Interviews, insight & analysis on Ecommerce

How We Built It: Will Pearson and Nick Doman, Co-Founders and CEOs, Ocean Bottle

  • Give us the elevator pitch. Tell us about your brand in 100 words or less

Ocean Bottle is on a mission to prevent 7bn plastic bottles in weight from entering the ocean by 2025 and enable individuals to make a global impact on restoring ocean health. We make what we call the world’s most impactful reusable bottle. Each one purchased funds the collection of 1000 ocean-bound plastic bottles in weight. So far we’ve prevented 7 million kgs of plastic from entering the ocean in coastal communities worst affected by the problem and are just getting started!

  • What inspired you to set up your company?

WP: I was fortunate to grow up in Norway and spend summers sailing in the Fjords with my grandparents, so the ocean was always special to me. After university, I decided to spend a year travelling where I worked for a while as a deckhand on a yacht. I saw plastic everywhere – from an island made of trash to rivers literally choking with plastic in parts of the world. This made it very clear to me what the problem was and so I started researching. Having that visceral reaction to something that you kind of forget about when you’re in London, because you’re so disconnected from it, made it more real. I was left asking myself what we could do to change things, how we could stop plastic waste from entering the ocean in the first place and enable people to be part of it. When I returned, I made it my mission to find a solution.

ND: Will and I met at London Business School. I always wanted to do business differently. I  didn’t understand why you needed to choose between purpose or profit. Surely good business can do both? They don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I wanted to create a business that was focused on finding solutions to global issues, but by putting people and the planet first. 

WP: We wanted an idea that people could understand, often the best ideas need little explanation. Ocean Bottle embodied that. Once we’d decided on it, we began building the foundations of the Company, focused on a clear Mission and creating a best-in-class product to help us achieve it.

ND: That was really important. Creating a product that was high quality, that had a purpose, and that would last. Since inception, Ocean Bottle products have carried a 10 year guarantee with free spare parts for life. Alongside this, we needed the right strategy to ensure the business was having the biggest impact to tackle the problem of ocean-bound plastic.

  • What was your biggest challenge in year one?

ND: Although we met and started the business in 2018, Ocean Bottle was somewhat of a Covid baby. We brought Ocean Bottle to market in 2019 and were super excited for what was to come, then the pandemic hit during our first year of trading. 

WP: One of the things we struggled most was with, like a lot of brands, was supply. Our bottles are manufactured on the other side of the planet, so lockdowns hit us early. Although the business experienced 30% growth during the pandemic, we struggled to scale and for us, the priority was scaling our impact.

ND: I think one of the biggest things we learnt was to adapt. We had a plan, but we had to get creative and accept that the direction of travel isn’t a linear thing. At the time, the team was still really small. We all had to help each other out and get things done. It was critical to ensure the work we were doing was creating the most impact – for Ocean Bottle, for our collection partners, and for the world around us.

WP: Talking about it now, I’m so proud of what the team achieved at this time. 

  • What would you say has been your biggest marketing success?

WP: Ocean Bottle is a business built on partnerships – with our community, with our impact partners, businesses and brands. We’re lucky enough to be at a point now where we are receiving requests to collaborate every day, from some of the biggest brands in the world. I still have to pinch myself.

ND: We’ve built a brand that people love and want to be part of. Our purpose, why we exist – to turn the tide on ocean plastic – is what sets us apart, it’s been part of our narrative from the start. So yeah, you could say that’s two successes really. Creating a brand with purpose, and working with partners who want to make it a reality. 

  • What has been the biggest mistake you made?

WP: We thought that D2C would be easy with a single product! Despite seeing entrepreneurs on Instagram  telling you to quit your job and start an ecomm brand from Bali, we found out it wasn’t as easy as they made it sound. Scaling is a real challenge because of the cost of acquisition and building brand awareness. Having a single product at a relatively low price-point… for example, compared to something like a mattress brand, made it even harder. We’ve been really fortunate in that there has been a huge amount of interest from B2B and brand partnerships which has helped scale our company and enable us to reinvest in our D2C and focus on the experience of the user who is getting the product at the end of the day. 

  • Tell us about your plans for the future

ND: We’ve got a few new ventures in the works, but what we’re most excited about is how we’re integrating tech with impact as part of our proposition. It’s what will propel our business forward both in the short term and for years to come, allowing us to double down on our efforts and future-proof our impact and growth.

We’ve now built an impact ledger that allows full traceability of funding, connecting each purchase with the individual plastic collection, including details about the centre and number of collectors involved. This brings more people closer to the problem and solution.

We’ve recently come out of the beta phase of our app, and are iterating based on user feedback – we have an engaged community of Ocean Bottle advocates that are supporting its development and road-testing new features. 

WP: We’re also just off the back of launching a subscription service to allow Companies and individuals to fund more regular plastic collection. It has the potential to scale quickly, and it’s something that allows us to continually engage with our community and bring them back to our Mission, and the part they play in that. We set ourselves the goal to collect 7 billion plastic bottles in weight by 2025, and we’re more confident than ever that we’ll get there.

How we Built it

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