by Dan Munro
First posted on Forbes on 01/22/2013
90 second clip of former President Bill Clinton introducing Carter Kostler – the 14 year-old inventor of Define Bottle.
Now in its second year, The Health Matters Conference is the annual event associated with the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Initiative (one of nine distinct initiatives under the Clinton Foundation umbrella). This year the conference was held in (normally much warmer) La Quinta, California.
As with all conferences, opening remarks are pivotal in terms of setting an upbeat tone, or simply announcing another long day in healthcare-land. The first few minutes were fairly typical. Thanks for coming. The gracious acknowledgement (and litany) of big donors. The announcement of secured pledges totaling $100M (OK – so thatone definitely stands out), but then the surprise – for everyone – including Carter and his parents (who were seated next to him).
“But I want to take special note of one. I’d like to ask Carter Kostler to stand up. Carter, where are you? Stand up. There he is – see him?”
Bill Clinton introducing Carter Kostler
The effect was dramatic – and perfectly timed. The story is somewhat typical in the evolution of a startup – but then Carter is 14 – so that becomes an integral part of the story too. My only real question was – how does someone (really anyone – let alone someone who is 14) get on the radar with a Global Organization for a personal introduction at a flagship event by a Former President, Global Leader and Chief Evangelist? At least that was my first question. There were so many good ones to choose from.
As with all startups, what we often see is the first big leap from obscurity. This was that leap. In the case of Carter’s Define Bottle, the trigger event actually started a full year earlier. At that time, Carter was in 8th Grade (then age 13). Mom was experimenting with fruit-infused water recipes so there was a pitcher of “experiments” in the home fridge. Now, at age 13, there are two incredibly important variables at work here. A supportive Mom and the home fridge. Either consciously or unconsciously (Mom’s can be tricky this way) Carter was presented with a new beverage option – fruit-infused water. As a part of the first “iteration”, mostly around recipes, Carter secured the web address for sharing those recipes – www.spawaterrecipes.com.
Over the course of the year, and recognizing that the pitcher was a serious impediment to portability, Carter started noodling a portable design. Several iterations later (including sketches on the proverbial napkin), the Define Bottle was born.
Like every startup, challenges abound. Not the least of which is how to protect the design, how to tool for manufacturing (at scale) and then how to get really great “buzz.” Those are daunting for any startup, but at age 14, those are all in addition to the complexities of the 8th (now 9th) grade and general life as a teenager. Like every great startup, you navigate the obstacles – as best you can – with what you know and learn along the way. The stage is set for a lucky break (or two) and the tribulations are minimized, averted or solved outright.
In the course of a year (and with obvious help from some very supportive parents),Define Bottle is now patent-pending. One of the first manufacturing hurdles (around tooling) was solved with an Indiegogo project which was launched to raise $3,000 – and raised over $5,000. Each of those steps required a significant commitment – but they also represent an investment in processes with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately, it’s also very binary – and iterative. If you make the commitment (and do the legwork), the support will either follow – or it won’t.
On the opposite side of this idea is someone who is in charge of actual conference details. As that person you begin to look for ways to embrace and enhance the primary theme of any given conference. In this case, the event is the annual health conference by a Global Foundation. Celebrities, thought leaders, analysts and media are all supportive in a variety of ways. Contributions, coverage, corporate sponsorship – it runs the gamut.
Over the course of the last few years, there’s been a seismic shift on the part of many health conferences to (finally) pay closer attention to some of the health-related details like breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. The Health Matters Conference is no different. It’s an easy step from there to see how someone might search for supportive elements around healthy foods, exercising – and then also how to keep a conference (and adjacent activities) hydrated. Someone might even search online for something like fruit-infused water recipes and that someone might come across a website that not only offers great recipes, but has an attractive means of making those recipes entirely portable. Something you would easily conclude is an attractive (and portable) alternative to sugary sodas and coffee (the standard fare). It might also be something that could easily be a charitable gift, a nod to American ingenuity and a memento of the event. Who knew the inventor was all of 14?
Once approached, Carter didn’t just commit 550 bottles (plus shipping) to the event, he also donated $1,000 to The Alliance For A Healthier Generation – a companion Clinton non-profit committed specifically to childhood obesity. When Carter appeared at the event in La Quinta (with parents in tow) he was there at his own expense. That’s how startups often demonstrate being ”all-in.” They double-down – they don’t just show up and cash-in. Clinton’s introduction was entirely spontaneous, entirely genuine – and entirely earned.
Like the HAPIfork I wrote about last week, Define Bottle won’t solve obesity. That battle is just starting – and it’s huge. Here’s a picture of the soda aisle at a local Walmart. Walmart now has over 8,500 stores in 15 countries (under 55 different names), and it’s just one (albeit big) retailer.
This one aisle is 30 yards long – with shelves stacked 4 high. This didn’t happen overnight and the alternatives won’t replace this overnight – but we have to start somewhere. Solutions also have to be easy and at least amusing if not outright fun. When you add all of those requirements together – the Define Bottle is a compelling alternative that also includes portability and re-usability. The “sports” and smaller “kid-sized” versions are pending. Recent headlines like this one over at the Wall Street Journal suggest the timing is great – or at least aligned with a large opportunity: Is This The End of the Soft-Drink Era?
So what’s next? Define Bottle is a semi-finalist in the End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge – the most recent effort by the Partnership For A Healthier America. That’s another high-profile National initiative where First Lady Michelle Obama is the honorary chair. The deadline to vote for finalists is February 1. I think it’s pretty easy to guess Bill Clinton’s vote. Mine too. Your turn – here’s the link.