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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."

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.