CLEAN BOTTLE Sat, 05 Jul 2014 08:59:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Getting to “Yes” Thu, 14 Feb 2013 20:29:03 +0000 Here is the reality – most buyers you approach are going to say ‘no’.  I talked with one buyer at a large grocery store.  She said that she automatically says ‘no’ to everything that comes across her desk, no matter what it is.  She uses this as a filter, because most people will just give up at the first ‘no’, and it will help her separate the people who really want to be in her store from those who don’t.

Crazy – but true.

So how do you get a buyer to say yes?  I’ve asked a ton of buyers this question and here has been their feedback:

1) Be persistent.  Buyers have told me that in certain seasons and at certain times they are looking for certain things.  So, they may say no to the Clean Bottle, not because they don’t like the product, but because they aren’t looking for bottles at the moment.

So treat ‘no’ as a ‘not now’ and check in with them every 2 weeks.  Shoot them an email to let them know about product developments, recent press, whatever.  Find a way to be top of mind, so when they are actually looking for water bottles your name will be the first one that comes up.

If there is one universal truth it is this – people are LAZY.  I am lazy, I’ll admit it.  So make it EASY to do business with you.  Update them frequently, make your emails easy to read (4 sentences max with short sentences).  Don’t include PDF attachments in the emails or links – the buyers won’t click on them.  Make them jpegs that you can just embed in the email so they see them right away.

2) Be visible.  I think this is mostly the same as being persistant, but slightly different.  You want the buyer to always be aware of your product.  One way to do this is to email them.  But what are the other ways?

How about getting your product to everyone in their company.  I visited a buyer and brought a whole case of Clean Bottles – with their company’s logo on them.  I handed them out to every employee I could find and to the lady at the front desk.  So now – the buyer is going to see all of her colleagues using the Clean Bottle, so the product is top of mind.  It seems less ‘foreign’ to her because everyone is using it.

3) Show them traction.  In addition to keeping a buyer updated on product development / PR let them know how your product is selling.  They like to see sales data because it helps mitigate risk on their end.

4) Be consistent.  This whole process is about consistency.  If you were training for a marathon you’d have a much better chance at success if you ran for 4 hours a week for 5 months, than tried to run 15 hours a week for 3 weeks.  It is the same thing as pitching to a sales person.  You have to consistently keep them updated and be top of mind for them.  You never know when they will need a product in your category, so you need to consistently reach out to them.

At Clean Bottle our goal is to contact the buyers at our key accounts / prospects every two weeks.  So every two weeks we are emailing them or sending them something.  Every Friday we send out a summary to each other of our weekly activities and every employee has to list their top accounts and the date they were last contacted.  It is a great forcing function for us to make sure we are being consistent.

Thats it for me – good luck!

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How to Find a Manufacturer Tue, 13 Nov 2012 05:37:52 +0000 Okay so you got your product idea, you’ve developed a prototype and judged consumer demand. Now you have to manufacturer it. What do you do?

For me, this was the hardest part of the equation and the area that I’ve made the most mistakes.

With the Clean Bottle, at first at least, I assumed that I had to make the product in China because, well, that is where everything is made. I asked a bunch of people what to do and they told me to try to find a sourcing group.

Basically, a sourcing group takes your design, shows it to a bunch of factories and helps you select the right one. They then work with the factory to get the product made. The sourcing group makes money because they upcharge you a certain percentage (probably 10-20%)per unit once you start shipping.

The upside of this arrangement is that you don’t have to pay anything up front (usually). And you have someone on the ground looking after things for you. The downside is that you don’t work directly with the factory. You work through a sourcing group. This means that you don’t own the relationship, and more importantly there is a greater chance for miscommunication because you are relaying your ideas and change requests through a sourcing group and onto the factory.

Getting Clean Bottle made in China was a painful experience. The first two factories my sourcer selected kept telling me “if you just made it so the bottom doesn’t come off it would be a lot easier to make”. They didn’t understand what I was trying to do. More than the language barrier, there was the consumer mindset barrier. I couldn’t translate to them, even with the sourcing group helping, what the American cycling consumer wanted.

Working with a factory is a very unique experience. As consumers we are used to being in control. If we don’t like a restaurant or a store, we have a million different options to choose from. Not with a factory. In China, there were only a handful that made water bottles. And they were used to making a standard design and making them hundreds of thousands at a time. Why would they shut down those factory lines, do a bunch of re-tooling and re-learning, to make my first 5,000 unit order?

So with a factory you are the vendor as much as the consumer. You have to be patient with the factory and sell them on the potential as much as they are selling you.

It is also VERY important to thoroughly vet the factory you are looking to partner with. This is the most important relationship you will have in business. You need to call all of their customers, examine all of their previous products and make absolutely sure they are the right people. This is another downside of using a sourcing group – you have to rely on them to do the vetting. This is why it is important to carefully vet your sourcing group, and also come up with a detailed list of questions the sourcing group should ask the factory. Don’t just blindly trust the sourcing group – no one knows your product and can anticipate the manufacturing challenges better than you.

People complain that things in China are poorly made and that you should always make stuff in America because of the higher quality and better ethics. This is not necessarily true. There are good and bad factories everywhere. Some of the best products in the world are made in China (Apple). For example, I eventually started making Clean Bottles in the US and the factory I first selected turned out to be horrible and unethical. When I tried to get my molds back they wouldn’t return them until I paid them a huge fee. It was a nightmare.

A note about China vs USA. By far, your preference should be to make the product in America, especially if it is something novel. This isn’t because the factories are necessarily better or more ethical, but because the communication is so much easier. You can explain to the American factory what you want out of a product much more easily than you ever could to a Chinese factory. It is easier to travel to the factory. You also don’t have to use a sourcing group as a middleman. Even if it is more expensive, the quality and time to market is worth it – and you can always move internationally as your volume grows. Plus you are keeping more jobs in the United States. If you can do it, do it – but just beware that just because a factory is in America doesn’t mean it is an amazing factory.

Sometimes you just can’t make a product in America. With our new metal bottle, the Square, we searched for 6 months to try and find a factory to make our bottle. Eventually we found a metal factory who would quote the project, but we had to totally re-design the bottle to make it work for them. And even then, the price they wanted would make the bottle close to $80 retail AND they wanted a guarantee of $1M in orders. As much as I tried – it just wasn’t viable in this situation.

With our Clean Bottle we were able to find an American factory at a reasonable price, and many of our bottles are now made there. So it just depends on the type of product. But when possible, always make the product in America, not just for patriotic reasons but for practical reasons.

So here is the summary:
- try to get it made in America if at all possible
- vet your factories like you would your future spouse. This is the most important business relationship you will ever have
- consider using a sourcing group to find factories abroad. But make sure to vet the sourcing group as well
- when you do find the right one SELL THEM on your vision and opportunity. The best factories will have plenty of business and are taking a risk on you by working with you.
- pre-define, in writing, the purchase price of your product and the conditions under which that buy price can change (increase in materials cost, labor, etc). If you don’t, then they can raise the price on you and they have all the leverage

Thanks it – thanks for reading and let me know if you have questions!

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Stage 16: Getting stung Wed, 25 Jul 2012 13:12:25 +0000 Today Ben & I headed into the mountains for the final two stages of our trip.  I’ve had a great trip, but after two weeks of living out of a van on the side of a road, I’m definitely ready to get home.

The route was pretty crowded because these last two stages were largely taking place along the same route, so most people were there for a few stages.

We found a spot on a steep part of the mountain and set up the tent.  Right across from us were three Belgians – Simon, Frederick and Annabel.

“How are you doing?” Simon said.  “We’ve been camped out for 3 days already waiting for the Tour.  We have everything set up.” “That is the kitchen”, he said as he pointed to the stove”, “this is our living room” he said as he pointed to his car, “and that is the bathroom” he said, as he pointed to exactly the same spot as we had put up our tent.

If that wasn’t awesome enough, we noticed that there were probably 8 bee hives that someone had put up to harvest honey.

Yeah, thats the beehives next too our campsite. We aren't the smartest people in the world.

“Don’t worry about the bees” Simon said.  “I’ve only been stung 4 times.”

Just as he said this a bee flew into Ben’s long hair.  Ben his a pretty mellow guy but he flew away from the campsite like a bat out of hell trying to get the bee out.  He ran up and down the road for a good 5 minutes trying to get it out.  He ended up getting stung twice.

That was the cue we needed to get the hell out of that campsite and find someplace else, which we did.

This is the place we ended up staying at. Which also looks like the world's most scenic used RV lot.

The stage went well, both Ben and I ended up getting on TV!  Its our 4th stage in a row of getting on, so we are on a roll.

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Rest Day: France vs USA Mon, 23 Jul 2012 21:47:51 +0000 There are a lot of differences between France and the US.  In some instances I think France has it right, in other I think the USA does it better.

Let me break down a few examples:

Countryside:  I DEFINITELY give this to France.  The small towns are quaint, beautiful and peaceful.  It seems like the countryside, at least in Northern California where I live, is filled with meth labs and marijuana farms.

Not a crystal meth lab in site!

Showers.  The USA has this one.  Almost all of the French showers I’ve been in haven’t had any shower curtains and the shower head was basically a hose you had to hold with your hands.  Hey France – do you actually like having your bathroom covered in water after you shower?

Diet.  I’ll give this one to France.  All the people eat bread and pastries but they aren’t fat.  Yet all of the USA is on the Atkins Diet and most of us are morbidly obese.  Someone please explain this to me.

Roads.  Again, France.  All the roads are well maintained, and people actually move to the right when you want to pass them.  In the USA, not so much.

Cafes.  Definitely giving this to the US.  Nothing beats a nice pastry and some coffee.  But in France you have to buy them at two different places.  The pastry shops don’t sell coffee and the cafes just sell drinks.  Come on guys!

Store hours.  Again, the US has this one in the bag.  Most stores in France, at least where I was, close from 12-2 and after 5 pm.  These are also basically the only times anyone can go shopping.

Today we had a great rest day.  We FINALLY got some laundry done, which was just in time, considering that I had zero clean clothes.  I ended up doing laundry at the laundrymat totally shirtless.

Wash! Wash! Wash!

On to the Pyrenees!

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Stage 13: Texmex Tartar Sun, 22 Jul 2012 07:55:45 +0000 Again, there was a ton of traffic getting off the mountain.  Ben and I were sick of 18 wheeler / roving drunk Europeans ruining our sleep so we decided to grab a hotel room for the evening.  It was also nice to grab a real shower and shave my beard and layers of sunblock from my face.

By the time we showered the only place open for dinner was Buffalo Grill.  Its this crazy French spin on a TGI Friday’s type of restraurnt but with an Americana spin.  Everywhere in the building were weird photos of scantily clad women with American flags.  And at the entrance they had several TVs with footage of the Grand Canyon playing on loop.

Is this what the French think America is all about?

We ordered a few hamburgers, although we were very tempted to order the TexMex Tartar, which looked like a loaf of raw hamburger patty topped with guacamole.  That’s definitely a classic American meal.

Ben made sure to order our hamburgers medium well.  I took one bite and almost spit it out – it was basically raw.  Ben explained to me that what the French consider well done is much different from our version.  They also don’t like ketchup much, which is something I can’t live without.  I think I need to write a letter to Buffalo Grill to get them to sort out their “American” experience.

We got up early and headed out to try and catch the only climb of the stage.  It was a flat day but there was a short, steep climb through the town of Sete along the coast of the Mediteranian.

We got an early start but again were slammed by traffic, this time due to Bastille Day.

We got to the town with about an hour to spare.  The climb was amazing, it was a short steep kicker right through the middle of town.  I thought about running but the riders were going way too fast, so I just decided to try and give the camera a good wave.

It took me about half an hour before I could get off the costume.  Children in the crowd kept coming up and asking for photos.  I felt like Mickey Mouse at Disneyland or something.

You can tell a lot about someone by how they react to you when you are dressed up as a mascot.  Most people laugh and want to give you a hug or a high five.  But some people try and harass you.  I even had one lady at the Tour of California come up to me and say “I don’t know why, but I want to punch you”.  Hmmmm, something tells me she has some childhood issues she needs to sort out.

In France most people are cool.  However, there seems to be a crowd of angry Australians that I see on the stages.  They are usually drunk and carry around some type of rendering of a kangaroo with boxing gloves.  And they usually try and lightly punch me in the stomach.  Who knows, maybe they are upset that Cadel isn’t doing well, but jeez Australians chill out and show Bottle Boy some love!

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Stage 15: “What is in the Bag?” Sat, 21 Jul 2012 04:47:20 +0000 The most annoying part of this trip, by far, is all the questions I get about Bottle Boy.  I carry him in a big black bag that I wheel around.  Every other person I pass asks me something – the problem is that I don’t speak French so I have no way to respond to them.

I learned the French word for mascot, which conveniently is “mascot”, but when I respond to their questions by saying “mascot” it just invites more questions.  Then, when I don’t respond I come off looking like a jerk.

"What's in that bag???"

So, after some trial and error I’ve come up with a workable solution.  When anyone asks me about the bottle I just say something totally unintelligible but that sounds French.  They get very confused and think I misspoke, but by the time they realize it, I’m gone.  It’s also a ton of fun to say things in a crazy French accent that arent’ actually French but sound like they should be.

Here are some of the responses I’ve used when people ask me what is in the costume:

“D’Giorno!”   – yes, the name of the frozen pizza.  It sounds great with a dramatic French accent.  Plus it cracks me up that I am telling people that I am carrying around a bunch of frozen pizzas and they have no idea what I am talking about)

Bobali!! – not as good as D’Giorno, but it continues with my pizza theme.


Vidal Sasson! – try it with a French accent, it sounds great!

Barbizon! – yes the modeling school.

McFlurry! – continuing with the McDonalds theme.  For some reason anything with a “Mc” before it sounds great.

Boisons! – this is actually the French word for “beverage” but I say it with a thick Midwestern accent so it sounds totally unintelligible.

I could go on for a while here, but I’m sure you are getting the point.  Yes, we have A LOT of time on our hands!

Back to the stage.  It was a flat day today so we parked along the only cat 3 climb.  I heard I got on for a split second, which was nice.  We also ran into a bunch of British guys, one of whom was pretty interested in being Bottle Boy next year.  That would be great – 3 years is plenty for me and having someone relatively local would save a lot on flights and shipping costs.

We saw this stairway near where we parked. And I thought running with Bottle Boy was dangerous!

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Stage 14: The One Thing the French Aren’t Lazy About Thu, 19 Jul 2012 20:16:57 +0000 Today was the first day in the Pyrenian Mountains.  The Pyrenees are in southern France, on the border of Spain.  It was nice to hear a few “amigos” tossed in with all the “amis” I usually hear along the road.

Once again Ben & I got in late.  We arrived at the foot of the climb around 11 pm.  We were DETERMINED not to sleep next to the main road and be buzzed by 18 wheelers again, so we went down a side road and parked there.

We were setting up when 3 french guys asked us for a flashlight.  We got to talking and they invited us to their camp site for some bourbon.  It was Ben’s birthday, so we couldn’t say no!

I’m beginning to realize that the Tour de France is basically like college football to the youth of France.  They show up to the event really early so they can tailgate and drink all day.  The three guys we met – Simon, Jason and Julien – had been drinking since 7 am that day.  And that was the day BEFORE the Tour!  You can say what you want about the work ethic of the French, but they definitely aren’t lazy about their Tour tailgating.

I chatted with the three French guys and managed to pour out my bourbon on the ground when they weren’t looking.  It was tasting like the diesel gas we’ve been using for our car this trip.

We went to bed around 1 and they were still up.  When we got up at 9, the three of them had been up for an hour already, still working on their bourbon.  I hope liver transplants are covered in the French healthcare system.

We had a great ride up to the top of the Mur de Peguere.  The climb overall was about 10k, but the last 4 k were between 12% and 18% grade.  Unbelievably steep.  And the roads were incredibly narrow with no shoulder on them.

Ben and I had a great run in the costumes and managed to get on TV twice.  They even had a shot of me waving to the peloton as they went by.

On to the next stage – 3 more to go until we are done!

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Stage 12: When All Else Fails, Drink Coffee Mon, 16 Jul 2012 21:55:20 +0000 After nearly getting run over last night I was determined to find a bit of a safer spot.  But there was a 3 hour traffic jam getting off the mountain so we didn’t make it to the climb for the next day until 1:30 in the morning.  The shoulder was super narrow and steep, so we parked right behind a big RV and set up the tent between the RV and the car.  This way we figured we’d be protected by the two cars if a crazy 18 wheeler ran off the road!

I think Ben was a bit sick of snuggling up to me, so he slept outside.

Sure enough, 18 wheelers were blaring up the mountainside all night.  And again, there were more drunk Europeans singing through the night.  And if things weren’t noisy enough, there were some local French joy riders who drove up and down the mountain blaring their horn at every parked car.  It was basically a scene from Mad Max out there.

If all this wasn’t enough, in the middle of the night it started raining.  Ben had taken a sleeping pill so he was knocked out.  But eventually either the rain or the 18 wheelers or the drunk Europeans or the joyriding Frenchmen knocked him awake.  He hopped into the tent, soaking wet and freaked out by all the pandemonium.  And I felt like I was sleeping next to a wet dog for the rest of the night.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a restful sleep.

Ben and I rode 20 k to the finishing town in search of coffee and croissants to wake us up.  We went to a great café and had a few coffees each and watched the start of the Tour on the large screen the town had set up in the square.

The day definitely got better after a few coffees . . . .


. . . and a few of these.

After two days in the mountains the stage was relatively flat and the climb was short.  We ran as best we could but the riders were flying and we didn’t get on TV.  Hopefully tomorrow

PS – the day did end well though, with a trip to McDonalds.  You can even order from a kiosk inside the restaurant, although they haven’t quite sorted out the translations (see below).


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Stage 11: When 18 Wheelers Attack Sun, 15 Jul 2012 20:05:36 +0000 Today’s stage was the first mountain top finish of the Tour.  It finished after 18 kilometers of climbing at the mountain top resort of La Toussuire.

We got off the Colombier pretty late so by the time we got to the top of La Toussuire, the climb it was close to 11 pm. As we made our way up the climb we had to dodge numerous packs of drunk Norwegians who were roaming the mountain.  I’ll give full credit to the Norwegians – they are definitely proud of their country.  All of them had shirts or shorts that looked like the Norwegian flag and most were also either carrying a flag or wearing some type of Viking hat.

We finally found a little spot right next to the road.  Exhausted, we quickly put up the tent, had a quick glass of wine and hit the sack.

Over the course of the night I probably woke up 10 times from huge trucks blaring past us.  They have trucks going up the mountain all night getting ready to set up and they certainly aren’t quiet.

When I got out of the tent the next morning I realized that our tent was probably 3 inches from the side of the road.  So basically huge 18 wheelers were going 30 mph probably a foot away from my cranium all night.

Ben & I kitted up again and got ready for our second 20+ kilometer climb in 2 days.  There were amazing views around every corner.

Our "office" for the day. Not a terrible view

I got the Bottle Boy costume on and wandered up the road.  Of course, there were a bunch of drunk Norwegians on every corner and on my corner all of them were wearing fake beards and Viking helmets.  I ended up running along with them when the peloton came by – they did a good lead out actually.

Next stage we are heading to a small climb in the town of Ardoix, wish us luck!

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Stage 10: Hanging at the Belgian Night Club Sat, 14 Jul 2012 18:12:58 +0000 Wow.  It is Tour time again!  I can’t believe it.

This year I travelled to France with my friend and cycling teammate, Ben Dodge.  For the last 3 years I’ve gone with a different friend each time.  Each time they tell me how much they loved the trip – and each time they are mysteriously busy when the Tour rolls around.  The trip is a blast, but it’s a lot of work as well.  I am going to need some more friends soon!

Even with Bottle Boy and the bikes, there is PLENTY of room in the van!

For today’s stage we went to the Colombier, which some say is the toughest climb in all of France.  It is a lot of sections of 12% grade, for about 12 miles.

Ben & I drove up and down the mountain the day before looking for a place to park.  Finally, we saw an opening to a grove where a bunch of cars were parked.

We turned in and were immediately greeted by two things that would be odd to find anywhere but at the Tour.  The first were two VW Westfalia vans that were converted into bars complete with several taps.  The second were three female mannequins adorned with Belgium national team jerseys.

So we had basically been transported to a Belgian night club perched on the side of a mountain.

Hanging with the Belgian Ladies

Ben and I set up camp and settled in for some sleep.  The Belgians had other plans though.  They had a stadium quality speaker system and they blasted techno until 4 in the morning.

Ben and I woke up around 8, suited up and went down the mountain and back up.  What an intense, but beautiful climb.

We got back around 11 and most of the Belgians were still asleep.  The ones that were awake were huddled under a tent and were slowly sipping some Duvel to wake up.  Techno was still playing but it was decidedly more mellow.

Ben and I set up along the road and ran with the riders.  I heard we even got a sweet helicopter shot on TV.

Riding Clean at the top of the Colombier!


On to Toussuire!

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