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This Self-Funded Water Bottle Business Is Generating Millions

Business

Although “sleek" and “sexy" may not be terms one would typically ascribe to a water bottle, for Bkr founders, Kate Cutler and Tal Winter, that's exactly how they see their product.


Bkr (pronounced 'beeker') was created from the principals of good design," says Winter. “It's just enough, but not too much. It's restrained and simple. We knew edited minimal design is the most difficult thing to achieve."

What began as an idea for a chic reusable water bottle has today become a robust line of more than 100 iterations of fashionable glass bottles, covered in colorful soft touch silicone sleeves, in sizes that range from Big to Teeny. Bkr is available in more than 20 countries and over 1,000 global doors, including the beauty floors of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. According to the ladies, the multimillion dollar brand has experienced 2,400 percent growth since year one to five, seeing between 114 and 131 percent growth year over year. To be sure, at the core of the Bkr brand is a very purposeful decision to market itself as a beauty product as opposed to a commodity or sports accessory.

Giselle spotted with a yellow BKR bottle. Courtesy of Josie Girl

“Water is the foundation of your beauty regimen," says Cutler. “Even if you buy expensive products, they don't really work if your skin isn't hydrated from the inside. There's some kind of magic to our brand. We tell people it will change how you hydrate forever. If that sounds dramatic you just haven't had one. It actually helps people drink more water."

Photographed in the hands of celebrities like Gisele Bȕnchen, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, it's clear these female founders set out what they aimed to; making a common commodity into a must-have accessory that just happens to be a water bottle.

“From day one we envisioned that we were the 'it bottle,'" says Cutler. “We knew who our customer was; we said she is the 'it girl' and this is the 'it bottle.' Our goal was to build a brand that was consistent with that vision and we never veered away from that."

The idea for Bkr began in 2011 when Winter says she found herself drinking from a ton of disposable bottles, despite knowing that they were not the best option for daily hydration.

“I had the idea because I have always known that drinking water is the the precedent for gorgeous skin," says Tal. “It didn't make sense that intelligent sophisticated people like me and Kate were drinking out of trash. Plastic water bottles are not good for your health and they are not good for the environment."

The two did some guerilla research to see if there were fashionable alternatives to plastic water bottles on the market. What they found were plenty of sports-styled offerings in steel or aluminum, which can be filled with neurotoxins. What was missing was anything that a young, stylish woman would want to carry around in her purse.

“The thing that bothered me the most was that steel bottles smelled gross," says Winter. “They reminded me of the horrible canteens we used in Girl Scouts. I wouldn't drink my wine out of metal so why would I drink water out of it? Knowing what I know now is that steel is three times worse for the environment than even plastic. From the cradle to grave, steel's effect the environment is three times worse. We both have legal backgrounds so one of our strengths is knowing how to thoroughly research something, and steel wasn't a solution for us."

“We wanted something that was reusable, that would be chic, clean, clear, and effortless. We wanted an iconic design that stands the test of time."

-Kate Cutler

The glass Winter and Cutler decided on for their prototype is thick, crystal clear ,“endlessly recyclable," and already about 60 percent recycled. With the goal of creating a timeless shape, the two settled on a soft rounded bottle with a hypoallergenic silicone sleeve, which can be removed and washed separately from the glass component. “If you look under a microscope, plastic is porous so bacteria goes in the material," says Winter. “The bottle, sleeve, and cap are dishwasher safe, so it's so easy to be out the door with a clean bottle."

Bkr founders, Tal Winter and Kate Cutler - Courtesy of Bkr

When It All Began

The two, who met in law school and worked as practicing attorneys before Bkr, joined together with the goal of replacing disposable water bottles. “The very beginning I didn't know what to do," says Winter. “I started talking to people who could mentor me and help me. We hired a designer and put together a pitch and worked with one main advisor, who introduceduse to some engineers and manufacturers. Every day it was one foot in front of the other. You keep pushing yourself, and you just figure it out." After four years of research and development, Bkr officially launched in April, 2011, with five color options. Despite having no website at the time, Cutler and Winter flew to LA to scout potential distribution for their new line.

“We rented a car and went around in different neighborhoods to see [what kind of store] we should be in," says Kate. “We were showing buyers pictures of Bkr on our phones. We just tried to see where it fit; where we wanted someone to discover the brand."

In true startup fashion, the two co-founders took on the customer service themselves, while Winter did the social media for five years. They also did plenty of research to see how exactly they should position the brand, deciding on a luxury fashion accessory. “We're a beautiful design, but at our core we are a beauty product," says Cutler. "We wanted to make sure we were creating a relationship with a customer that was into fashion and beauty."

To keep the line as fresh as possible and to “give cult fans something new and exciting," Winter and Cutler create multiple Fashion brand-inspired seasonal capsule collections per year. “We are pop culture, fashion and magazine junkies," says Cutler. “We go to museums, we pay attention to street chic, runway trends, and we are curious, interested, artistic people. We create what we can imagine. We trust ourselves and if we like something we believe others will too."

According to Cutler some of the best selling shades to date include Naked, a match-with-everything nude, and Tutu, which Cutler and Winter describe as the perfect pale pink. “We are always on the hunt for the more pink," says Winter, adding that nudes, pinks and pale shades tend to sell the most. “We feel we've hit on the best tones of pink." The company, which is completely self-funded, and was started on a $200K friends and family round, is currently made up of about 14 employees, plus consultants and is based in San Francisco. Available in luxury beauty retail doors in 21 countries, Bkr's top markets include Sweden, the UK, Germany, South Korea and Dubai.

“It's a bootstrap self-made company," said Winter. “Neither of us is a risk taker but we are definitely risk takers when it came to being entrepreneurs, but when we go to Vegas we don't gamble." When asked what was next for the brand, the girls didn't give details, but they promise that there is excitement to come.

“There is so much more we are going to do," says Cutler. “We will be growing our product offering in the direction that resonate with our audience within luxury and beauty in exciting different ways."

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Choosing the Right Corporate Structure: Which Business Entity Should You Go With?

Business entities can be defined as the corporate, tax and legal structures which an organization chooses to officially follow at the time of its official registration with the state authorities. In total, there are fifteen different types of business entities, which would be the following.


  • Sole Proprietorship
  • General Partnership
  • Limited Partnership or LP
  • Limited Liability Partnership or LLP
  • Limited Liability Limited Partnership or LLLP
  • Limited Liability Company or LLC
  • Professional LLC
  • Professional Corporation
  • B-Corporation
  • C-Corporation
  • S-Corporation
  • Nonprofit Organization
  • Estate
  • Cooperative Organization
  • Municipality

As estates, municipalities and nonprofits do not concern the main topic here, the following discussions will exclude the three.

Importance of the State: The Same Corporate Structure Will Vary from State to State

All organizations must register themselves as entities at the state level in United States, so the rules and regulations governing them differ quite a bit, based on the state in question.

What this means is that a Texas LLC for example will not operate under the same rules and regulations as an LLC registered in New York. Also, an LLC in Texas can have the same name as another company that is registered in a different state, but it's not advisable given how difficult it could become in the future while filing for patents.

To know more about such quirks and step-by-step instructions on how to start an LLC in Texas, visit howtostartanllc.com, and you could get started with the online process immediately. The information and services on the website are not just limited to Texas LLC organizations either, but they have a dedicated page for guiding fresh entrepreneurs through the corporate tax structures in every state.

Sole Proprietorship: Default for Freelancers and Consultants

There is only one owner or head in a sole proprietorship, and that's what makes it ideal for one-man businesses that deal with freelance work and consulting services. Single man sole proprietorships are automatic in nature, therefore, registration with the state is unnecessary.

Sole proprietorships are also suited to a degree for singular teams such as a small construction crew, a group of handymen, or even miniature establishments in retail. Also, this puts the owner's personal financial status at jeopardy.

Due to the fact that a sole proprietorship entity puts all responsibilities for paying taxes and returning loans, it directly jeopardizes the sole proprietor's personal belongings in case of a lawsuit, or even after a failed loan repayment.

This is the main reason why even the most miniature establishments find LLCs to be a better option, but this is not the only reason either. Sole proprietors also find it hard to start their business credit or even get significant business loans.

General Partnership: Equal Responsibilities

The only significant difference between a General Partnership and a Sole Proprietorship is the fact that two or more owners share responsibilities and liabilities equally in a General Partnership, as opposed to there being only one responsible and liable party in the latter. Other than that, they more or less share the same pros and cons.

Registration with the state is not necessary in most cases, and although it still puts the finances of the business owners at risk here, the partnership divides the liability, making it a slightly better option than sole proprietorship for small teams of skilled workers or even small restaurants and such.

Limited Partnership: Active and Investing Partners

A Limited Partnership (LP) has to be registered with a state and whether it has just two or more partners, there are two different types of partners in all LP establishments.

The active partner or the general partner is the one who is responsible and liable for operating the business in its entirety. The silent or investing partner, on the other hand, is the one who invests funds or other resources into the organization. The latter has very limited liability or control over the company's operations.

It's a perfect way for investors to put their money into a sector that they are personally not experienced with, but have access to people who do. From the perspective of the general partners, they have similar responsibilities and liabilities to those in a general partnership.

It's the default strategy for startups to find funding and as long as the idea is sound, it has made way for multiple successful entrepreneurial ventures in the recent past. However, personal liability still looms as a dangerous prospect for the active partners to consider.

Limited Liability Company and Professional LLC

Small businesses have no better entity structure to follow than the LLC, given that it takes multiple good ideas from various corporate structures, virtually eliminating most cons that are inherent to them. Any and all small businesses that are in a position to or are in requirement of signing up with their respective state, usually choose an LLC entity because of the following reasons:

  • It removes the dangerous aspect of personal liability if the business falls in debt or is sued for reparations
  • The state offers the choice of choosing between corporation and partnership tax slabs
  • The limited legalities and paperwork make it suited for small businesses

While more expensive than a general partnership or a sole proprietorship, a professional LLC is going to be a much safer choice for freelancers and consultants, especially if it involves risk of any kind. This makes it ideal for even single man businesses such a physician's practice or the consultancy services of an accountant.

B, C and S-Corporation

By definition, all corporation entities share most of the same attributes and as the term suggests, they're more suited for larger or at least medium sized businesses in any sector. The differences between the three are vast once you delve into the tax structures which govern each entity.

However, the basic differences can be observed by simply taking a look at each of their definitive descriptions, as stated below.

C-Corporation – This is the default corporate entity for large or medium-large businesses, complete with a board of directors, a CEO/CEOs, other executive officers and shareholders.

The shareholders or owners are not liable for debts or legal dispute settlements in a C-Corporation, and they may qualify for lower tax slabs than is possible in any other corporate structure. On becoming big enough, they also have the option to become a publicly traded company, which is ideal for generating growth investments.

B- Corporation – the same rules apply as a C-Corporation, but due to their registered and certified commitment to social and environmental standards maintenance, B-Corporations will have a more lenient tax structure to deal with.

S-Corporation – Almost identical to a C-Corporation, the difference is in scale, as S-Corporations are only meant for small businesses, general partnerships and even sole proprietors. The main difference here is that due to the creation of a pass-through entity, aka a S-Corporation, the owner/owners do not have liability for business debt and legal disputes. They also are not taxed on the corporate slab.

Cooperative: Limited Application

A cooperation structure in most cases is a voluntary partnership of limited responsibilities that binds people in mutual interest - it is an inefficient structure due to the voluntary nature of its legal bindings, which often makes it unsuitable for traditional business operations. Nevertheless, the limited liability clause exempts all members of a cooperative from having personal liability for paying debts and settling claims.

This should clear up most of the confusion surrounding the core concepts and their suitability. In case you are wondering why the Professional Corporation structure wasn't mentioned, then that's because it has very limited applications. Meant for self-employed, skilled professionals or small organizations founded by them, they have less appeal now in comparison to an LLC or an S-Corporation.