soulbottles: Forget Plastic!
Did you know that your plastic bottles for your drink to go are not only damaging the environment but also your health? Two guys from Berlin developed a complete toxin-free and very stylish solution to solve this problem. Read More
When you leave the house, do you take something to drink with you? Or do you buy a bottled drink on the go? And what do you take it in? Most of us take a bottle we have around the house (such as an old plastic water or ice tea bottle). The truly evolved among us use a plastic drinking bottle bought especially for the purpose.
But somehow whatever we’re drinking ends up smelling and tasting like plastic. Then there is the fact that plastics emit estrogen-active chemicals into the water we drink, which can lead to undesired breast growth in men (unattractive “man boobs”) and increases the risk of breast cancer in women. And plastic bottles damage the environment. So drink up! Truly clever people therefore often use aluminum or stainless steel bottles. But let’s be honest: they are neither particularly handy nor attractive.
So what are our options if we want to be good to ourselves and the environment and still enjoy the advantages of an attractive accessory?
Two young men from Berlin asked themselves the same question at the end of 2011: Georg Tarne and Paul Kupfer searched the market for plastic-free drinking bottles with a cool design. And came up with nothing. So they began researching how such bottles could be produced and quickly discovered: completely recyclable glass is the most environmentally friendly option. Printed with custom designs, they could become our stylish, trusty companions. When they finished the first run of bottles by hand, they soon discovered many of their friends could not have agreed more and they sold out completely in no time at all. The idea to found a company was born, and soulbottles emerged from these initial experiments.
Taking the first steps
“We have been totally overwhelmed by demand. If you think about the fact that we started the whole thing as a hobby at the end of 2011, and fired the first bottles in the kilns at our university in Vienna, then it has really taken off like a rocket,” Paul tells us. Since the students didn’t have a lot of ready cash to invest, they soon realized that they would only be able to develop their idea with the support of a professional investor.
In summer 2012 an acquaintance committed to financing their start-up. By now the two young men had moved from Austria to Berlin where they began taking the first key steps: “Looking back today, everything seems like it went so fast, easy and was immediately successful – but it was a tough path with a lot of unexpected roadblocks,” Paul recalls. “A lot of glassworks turned us down flat and people laughed at our idea.” “It’ll never work”, “The run is much too small”, “too expensive to produce, not worth it”: The young would-be entrepreneurs had to suffer these and many more similarly discouraging responses at the beginning. Paul finally found a partner in an Italian glassworks: the Italians were delighted by the idea and it didn’t bother them at all that the initial runs would be small. “It is really important to us that all the producers involved are behind the idea and our product! They have to understand and represent the spirit of soulbottles,” Paul explains. It took around six months before all the manufacturers they needed were on board.
Money, money, money – the first major production run through crowdfunding
Now that they had finally found manufacturers to work with and the designers were in the starting blocks, things got really serious: They needed the money for the production costs to be able professionally produce the first run of bottles. So they kicked off a crowdfunding campaign which was the true test of the idea’s merit: Was anyone outside their circle of friends even interested in soulbottles? Enough to spend money on them?
“We made a conscious choice to limit the crowdfunding campaign to just four weeks, March to April 2013. We figured that people would either respond immediately and offer their support or it would be a complete dud. If that happened, we wanted to go ahead and rip that band aid right off.”
Paul is not a fan of long crowdfunding campaigns in general: “The longer it runs, the less sure you can be that people will really support you. They say ‘hey cool, I’ll come back to this’ then forget all about it and you lose your chance. To procrastinate is human, and people tend to put things off. And there is another negative effect: at some point people begin thinking ‘if they haven’t got their act together yet, they never will!’ – and don’t want to be involved anymore. I would advise anyone considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to choose a short time period.”
Paul and Georg took advanced orders through their campaign and raised a total of 26,000€ - enough to finance the first run of 20,000 bottles.
Up and running!
Just before the first bottles were scheduled to be delivered in October 2013, the entrepreneurs suffered a serious, unexpected setback: the printers bailed with almost no notice in favor of another more lucrative order. A new printer had to be found in record time! They successfully cleared that hurdle too and the first 20,000 bottles arrived in October 2013.
“Back then we were renting a teeny, tiny room in a co-working space. We stacked 10,000 bottles there and five of us packed them for delivery as fast as we could. You couldn’t even really turn around in there,” Paul recalls those exciting weeks. In January – not even three months later – the first run was completely sold out. And Georg and Paul took the plunge into the freelance world: without a part-time job, without a net or fallback plan.
Today, just one year after the first run was delivered, Paul and Georg employ over ten people. And they want to withdraw from the operative business bit by bit to give them time to develop other ideas and projects with the same mission as soulbottles: to entice people to act sustainably.
A daily dose of arsenic
Georg and Paul don’t just want to make bottles that are better for the environment. They also want to increase awareness that there are regions of the world where the quality of the tap water is excellent, so it makes no sense to spend money on bottled mineral water.
In countries like Germany, England and the USA in particular, quality control of tap water is often much stricter than for bottled water: While the water that comes out of the tap is tested for bacteria daily, the quality of bottled water is only tested once when it is bottled. Whether bacteria multiply over the course of the supply and storage chain is not tracked at all. For old people, children and anyone with a preexisting condition this can have serious detrimental consequences for their heath. Another example: in Germany the threshold for arsenic (yes, the poison we all know from mystery novels…) in tap water is 10µg/l. In mineral water it is 50µg/l. If you are suddenly finding your bottled water a bit hard to swallow, you could still use it to water the houseplants – your geraniums will thank you.
Whether they are working to raise awareness or on new projects – we can’t wait to see what these two have planned next.
In the market for a soulbottle? Check out https://www.soulbottles.com and find your favorite – or create your own using the configurator.
Bottles can be ordered through the online shop and soulbottles delivers worldwide. The bottles are currently only available in retail stores in German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), though marketing in additional European countries like England is currently underway. The long-term plan is to ensure soulbottles are available around the globe.