Disruption Podcast: David Freeman, ‘Personal Disruptor’

Superior Sales Consulting’s Disruption Podcast series shares the stories behind some of the biggest disruptors in FMCG. Retail World has compiled highlights from Episode 5, ‘Personal Disruptor’, which interviews h2coco CEO David Freeman (right).

Could you give a quick snapshot of where you grew up, went to school and some of your early influences?

I grew up in Cronulla in the south of Sydney and I went to school at Scott’s College in the eastern suburbs. When I moved out of home, I was 18 years old, my first house was in Bondi and I kind of haven’t really left that eastern suburbs Bondi beach lifestyle since then.

What was it was that got you thinking about coconut water, how did that dream start?

It all started for me back in 2008. I had no idea about the beverage history, and I was in a bikram yoga class in New York City. The teacher gave me a fresh coconut and said, “you just can’t open it”. I did open it and he explained to me the health benefits. I tried it, tasted it and loved it. It was one of those light bulb moments. I walked out into the market in New York and was like, ‘how good is this and what do we have to do to get this into a bottle’?

I went home and did my research on Google for a solid six months and put together a business plan of launching this into the Australian market, without any idea of what I was doing.

What made you feel you had the confidence to take on such a risk?

I think it’s about the risk and reward and not being shy to take risks. Obviously, as you get bigger in a business, and you get more well established, you take much more calculated risks. But when you’re young, innovative and determined to make a difference and introduce something new into a category or any start any business, it’s about taking those risks on and doing your research, understanding the category and understanding the opportunities.

Is there anything in particular in terms of what your mantra is? What is your why?

I believe in never giving up. It probably took me up to four years to get any traction. I was literally knocking on everybody’s doors, trying to tell them coconut water is going to be the next big thing. And I do think that if you throughout the whole process of when of never giving up, if you constantly remain humble, and you’re constantly, you know, open and transparent about what you’re trying to achieve and what you’re trying to do, I really do believe that you can you can launch a brand successfully.

What allowed you to embrace constraints and really take the big boys on, headfirst?

What allowed me to do it was definitely that disruptive approach and the innovation, the determination and passion to want to make this successful. Also knowing that I could produce something that was quality first and market type and could really make a difference to people’s lives was probably the biggest driver.

When we launched nine years ago it was pre every health trend and nobody really cared about healthy beverages or healthy foods. I was determined that everyone was going to capture that healthy moment in their life at some point in time, and I wanted to make sure that we were in the game producing quality products that were healthy and that would help people change their lives. This has been our mission statement from the beginning, and that won’t change in everything that we do will always be focused on improving people’s lives.

To make this as big as it’s become you’ve had to build a team to help you do that. How do you ensure that, the people that you bring on board have the same sort of passion levels and energy levels that you do?

Team is the most important part of your business and the hardest thing to manage. Finding and employing the right people for the right position is a struggle in any business. I’m really passionate about the team that we have now and think that it’s probably the strongest team that we’ve had in the business, there’s only 26 of us in the business at the moment.

If I can get each team member to engage, understand and participate in the values of the business, I can get everybody working really well together and to love what they’re doing. Culture is a big part here. If you can find the right person with the right culture for your business, then you’ve got a better chance of them enjoying what they do. And if they enjoy what they do, they do a better job.

Was there a point where you felt that it wasn’t going to come together? How did you overcome that and really internalise that?

Not having any idea of myself as a CEO and going into a beverage business, there were certainly times at the start where I thought, ‘geez, what am I doing here’? But I believed constantly in the product. I make sure that everyone here loves doing what we do, and also those times where you think it’s going to get too tough.

When something bad happens to you, or something goes wrong, the normal way for most people is they will dwell on it for a long time and it be like a snowball effect. What I’ve learned over the years is when things go wrong, you’ve got to firstly accept them and secondly understand why they happened. The third part is, what can I learn from this going forward to help me overcome it?

And if you can learn those three steps, you can learn to overcome stress and realise that you don’t have these things playing on you. And I believe that you can better yourself and better your business from the mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

The above is an edited version of an interview conducted by Jamie Lobina and Mark Truelson for Superior Sales Disruption. To listen to the full interview, download the podcast from iTunes or from www.superiorsales.com.au/podcast. New episodes are released weekly on Wednesday mornings.

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