Food & Bev

Tok of the town: How TikTok helped beverage brand Waterboy bootstrap its business

Founders Connor Saeli and Mike Xhaxho share how they “turned the brand into an influencer.”
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· 3 min read

We spend more time on TikTok than we’d like to admit, so we’re putting our excessive screen time to use by spotlighting the emerging brands and intriguing trends crossing our FYPs.

Waterboy’s journey to TikTok virality began like many people’s average day ends: pulling up to your house and grabbing the mail. Except before co-founder Mike Xhaxho got out of his car that day in 2021, he decided to film a TikTok (his first ever) introducing consumers to his new beverage brand.

That video led to ~18k presale sign-ups and $65k in sales, and has garnered more than 189k views for the brand, which produces a zero-sugar hydration stick pack centered around “weekend recovery” that’s formulated with vitamins, ginger, and exactly 3,187 mg of electrolytes.

Waterboy was founded by Xhaxho and Connor Saeli (who some might remember from The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise) and has bootstrapped its way to $10 million in sales in two years, with its TikTok presence allowing Waterboy to “turn the brand into an influencer,” Saeli said. The brand spent nothing on acquisition costs for the first six to nine months in business, Xhaxho added, and has amassed more than 116k followers on the platform, with four full-time employees.

“Companies sometimes raise money with the hopes that they can figure out product-market fit, and then they can figure out scale, and they can figure everything else,” Xhaxho said. “But we already were able to solve a lot of that through our own organic content.”

From your POV: Waterboy operates in a crowded category with a lot of big CPG $$ behind it. There’s Unilever’s Liquid IV, Nestle’s Nuun, and let’s not forget Gatorade, owned by a little company called PepsiCo. Along with its self-reported lower sugar and higher electrolyte and vitamin content, Saeli and Xhaxho believe their content has set them apart in the space.

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“A lot of these other hydration brands…they all just post aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos,” Saeli said. “TikTok is just a whole different beast, and people don’t want to see that stuff. They want to feel connected and feel community. And they want to know who’s behind the brand.”

Saeli said consumers like to see the “ups and downs of the business,” and that’s what Waterboy shares. They’ve made videos about the brand almost losing $100k of product, an employee leaving for another opportunity, playing a game of human shuffleboard (feat. an Amazon delivery driver) in the office, have even made TikToks about…making TikToks. They’ve also used the platform to recruit employees.

Of course, being that open on the internet can lead to criticism—from questions about whether the company’s marketing around “hanxiety” could be promoting unsafe drinking, to the many comments comparing the product to Liquid IV, to a joke taken a bit too far.

“We’d rather 10%–20% of people love us and the rest hate us, than everyone else feel lukewarm,” Xhaxho said.

Words of rizz-dom: For retail brands or creators looking to break through, Saeli said simply “don’t be afraid to post.”

“A lot of people try and copy these other content creators or brands and try and make this perfect video,” Saeli said. “But in reality, that platform is a lot more about consistency, and just getting the message out there…The platform is for everyone; you just have to find your niche and your angle on it.”

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