I recently met David Mayer, CEO of Clean Bottle on a lunch time 6-mile run. He and I crossed paths in the technology world a long time ago when we both had a brief stint at Juniper Networks. He moved on to IronPort which then got acquired by Cisco, while I went on to start my own company Mu Dynamics. After 7+ years, Dave started Clean Bottle which has gone on to become a major hit and is now available in many sporting stores including REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Performance Bicycles. In fact, I saw a stack of Square Clean Bottles (and the regular ones) at the Zombie Runner store in Palo Alto just the other day. As a technologist turned CEO of sporting goods, I was super curious how Dave made the transition. Not everyone switches (such radically different) industries and then goes on to be incredibly successful. Most people stay in their comfort zone and build a career doing the same thing for years on end. So how did he pull this off?
Q&A for Clean Bottle’s CEO, David Mayer
Our original plan was to get together for a lunch, when Dave suggested that we run instead. What a great idea for a meeting! I really need to do this more. Not only is it healthier, but keeps your pace in check while having a wonderful conversation. So we met during lunch hour at Rancho San Antonio and ran the Wildcat Loop at an easy pace, catching up after many years. Dave looked fit having run a couple of recent Ironman’s.
K: What are some of your recent races?
DM: Ironman Cabo San Lucas (March) and Ironman St George (last may)
K: What was your inspiration behind Clean Bottle?
DM: I am a cyclist and I use a lot of water bottles. Every so often I would forget to wash one out and when I’d go to use it it looked like a science experiment at the bottom. I’d have to chuck the bottle.
K: You went from the tech world to making athletic goods. What was the hardest part?
DM: I think the hardest part was the transition from a big company where you just focus on one little piece of the business, to doing everything – bookkeeping, manufacturing, sales. You had to go from musician in the orchestra to the conductor. I had to learn a lot on the fly and set up the systems to get the business running. And since I didn’t know much about many of the roles I was doing I had a ton of learning to do.
K: How long did it take to produce the first version?
DM: Almost three years.
K: What mistakes could you have avoided during the prototyping stage?
DM: I think your relationship with your factory is the most important business relationship you will have, especially for a small hard goods manufacturer. You need them more than they need you. I would have been more careful about vetting the first factories I worked with because they didn’t turn out well and we had to switch factories 4 times.
K: How relevant was your tech background in starting this non-tech company?
DM: It was more my role as a Product Manager that was helpful because I was exposed to different areas of the business and in managing a project. Technology in general I thought was good because it is a nimble category. You move fast. That helped me in my small business.
K: Where can one buy CleanBottles?
DM: Online at cleanbottle.com or REI, Dicks’ Sporting Goods and Performance Bicycles. Also check out our new metal bottle the Square. We raised $126K for it on Kickstarter and we just won a Red Dot Award for it, which is kind of like the Academy Awards for Industrial Design.
K: How did you manage to pull off the Bottle Boy at Tour De France?
DM: Piece of advice – better to ask for forgiveness than for permission!
In case you haven’t seen this video, it’s a riot. Dave dresses up as the Bottle Boy and crashes the party at Tour De France. What an awesome way to launch a product!
Do you use the Clean Bottle? What do you think of it?
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