We had the good fortune of connecting with Ryan Emmons and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ryan, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I strongly believe the most important factors behind our success are our ability to communicate effectively and empathetically to one another, as well as the mission, purpose, and impact of our products that make our team that much more excited to wake up each day and get to work. We have a clearly defined set of core values, purpose statement, and brand promises which are the very fabric of our organization, and these are reinforced daily in our all-hands meetings and shoutouts.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We founded Waiakea to create a positive transformation within the bottled water, beverage, and greater CPG industry, moving away from singular profit and towards a triple bottom line model that emphasizes people and planet
Waiakea was the first triple bottom line beverage of its kind at the time, adapting an award-winning platform of healthy, sustainable, and ethical attributes and initiatives. Waiakea’s mission is to sustainably provide naturally alkaline Hawaiian volcanic water with the blessing of indigenous kapuna and konohiki, while contributing to and promoting clean water access, conservation, and education for those in need in Hawai’i and throughout the world.
Waiakea is the first premium water brand in the U.S. to be certified carbon neutral for its many eco-initiatives. These include being the first brand to use 100% RPET (post-consumer recycled/upcycled) bottles that have a 90% smaller C02, energy and water footprint than competitors, as well as using renewable energy to power its bottling operations in Hilo, and prioritizing source sustainability by bottling only .001% of the sustainable yield of ther 1.4 billion gallon per day Kea’au aquifer recharge rate.
For every liter you buy, Waiakea provides a week’s supply of clean water to those in need while contributing to local Hawaiian non-profits in education and conservation through its award-wining Kokua Initiative, which impacted over 20,000 individuals in Hawai’i in 2020 alone.
I’m most excited about all of the sustainable innovation that got us here and will continue to drive the business, but the fact that I can see daily photos and data of the lives our programs have touched on the ground on the Big Island and throughout Hawai’i is perhaps. what I am the most proud of.
It took a lot to get here. The first few years of us having a physical product were just about raw survival and getting to key inflection points or proof of concept points to show that we had a brand that could actually sell, that and figuring out how to develop a complicated supply chain. Once we saw the velocities, it became about long-term strategy, de-risking the business each year, and improving one quarter at a time across all aspects of the company. Implementing the Verne Harnish Rockefeller habits one by one was core to our success.
It definitely wasn’t easy, but it became easier over time, and when you are exposed to so many dramatic hardships early on like we were, it give you an incredible amount of perspective. You realize quickly as a CEO that you are doing a good job if you aren’t facing the same challenges every single year, but thats not to say the challenges ever stop- they just change. We overcame most of those challenges by hiring well, by being able to trust eachother to get things done, and by everyone treating the company as if it were their own. We are 9 years in it now and these have been constants.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am back and forth between LA and Hilo and have been for a decade. I am partial to west-side or the south bay as I have always lived near the ocean. Hiking and Downhill MTB in Topanga Canyon, where I currently live part-time, would set the tone for any trip. There are some incredible secret spots I won’t put on blast here but I think people would be surprised its only 10 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Favorite Beach is probably making the trek to Malibu for some more private, hard to get to, beaches like Little Dume. Sugarfish, Elephante, and Misfit are my favorite spots in Santa Monica but any of the Bacari Restaurants throughout LA are a great vibe with some of the best food in la. Super underrated. Bobby has done an extraordinary job. The Jungle is a super cool walkable area in Playa Del Rey that I’m also a big fan of. I think LA has so much to offer- if you can avoid the traffic ;).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Lots of aloha going out to my entire ohana in Hawai’i and California that believed in our early vision and helped me stay positive in those early years, especially my parents. Major shoutout to the USC Greif Program for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Marshall School of Business who helped me build out the feasibility and business plans while in undergrad on scholarship. That education allowed me to accelerate my entrepreneurial journey right out of college. I will forever be in the debt of teachers like Lori Williams and Patrick Henry. I also had some incredible advisors early on that showed me through their personal experience what to do or not to do, these include Dan Maccombie of Runa and Breck Speed of Mountain Valley. Another shoutout goes to my peers and instructors at the MIT EMP program which I completed several years ago through the Entrepreneurs Organization. That program and the scaling up methodology changed my life, and I recommend it to any entrepreneur trying to build a sustainably scaling business. The biggest shoutout goes to my teams in Hawai’i and the mainland. I have some people that have been with me for 7 years now and I am just continuously pinching myself that I get to work with some of these people. Those relationships have been the best part of this wild ride.