Craig, thank you for participating in the
RunColo Interview Series. First, tell us about yourself as a runner/triathlete and your background as engineer?
It’s really my pleasure – thanks for the opportunity to tell you about our company and products. I’ve been running and racing pretty consistently since high school, which is over 30 years now, and did my first triathlon in 1987. Over the years I slowly worked my way up to marathons (I’ve done a bunch) and Ironman distance triathlons (I’m at four and counting). I’m a middle-of-the-pack runner and triathlete – I’ll never race in Boston or Kona – and I’m hoping for several more decades of endurance athletics. My engineering background is very diverse and almost as long, and includes mechanical, aerospace, nuclear, and software engineering. I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career in new product development and to work with some exceptionally innovative companies and people.
How did come you come up the idea of the Hydrapouch?
I started thinking about it after a marathon in 2002 in Jamaica, where they handed out water in sealed soft plastic tubes. I wanted a portable container that was as comfortable to carry as those water tubes, and clean and easy to drink out of, but I wanted to be able to fill it from a paper cup and use it in any race. It wasn’t until 2007 that I came up with the idea for the coin-purse style opening and started serious development of the product.
Why was the product called “Hydra” which was a Greek mythology monster with nine heads and not “Hydro?”
Great question! We liked “hydra” because it’s the first part of hydrate or hydration, and that’s what the HydraPouch is all about. Plus it turns out that there is a soft, tubular shaped freshwater animal named Hydra, and I was hoping that’s what our name would evoke, but unfortunately almost nobody has ever heard of it.
The HydraPour was essential to make the HydraPouch work, did you design that system or was that project outsourced?
Interestingly, the HydraPouch was designed only to be filled from a paper cup, and that’s how the overwhelming majority of our customers use it. They fill it easily from a cup while running, carry their drinks in it well beyond the aid station, and can actually drink out of it instead of spilling all over themselves. The HydraPour design came well after the HydraPouch design. It is really for race directors who want to add a high-speed, self-serve option to their aid stations that can be used by anyone carrying any kind of refillable container. Of course it’s pretty cool when the two products are used together, but more often than not they’re used completely separately. The mechanical R&D for the HydraPour was done internally, and the industrial design and CAD work was outsourced.
Can you tell us about the production side of making the HydraPouch, such as where it is made and the process of finding a supplier? Also, the turnaround time for supply orders?
I’m proud of the fact that all of our products are made entirely in the USA. The bladder of the HydraPouch is made in the Midwest at a factory that primarily makes silicone rubber medical and food service products, and the belt clip is made just north of Denver by a terrific tooling and injection molding company. We assemble, pack, and ship the HydraPouches from Boulder. Sourcing of the bladder was very difficult, mostly because a couple of our design elements really push the limits of what’s possible with silicone injection molding. Thankfully, our manufacturer shares our excitement for this product, and without them and their creativity and innovative spirit the HydraPouch probably wouldn’t exist. We stock standard color HydraPouches in Boulder and ship stock orders in one day. Our manufacturer can turn around a large and/or custom color order in about a week, which is one of the huge benefits of sourcing locally.
What marketing efforts have you undergone in the first year and are you targeting it strictly to races or also to the individual consumer as well?
It’s a bit embarrassing, but we’ve done virtually no marketing since we launched in March. No advertising, no email campaigns, no banner ads, nothing. We were really lucky to gain the support of some great folks early on – folks like Scott Fliegelman at FastForwardSports, David Manthey at Runners Edge of the Rockies, Rebecca Heaton at Competitor Magazine (formerly Rocky Mountain Sports), Creigh Kelley at BKB Ltd, and Darrin Eisman at Racing Underground – and most of what we’ve done is follow up on the introductions they’ve made for us. Now that we’ve had some national press coverage, I probably spend about two-thirds of my time talking to running clubs, retailers, and individual consumers about the HydraPouch, and about one-third of my time talking to race directors, eco-racing consultants, and beverage companies about the HydraPour.
The HydraPouch is definitely eco-friendly, have you focused on finding races that have an eco-friendly theme to promote the product?
Not yet. So far all of the races that have chosen to augment their aid stations with HydraPour dispensers have been in Colorado and Utah, and none have heavily promoted themselves as eco-friendly races.
The Liberty Run 4 Mile Race exclusively featured the HydraPouch, with each runner receiving a HydraPouch as part of their race registration. One thing I noticed was that most of the fast runners did not carry their HydraPouch. How do you convince fast/elite runners to carry the HydraPouch and to literally stop for water at an aid station?
Our approach is really not to try and convince anyone that they should carry the HydraPouch or use the HydraPour dispenser during a race. Rather, we point out the benefits of carrying a HydraPouch (you can fill it from a cup while running at full speed, you can actually drink out of it instead of spilling most of the contents, and you can carry your drink in it well beyond the aid station) and of the HydraPour dispenser (any container commonly carried by a runner can be filled in one to three seconds, without the use of a paper cup). From there it’s up to runners and race directors to decide how and when to use our products. Some elite runners will use a HydraPouch because those benefits matter to them, and some won’t. Some race directors will want to add a high-speed, self serve hydration option at their aid stations, and others won’t. Every once in a while, a race director might do what Creigh did with the Liberty Run and put on an entirely cup-free event, but I would guess that completely cup-free events will be very rare for quite some time.
Do you have a formula worked out, so that x amount of runners equals a certain amount of HydraPours at the aid station? I would think that one problem with the HydraPouch is that you would need a lot of tables per aid station, more so than a traditional aid station utilizing cups in order to prevent lines and bottlenecks?
The answer to your first question is yes, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. First I want to reveal something that those of us in the middle of the pack know all too well: it’s a complete myth that bottlenecks and traffic jams don’t happen at paper-cup-based aid stations. They definitely happen, and sometimes they can be really bad. This often comes as a complete surprise to those at the front of the pack, and sometimes even to race directors, but it’s a frequent and unfortunate reality for most of us average runners. So back to the equation – it’s really a spreadsheet, and it takes into account things like the length of the race, the expected median finishing time, the number and spacing of the aid stations, the number of participants, how long it will take them to cross the starting line, and the percentage who will be carrying refillable containers. Based on that stuff it figures out how many HydraPour dispensers to have at each aid station for each product (water and/or sports drink). Because the HydraPour dispenses so fast, the number needed at an aid station is surprisingly low. We needed a maximum of two dispensers per aid station at the Liberty Run, and that’s if every single runner in the race had actually used them at every aid station.
I’ve noticed that the HydraPouch is now carried in a few running stores in Colorado and Texas. What’s the process to convince a store to carry your product and will you be breaking into any new states soon?
Here’s another embarrassing answer – we haven’t “cold called” a single retailer yet, so I don’t really know how we’ll convince them to carry HydraPouches. The manager at Fleet Feet Boulder is a coach with FastForwardSports, a training team that did a lot of our product testing. She knew about the product, used it, and liked it, and that’s how we ended up in Fleet Feet. We met Alan Culpepper at SolePepper Sports one day while selling HydraPouches to athletes at a Runners Edge of the Rockies long training run. He liked the product, and now he carries them. We’ve had a couple retailers in Texas with marathon training teams contact us and place orders, and one of those retailers has now sold several hundred HydraPouches. I’m not sure what they’re doing down there, but I wish a lot more stores were doing it!
How has the HydraPouch been received amongst runners and what type of market research have you done? Do you see any other uses for the HydraPouch besides athletics?
The HydraPouch has been very well received. It solves a pretty specific problem, and when a runner has that problem and buys a HydraPouch, they are happy with the product. We’ve only had one return in four months, and that was because the buyer thought a HydraPouch could be used like a Fuel Belt flask and carried clipped to their waist while it was full. We don’t solve that problem – Fuel Belt and others do, and very well I might add. Our HydraPouch product testing and market research involved hundreds of runners of all shapes, sizes, and speeds, and two things became very clear: no one actually likes drinking out of a paper cup while running, and everyone liked drinking out of a HydraPouch while running.
We’ve only tried to market HydraPouches to runners, but we have sold some to non-runners who want to cut down on paper cup usage during outdoor activities like youth camps and track meets.
Lastly, if you can figure out how to hook up a HydraPour to a keg of beer, you will be a rich, rich man, just sayin’!
You and my wife think exactly alike! Her idea is the “MargaPour” – a high-speed Margarita dispenser. I could probably do my product testing here in Boulder at CU, but that could get me into a lot of trouble!