BGBS 064 | Bill Creelman | Spindrift |You Have to Be a Little Hardheaded
Bill Creelman is the Founder and CEO of Spindrift Beverage Co., Inc. and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Prior to Spindrift, Bill co-founded Stirrings which sold to Diageo in 2009.
Bill grew up on a farm in Western Massachusetts where all the food was unprocessed, seasonal, and fresh. In 2010, he began making his own sparkling beverages to help him kick his soda habit. He wanted something refreshing, with real ingredients he could pronounce and enjoy with his young family. After much trial and error, he achieved this by combining 2 simple ingredients: fresh fruit and triple-filtered sparkling water. He named it Spindrift.
Today, Spindrift is made up of over 100 passionate employees dedicated to changing the sparkling beverage industry. Spindrift is leading beverages into a new age of innovation, transparency, and ingredient simplicity by offering a product with no artificial sweeteners, no natural flavorings, and no essences – just sparkling water and real squeezed fruit.
Spindrift was named to Inc. Magazine’s 500 fasting growing companies, is a two-time recipient of BevNet’s Product of the Year and was featured on NPR’s How I Built This in 2020.
Bill lives outside of Boston with his wife, Harley, and 4 kids.
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- Follow what feels right in the moment and push through the challenge. It might just lead you to your dreams.
- Tips that can make you stand out in a business, like utilizing consumer input as guidance and taking advantage of your packaging as your initial communication point with a consumer
- The bruises and scars you gain from challenge will become valuable knowledge in the future
LinkedIn: Bill Creelman
Pinterest: Spindrift Sparkling Water
[19:53] I just get so much pleasure personally out of working with farmers that are working with their hands and growing something that’s delicious, and then we get the opportunity to reimagine it as a sparkling water. There’s something about that idea that’s really exciting to me.
[32:54] I think in a sense, you have to be a little bit hard headed to this business…challenges, just broadly speaking, are an everyday part of what we do.
[52:38] (Packaging) is really is the main way you communicate with a consumer, especially early on. You have to have a package that has cuts through the clutter. That immediately speaks to someone that has a shopping cart that’s small, and a kid is screaming, and they’re on their cell phone, like even in that environment, it needs to speak to them somehow.
[59:31] I really think that even though it was a longer journey for me I’m sure than other folks who have done it more efficiently, I think those nicks and bruises and scars along the way ended up being so valuable now to help inform decisions and keep the boat rowing in the right direction.
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Bill Creelman 0:02
I think I was 15 or so and one of the captains I was working with, I was the maid on the on the boat. Their charter fishing boat, told me about this word called spindrift. And it was you know, the weight we are getting pounded by surf coming back from grade point out of the car are headed to the island. And it was a beautiful sunny day, but we were soaking wet and he said, you know what this mist is that is blowing off of the top of these waves. And I didn’t get called spindrift and it’s referring to sort of the whitewash and the wave is as the wind blows, and it’s sheared the top of the wave off it for some reason. I just thought that word was really interesting.
Marc Gutman 0:50
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado, this is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby Got Back story. We are talking about sparkling water. Not just any sparkling water, but flavored sparkling water. And hey, you, yeah, you the listener who’s a non reviewer, I know who you are. And seriously, what gives? You know that this podcast ain’t cheap. But we continue to produce it as a service to you. How about you turn that non reviewer frown upside down and rate and review us over at Apple podcasts or Spotify, Apple and Spotify use these ratings as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on their charts and reviewing is cool. Everyone’s doing it. Alright, let’s get on with the show.
Hear that? Cold, refreshing, sparkling water. Now today we have sparkling water easily accessible at our fingertips. We have all sorts of brands that are producing it non flavored flavored we have spiked sparkling water. We have all sorts of seltzers. But if you think about it, it wasn’t always that way. sparkling water is kind of a new thing. And today’s guest is Bill Creelman, the founder and CEO of spindrift. Yeah, spindrift that delicious Lee flavored sparkling water with real fruit juice. And he’s your hero on today’s show.
Bill is an entrepreneur and his journey has been anything but straight and easy. Today, spindrift is made up of over 100 passionate employees dedicated to changing the sparkling beverage industry. spindrift is leading beverages into a new age of innovation, transparency and ingredient simplicity by offering a product with no artificial sweeteners, no natural flavorings and no essences. Just sparkling water and real squeezed fruit. spindrift was named Inc magazine’s 500 fastest growing companies is a two time recipient of bednets Product of the Year and was featured on one of my favorite podcast the one that this baby got backstory. Whole podcast was based on NPR. Here’s how I built this in 2020. Bill lives outside of Boston with his wife, Harley and four kids in this is his story.
I’m here with Bill Creelman, the founder and CEO of spindrift bill, welcome.
Bill Creelman 4:11
Thanks, Marc. Appreciate the time.
Marc Gutman 4:14
Absolutely. And before we get into it, we’re going to hear all about Spindrift and how you founded the company. But for those listeners that may not be familiar with this delicious flavored sparkling water, why don’t you set it up a little bit and tell people what is Spindrift?
Bill Creelman 4:31
So we are we are the alternative challenger brand in a very big category called sparkling water. So, our point of difference, you know, among kind of a big, crowded categories, we offer real ingredients as the base for the flavors so, we go out and gather lemons, oranges, grapefruits, berries, from around the country and literally squeeze them and add them to sparkling water instead of using unnatural flavor, which is really where the category lives today. And the results of this sort of delicious you know, pretty full flavored a little pulpy, colorful alternative to sparkling water.
Marc Gutman 5:15
And I don’t want to get too far down this part of the story, but you said something that really caught my attention. And you said that we put real food and ingredients in the water because that’s so rare. Is that something that is just not happening prior to Spindrift?
Bill Creelman 5:32
It really is like, strictly from an ingredient perspective. It does not exist other than our brands. So you know, it, it seems like, it’s almost an absurd statement to make, like, how could that be true? So yeah, the category is really developed off of the back of the natural flavors, natural flavors, we don’t really know quite what these things are, there are 3000 ingredients that are regulated outside of the FDA, they could originate with a fruit they may not, you know, you really don’t know as a consumer. So we just kind of left that conversation, where it was and, and went with a product that we recognize, you know, fruit has color and has a little pub. And that’s where we’re kind of happy. You know, and that’s really our big point of difference in this space.
Marc Gutman 6:25
I’m sure we’ll get into this further. But it just blows my mind that this is something that we’re not all already experiencing or hadn’t experienced prior to Spindrift. And so we’ll talk about that. But as you know, you were a young kid. And as you were, you know, getting going probably around the ripe age of nine or something like that, did you think that you would be in the sparkling beverage category, as it were, was that something you had always dreamed of?
Bill Creelman 6:53
I not specifically that. I mean, I I was I was lucky enough to be exposed to food. at a really young age, both kind of where food came from i was i was grew up in a farming environment at Western Massachusetts. And then I was lucky enough to also go out to the Cayman Islands, to to where I got to see, you know, fish and lobsters and oysters, so, and then I just, I love food. I had a little kid, I was always the one that ordered the weird thing on the menu that no one else wanted to try. So I think this is a story of like, just really being lucky enough to take something I enjoy doing on the weekends and turn it into, into into a job during the week. And so
Marc Gutman 7:43
When you were that age, and did you grow up on a working farm, or do you have…?
Bill Creelman 7:47
No, it was just like a 30 acre farm, Leicester mass that was had a garden and we had a bunch of animals. So it was not Yeah, we did not do any commercial farming. But, you know, we grew a lot of stuff. And that was sort of the mentality of the town. That actually still is, you know, kind of that way out there. And that had a big impact on me for sure. I mean, you know, we, we, we definitely, I feel like I took some of that sensibility with with me.
Marc Gutman 8:17
So it was that your dream as a kid? Were you? Did you want to be a chef or involved in food? Or was there something else that was catching your attention at that point?
Bill Creelman 8:26
Yeah, I think I mean, the great thing about food and why, if you go to like a Food Show, you’ll see lots of people with family recipes, that it’s incredibly stressful. And it’s fun, you know, generally you’re making something sharing it with, with friends. And so I think all of that is interesting to me. And it really still is interesting, you know, I love what I love the design side of this space, I love the recipe development side. You know, the selling of it is really interesting to me like just to propose something to to a retailer or a restaurant that they may not have tried. So it’s not a whole bunch of things I would say for me, and I knew I was interested in definitely doing something on my own. I was not my dad worked in, in kind of big CBD or for small sports, kind of Western Mass for a number of years. And he really was kind of pushed me to try to do something on my own. And, and so that that was nice to have that sort of backing throughout.
Marc Gutman 9:36
That’s interesting. Why did your dad push you to? You know, based on his experience, why did he think hey, it’d be way better if bill were doing something on his own versus working at Spalding after me.
Bill Creelman 9:47
Yeah. You know, I think he loved it. I know he loved his time there. I think it had to do with some of the macro climate he was seeing just Recognizing the big brands, the idea, he went to college and work for a big brand that everyone knew that idea was starting to fade away, I think he, he himself was introduced to some entrepreneurs, young people that had started things, and to see their excitement, and it wasn’t an excitement that he necessarily thought existed in kind of a bigger, more established business. And, you know, I guess, for all those reasons, he was just say he and my mom were both, like, incredibly supportive.
I mean, literally, even some of the failed businesses early on. So, yeah, I think that I mean, that is that is so important, you know, because it’s, I know, it’s not always the case, you know, there’s often pressure to go do something more conventional. And I didn’t have any of that, you know, as far as they were concerned, we could kind of do whatever we wanted. And that, you know, if you made money, or if you, you know, you obviously needed to support your family and sort of remain buoyant, but there was no pressure to do anything conventional to call it.
Marc Gutman 11:10
Yeah. And so when I was that the narrative and the message as you were going through high school, and if so, what was your play? What was your plan for after high school? Did you go to college? Or were you like, I’m going to go start a business right away?
Bill Creelman 11:21
So I jumped in with both feet pretty early. I mean, I started tinkering around with sort of starting my own thing, if you want to call it Pat, from, you know, super early, so you know, we we’ve worked a food stand at a craft fair. And in our town starting at, you know, eight 910. We tried to, you know, we started handing out business cards to just sort of do odd jobs, like early teens, and, and then tried to start like a little sort of painting business, in high school. And then eventually, I got into the fishing business, I was amazed. And I got my captain’s license to run my own boat when I was, you know, kind of 20 or 21.
It just like, you know, silly, silly ideas along the way that, that were fun and interesting, all centered around food, usually food or drinks for. So I don’t know, I don’t, I had done enough. By the time I got to college that I knew that it was interesting to me. And there was absolutely no history of success at all. At this point. It was much more defined by failure, for sure, but it was really fun and challenging. And that’s not really I think, was what I was excited about continuing. After, after, after school.
Marc Gutman 12:55
Yeah. And you had mentioned, as you were talking about some of those businesses, you said we who were you building those businesses with?
Bill Creelman 13:04
Well, I either friends or my brother, who also was interested in this sort of stuff. So the painting business, he was trying to eat a couple years older, and he was trying to get off the ground. And so I kind of tagged along, you know, yeah, yeah, a little like, an 18 hole golf, you know, shack through jack that he was running with a friend and I jumped in on that.
I mean, it was it, we were just always conspiring to try to figure out sort of ways to do fun foods, things that I’ve done, not always food, but just businesses, with the idea that wouldn’t it be interesting if this idea that we have was also appealing to other people besides us? And that was, that was really the level of complexity that in lead that
Marc Gutman 13:57
For sure, for sure. And even that, to me is a little bit interesting, because as we know, really one of the keys to successful businesses solving a problem that people have, but I remember that when I was young and starting business, I didn’t care about problems. You know, like, that was my problem. My problem was I wanted some money, or I wanted a business. I wanted to do something cool. So was there some of that in there where you really you had at that age, like seeing some like, Oh, wait, there’s a gap here and I’m gonna solve it.
Bill Creelman 14:24
Yeah, definitely not at that level of sophistication. No, really, more was like, I want to, you know, I need to have any money in order to fuel my car and maybe live on you know, independently, you know, we get I started living on our own I think I was 15 when I started limping away in the summers and he was 17. And so you know, all of that takes place resources and, and there was just there was a very brightly lit line between You know, the need to find all of this, and then, you know having to be, kind of come up with a solve on your own, you know, there wasn’t, there was never this thought that someone else was gonna swoop in and fund it on our behalf. And so that’s, that’s, you know, that’s really where a lot of that, that thinking started.
Marc Gutman 15:24
And so maybe I missed it I apologize if you said this, did you end up from there going to school? Or did you get right into?
Bill Creelman 15:32
No, I didn’t know I went, I went to high school in western Massachusetts. And then I went to college in Washington DC. And literally the day after I graduated from Georgetown, I turned my captain’s test and went out and began trying to get a captain’s got my cat’s license began running running a boat. But but but what actually an important part of sort of chapter in this was while I was at Georgetown, I took an entrepreneurship class. This was why an entrepreneurship really was not part of any university to speak of, or at least, it wasn’t something that was on my radar, to Georgetown had had a kind of program that they offered is just kind of a one class program you could opt into, and the the only assignment for the class was to write a business plan. And you you, you work the entire semester handed in, and whatever your grade was on that, on that paper was your grade for the semester, and that that was an incredible, really neat moment for me, because I hadn’t realized that you could, you know, organize yourself that way around, you know, writing down an idea and putting the structure to aid and then building a p&l in and building a team and then margin and all the things that, you know, normal business could have, prior to that it was just more, you know, kind of, you know, yellow legal pad and sort of working as we want and hoping for the best.
So it was actually it was that that idea for my business plan was Nantucket. vocalists there was a it was a it was, it was really the idea of using snow foods from from Nantucket Island and offering it around to consumers who couldn’t get a permit to Nantucket, it’s to be hard to get to, you know, in the offseason and, and that that was not an idea I pursued but it was the foundation of my first business that was called Nantucket harvest. And that that was really where that was when I formalized and created analyse and got a business partner. And it really went into the food business formally for the first time.
Marc Gutman 17:51
And then that’s making the connection why you then went and got your captain’s license. And, and yeah, during that chapter, and that’s like crazy to me, by the way, like, like what, you know, I when I was in college, I certainly wasn’t thinking like, what kind of fancy foods do people want? Or, you know, or like, how do I bring like food to me, that was just not the way I was thinking. And so I’m super, like, impressed and just amazed that this was at the front of your, the front of your thought and your insight, but also like, how did you think that you could do this?
Bill Creelman 18:26
I think it was just sort of foolish competence, honestly, because ultimately the business was was not all that successful. Hey, it was it was super exciting and fun. And we eventually turned that business into a different business that was successful. But I was I think I just didn’t know enough to realize that I was about to take on a bunch of risks and challenges that we ultimately had. But honestly, like that same energy that I mentioned earlier, I had a pet a dog, I just loved working with the business. The idea of the business was after the smokehouse and harvest became working with local purveyors from from the island of Nantucket.
But even more broadly, we brought in other islands, the arches vineyard and then Cape Cod. And we just loved working with these incredible products, you know, smokers propane and scallops and a local an ice cream manufacturer and, and, and so, honestly, even if we weren’t trying to figure out how to make it into a business, I just the idea of working with them was what was really interesting and that I think that is there’s a thread between Nantucket harvest and Spindrift. It’s it’s still that same way like you know, I just get so much pleasure personally out of working with you know, farmers They’re working with their hands and growing something that’s delicious and, and then we get the opportunity to re reimagine it as a sparkling water. Like, you know that that’s just, there’s something about that idea. That’s really exciting to me. And it’s, you know, and and so that was a harvest was the first time I got to really experience that.
Marc Gutman 20:20
And so what happened with Nantucket harvest? Like, why did that not take off what was hard about it?
Bill Creelman 20:25
So this is right when the internet was starting not to date myself, but it actually worked really well for sort of two months of the year. So October, November, into the beginning part of December, people were buying holiday, thanksgiving and holiday food items to give us gifts or for themselves. The problem was 10 months of the year, when people just in general, and I’d say this is even true somewhat today, like they just don’t purchase those types of products that way around. And so there’s some people that have cracked that, you know, Harry David has done a great job and there are others, he didn’t have the courage to sort of so.
So we just, we would do really well for the holidays. And then in a business spread sort of tail off that the good part about it, though, was we were learning like crazy. And we were meeting all these interesting people and one of the people we ended up putting into our harvest sort of a storm and had a really successful wholesale business, he was making dry rubs, grilling, without the salt and sugar really kind of a progressive product for its time called the anti offshore seasonings and that offshore is what we shortened it to and he became our business partner. So we sort of supplemented our revenue and and spread out some of our her risk and build some efficiencies by adding his product to our to our assortment and offered a year round. And that’s where we first began working with Whole Foods and and we can sit down on a number of other retailers that have become you know, great relationships for us. Long term.
Marc Gutman 22:15
So then what what became of that business so you’re you’re you’ve got as it’s working out for you and the seasonality of the fishing business and bringing those those purveyors together. And then it sounds like the Nantucket offshore the seasoning business that’s really propping things up. But but maybe, maybe, maybe maybe not as much as I interpret it. But like so what, what happens with that with that business.
Bill Creelman 22:38
So as I as I feel like the theme on your show, and just in what I’ve experienced in my career, you end up at the decision point, it’s stuck, you know, somewhere, you can’t do everything well, and now we have a name for we call it simplified amplify. So we we eventually got to a point where we couldn’t operate both successively, and eventually just stopped producing Nantucket, harvest catalogs and sort of, you know, purchasing those wares, and focus our time entirely on Antarctica offshore. The other thing that happened that we had missed is, you know, apart, lock in, and I think but also part that we were well positioned is we came out with a line of cocktail products, it was basically an add on to the crust, the rubs, for grilling, we added rimming sugars, so the sugars that go around the rim of a cocktail glass, but it was just as cocktails are starting to become popular again in the early 2000s.
So they sort of Carrie Bradshaw Sex in the City like cosmos, you know, that that time in our lives, and suddenly cocktails were everywhere. And it was also at the same time to premium spirits are starting to become popular in the US. This is, you know, the advent of kind of great use and Chopin is had a one and absolute and all of these great really high quality spirits did not have a mixer to go with them. He was so all of us interested in cocktails great liquor products, but no mixers and so we we ended up chasing what was started as just to rimming sugar became a whole line of cocktail products called stirrings and stirring this was was really for, you know, four or five years was really kind of whatever this third generation of Nantucket harvests and we really put a lot of time and energy into and we ultimately sold that business to diazo. You know, cut In the mid 2000s,
Marc Gutman 25:02
Well, I love that you forever have like, made me think of that time in history as the Sex in the City Cosmo. But the and we’ll talk about that eggs in just a second. I’m assuming it was a good one. But kind of back to that, that decision point where the why in the road and you had a dream? You know, and you’re, you know, you’ve put a lot of energy into it your fishing boat captain? And was that a hard decision to make to split off and let and talk at harvest go?
Bill Creelman 25:30
It really was I think, you know, later on in my life. The other institutions I think are are clear at that time it was it was really driven by two things. One is we were we were heavily leveraged financially, I mean, I had not really drawn a salary in 10 years, any kind of anything meaningful was sort of living off of my, my wife’s salary and huge amounts of debt, we had had a number of manufacturing issues.
So I would love to say it was like a choice that it was much more of a survival mode, like how do we how do we all keep this going to live to tell. And really, when you looked at a very kind of unbiased view of the p&l of these different businesses, it became pretty clear that the most sensible, reliable choice was going to be in this whole sales, in essence decisions specifically, you know, continuing to focus on on the cocktail products. I think, you know, you, I guess what I would say is like, you make those decisions, in part because you think they’re the right decisions for the business, but the consumer also makes those decisions ultimately, for you. And two cocktail products were purchased, really, outperforming anything else we were doing, we had people calling left and right retailers and consumers saying like, Hey, we, we think this is really neat, would you you know, would you be willing to sell them?
Here, there and really, so the consumer spoke I think loudest, and then the business, you know, from a very cold and calculated point of view, you know, the the sort of, we knew enough by them to say, we want to be in a business that’s less risky and more predictable. Then Then the other business models that we’re playing around with at the time.
Marc Gutman 27:35
Yeah and I can imagine you said was 10 years, you mentioned that, you know, you’re pretty much living off your, your wife’s income from her job. I mean, let’s talk about that for a second, which she said she liked, you know, go bill go or she like, when are you going to, like, stop chasing this fishing thing?
Bill Creelman 27:52
That’s actually a much more interesting interview than this interview. No, she, her point of view is crazy. Really. And, and probably not certainly represented. I mean, you know, this was pretty compelling entrepreneurs, I know that it’s true for all partners. But it was exhausting, frankly, I mean, just, you know, to have constantly be running out of money constantly, you know, sort of setting a timeline, and then not meeting it for whatever, you know, they won’t and next year thing, you know, things will be easier or less challenge. less challenging.
You know, that’s, that is, that is not a fun way to spend your 20s and early 30s. And so, I mean, you know, I don’t know if this is oversharing. But you know, I remember when I when I purchased her wedding ring, you know, I had to purchase it on a credit card, I think it was sort of like 40% interest rate, because my credit was so horrible. So, you know, what, when we were eventually married and began sort of sharing finances, she she got to see the bills coming in at a 40%. Essentially, what, what, who would ever sign up for this? And it was, you know, so the, I think, I think it was it was really hard. And, you know, I am I’m incredibly grateful.
You know, I think part of it was fun and exciting and interesting and different. But, you know, at the very core of me, you have to have someone that’s willing to go on that journey with you. I mean, there’s just, it is not for everyone to have that amount of it’s really the uncertainty. I think it’s so hard, just not really knowing on a day to day basis for planning purposes and, you know, life planning, financial planning, you know, family plan, like you just you really, really are not ever totally Sure, you know, we know what will happen next. And so, yeah, I’m incredibly lucky and grateful. And that’s
Marc Gutman 30:17
A common question I get all the time is Marc, can you help me with our brand?
Yes, we help companies solve branding problems. And the first step would be to schedule a no obligation brand clarity call, we’ll link to that in the show notes, or head over to wildstory.com and send us an email, we’ll get you booked right away. So whether you’re just getting started with a new business, or whether you’ve done some work and need a refresh, or whether you’re a brand that’s high performing, and wants to stay there, we can help.
After you book, your brand clarity call, you’ll learn about our brand audit and strategy process, we’ll identify if you need a new logo, or just a refresh, will determine if your business has a branding problem. And you’ll see examples of our work and get relevant case studies. We’ll also see if branding is holding your business back and can help you get to the next level. So what are you waiting for, build the brand you’ve always dreamed of. Again, we’ll link to that in the show notes, or head over to wildstory.com and send us an email. Now back to the show.
So why didn’t you quit? You know, prior to that, that sale to DOJ or like why like, like 10 years of like uncertainty not knowing, like, grind in and out, like, why didn’t you quit?
Bill Creelman 31:43
We had seen. So when we started years, I don’t know, let’s do five or six years in, as we made this decision to pivot to cocktails, and move away from the male or business and move away from the rubs in focus just from cocktails, I think there was enough now, there that we felt we had to kind of see it through to the end. I mean, ultimately, we were sort of proven right and wrong to a certain extent. I mean, cocktails were very popular for a period of time. And then actually, in the late 2000s, when the economy turned it actually kind of went the other way. And so it was a great lesson, just in our business where food and trends around what people like for a while and then don’t like, you know, that is that is that is a something we are very acutely aware of and are constantly metod, you know, kind of mindful of, but I think I just said to your question more directly, like I think it was, we felt there was enough there.
And I think I think in a sense, you have to be a little bit hard headed to this business. There’s there’s going to be reasons, you know, daily that, you know, this does not make any sense or you hear no are not interested or, you know, sorry, is not the right time. I mean, that’s all you hear her for the early stage of these businesses, from retailers, from, from bankers, from lenders from, you know, investors. So, like challenges, just broadly speaking, are an everyday part of what we do. And so it didn’t feel insurmountable to continue to power through, we ended up you know, we ended up getting approached in it kind of as an investor not to purchase a business with this with a liquor company and that diazo and so that that also helped us believe like, okay, we’re not the only one to think this is an interesting idea. There actually are other people that see this is the same opportunity. And so that certainly was a brief some energy into the room too.
Marc Gutman 34:10
Was that you know, sale to diazo was that like a huge win, like, were you like, Oh my gosh, like,
Bill Creelman 34:17
Yeah, no, it wasn’t I mean, it’s funny. I so, so no, the economy definitely impacted that outcome. And, and model is fine, you know, and exciting to have gone through that. I think it was actually, you know, when you sell these businesses and sell from very hard, you know, your your team ends up sort of going in different directions and you develop such relationship with these brands, they start to become part of you. And you know, I I knew that and I’m even you know, we talked about it just always as a business that you really want to be part of the startups for the product. For the journey, because when you actually get to the experts, you know, it’s usually a law firm at two in the morning on a Tuesday and no one. Not even quite sure.
Did you close? Did you not know what happened? Now? What do we do? And it’s, it’s really challenging, usually. And so, so yeah, in terms of it was, it was it was important to do it, and we’re grateful to them. And you know, but I’d say, looking back on it now with the benefit of, you know, I think it was much more about the learning things and, and making sure that it needs to be move forward that there were, you know, that we, we built the business in a way that was an evolved version of that experience.
Marc Gutman 35:54
So after that, kind of weird, awkward Tuesday, and they told you, you may or may not have closed, and, you know, would you do, like, Well, you know, you had been investing sounds like close to 10 years of your life into something every day. And then what?
Bill Creelman 36:14
Yeah, so we, I, I actually, I was interested in the sparkline space for, kind of, towards the end of my time and started and we had a line of trade URLs and tonic waters that we had come out with. And, and we’ve seen some kind of anecdotal evidence that that was an area that was interesting and exciting to consumers, we didn’t really pursue it all that much. But it was a learning and then I imagined in my mind that I was gonna have this nice long break and clear my head and then really start thinking about it. And I think actually in a good way, I ended up jumping in and, and kind of starting almost right away thinking about sort of in and in part two was a subject that Tiago is actually bringing up a fair amount, you know, they, for the liquor brand they miss, I think it’s something like seven out of 10 drinks are made with a mixer.
So they were thinking about soda and soda going away, which is really a lot of the narrative at the ended 2000s and concerns around sugar and health and what will happen if there’s no more shimmer of soda. And I kind of jumped into that, and out of the big guy coaching her, because I mentioned I grown up, you know, on a farm in western Massachusetts, and was really interested in food, you know, I was like cooking a lot and, and really realizing more than ever, like, interested in health and wellness and ingredients and how ingredients are processed or not processed. I’d also spent some time living abroad at that point. So with the partnership with the audio, I spent two years of London and the Europe they were actually quite far ahead in terms of unprocessed ingredients. So you know, things that we think about pasteurized cheeses, or unpasteurized or milk pasteurized or not pasteurized.
My experience in Europe was that a lot of the things that we really process in the US are significantly less processed over the UK and in Europe generally. So I came back with all of that and started looking at the sparkling space and, and really, I would say like, almost right away, within a month or two realize that is a huge category of sparkling beverages. There were there were really no products that met anything close to the standard of kind of real or unprocessed or that that I was now used to, you know, you see eating, cooking with and that, you know, that’s that’s a really fun moment when you kind of realize that because I had enough information about the packaged food world by them to know you know how to do it or some of it anyway. And in here you had a category that’s enormous and sparkling beverages. And so I didn’t then take any time off. I jumped in with both feet and almost like within a month or two of working, finishing my commitment, Stirling’s I became working on spinner full time just myself.
Marc Gutman 39:46
Yeah, and so let’s kind of like reset the stage here a little bit because I think that everyone listening to this has gone through this. Call it sparkling or seltzer revolution, right, like now having flavored water of some sort sparkling water. Now we have alcoholic seltzers. But really that’s exploded in the last like, I don’t know, this is called five years or something like that. Prior to that this stuff wasn’t really on anybody’s radar. So like, what did this look like? What did the sparkling category look like to you? And what was this like, insight where you’re like, Hello?
Bill Creelman 40:31
It was, you that is a perfect way to paint that picture. Because it wasn’t on anyone’s radar, including ours, honestly. I mean, we, while we jumped into it was both seed starting kind of back end of 2009. And I see we meaning myself, and then thinking about it with, you know, sort of liquid a sort of the liquid kind of development, you know, ingredients, folks that I started to work with, there was no obvious path. In fact, I think the most popular opinion was that sparkling beverages, were going to go away that you were going to have just left the assumption, just because so divided, I was really starting to disappear.
So the thing people couldn’t solve for was caffeine, you know, a lot of soda consumption is based around caffeine and, and having it at a time when you’re looking for a little bit of a left. And in order to replace that, you know, the thought was, okay, well, maybe it’s energy drinks, or maybe it’s iced coffee. So it was this incredible challenge, and just the head scratching challenge. And it wasn’t just, it wasn’t just at the product development level, it really what’s happening at the retail level. And that that’s really where Matt, in the consumer level anticipated the retail for a minute, you know, is a big problem when a product, like a category like soda starts to shrink for retail, and I mean, they, you know, it just is such a big volume driver for them, it takes up so much space in the store. And so one of the fun things that started happening was we started to have conversations with people at the retail level.
And they they were raising a lot of the same questions and wanting to engage in a conversation about how you solve it, you know, what, what’s coming next. And those relationships became invaluable for us. The consumer actually, I think already kind of got it could be looking back when you when you think about when you look at some of those early products and and and what was happening with the regional brands around the country. So you got to remember, we flavored sparkling water, there were there were regional brands or Super Regional brands, exclusively there were there really were no national brands in the beginning. And then there were two international brands and Perrier and San Pellegrino. And that was it, like, you had polar you had a cry in the center of the country. And, you know, mountain valley spring water, you know, you had these sort of strong topo, Chico, these strong regional brands, and then a couple of international. And I think if you were in those markets, at the time, even when we were starting, you probably saw the beginning of that sparkling water, really kind of uptake we didn’t. So we read, we actually started with more of a soda profile.
So we thought the better. But what was going to solve the soda problem with a better soda with a with a soda that had cleaner ingredients that was you know, better for you. So it’s more about whole ingredient approach as opposed, but it had some sugar in it. And actually even our early versions had natural flavors. It was really once we got into a we are two years in 2012. We started in 2010 that we began making the unsweetened version of wheat we were a refrigerated brand for four and a half, five years. And really more soda I would say oriented is here again we we sort of as we began to make the product and then the consumer began to really now voiced their concerns around ingredients and sweeteners.
And we also figured out the production side of the business that’s really where we we jumped in with both feet and actually once again, I guess, retired the soda line so we actually got out completely even though it was actually quite a good business and we decided we wanted to sort of go all in on sparkling water, you know, kind of 2020 1516 that’s that’s when you know that’s when we really begin to focus our all of our energy around This is space. We’re now in today.
Marc Gutman 45:04
And in Where did the name come from? And as you answer that, it might also lead us to you mentioned Hey, like, I started this by myself, shortly thereafter leaving, you know, your your commitment after the acquisition. So where did the name come from? And then what did the growth of the company look like? Like when did it go from, you know, Bill plus somebody?
Bill Creelman 45:30
The name originated from from my days working out on the fishing boat. So I was, I think I was 15 or so. And one of the Catherine’s I was working with, I was the maid on the boat where a charter fishing boat, told me about this word called spindrift. And it was, you know, the way we were getting pounded by surf coming back from grade point out to the far end of the island. And it was a beautiful sunny day, but we were soaking wet. And he said, you know what this is mist is that is blowing off the top of these ways. And I didn’t and he said, Well, it’s called spindrift. And it’s, it’s referring to sort of the whitewash and the wave as, as the wind loads, and it sheared the top of the wave off. And there’s some reason I just thought that word was really interesting.
I don’t know why exactly, it just I thought spin and drift are two kind of fun fun words. And I know why exactly it stopped. But someone was fast forward to when I was thinking of a name for the sparkling water lying in bed, you know, freshing and, and sort of laid in lovely in this sort of thing. I came back to that word, as far as the growth did it for a while, just bought myself for a couple of years. And then it brought on a woman who who was amazing what she did and had it had done an amazing job pioneering other brands. And I had worked with her it’s turnings. And she helped me on the west coast. And so we kind of went at it kind of, on either side of the country. And, and then as we started to get more traction, we brought on an operation person and customer service and began to kind of build up the team more formally. And that is, you know, I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t pause there and say like, the team is really, you know, when you’re when you’re going up against Coke and Pepsi and the National huge multinational like day one, we realized right away that we had to have a strategy that was different than everyone else, like we were not going to win just going right down the middle of the grocery store.
For neither these are these businesses are impenetrable if you take that approach. And so really, like, what what what we did is we sort of held hands together and said, like, we’re gonna come up with a way to try to outsmart or out you know, kind of flank the competition go places that they would not think to go or can’t go because of their consumer or their customer advantage, whatever that was, and, and we still we started, actually in food service.
So we, we really grew up in our brand really got traction early on, in places like sweet green and Panera and chopped and these other, there were a whole, there’s a whole class of food service accounts there, we’re starting to redefine what it meant to have a salad and a sandwich. At the same time, we are trying to redefine what it meant to have a sparkling beverage. And we really partnered on this challenge of redefining this whole experience of consuming, you know, Lunchables really are just having a meal what that meant from an ingredient standpoint. So in that in that same thing happened with some of our retailers like Trader Joe’s and target and Whole Foods and independent retailers like they also that we had a special value for them that cannot be met by some of the bigger guys, the categories like they really got really read and they got, who we were, why we are different and that our brand is meant more to them, or at least was interesting enough that they were willing to give a shot. And that and that that was a really important. Those were really important moments for us.
Marc Gutman 49:40
Yeah, and especially where you’re sitting in your position. Now that all sounds pretty awesome and great, but I can only imagine that you’re sitting around conceiving a new business, you’re like we’re gonna go into a category that no one really knows. We’re gonna go Oh, by the way, part of that category is competing with The biggest brands in the world. And we’re going to evangelize that. Like, let’s go team. And then I’m sure that had to be super terrifying at times. And how did you know that it was actually going to work? Like at what moment? Because I have to imagine there were times you’re like, I don’t even know if this is going to even pull this off.
Bill Creelman 50:21
Yeah, I think you’re always in the recesses of your mind. And I think it’s actually healthy to always be saying, like, we’ve got to keep, you know, we should never sort of rest on our laurels. So I would say we are, we still have that kind of mentality as a group. Even today, I think, I guess, you know, in 2016, we, we cut and moved pretty directly into into the canned format, we had been in glass for a little while we got into the APAC, which is our current configuration, if you see it’s in a retail store today, and we were lucky enough to begin working with, you know, some some local and more national retailers that has sort of put us into the stats now like really for firmly. And one retailer Trader Joe’s, I would say just because it’s a branded product, I didn’t share that, but they, you know, they really are incredibly, you know, gracious with us in terms of in terms of, you know, putting it putting our product out into the world and just without any real, you know, Porsche or any any big advertising campaigns, and they go, Well, how is it gonna sell like, it’s on the show, our people interested or not, and in a product really was really well received. And I think that was probably a moment for us where we said, okay, I think even when we step away from the brand for a minute, not they’re pushing like crazy are sampling or convincing people to have to buy it, you know, every moment of the day, there seems to be some organic excitement about this proposition that isn’t just, you know, fleeting. And that, and that was certainly really important.
Marc Gutman 52:23
And you mentioned packaging, and that you’ve gone through different packaging iterations, like how important they like, and that there’s some shelf space and how Yeah, there’s competition there. Like how important is do you think packaging is to the success of your brand?
Bill Creelman 52:37
It’s, it’s super important. In terms of, you know, it really is the main way you communicate with a consumer, especially early on, you know, you have to have a package that has cuts through the clutter that immediately speaks to someone that has, you know, a shopping cart that’s small, and a kid is screaming, and they’re on their cell phone, like even in that environment, it needs to speak to them somehow. And so, I think, what was a big struggle for us in sort of a proof point in a lot of ways, but but more for God’s sake, that there wasn’t even really commonly understood language for this category.
You know, some people in the northeast, seltzer, some people call it sparkling water, some people call it carbonated, dominated ingredient in the carbon. There was there was no, there was no commonly used vernacular, which is, which is exactly what you want. And in some ways, because it means the category is still maturing, but another way is presented challenges. And I would say the same as with the design aesthetic, you know, it wasn’t as obvious to us. You know, because we have real ingredients, we have a couple of calories. We look at the packaging, every other brand in the category. There’s zeros all over the front of their pack. Because there is no calorific value to a natural flavor.
There’s just just, there’s just a flavor and so we had to figure out how to walk that fine line between making sure was really clear we are sparkling water. So we needed to sit in the right place in the store but also that actually a couple of calories were proof point that it’s got lemons and oranges. Wow. And so that you can imagine the hours and hours of time just thinking about that delicate balance of being recognizable as a sparkling water but also being you know, pretty radically different than you know we have a little color No one’s ever seen color and sparkling water. What’s it doing in this perfectly water aisle?
No one’s ever you know, they just there was so much that was different about our product that had not been tested before. It was quite It was quite scary and but also So we started a loop of face to face with our consumer that we’ve now we have about 550,000 kind of drifters, which is what we call our community. And they we really wanted to hear from them. Like, tell us what you think. And we really think about that as our true north. Now, you know, whenever we launch a product, we sort of talk to them, we run a by them, we get their input. And they also, I think, feel very comfortable with, with sharing their point of view on things like packaging, and what what does it look like? And even with the recent launch of spinner spike, you know, we sort of did all of that kind of with their consumer input, even actually even retailer input, you know, along the way, because I found that that kind of collaboration sets you up much more for success than for going off into a room somewhere and just designing it and debuting and say, here it is, you know, you, you take a lot of the risk equation out of it.
Marc Gutman 56:08
So what’s your favorite flavor of Spindrift? And you know, you can’t say it’s like kids, and you can’t pick one or anything like that, because it’s sparkling water.
Bill Creelman 56:17
On my line. I drink a lot. I drink, I average, six a day, something like that. And so I actually started with strawberry and pineapple kind of the breakfast, these sort of flavors. And then I always have a blackberry with lunch. I have a lemon with an espresso at two o’clock. I’m sort of a creature of habit. And then I sprinkled in half and a half along the way. So I have favorite flavors at certain times of the day. I would say more than an absolute favorite. Genuinely.
Marc Gutman 56:51
Fair enough. I’ll accept that. That’s a great answer. I like that. And so what does the future look like for Spindrift as we’re sitting here and looking forward with? Where are you taking Spindrift? And what are you most excited about?
Bill Creelman 57:04
I think sparkling water is only just beginning. I think it is going to be it already is. But I think 2025 we think it will be the most important subcategory of beverage in our lifetimes. You know, it’s projected now to be somewhere between 25 and $30 billion. But I started the business we’re hoping against like three or four. And I’m including spikes in traditional flavored and all the versions of sparkling water. And so that from that point of view is only kind of 2% household penetration as a brand today, we we think there’s only kind of up from here. So as a business, we’re really preparing ourselves for that kind of growth and thinking about, you know, the the ultimate challenge that you have, as a startup, which is like how do you maintain the culture and kind of the energy and the creativity and compassion, with the backdrop of a bigger business and need systems and all the kind of normalization that you have to have structure Do you have to have as you grow?
So I am We are thrilled, we’re feel so fortunate to be a disposition as a brand, if you’re really optimistic that, that we can really be, you know, one of the brands that sort of leads the way in terms of what the future of beverage will look like, I think it will be very different than the way it used to be when we all sat around and had big two liters of soda in the middle of our table, you know, with every meal. So we’re excited for that.
Marc Gutman 58:45
You think back to that young bill, who was hustling around Western Mass and trying to start businesses and at farmer’s market and doing this and that. If you saw you today, what do you think he’d say?
Bill Creelman 58:58
I think he would say you’re a little crazy, just, you know, the time commitment and, and, you know, the sort of the resources and just anguish required. But I also think, in many ways, they you know, it’s been it will be a worthwhile investment. You know, I think it’s similar to the advice that I’m often asked sort of about by young entrepreneurs, you know, what does all this mean?
How do we afford I think, I really think that even though there was a longer journey for me than I’m sure than other folks who have gotten more efficiently I think there was those next bruises and scars along the way ended up being so valuable, you know, now to help inform decisions and tend to you know, keep keep the boat running the state in the right direction.
Marc Gutman 1:00:04
That is Bill Creelman of Spindrift. It always amazes me how overnight successes take 20 years to build. Also how previous businesses roles and experiences, often ladder up and connect dots to the next great business. One thing that stood out to me was Bill’s comment about how important it is to stand out from the crowd to get the consumers attention in the midst of everything else they have going on. I also thought it genius to not just be thinking about what does my customer drink? But what do they eat? When they drink? What do they eat for lunch? Hmm. salads and light sandwiches. A brand should be there to finding those complimentary and adjacent brands are so important, yet overlooked by many businesses. Start thinking about the entire customer. And you might find an insight that will help you end up being sold at Panera Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as well.
A big thank you to Bill Creelman in the entire spindrift team, keep sparkling. We will link to all things Bill Creelman and spindrift in the show notes. If you know of a guest who should appear on our show, please drop me a line at podcast at wildstory.com. Our best guests like Bill come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. Well that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS see you’ll never miss an episode a lot big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can’t deny.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai