Date posted: 01/12/2016 4 min read

Thankyou Water co-founder fights global poverty with social enterprise

Thankyou Water Daniel Flynn co-founder talks about fighting poverty, social enterprise models and social media

In brief

  • Thankyou Water was established by students after learning that 900 million people are without water
  • It offers Australians the chance to make an impact through a simple everyday purchase
  • It has given A$2.2m across 14 different countries and funded safe water for 132,661 people

The concept

How did you discover the harsh reality of the world water crisis?

When I was 19 while doing an assignment for university I discovered that while 900 million people in our world are without access to water, at the same time Australians spend A$600m each year on bottled water.

These two polarising facts sparked the idea to launch a bottled water product that would fund safe water access for those in need, and give Australians the chance to make an impact through a simple purchase in their everyday lives. In August 2008, we registered the company and Thankyou Water hit the market.

Why this particular idea as a way to help?

When we first became aware of the world water crisis, and as we began to research what we could do to help, we were shocked at the amount of money Australians spend every year on consumer products. We asked ourselves: “What if we could funnel the profits from the bottled water industry into helping people who need it the most?”

The social enterprise model is really just another avenue to empower people to make a difference. I believe that most people, deep down, want to give back in some way but the reality is that not everyone is in a position to give to a charity every month or volunteer their time for a cause. Social enterprise gives the everyday person the opportunity to do something to change the world.

This was an ambitious plan, what made you believe you could succeed?

We believed the idea had merit and could work. Unfortunately the first few years were pretty tough — we dealt with setback after setback and so many challenges. We were all at university and working part-time jobs then giving every bit of time left over to build the organisation. There were times when we all felt like quitting, but we kept going because we knew that once we saw success, we’d be able to help people who needed it. It was by no means an easy journey.

The mentors

Was there any help from parents/mentors/business people to get the idea up and running?

In the beginning we met with different advisors who pointed us in the right direction, including a mentor who gave us a one-off donation of A$20,000 to get the business off the ground. Throughout our six-year journey we’ve had many mentors and advisors who have guided us and given us valuable pieces of wisdom. I have two mentors who I catch up with on a regular basis and they often challenge me in different areas from a business perspective. I believe mentors are crucial to growth and I am always encouraging the team at Thankyou to find people that they can glean information and learn from.

[The other co-founders] Justine, Jarryd and I are all lucky to have incredible parents who have been so supportive of us and the business, even in the early days when it really could have gone either way. We’re grateful for their encouragement and belief in us over the years.

How did you meet the other co-founders?

Jarryd and I met when we were in kindergarten, so we go back quite a long way. Justine and I met at church and I still pinch myself that she agreed to go out with me, let alone marry me!

Have you started to make much in the way of profits?

After the costs involved in making a great product are taken care of, we give every cent to the projects we fund. Over the past three years we have grown over 200 per cent year on year, and have given over A$2.2m to projects across 14 different countries. We have funded safe water for 132,661 people, hygiene and sanitation programs for 153,507 people and 5.2 million days’ worth of food aid to people in need plus long-term food solutions. We still have a way to go, but with the support of our community purchasing our products we are making a big impact.

Who has the final say on which projects you’ll support?

Every project proposal is signed off by our directors. We have a list of strict criteria that the project must meet to be eligible for funding, and we only fund organisations that are members of the ACFID Code of Conduct.

Are your wages on a par with what staff would earn if they worked for a corporate?

My wage and the team’s wages are in line with charity sector standards (as set out by Pro Bono Australia).

The social enterprise model is really just another avenue to empower people to make a difference. I believe that most people, deep down, want to give back in some way…

The marketing

How do you prefer to advertise?

The truth is that we don’t do a lot of advertising in the traditional sense. To date we’ve mainly focused on PR activities to get the word out there — for organisations with lean budgets often this is the most effective avenue. We pride ourselves on being able to launch campaigns on budgets of next to nothing — I believe that it really comes down to allowing our team to be creative.

Having said that, we do small amounts of advertising through pro bono arrangements. In the past we have advertised on TV with amazing support from two major networks — Seven Network and Nine Network — that offered us complimentary rates through classifying our TVC as a Community Service Announcement.

What has been your most daring marketing campaign?

I’d say our Coles and Woolworths campaign to date has been the most daring. We had developed two new product ranges, Thankyou Food and Thankyou Body Care, and we planned an epic social media campaign to convince Coles and Woolworths to stock our products. We asked everyday Australians to petition both supermarkets on Facebook to stock our range. We designed this campaign because after five years of unsuccessful attempts to get our water onto supermarket shelves, we needed cut-through. We needed to stand out, and we needed our community to back us. The campaign was a success and our products have been in Coles and Woolworths for more than 18 months.

Were you always aware of that potential for social media to boost Thankyou Water?

I think being a group of Gen Y-ers meant that we naturally saw (and still do see) social media as a part of everyday life. It was something that all our friends used, and so did we. We didn’t necessarily set out thinking that social media would help grow Thankyou, it’s just something that organically happened as all our friends jumped on and “liked” our company Facebook page.

Social media has become an integral part of your business hasn’t it?

When we launched in 2008 one of the first things we did was start a Facebook page and Twitter account so we could begin to engage with our community (which was pretty small at that stage). It proved to be an invaluable tool in helping us build rapport with our audience and gave us the opportunity to communicate the heart of Thankyou through the content we shared.

Fast forward six years and we now have a combined audience of over 135,000 fans across Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Instagram.

Our two major campaigns — the 7-Eleven campaign and the Coles and Woolworths campaign — both incorporated a strong social media integration and commitment from our community. Social media is crucial to our business as it allows for direct engagement with our fans and keeps the conversation flowing with them.

The recognition

You’re already scooping prestigious national and global honours. Which one makes you most proud?

It’s a pretty humbling experience, and often I find it a little awkward to accept an award that I wouldn’t be receiving if it wasn’t for the hard work of the incredible team at Thankyou. Our staff make me look good!

But being able to receive recognition like this makes me really proud of the work we’ve all done together and it often makes me look back and reflect on our pretty eventful six-year journey, and be thankful for the little successes along the way.

Being awarded the 2014 Victorian Young Australian of the Year Award was pretty special though — I really felt the love and support from the community after winning this award.

What is your dream for the company?

It’s simple really — we want to see poverty eradicated. My dream is to see millions of lives changed for the better and that is what drives me, and the team, every day to further grow. Thankyou.

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue of Acuity magazine.

Meet the founder

  • Who is Daniel Flynn?
    • Thankyou Water co-founder
    • Melbourne, Australia
    • 2013 Victorian Young Achiever of the Year
    • 2014 Victorian Young Australian of the Year
    • Selected for 2014 JCI Ten Young Outstanding People of the World programme