Weber State Gives Entrepreneurs Confidence to Launch Multimillion Dollar Company
OGDEN, Utah – HydroJug is the kind of success story every entrepreneur dreams: a growing $40 million company that started production in the family’s metal garage just five years ago as a part-time “side hustle” for two brothers who attended Weber State University.
HydroJug’s concept is simple: a 73-ounce water bottle for health enthusiasts who want to stay hydrated all day. The growth is exponential. In August 2021, Inc. magazine ranked HydroJug at No. 33 on its annual 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. In 2021, the company expanded to a 35,000 square-foot manufacturing facility at the Business Depot Ogden and will add another 119,786 square feet in the first quarter of 2022. They now employ 80 people and have a distribution center in the United Kingdom.
Co-founder and COO Jake Wadsworth gives thanks to the executive director of Weber State’s Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center, Dave Noack, for giving him the confidence to make HydroJug a full-time pursuit following his graduation in accounting in 2017.
“Professor Noack said, ‘This is kind of rare that you have something that’s grabbing traction,’” Wadsworth said. “‘Accounting jobs you’re thinking of will be there after HydroJug, so go for it; jump into it.’ And I did.”
Wadsworth’s brother Hayden, who has a WSU bachelor’s degree in accounting, conceived the idea of HydroJug five years ago while watching an athlete on YouTube carry water in a plastic milk jug.
The brothers decided they could improve the design, quality and durability of a milk jug, so they paid a designer and ordered three pallets of product: one each of white, black and clear, nearly 1,000 jugs altogether. Hayden handled marketing; Jake processed and delivered.
“I was fulfilling out in the uninsulated, unheated metal shop at my parents’ house,” he said. “It was a grind, and a lot of those bottles would leak, so they sent us replacement parts to make them not leak, so I would test every one of them before I would send them out. If customers were in the local area, I would actually deliver them.”
The brothers weren’t afraid to work hard and remain frugal. They grew up as employees on their dad’s landscaping crew and in their mother’s Subway sandwich shops. It gave them the chance to contribute to ensure the financial success of their family.
They took those lessons to HydroJug, where they were willing to build sweat equity. They kept their expenses at a minimum, returning all the profits to the business for the first two years before jumping in full time.
“I’d been going to Weber State for the last few years, so I was used to living off pretty well nothing,” Wadsworth said, laughing. “I was really careful about student debt as well and taking out the minimum I needed and paying for the rest with part-time jobs and my scholarship, so the timing of it was really good.”
To build their business, they set up displays and demonstrations at expos and gyms.
“There’d be guys carrying milk jugs, and we’d say, ‘HydroJug is so much better. Yours is not dishwasher safe; it’s leaching plastics in your water,’ and guys just didn’t really care,” Wadsworth said. “But we had a lot of traction with women, so we decided, ‘OK, for the next order, we’re going to do a bunch of color.’”
The colored jugs sold, and buyers then asked for a straw and an insulated sleeve. The product has continued to evolve rapidly with glass and stainless steel jugs as more sustainable options. HydroJug is now looking for other growth opportunities, including sportswear. One challenge that plagued the young business was forecasting needs and trends. They would build up stock, then do marketing and then sell out.
To help solve that problem, the Wadsworths turned to another Weber State Wildcat. Ryan Holmes graduated from the supply chain management program in December 2020 where he was president of the supply chain club, coordinated WSU’s annual CASE competitions, and completed an internship with Autoliv. His depth of experience and faculty support gave him confidence to tackle the work of a growing, multi-million dollar company.
“You have the right amount of inventory to support the demand while still keeping cashflow healthy,” Holmes said. “On the outbound side, we make sure we’re optimal in how we ship our product, so we can decrease outbound spending. Quality control reports are very robust, and I attribute all of that, I really truly attribute all of my knowledge and success to what I learned at Weber State.”
After 18 months at HydroJug, Holmes is now director of operations. He focuses on forecasting, supply chain management and product development.
“You don’t graduate and remember every single piece and part of the book, but it's the principles you learn there, how to deal with your suppliers, what you need to do to optimize your supply chain,” he said. “Those key principles stick with you and having professors who care about your success and your success after you graduate is really what did it for me.”
As a young business, HydroJug has also successfully employed two other strategies that have yielded great returns: when they have a question, they seek out other Utah entrepreneurs who have been generous with information and insights. HydroJug has also harnessed the power of social media, which has been an integral part of their advertising and marketing strategy from the very beginning. They retain fitness influencers who use their product. HydroJug’s Instagram following just topped 400,000.
“Social media is the driving factor that builds a brand. That’s how people are doing it,” Wadsworth said. “I feel like we have a competitive edge there because of our knowledge in that space. It’s something that we have been doing for a long time. That’s what really took the business to the next level.”
They also use social media to help monitor trends and “scan the environment” for the opportunities and pitfalls of the future. In 2022, they plan to move into retail sales and international markets with private labels and product customization. They are positioning the company to become an e-commerce business that owns several other e-commerce companies.
“From a basic level, we solved the problem of people who had a need for this product, so now we are refining the processes and finding new problems,” Wadsworth said. “That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what’s going to give you growth: identifying problems, finding solutions, putting them in place, reviewing what you’ve done, and building upon that.”
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