Shopify

A Scientist’s Approach To Hydration—and Recurring Revenue

a-scientist’s-approach-to-hydration—and-recurring-revenue

Desperate for an effective and tasty solution to college burnout and dehydration spirals, John Sherwin and Jai Jung Kim created Hydrant, a hydration solution delivering the optimal mix of electrolytes mixed with real fruit juice powder. In this episode of Shopify Masters, John shares why you can’t be a perfectionist with product launches and how to find the ideal apps for running a subscription business. 

For the full transcript of this episode, click here.

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Show Notes

An idea sparked by medical school students

Felix: This business started because you were looking in the marketplace to find better ways to hydrate. Tell us more about that, what problem were you trying to solve?

John: Hydration had kind of reared its head, or dehydration, I should say, had reared its head as an issue back in my college days. I had a work hard, play hard mentality–a lot of sports, a lot of socializing, while still trying to get good grades. I found that I was going into what I would call a caffeine death spiral. I was drinking more and more caffeine, trying to stay energized. I noticed that there were some people in college who had figured out hydration with these little electrolyte packets. These were very clinical and it was the medical students who had figured it out. I tasted it.

It was the grossest thing I’ve ever had, but it was very effective. As a scientist, myself, I’m always interested in things that are effective and do what they’re supposed to do. At the time I didn’t really think about starting a business. I graduated, moved to the Bay area and started working at a tech company, but had much the same issue. I tried all the products on the market–sports drinks, coconut waters, powder packets, and nothing on the market tasted good and was also effective. There wasn’t anything that didn’t have artificial colors, flavors, and sweetness, so I set out to make it. I was really solving a problem for myself to live a more hydrated life.

The Sleep mix by Hydrant backdropped against a deep berry and violet background.
Educating consumers about electrolytes was a big part of Hydrant’s marketing efforts. 

Felix: You mentioned a big part of the need was that the existing options didn’t taste good. Was there anything else that told you there might be a good opportunity here? 

John: There are two angles. One is lack of education on the role that electrolytes play in hydration. At one stage, I was just chugging lots and lots of water because I had heard, hydration is good. To most people hydration is water so you drink more water. The reality is without the right bands of electrolytes you’re not necessarily going to get all of those benefits, nor are you going to get them quickly. You end up spending a lot of time running to the bathroom, and it’s not an efficient way to enjoy the water. That’s one piece, the education side. The other side of it was that the existing products either didn’t contain electrolyte content or had a ratio of electrolytes that was completely off balance for what you need–and they tasted gross. Taste is a piece of the puzzle, especially if I’m trying to create a product that people can use proactively as part of their routine to stay hydrated on a daily basis rather than always just reacting to dehydration.

Pitching a product that consumers might not know they need

Felix: Are people generally aware that this is a pain point for them, or is there also a lot of education surrounding awareness? How do you solve the awareness problem? 

John: Honestly I’m still trying to solve that problem–bringing awareness to people. I’ll come at this from a couple of angles. One is we as a species are pretty bad at interpreting the signals that our body sends us. Sometimes you might feel hungry and the reality is you’re actually thirsty, so you eat but you are still hungry, so you eat more. You were never hungry in the first place, you were thirsty but your conscious brain interpreted that signal as, “Hey, eat something,” but it was really trying to get you to drink something.

Another one would be when you wake up in the morning and you feel tired or groggy, you reach for caffeine instinctively. That’s what our culture has taught us, caffeine wakes you up, so that’s what you should have. Really you’re probably just dehydrated because the main symptom of dehydration is fatigue. Our job is to make people more aware of the signals their body sends them as they go through their daily life. It’s an awareness and an attention to the things that we’re putting into our body and listening to what is needed.

Felix: Can you describe your typical customer? The ones that do come in ready to buy, are they athletes? 

John: Oh, we have such a broad customer base. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity because hydration is relevant to everyone. We definitely have that athletic base of customers. Based on the success of early sports drinks, people associate the word electrolyte with sports to some extent and that’s something that we absolutely benefit from. We get customers who drink our product after sports or during, or even before sports to stay hydrated throughout to support that performance. The way we position ourselves though, is not so much just around sports. We talk about this idea of proactive hydration. It’s staying ahead of dehydration so that you’re performing mentally and physically at your best throughout the day and, just feeling good.

Hydration benefits so many different parts of your day. What we found kind of from a demographic standpoint is it really does span all the way from kids through to older adults. The use case just changes a little bit based on the demographics. We have some people who are using it for sports, but more than 60% of our customers drink hydrant first thing in the morning. That was very much a big push from us early on–getting people to understand that morning moment where you wake up, and you think you need caffeine, but really you just need to get hydrated fast to start feeling good early in the morning. More than half of our customers are drinking it first thing in the morning.

How to know when it’s time to expand your horizons

Felix: You’ve grown to the point where you have a few different product lines, now. Where did you start and when did you decide it was time to start expanding? 

John: We went straight to hydration. Hydration was really the beginning, and from there we were very consumer led. Our customers started asking us, “hey, should I be drinking this hydrant before my morning coffee or after my morning coffee?” This question kept coming. Eventually we said maybe we should make a product that replaces that coffee so we don’t have to feel this question. We made the energy SKU, which hits all of the major points of our product philosophy. It hydrates you but also we looked at the problems that come from the different forms of caffeine that we take and tried to improve it. We added caffeine about the same amount as a cup of coffee, but we also added 200 milligrams of alphanine which is an amino acid also found in green tea that has a kind of smoothing effect on the caffeine. It calms the jitters, reduces the crash you feel and gives you this really intense focus. We looked at the ratio you would find in green tea and matcha, even in black tea and we basically flipped it.

You’re getting more of this calming alphanine than the caffeine where typically with those caffeinated teas you’re getting more of the caffeine, less of the alphanine. We take the good things and magnify them. It is a really unique caffeine experience, that was the second one. Our third line one was our immunity product. We wanted a way for people to take their daily immunity vitamins in a more delicious way. It’s very much a taste driven experience, but as with all of our products, very research-driven. We have vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, magnesium and zinc. We cut out all the others. If you look at a legacy vitamin drink, what you’ll see is there’s just a really long ingredients list. Part of our product philosophy is simplicity. We pull out the stuff that isn’t pulling its weight and only use those that are really delivering a result for you.

The most recent launch we had was for our sleep product. This one came from people who told us, “hey, we’re drinking hydrant before bed”–which was never something we marketed the product for. They were asking us, could we market it for that? You should tell other people it’s working so well for me, I’m sleeping more soundly. I’m getting up less during the night. Rather than just add one more use case to our existing hydration SKU, we thought, let’s go to first principles here and think about how we can make a perfect sleep product. That’s what we did. So that was our most recent, and that brings us to our four.

How this brand revolutionized their product development process 

Felix: Walk us through your product development process. How did development go for your first product? 

John: Yeah, for sure. I studied biology at Oxford in the UK, and I like to think of that as being a course of academic cynicism. One of the skills we were taught is to read through academic literature and question everything. You’d look at results and conclusions, and you’d look at the methods that we used to collect the data to really understand what from this study you can rely on and what is perhaps a little bit weak. When it comes to our product development process, we really leverage that experience of mine. Now a group of scientists go through the existing data on any given ingredient, and functional benefit. For that first one, with the case of hydration back then, it really was just me.

A selection of mixes by Hydrant.
Even though research and refinement is important prelaunch, there’s much more valuable feedback to be gained once you launch. 

I was doing this research myself. I was going through any academic literature I could find on hydration, on electrolytes and the benefits of hydration and the symptoms of dehydration. I was trying to map out all of the research that had ever been done in this field, and categorize each of the papers based on how strong the evidence they presented for let’s say the inclusion of magnesium, or the inclusion of potassium or the specific ratio of electrolytes. Once I had done that, I built a functional spec for the product. What that means is just saying, hey, this product needs to have this much sodium, this much potassium, this much magnesium, this many grams of sugar. Then it gets into the taste experience. That’s where it moves from being a functional spec to being a food scientist’s work. I’m not a food scientist, so that was where I started working with third parties to help make this functional piece taste good.

We had calorie targets, sugar targets and taste profiles that we wanted to emulate. I knew that I wanted it to be a real fruit juice powder flavored drink, so a more subtle taste, but more realistic without as much of an off taste. That was very much the product that we were chasing early on. Honestly this is one of the things I always talk about. The mistake that I made was trying to perfect the product for way too long at the beginning. I spent eight months on product development, which looking back is just insane for a single SKU. A single flavor. Looking back I could have done that in three months because as soon as we launched, we got real feedback from real people and those people told us what was wrong with it. They were right. It was amazing to get that real feedback and there’s no substitute for it. A paying customer is going to give you the most honest and useful feedback you can get.

Felix: Throughout this process of perfecting the product, where do you think you spent the most unnecessary time? 

John: It was really flavor tweaks at that point. The functional spec was done in month one, this is not including the research–the research took quite a bit of time and the whole genesis of this company came from that research. That wasn’t something that we rushed. Once we had that functional spec and took it to the food scientist I was learning a new skill and trying to absorb as much information from these professionals as I could. Along the journey we had various different versions of our initial flavor, which was lime. I would keep going back and making small revisions. Eventually one of the food scientists was like, hey, John I’m not sure I can taste the difference between these but I was working with chefs on the taste panels and they were definitely tasting the difference and I was too.

We kept making these tweaks. Ultimately when we launched the product, we immediately got feedback that it was too salty, which in hindsight working with chefs who tend to use a lot of salt–I read that chefs’ food gets salty all the time because they use so much salt in their cooking compared to what most people do at home. That’s probably what happened, and it was a very easy thing to correct. We probably wasted two to four months on those flavor revisions when we could have just launched and very quickly understood from customers like, hey, this is the thing you need to change rather than focusing on stuff that didn’t matter.

When to stop iterating and start selling

Felix: Nowadays when you are launching new product lines or working on anything else in the business, what do you look for to recognize when you’re slipping into this perfectionism mindset?

John: It’s something that I have to be really mindful of because in a way it’s different now. We have something to lose, in that we’ve built this brand, we have existing customers. There is an expectation from those customers on what types of products we make, what they might taste, how functional they will be. That can be something that gets in the way of the creative process where you think, well, hang on a second, if I make this product, for example we made a no added sugar of our hydrate products. It has no added sugar, we use monk fruit as the sweetener and any of the non-nutritive sweeteners. Monk fruit, stevia, sucralose, there are various others.

They tend to have a sort of off taste to them, a slight off taste. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. We agonized over this decision for a really long time like should we launch it? Shouldn’t we launch it? Sugar plays a functional role in hydration but there are people who are telling us, “hey, we love what your company is about, but we won’t drink your product because there’s sugar in it.” We made this “no added sugar,” product and I thought there was going to be a rebellion from our existing customers because it was fundamentally different to our first products. We hesitated. We probably took a few months longer than we should have because of that pause. Is that a bad thing that we took a little bit longer and we were intentional about it? I don’t know. There’s a balance and you really have to find it. That being said, it’s good to be conscious of that idea–perfectionism–and make sure it’s not too powerful in your product development process.

Felix: Talk to us about getting those customers when you first launched the product. How did you get the first customers to buy and try the product? 

John: I did a crowdfunding campaign in the very early days of HYDRANTs. It was a very small crowdfunding campaign. I learned that crowdfunding is a great way to reach a few new people, but it’s also a great way of getting your own community to support you. Family, friends, people you’ve worked with see the crowdfunding and they’re willing to take the risk of pre-ordering effectively. Those pre-orders paid for the first production run, I was able to make 50,000 packets of the product. That was step one, a lot of learnings were had in that process in terms of marketing the products, what are the things people are interested in hearing about and what use cases should we really be focused on.

That was step one. From there we launched our Shopify site and it was a pretty steady early phase of collecting as much feedback and learnings both on our marketing and on the product itself. We then went into digital paid marketing. Acquiring customers on Facebook, Instagram, Google and testing out different value propositions on different demographics of customers. That way we could understand the value proposition. For example, it might be “drink this after sports.” How did those customers behave? How does that value proposition work on different demographics of customers in the long run? Do they return and buy more product faster or slower than someone who comes in to drink it first thing in the morning, for example. It was very much a learning phase while we were growing in the early days.

Combating community saturation to boost word of mouth marketing 

Felix: You mentioned testing out different value propositions on different customers. Talk to us about how you test it. What were you doing tactically to test these value propositions?

John: We did a multivariate analysis. We would create using the same creative so you keep it creative constant and then you change the value proposition in the text under the creative. It might be a picture of our product with no other sort of contextualizing imagery. The copy might say, drink this after sports to get hydrated. Then a second version of that ad might have exactly the same image, but then it might say, drink this first thing in the morning to wake up with a rush of hydration. Then we might have four other versions of that ad. We would pick different audiences based on demographics. We were definitely looking across age ranges, where in the country people live, but also interest based.

We’d look at rock climbers, gamers, pickleball players. We’d find all these niche interests and try to understand which value prop resonates with which group, because you don’t want to boil the ocean with your marketing dollars. You can’t just go out and have the most generic messaging for the most general audience. That’s not going to be an efficient way to drive your marketing engine. You’re going to miss out on that community saturation where if it was rock climbers, for example, and we found a niche of rock climbers who love Hydrant, they would tell each other and over time we’d get word of mouth within that community as well, which becomes cheaper than spending that money on advertising. That was really the early stage. Identifying those pockets of opportunity, both from a value prop standpoint, but also from what are these people interested in?

Felix: This community saturation is a great way to explain why you would want to focus on the sub-markets and demographics–it boosts word of mouth marketing at the same time. 

John: Absolutely. This is an area that with 2020 hindsight, we did not do enough of. We definitely did this testing, but I don’t think we doubled down in a way that we could have early on. We’ve obviously had a great journey and things are going great, but it would have been valuable to have those niche communities early on as well. We could have invested more there.

A selection of electrolytes packets by Hydrant.
Identifying different groups of customers allowed Hydrant to focus on submarkets and offer better products to suit particular needs. 

Felix: While doing this testing did you discover anything that really surprised you about what you had anticipated would work and what you thought wouldn’t work?

John: Honestly the morning angle. Waking up and drinking hydrant first thing in the morning as a value prop surprised me. The science is sound, during the night you lose water so your body sweats more at any given temperature when you’re asleep than when you’re awake, in order to cool your body and conserve energy you sweat. Now that sweat evaporates, that’s the cooling mechanism. When you wake up in the morning, most of the time you have no idea that you lost that water. There’s no evidence of it. You wake up, you feel tired and groggy and everyone can relate to that. I envy the people who can’t relate to that because that means they’re waking up feeling energized every single day. It’s a very relatable message. That being said, we thought that beyond water and coffee first thing in the morning, it would be tough to explain to people the benefits of hydrating more efficiently with a product like Hydrant.

Although the science made sense, I was worried it would be difficult for us to convey that value proposition to consumers. Turns out people loved it. Then we got that feedback loop. When you wake up, you’re dehydrated, you drink our product, you feel the effect of it even more because you’re coming from a state of dehydration. Then that feeds the cycle of us getting good reviews, people telling their friends. That was that early moment of momentum for us–finding that value prop that was frankly very differentiated in the market. We see other people doing it now as well but it was differentiated at the time and it really did lead to that early speed of growth and I was surprised.

Identify the value proposition and you’ve won half the battle

Felix: Once you pinpoint this value proposition, how do you make sure that you’re optimizing it in your marketing? 

John: That gets into the way you structure your ad campaigns. I have to admit that was not something I was super involved with. We saw the opportunity once we uncovered this value proposition and looked at a few months of data on the customers who were acquired using that body proposition. We decided to double down. What we did is we put that value proposition on the front of our packaging. Again, no one else was doing it at the time so it was a bit scary. I was genuinely worried that putting it there was a make-or-break moment for us. At the time I probably thought it was going to be a break moment. What surprised me the most is people use the product the way you tell them to.

I know that doesn’t sound like a deep and meaningful insight, but I was shocked. If you say drink this first thing in the morning, people do it and then they feel the difference. Then they write the review. To answer your question more directly, we doubled down by putting it on the packaging and on our website, on the landing pages and really leaning into that specific moment. Over time we’ve leaned back from that a little bit because we have four different products now and they’re for different moments in the day. It’s not that we don’t want people to still drink the product first thing in the morning–if that’s what works for them–it’s more that we recognize as a brand that we’ve grown and we really represent a proactive wellness platform with different products for those different moments in your day which represents a different marketing challenge in and of itself.

Felix: So you center your marketing campaign around these use cases and value propositions. Do you have issues with conflicting value propositions per use case? 

John: There might be but it’s not something customers have told us. What I mean by that is I don’t think any of our value propositions are directly conflicting each other. It’s never “don’t consume this in the morning if you’re this type of person, do consume if you’re this type of person.” It’s more like there are so many different ways you can be better hydrated throughout the day and different reasons to be hydrated. What we do is try to surface all of that, and it comes back to what really is an education problem.

A lot of people don’t necessarily know all of the activities that lead to them becoming dehydrated. They don’t know what some of the symptoms of dehydration are or what they should be looking out for, a bad mood for example. It’s been shown in a number of studies that being dehydrated leads to you having a bad mood. If you stay hydrated, you’re going to feel better throughout the day and have a good mood. We make sure we’re explaining to all of our customers, “hey, here are 10 possible ways you could use the product.” They’re going to focus on the ones that matter to them. t’s not my job to make sure they care about one that doesn’t matter to them. It’s just making sure they’re aware of the ones that do.

Felix: When you were testing these value propositions out, were you guessing as many things as possible or were there troves of ideas that you were able to uncover?

John: It comes back to our product development process, which is very rooted in academia and proven studies. The starting point was, “hey, what do we know is a symptom of dehydration that we can explain to people. Hey, do you feel this way? It could be because you’re dehydrated.” We really leveraged the work of scientists that have come before us to educate us on how to explain the technical language to consumers in a way that is fun and engaging, so that it explains how this product can be useful to them.

Finding inspiration in the comments section of ads

Felix: Once you were pursuing a more customer led product development process, where were you getting this feedback? Was it just reviews? 

John: A number of different places and my advice to anyone starting out would be to open as many lines of communication as you can. People want to communicate with you however they want to, and it is unique to individuals. Reviews is the main place, so having a really easy review system for people to write that feedback for you as one. We pipe those reviews into our company slack channel. I’m in there everyday reading reviews constantly. even now. It informs better product development. People will share–some people, not all–will share very detailed information around how they’re using the product. Where it’s failing them and where it’s working for them, which is a goldmine for me from a product development standpoint to do a better job.

“My advice to anyone starting out would be to open as many lines of communication as you can.”

The other one is comments on ads. That’s an overlooked one, where as a company we are in the comments section of our ads, we’re engaging with people. People will have questions about function. They’ll have questions about ingredients, but they don’t necessarily want to click through on the ad. Engage with them saying, “Hey, here’s the information you were looking for.” In that process some people will comment, “Oh, I don’t want this because of my diet. I can’t even consume three grams of sugar so this product won’t work for me.” It was that that led to us developing the no added sugar product because we didn’t have any no added sugar products.

We weren’t getting that feedback in reviews, it was coming to us through that Facebook ads comment section, because those people were never becoming customers. We had to be there otherwise we would never have gotten that feedback. The other place is having a really switched on customer experience team. That’s an area we invested in early on because our business is driven largely by subscription. When you have a subscription, you want to make sure that you’re feeling well taken care of and you trust the people you’re giving your hard earned dollars to. We invested heavily in CX and any feedback that comes in through that gets put into our slack channel so that we’re taking it into account as we develop new products.

Felix: It’s just as important to recognize why people are not buying your product as much as why they are buying it. Another big shift for Hydrant was switching from direct to consumer on the website only, to omni-channel. Can you tell us a little bit about that transition?

John: We were initially 100% direct to consumer on Shopify. We had a subscription component early on, and that was phase one. We then added an Amazon channel which was phase two. We were able to capture some customers directly on Amazon, but this was also doing the work of bringing customers to our Shopify page. Our perspective was that the playbook that worked for early direct to consumer success stories was not going to be possible for newer consumer brands. That playbook being Facebook’s ad spend arbitrage where you could acquire customers so cheaply using Facebook digital ad spend. Very early on we knew that this isn’t going to be how we grow and scale this company quickly. What is going to be big is retail. Retail and brick and mortar is a whole beast of its own.

It’s a different company almost, the way that it operates, but what you get is this massive opportunity to get in front of customers. We did a very small version of that first. We opened in Whole Foods in the Northeast, it was 47 stores. We made so many mistakes in terms of what type of packaging we used and how we talked about the products on the packaging, because we were a direct consumer brand. We hadn’t thought about the three seconds you have of someone’s attention when they’re looking at a shelf full of competitive products. That was a humbling experience for us to get better and we’ve since gone on to really roll out more. We’re in Walmart nationwide, we’re in HEB, CVS and GNC as well.

We are being seen in a context where I don’t have the benefit of being able to stand next to each shelf and say, “Hey, do you have any questions about our product? Do you have any feedback?” I don’t have the equivalent of Facebook ads. I don’t have the equivalent of the feedback you get from reviews on the product. All we get is sales data from the retail partner and it’s scary. It’s like putting your baby out into the real world and having to learn a whole new way of marketing your brand and trying to get that feedback.

Marketing for retail versus ecommerce

Felix: Can you talk about the kinds of changes you made to, say, the packaging or the marketing when designing for retail versus ecommerce? 

John: We’ve gone through a lot of iterations since the first product got onto the shelves at Whole Foods. A few major points. One, we were very minimalist with our packaging because on our website landing pages, on our Facebook ads, you have so much space and time even to explain what the product is. You can make it look a certain way. You can add moving elements on an image and audio, you can have a voiceover of me explaining the benefits of the product. It’s a very rich experience. When you’re in retail, you have none of that. You just have the front of your pack. That is your billboard. There’s nothing else. There can be other things that you invest in but you don’t get those when you’re just starting out, it takes a little bit of time to work up to that. We had approached it super minimally. We’d have the brand name, and the product name..

We had this idea of “wake up with a morning rush of hydration” and then some dotted elements, which was basically our logo, on the front of the pack. That was it. That was the front and it was the color of the flavor that was inside. It didn’t do enough work to tell the customer why they should buy it. It was very simple explaining what the product was, but it didn’t say why they should buy, and that was the weakness. We’ve spent a lot of time shifting what information is on the front of the pack to give them more of a reason to pick it up, turn it over and look in the back or just pick it up and put it in a basket. The other thing is that, as we’ve launched new product lines, we realized that having our product be defined by the flavor driven was going to cause problems down the line. At the time, we ahe lime, grapefruit, and blood orange hydration products on the shelf. They were all the same variety and there were three different colors, which made sense.

 A Fruit Punch flavored Hydrant packet.
When it goes to branding and packing, it’s also good to keep on tweaking after launch, instead of getting stuck by perfectionism.

When we launched in Walmart, we had three products. Again, it was blood orange, lime and raspberry lemonade. The raspberry lemonade had caffeine in it as well, and there was an icon on the packaging, as well as the words to basically highlight, “hey, this has 100 milligrams of caffeine in it.” The color was this deep raspberry color. That means the consumer is having to do work, looking at the shelf, figuring out, okay, these things look the same, oh, wait, this one is somehow slightly different. They have to go a level deeper in the information hierarchy to figure out how it’s different. Since then, we’ve evolved our branding. It’s a very slow process once you’re in retail, because you have to move inventory through your retail account before they buy more. We’ve moved to having the color be the function and the flavor be the secondary color so that it’s really simple to understand that: “Oh, this is the energy product. This is the sleep product. This is the hydration product.” That’s been a major learning for us and a big help for customers at the shelf to understand what we sell.

Felix: When you make these shifts to address the physical appearance of the product compared to what you’re displaying on your website, have there been any detrimental impacts that you’ve noticed?

John: I don’t think so. If we were a massive brand already that was known nationally from being in different retailers, it might be a little bit more challenging. But we’re still growing, even though it feels like we’re pretty large online–whether it be DTC or Amazon in America–we’re still just a drop in the ocean, but it’s easy to worry. This comes back to that perfectionism. It is easy to worry about if this is perfect? Are people going to be disappointed in the way the brand looks now versus before? The reality is we’ve probably hit one percent of Americans, and we should be thinking about how we can best present ourselves to the remaining 99%, rather than thinking just about the one percent who have already tried the product. They already like us, and obviously we don’t want to disappoint them, but the reality is customers want you to do well when you’re a small company. They’re very forgiving of these kinds of changes.

Ecommerce lessons learned from launching in retail

Felix: Can you apply some of the lessons you’ve learned from retail to an online marketplace such as Amazon or your site? 

John: You have to be testing the different value props with benefits of your product as well as what people care about. You don’t have a lot of time on a marketplace like an Amazon, where three similar products are being presented to the customer. You have to grab their attention and you have to get them the information they’re looking for in a hobby. You don’t have much time, it’s more about the listing than the packaging. It absolutely is a learning curve to understand, “Okay, what information is on Shopify? How is that information different in an Amazon setting? How is that information different in a retail setting?”

In retail, packaging is everything. On Shopify there are a number of other richer elements that you can add. On Amazon, it’s somewhere between the two. It’s definitely a challenge understanding how the information hierarchy plays a role in the different channels, but retail is the one where simplicity is king and you really have to just go down to the core of what benefit your product provides to a customer. You can build out from there and walk backwards to Amazon and then to Shopify.

“It’s definitely a challenge understanding how the information hierarchy plays a role in the different channels, but retail is the one where simplicity is king and you really have to just go down to the core of what benefit your product provides to a customer.”

Felix: What elements have you added to the site to optimize the messaging around the brand, and to preemptively address questions that your customers may have? 

John: We do a lot of AB testing and that usually happens on a landing page, which is slightly separate to our website. That helps us hone in on the messaging we’re using. That’s a little bit more on the value prop side than the brand side. To get more into the branding piece, we have evolved it over time as our understanding of what matters to consumers has changed, and as our company has changed as well. Version one was we were a hydration business. We made one product, we just made hydration. Then we added the energy line and we were still kind of a hydration business, but leaning toward figuring out what the next step was.

Now we’ve added immunity, we’ve added sleep. There’s going to be more developments in the wellness space as well over time. We’ve had to update our understanding of who we are and what we represent to consumers. We’ve updated the branding at each of those steps. Now we think of ourselves as playing at the intersection between water and wellness, because hydration is such a core pillar of someone’s wellness. Our branding has had to evolve and grow to represent that larger vision that we are now tackling, versus when we were a single brand company. 

Quizzes: the most underutilized trend in ecommerce? 

Felix: I’ve noticed quite a few Shopify stores are successfully utilizing quizzes on their websites. How did that decision come to fruition? 

John: There are a couple of reasons you would use a quiz. One is we wanted to understand our customers better, to better solve their problems. It allows us to really think about that from the product development standpoint. What can I learn about our customers from the answers they give to our quiz, so that I can make better products? The other piece is we now have a suite of products.

“Anything that can remove friction or mental fatigue for people who are searching for something to solve their problem is a good thing.”

It made a little bit less sense when we only had a hydration product, but now that we have multiple options it may be that someone doesn’t drink caffeine. It may be that someone doesn’t consume sugar. There are differences in customers and we want to help them quickly find the products that will solve their problems. Anything that can remove friction or mental fatigue for people who are searching for something to solve their problem is a good thing. The quiz represents that. We ask a series of simple questions, and based on the answers you give us, we’re able to say, “Hey you should drink this combination of our products, and that should be your starting point with our brands.” If over time they want to try some of the other products, that’s great too, but it’s purpose is really to remove that friction to find what might work the best for them.

A selection of Hydrant electrolyte mixes against a blue background.
Using quizzes allows Hydrant to better understand their customers and quickly identify products to meet their needs. 

Felix: What other apps do you use on your website or even just in general to help drive the business?

John: Subscription is a big one. We have a subscription app connected to our Shopify that allows us to do recurring billing. We also have Klaviyo for email. This is just an automated emailing tool that allows us to connect with our customers more easily. Same thing for text. SMS is an increasingly growing area. We use Postscript, which is very similar to Klaviyo. It allows you to automate based on what your customer’s actions are. Personally I prefer that type of marketing to the campaign driven one.

This is an awesome thing because you do the work once and it keeps working for you. I can use a “set it and forget it” type of mode where I can make a post-purchase funnel or flow of emails and texts that will just feed information to the customer at the right time, based on when they tried the product, which product they ordered. I can be really careful and minutely design the perfect flow of information to that customer, then I can leave it for six months before I have to update it again. With campaign emails, you have to constantly be walking on it and you spend a lot of time and money on graphic designers and coming up with that new content. I’m a big believer in those email automations and SMS automations. We definitely utilize both of those in a big way.

Identifying key educating opportunities in your sales funnel

Felix: What are some of the ways that you’re educating your customers as they move through the funnel? 

John: There are two main education areas. One is when to use the product. Educating them on all of those possible use cases, because it may be that the one value prop that we start with, such as drinking it first thing in the morning, doesn’t work for them. For whatever reason it might not fit in their morning routine. They only drink a certain drink or they like to have juice, or they’re not willing to sacrifice their coffee. That’s all totally fine but I want to make sure that customer knows, “hey, there are other ways you can consume this product and still get the benefits. Let me tell you a few of those options.” That would be one main area of education. 

The other one is about how to mix the product for best results. That really comes down to the temperature of the water. Are there any other things they should mix it with? How can they make sure it tastes the best for them? Taste is such a challenge because it’s so subjective and while one person might like something super sweet, another person might want it to be really sour and not sweet at all. Balancing that is tricky so by giving instructions for people with different tastes, we’re able to maximize the chance that they’ll find the time to use it in a way that they will most enjoy it from a taste standpoint or experienced standpoint. Those are really the main prongs of education that we think about.

Felix: Where are you going to be focusing your efforts when it comes to the business in the next year?

John: I love product development and I love finding cutting edge areas to innovate for us with our new products. That’s where I want to spend the majority of my time this year. Doing stuff that has not been seen before in this space. We were early to powder and hydration. There’s a lot of people coming into the space, so we really need to make sure we’re staying ahead and I’m excited for some of the stuff in the pipeline.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.