industries. Belisa was a Market Editor at Women's Wear Daily for five years, where she interviewed rockstar business women like Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and Iman. Belisa also contributes to Cosmetic Executive Women, where she highlights female executives making an impact in the beauty industry.

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