Every month we highlight an entrepreneur that inspires us. This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jussi Oksanen the founder of Mizu for our Entrepreneur Series. Mizu is founded on the mission of providing active people with smart hydration and drinkware options. The company partners with brands like Nixon, Volcom, Electric, CAPiTA, Poler, Roark, Girl & Chocolate Skateboards and Burton. Not only does Mizu support eco-friendly living, but it’s also involved in charitable efforts including creating pink bottles to support Boarding for Breast Cancer and many other efforts.
Interview with Mizu Founder Jussi Oksanen
SK: You started your career as a snowboarder and then became passionate about eliminating single-use plastic bottles. You mention in your LinkedIn profile that fellow snowboarders wanted, but couldn’t find, a great reusable bottle. Apart from the desire to help satisfy this need, was there a specific defining moment that encouraged you to found Mizu?
JO: I’m from Finland. In Finland, you don’t have plastic bottles, everything is reused, recycled. When I moved here I would see people ship bottles of water to their houses every week. Brand awareness is high in snowboarding and you only rep the brands you believe in. When I was using plastic reusable bottles, it just didn’t make sense to me, I don’t fit with that. When we started Mizu, it wasn’t a business decision, it was something that fit our lifestyles, something we wanted to do to convert our friends [to reusable bottles]. The first design was matte black, which stood out. Our friends loved it, so we made more.
Once we wanted to make a business out of it, we didn’t have a business plan, but in three years, we were doing work for Hurley, Burton and others. But it started costing money, especially because my partner and I were traveling for snowboarding.
Around 2010 we started approaching it in a different way. What kept me going through those years was my mentor, Chad DiNenna from Nixon. He would give me a to-do list. It was always a tangible checklist – it was enough to get things going. The next step was finding a CEO. We started interviewing people and met Tim Pogue who started Ride Snowboards. He already had a job, but we met and I convinced him with passion, I think. It took a year to structure everything and we created a business plan. We raised money and built a foundation. Then we reached out to friends and family and after that did proper fundraising.
Mizu Founder, Jussi Oksanen. Photo credit: Mizu
SK: When founding the company, did you develop specific core values to maintain as your company grew?
JS: We were really specific from the start. We never wanted to preach and there was a lot of preaching going on at the time. We’d rather focus on cool branding and a great product and convert people that way versus telling them to do the right thing. We never want to point fingers. It’s more us doing our thing and inspiring people. Our slogan has always been ‘Enjoy the journey, leave nothing behind.’
SK: Which is more difficult: snowboarding or building a company?
JS: The company! It’s hard. If I started a company again, it would be different. I learned so much. But if it’s too easy, what’s the point? We could’ve focused on gloves or goggles and could’ve done well. But now it’s the purpose-driven element that helps [move our business forward].
SK: What did your career as a snowboarder teach you about being an entrepreneur?
JO: Persistence. You just have to keep going. You fall and you have to pick yourself up and go. You can’t give up. Marketing-wise, too, it helped to be associated with Burton snowboards (I was with them for 15 years). I learned valuable marketing lessons without realizing it. Being around a big company like that you pick things up along the way.
SK: Did you have specific outreach or relationship-building strategies to encourage surfers, snowboarders and other like-minded people to engage with Mizu? Or was it organic growth?
JS: In action sports we have a license for Volcom, Electric, Nixon and more, so those made sense. They were friends of ours already. Now we’re going into the outdoor world and that’s a new thing. When I was at the OR show (The Outdoor Retailer Show), there were people that used to work for Burton that I knew there. It’s all relationship-based. This flows all the way down to advocates. I would never want an advocate who is a big name guy but doesn’t believe in what we’re doing. It’s not worth it. It’s important that [potential advocates] get behind what we’re about.
Mizu founder Jussi on top of the world. Photo credit: Mizu
SK: When building a business, what makes a successful foundation?
JO: Chad helped lay the foundation as a brand. It’s important to be hardcore about decisions, about what you do as a brand that helps the business grow and sustain. Like any company, you have so many different avenues. A lot of it was timing, because you can’t rush into things. You have to build your foundation with the brand. If you’re action sports and then you’re doing yoga — who are you? We’re shifting to focus on outdoors, but we’re still bringing that element of where we come into the outdoor world: It’s always been about adventure. It’s just a bit of a different tone, but it is a challenge with the sales channels. We’re hardcore action sports. We’re starting to build how we can grow into outdoors. We don’t have the personal connections so we have to teach the reps to make the sale. As far as the licensing, we’re well-covered in action sports, and now it’s about who can we partner up with in the outdoor world.
SK: What’s the biggest challenge your company faces?
JO: Social media. Over a year ago, we decided to focus more on it. It’s hard because we had to maintain quality photos. But now our advocates and ambassadors know what we’re looking for. We’ve started working with a lot of photographers, like Chris Burkhart, and he generates a huge amount of content. This helps with other photographers because they see Chris participating. As far as the ambassadors, it’s been organic. People want to be part of our brand and that’s really cool. The way we see social is building a community and the stronger the community you have, the more influence you’re going to have. Instagram is more visual – epic photography – ‘get out there and enjoy the journey.’ Facebook is the hybrid between blogging and Instagram – still photos but more educational. And we just started with Pinterest.
Editor’s note: We’re very impressed with Mizu’s Instagram account. For gorgeous photography and outdoor inspiration, it’s a must follow. Visit the company’s account here: Mizu Instagram.
SK: What statistic about single-use plastic water bottles surprises people most?
JO: In one year, there is enough plastic waste produced to circle the world twice. 40 billion water bottles were produced in North America that ended up in landfills. And you can’t get rid of all of the waste. There aren’t enough plants that can reproduce things out of plastic.
SK: What are three things people can do daily to save water and reduce plastic waste?
JO: It’s a lot of little things, especially with the water [crisis] in San Diego. Reducing shower times, not leaving the tap on while brushing your teeth. If everyone could do three little things it would turn into a bigger thing. The reusable water bottle part is easy. Even switching off lights. These are the things my family and I do.
Mizu drinkware. Photo credit: Mizu
Learn more about Mizu and why we love this company here: www.mizulife.com
If your company has a passion for sustainability and giving back, we want to hear about it; learn more about Organik SEO’s Entrepreneurs Series and contact Samantha@OrganikSEO.com to be featured.