Award winner: waterdrop®: Changing the Paradigms of the Beverage Industry with Limited Resources and Digital Marketing

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Who – the protagonist

Martin Donald Murray, Founder and CEO, waterdrop®.

What?

waterdrop® is revolutionising the beverage industry with the world's first 'microdrink': a compact sugar-free cube that dissolves in water and enriches it with natural fruit extracts, plants and vitamins. After only five years of competing on the market, the company has grown to more than 1 million online customers.

The core mission of waterdrop® is to encourage people to drink more water, in a more sustainable way. To achieve its goals, waterdrop® significantly reduces plastic use and CO2 emissions.  microdrink, the little cube developed by waterdrop®, weighs less than three grams and can enrich up to about 1000ml of water depending on consumers taste profile. Compared to bottled drinks, microdrinks help reduce transport-related emissions (CO2) and plastic use. This shift in hydration habits represents a 98% reduction in CO2 emissions and plastic.

The brand is developing through drinktech, drinkware and filtration systems to provide its customers with a global hydration solution.

Martin sells his products, uniquely for the soft beverages market, directly to customers on the waterdrop® website and in their stores in the US and Europe.

waterdrop glass

Why?

The idea of waterdrop® was conceived when Martin was on one of his regular flights from Hong Kong to Singapore, and fed up with the abundance of unhealthy carbonated drinks being served. Also, the idea of having to bottle and ship unsustainable and mostly unhealthy beverages was nonsense.

Scanning the press headlines, Martin was well aware of the rising consumer interest in physical, mental and spiritual well-being, but finding healthy alternatives to water while travelling was virtually impossible. It was also obvious that sugar based and artificially flavoured drinks along with their massive CO2 footprint and excessive plastic usage, will probably soon become antiquated and obsolete thanks to customers increasingly aware of the ecological impact of their consumption.

The seed for the development of a healthy micro drink, that was not only sustainable but also environmentally friendly, had been planted!

When?

In 2015, when Martin was on the flight that saw him start waterdrop®, he was an MBA student at INSEAD’s Asia Campus in Singapore.

Where?

waterdrop® sells most of its products through e-commerce. The Austrian brand is listed in more than 10,000 retail outlets and operates more than 20 own stores in the US and Europe.

Key quote

Martin Donald Murray
“Our approach to the water business is to develop ecological solutions to promote responsible consumption of tap water and avoid the outdated idea of having to bottle and ship unsustainable and mostly unhealthy beverages. Tap water is a safe, economical and sustainable source of drinking water.”
Martin Donald Murray, Founder and CEO, waterdrop®.

What next?

In 2016, Martin’s idea had grown into a small business, with a few employees whose experience added new value dimensions and perspectives to the market-entry strategy, and a pool of international investors and advisors from different business fields.

The goal is now to make waterdrop® a global brand and take the topic "Drink More Water" globally.

There is a geographical component on the one hand and a product world component on the other:

Geographically, the brand is expanding in the US and Europe, but also soon via South-East Asia to China. There is nothing to stop waterdrop® from going global, as it is pretty much the only product in its category sold online. In the medium term, the company will have offices in Paris, London, Munich, Brno, New York and Singapore, but the head office will always remain in Vienna.

The brand will also expand the product portfolio by adding several segments and editions to offer an even greater variety of taste and functionality.

Furthermore, sooner or later it will become one of the largest glass and steel bottle sellers in the world, as reusable bottles perfectly underline a vision of a world in which there is no longer any need to fill anything in plastic bottles. The whole platform is based on the concept of decentralised (filtered) water, and customers will enjoy the taste and functionality they desire - at point of consumption. The product portfolio will keep growing across microdrinks, microtea, Drinkware, Drinktech and water filtration.

But how could Martin - on a limited budget - disrupt the status quo of the US$500 billion market dominated by unhealthy drinks and players who polluted the planet with plastic and CO2 emissions? 

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

This is Joerg’s second success in the Marketing category (2018 and 2022) and Carla’s first. Anne-Marie won her first Case Award in 2018 in the Outstanding Case Writer Competition: Hot Topic.

Winning the award

We are delighted and honoured to win this award not only as the case authors, but it endorses INSEAD’s continued commitment to the development of innovative and compelling case studies that are an important element in the School’s programmes.

It is also such a great honour to have written the case with the highest growth in popularity worldwide, based on the number of individual organisations who have ordered and taught the case during the last year.

Case popularity 

One reason the case is compelling (for us) is that the protagonist, Martin Donald Murray, began work on waterdrop® during his MBA year and was one of Joerg’s students.

His journey is a brilliant example of disrupting a well-established industry with - at the beginning - limited resources. Martin and the team were able to grow the business massively year-on-year by applying an agile strategy that always puts the customer at the centre of their work.

After just five years, the company has grown to more than 1.5 million online customers, has over 200 employees, is listed in more than 10,000 retail outlets, operates more than 20 stores in Europe and the USA, and they have saved over 100 million plastic bottles.

waterdrop martin bottles

Another reason for its popularity is the case works really well in any environment - from undergraduates to senior executives.

Our MBA students, for example, always highlight how much they can learn from Martin about building a company from scratch. On the other hand, senior executives point out that they need to be more innovative, agile and disruptive in their thinking, like Martin and his team apply every day. As we speak, the company is launching tech-driven solutions that help make tap water safer and hydration more trackable and even easier.

The case is popular because it's relatable and tells a start-up story not often presented in cases. The case centres around the very beginning of the journey and the David vs Goliath spirit of the early days of waterdrop®. Our aim was to develop a case which would capture the current start-up buzz and essence of marketing today that any company can learn from.

Writing the case

The main highlight of writing this case was the ongoing input from Martin all the way along the process and following the company’s progress in real time - not only when the case was written at an early stage of its journey. We have not met many people that are so passionate about pushing ideas forward. We enjoyed every discussion we had with Martin and look forward to all the discussions we will have in the future. Given the rapid growth we just started a B case!

Case writing advice

For us, the most important thing for writing a good case is finding a protagonist who is as excited about the idea of writing a powerful case as we are.

Luckily, we found with Martin someone who was willing to give detailed insights into what he and the company is doing. Martin also didn’t hesitate for a second to come to Fontainebleau to record videos that complement the case perfectly. All these additional materials and videos really bring the case to life. Students - whether in degree programmes or executive education - can learn a lot from it. It also enables our colleagues worldwide to have a great classroom experience when they are teaching the case.

We wanted to create a case that was compelling, innovative and authentic and show the challenges of the start-up world while delivering a platform for teaching and dialogue.

Teaching the case

Our experience teaching the case here at INSEAD has just been great. The case always triggers very rich discussions. Executives from incumbents, for example, discuss what they can do to protect themselves from disruptor competitors like waterdrop®, or how they can develop data-driven customer-centric business models in the future themselves.

Students in our degree programmes always highlight how much they learn from Martin himself when he built the team and the company.

We also want to thank Martin at this point for being a guest speaker in over a dozen classes over the last three years which of course makes it an even better experience.

The Case 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Martin Donald Murray, Founder and CEO, waterdrop®.

What?

waterdrop® is revolutionising the beverage industry with the world's first 'microdrink': a compact sugar-free cube that dissolves in water and enriches it with natural fruit extracts, plants and vitamins. After only five years of competing on the market, the company has grown to more than 1 million online customers.

The core mission of waterdrop® is to encourage people to drink more water, in a more sustainable way. To achieve its goals, waterdrop® significantly reduces plastic use and CO2 emissions.  microdrink, the little cube developed by waterdrop®, weighs less than three grams and can enrich up to about 1000ml of water depending on consumers taste profile. Compared to bottled drinks, microdrinks help reduce transport-related emissions (CO2) and plastic use. This shift in hydration habits represents a 98% reduction in CO2 emissions and plastic.

The brand is developing through drinktech, drinkware and filtration systems to provide its customers with a global hydration solution.

Martin sells his products, uniquely for the soft beverages market, directly to customers on the waterdrop® website and in their stores in the US and Europe.

waterdrop glass

Why?

The idea of waterdrop® was conceived when Martin was on one of his regular flights from Hong Kong to Singapore, and fed up with the abundance of unhealthy carbonated drinks being served. Also, the idea of having to bottle and ship unsustainable and mostly unhealthy beverages was nonsense.

Scanning the press headlines, Martin was well aware of the rising consumer interest in physical, mental and spiritual well-being, but finding healthy alternatives to water while travelling was virtually impossible. It was also obvious that sugar based and artificially flavoured drinks along with their massive CO2 footprint and excessive plastic usage, will probably soon become antiquated and obsolete thanks to customers increasingly aware of the ecological impact of their consumption.

The seed for the development of a healthy micro drink, that was not only sustainable but also environmentally friendly, had been planted!

When?

In 2015, when Martin was on the flight that saw him start waterdrop®, he was an MBA student at INSEAD’s Asia Campus in Singapore.

Where?

waterdrop® sells most of its products through e-commerce. The Austrian brand is listed in more than 10,000 retail outlets and operates more than 20 own stores in the US and Europe.

Key quote

Martin Donald Murray
“Our approach to the water business is to develop ecological solutions to promote responsible consumption of tap water and avoid the outdated idea of having to bottle and ship unsustainable and mostly unhealthy beverages. Tap water is a safe, economical and sustainable source of drinking water.”
Martin Donald Murray, Founder and CEO, waterdrop®.

What next?

In 2016, Martin’s idea had grown into a small business, with a few employees whose experience added new value dimensions and perspectives to the market-entry strategy, and a pool of international investors and advisors from different business fields.

The goal is now to make waterdrop® a global brand and take the topic "Drink More Water" globally.

There is a geographical component on the one hand and a product world component on the other:

Geographically, the brand is expanding in the US and Europe, but also soon via South-East Asia to China. There is nothing to stop waterdrop® from going global, as it is pretty much the only product in its category sold online. In the medium term, the company will have offices in Paris, London, Munich, Brno, New York and Singapore, but the head office will always remain in Vienna.

The brand will also expand the product portfolio by adding several segments and editions to offer an even greater variety of taste and functionality.

Furthermore, sooner or later it will become one of the largest glass and steel bottle sellers in the world, as reusable bottles perfectly underline a vision of a world in which there is no longer any need to fill anything in plastic bottles. The whole platform is based on the concept of decentralised (filtered) water, and customers will enjoy the taste and functionality they desire - at point of consumption. The product portfolio will keep growing across microdrinks, microtea, Drinkware, Drinktech and water filtration.

But how could Martin - on a limited budget - disrupt the status quo of the US$500 billion market dominated by unhealthy drinks and players who polluted the planet with plastic and CO2 emissions? 

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

This is Joerg’s second success in the Marketing category (2018 and 2022) and Carla’s first. Anne-Marie won her first Case Award in 2018 in the Outstanding Case Writer Competition: Hot Topic.

Winning the award

We are delighted and honoured to win this award not only as the case authors, but it endorses INSEAD’s continued commitment to the development of innovative and compelling case studies that are an important element in the School’s programmes.

It is also such a great honour to have written the case with the highest growth in popularity worldwide, based on the number of individual organisations who have ordered and taught the case during the last year.

Case popularity 

One reason the case is compelling (for us) is that the protagonist, Martin Donald Murray, began work on waterdrop® during his MBA year and was one of Joerg’s students.

His journey is a brilliant example of disrupting a well-established industry with - at the beginning - limited resources. Martin and the team were able to grow the business massively year-on-year by applying an agile strategy that always puts the customer at the centre of their work.

After just five years, the company has grown to more than 1.5 million online customers, has over 200 employees, is listed in more than 10,000 retail outlets, operates more than 20 stores in Europe and the USA, and they have saved over 100 million plastic bottles.

waterdrop martin bottles

Another reason for its popularity is the case works really well in any environment - from undergraduates to senior executives.

Our MBA students, for example, always highlight how much they can learn from Martin about building a company from scratch. On the other hand, senior executives point out that they need to be more innovative, agile and disruptive in their thinking, like Martin and his team apply every day. As we speak, the company is launching tech-driven solutions that help make tap water safer and hydration more trackable and even easier.

The case is popular because it's relatable and tells a start-up story not often presented in cases. The case centres around the very beginning of the journey and the David vs Goliath spirit of the early days of waterdrop®. Our aim was to develop a case which would capture the current start-up buzz and essence of marketing today that any company can learn from.

Writing the case

The main highlight of writing this case was the ongoing input from Martin all the way along the process and following the company’s progress in real time - not only when the case was written at an early stage of its journey. We have not met many people that are so passionate about pushing ideas forward. We enjoyed every discussion we had with Martin and look forward to all the discussions we will have in the future. Given the rapid growth we just started a B case!

Case writing advice

For us, the most important thing for writing a good case is finding a protagonist who is as excited about the idea of writing a powerful case as we are.

Luckily, we found with Martin someone who was willing to give detailed insights into what he and the company is doing. Martin also didn’t hesitate for a second to come to Fontainebleau to record videos that complement the case perfectly. All these additional materials and videos really bring the case to life. Students - whether in degree programmes or executive education - can learn a lot from it. It also enables our colleagues worldwide to have a great classroom experience when they are teaching the case.

We wanted to create a case that was compelling, innovative and authentic and show the challenges of the start-up world while delivering a platform for teaching and dialogue.

Teaching the case

Our experience teaching the case here at INSEAD has just been great. The case always triggers very rich discussions. Executives from incumbents, for example, discuss what they can do to protect themselves from disruptor competitors like waterdrop®, or how they can develop data-driven customer-centric business models in the future themselves.

Students in our degree programmes always highlight how much they learn from Martin himself when he built the team and the company.

We also want to thank Martin at this point for being a guest speaker in over a dozen classes over the last three years which of course makes it an even better experience.

The Case 

The authors

Joerg Niessing
Senior Affiliate Professor of Marketing
Carla Baumer
Customer Director Retail

Carla is the former Marketing Director at waterdrop®.

The protagonist

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