Meet Ed Woolner, the man who helped to build Monster Drinks from nothing into a business worth £95 million in the UK and Ireland. But he hasn’t looked back at corporate life since setting up The Powerful Water Company and POW Natural Energy (POW). Ed got sick of justifying to friends what he was selling, which in his words was ‘on the same level as Benson & Hedges’. He set up POW to give consumers choice with a selection of healthy flavoured waters and combat the sugar overloads we see in soft drinks today. This guy is dripping in passion….
1. With strong knowledge and experience in the drinks industry, is there anything that has surprised you about building POW? Despite knowing my way around the trade comfortably, the level of tenacity needed to be an entrant is irrepressible. You’ll have the crap beaten out of you. No blue chip environment prepares you for it. You have to go through the emotion of not having money and being constantly up against knocks and embrace it all. It’s like doing an MBA – you have to go through the sh*t to understand what it’s like to work hard and succeed. There is so much luck and timing involved. Oh, and you need to be able to sell and sell hard. The founder of Clipper (Mike Brehme) once told me that “even if you can have a cure for cancer you still need to be able to sell it” – he wasn’t wrong.
2. What thing would you most like to change about the drinks industry? The bullsh*t in soft drinks. There is so much marketing flab about what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. And the big boys hold so much power over everything, which makes it hard for startups trying to break through. The big corporates need to be offering choice to consumers. Look at Coke; they’re not innovating or creating something healthy.
3. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt from starting up POW?
The whole process has been humbling. I’ve learnt that you can’t bullsh*t yourself; you’ve got to be brutally honest. If you pretend you can do everything, you’ll fail.
4. What's the one piece of business advice you wish you'd been given when you started?
Surround yourself with people better than you and who will do the things you’re crap at. There is a science to good brand marketing and this is an area where I fall down, among others. I’ve had to fill the gaps with the right people to do these jobs.
5. Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?
I’ve got so close to it. From finance issues to not having the right people in the business, things you're not good at can knock you off course. But I’ve never been scared of failing. If I had to say goodbye to POW I won’t see it as failure. I wouldn’t give up the slog because I am learning so much all the time. And what does “complete the task” actually mean anyway?
6. What's been the biggest milestone for the business so far?
I am proud of the distribution I’ve created for the brand (this has played to my strengths). Making it through the hardest financial issues and making it into year 3 with good people involved has been a great milestone because the buck doesn’t just stop with me anymore.
7. Who is your inspiration?
My family have been amazing – we’ve really pulled together. Setting up a business makes or breaks couples and my wife has been a trooper. She’s given me genuine advice and support when I’ve needed it. There have been times when it was only us two running the business…that was fun!
8. What keeps you motivated?
My belief in what trying I’m trying to do. Through POW I want to offer consumers healthier choices. But there’s much more we can do and I’m up for the fight. Getting cut through to the consumer is really hard with so much white noise out there. When I started I didn’t think beyond seeing something on the shelf, but actually the hard learning has only just started. The tough bits balance out the good bits, though. This business buys me and my family choices. I go surfing when the waves are good to clear my head and if I want to go for a run in the middle of the day, I will.
9. What business or brand do you look up to?
Patagonia. If you’re creating a business, that would be it. They’ve proven that they can win at emotional consumption over material consumption. Finisterre, a local brand to us, are another that have nailed their mission and have created a great brand with a real point of difference.
10. If you weren't doing this, you would be....
If money was no object, I’d be working with a brand or NGO with an environmental mission – an organisation that gives back to the community. My dream job would involve surfing too. If you cut me open, water pours out.