Rob Koenen is the Chief Marketing Officer of Boxed Water is Better®; the first national company to offer a sustainable alternative to plastic water bottles and aluminum cans. Rob is charged with expanding Boxed Water’s core message of “better for you…better for the planet.” Boxed Water Is Better is quickly becoming a model for purpose-driven companies leading with values that extend beyond their category. Prior to Boxed Water, Rob has held leadership roles, building and recontextualizing brands at UGG, Timberland, and Wolverine Worldwide.
Boxed Water is the leader in pure sustainable water; while not only offering an alternative to bottles, they have led the way in cause-related efforts: from reforestation to beach cleanups. To date, they are responsible for planting 850,000 trees in our National Forests based on social posts and their “You Post. We Plant.” program. Boxed Water has found a way to use digital, traditional and partnerships to build a robust community. From leaders in fashion, universities, tourism and fitness—along with a number of celebrities, Boxed Water has become a connector-brand in the marketplace. Along the way, they have created strong connections with millennial consumers Boxed Water is proving that sustainability is a meaningful business solution for today’s consumer.
Rob lives in Grand Rapids Michigan with his wife, Elizabeth and three children.
Where did the idea for Boxed Water is Better come from?
The idea started 10 years ago; long before plastic pollution was even recognized as a concern. A group of entrepreneurs in Grand Rapids Michigan started noticing the excess of plastic bottles everywhere they went; littering Lalapalooza, pallets stacked high in stores, on our beaches. They had no beverage experience, but inherently asked why can’t we find a better solution. Entrepreneur and Designer, Ben Gott designed the first box by making the proportions fit your hand, and fit in the convenience store cold cases. The team delivered cases out of their cars, and got paid in cash. It was very scrappy; but the first day it was in-store, we sold out…and knew that sustainability mattered to consumers.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Today, with COVID-19, it’s a lot of zoom calls….but the work hasn’t really changed. It’s staying connected internally and externally with each other and our consumers. The world is changing rapidly in how it interacts that we have to constantly be changing and innovating to keep our consumer community together. One example of community-building is the You Post. We Plant campaign. In conjunction with the National Forest Foundation, we will plant 2 trees for every social media post with Boxed Water in it…for free. This has built an incredible community on social media of people who want to post creative images and share their stories while helping the planet. Together we will reach our goal of planting 1,000,000 trees this year based on people coming together.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Through an incredible team. I’m lucky to have brilliant and creative people who are dedicated to building this brand and helping the planet. You are only as good as your team. They keep me in touch with consumer trends, environmental issues and are always pushing us to be better.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Clearly the trend of small upstart companies that make a difference. Brands like Patagonia have proven you can blend profit with purpose successfully. This has been an inspiration to us…and many other companies. We love the resurgence of entrepreneurial companies that stand for something. We look at the success of This Bar Saves Lives, Reformation and Parks Project as proof that consumers care. Actually, this translates into a broader trend of “consumers who care”…either about the planet, social justice or any cause. We wouldn’t be successful without people really caring about these causes.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My team will tell you that I can never pick one of anything….I love options!!! If I had to rank habits, I’d say entrepreneurs need to be constantly learning and staying curious. Once you think you know everything, you know nothing because the environment has changed. So, you need to make time to always learn. Secondly, protect your reputation. You are only as good as your reputation, so stay ethical and always do what you say….over the years, people will respect you and be there for you if you are there for them.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Lose weight, eat healthy (plant-based)…you only have one life…..(and stop buying plastic bottles NOW…in twenty years, the planet will thank you!!)
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Teddy Roosevelt was a better president than Abraham Lincoln OR George Washington. Bring it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read books, listen to podcasts….try to be 1% smarter everyday….learn something.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I hate to repeat myself, but Boxed Water would not exist without the You Post. We Plant. campaign and the foundational strategy underneath. The core strategy is to build a community of like-minded people who want to help the planet, but don’t always have the time. It empowers people to act in a bite-size way and contribute to the greater good. In a nutshell: One small act (a post) can make a huge impact (1M trees). Boxed Water is not just a sustainable water company…it’s really a conduit for environmentally-minded people and brands to come together to make a difference.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It’s difficult to pick just one….and frankly I’m of the “launch and learn” or “fail fast” mentality. I encourage my team to take risks…failure just means you’re trying something new. I’d rather be in-market with an idea that’s 90% baked, then launching the idea later that is 100% perfect and miss the opportunity. You can always course correct later based on your learnings. To answer your question, we did a really cool give-away on the Ellen show- expecting about 200 responses….we got 30,000…..boy, did that blow the budget.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody needs to find a solution to all this plastic pollution…69 billion bottles are made every year. Big Soda will not stop producing it anytime soon.…some smart person has to find a way to repurpose it economically.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I ever spent was on the first date with my wife. I was young, and poor, but I splurged on a fancy restaurant to impress her and it paid off; 21 years and 3 wonderful kids later we’re still together….
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack is the best way to keep teams together real-time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Creativity Inc. It is not only a fascinating story about Pixar’s birth, but it’s filled with management lessons. The world was one signature away from not having Buzz, Woody, Nemo or the Incredibles. It’s an incredible story…
What is your favorite quote?
Again…choose one? I think not….
“You didn’t wake up today to be mediocre.”
“Look to the future, not the past—the rearview mirror is smaller than the windshield for a reason.”
“Launch and learn.”
- Sustainability matters to consumers.
- Entrepreneurs need to be constantly learning and staying curious.
- Take risks…failure just means you’re trying something new.