EP 15: Founder of Hydro Flask: Travis Rosbach and his Entrepreneurial Journey

Mary Harcourt  0:05  
Welcome to Ready Set glow, a podcast where I interview the person behind the brand through to talk about what it took to get started, the lessons learned along the way, and the advice they have for you on your own journey. I'm your host, Mary Harcourt, founder and CEO of Cosmo glow. Today's episode has so much to offer. You may know him as the founder of Hydroflask. Well, we're going to introduce him as Travis Ross back and adventurer, an entrepreneur, and a believer in good products produced by good people doing good things. His clients include various industries, celebrities, and individuals, and he shares his tradecraft with others, and practices in many of the current startups. His company is called the Tamala group. And they help young startups get to the next level in business by offering consulting help with sourcing, advertising and branding. We could have talked all day, but we crammed it into this episode. I'm so excited. Let's get going. Travis, I'm so excited to have you as part of this episode. I'm pretty sure we spend the whole day chatting and you're such an interesting person. It's gonna be an amazing episode. So if you had to pick just one to describe yourself the best, would you say that you are a thrill seeker and adventurer, entrepreneur, or overachiever? Just one?

Travis Rosbach  1:32  
I would say probably adventure. I think most of my life I've set out to do what's non standard and what is exciting. I love thrills, but I like them to be a little bit coordinated and thought out. Yeah, I'd say adventure.

Mary Harcourt  1:50  
I love it. Let's do it. So everyone knows the brand Hydroflask. And if you don't, you're gonna learn all about it today, because it's such an icon. I live in California and went to hot yoga and you could not go to a hot yoga class without seeing the entire studio full of Hydroflask. But you're so much more than Hydroflask. So give us a rundown of your whole life experience. You're so talented. You have all these certifications like who are you?

Travis Rosbach  2:15  
I started out right after high school. I met my dad when I was 14. And when I was 12. I inherited this big bookshelf of business books for my neighbor who had died. So I was really into books. I was really into business books, Brian Tracy Wayne Dyer's Ziglar. You know, all that kind of late Anthony Robbins a lot of those kind of era genre books. And then I met my dad when I was 14, and started going down the US Virgin Islands down to St. Croix, and he owns scuba diving shops from growing up. Watching Jacques Cousteau to actually living in on and around the water was pretty amazing. It was a really neat experience. So after high school a couple of days later, I graduated from South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon, and went down to St. Croix and became a dive master and then became a dive instructor and found that I wanted to be on the boats also. So I became a boat captain. Got my 50 time captain's license eventually and was working on yachts and dive boats and Paracel boats all over St. Thomas St. Croix St. John and I would take off in the summers and just go travel all over the planet and go work in Australia or or Fiji or wherever I ended up and then I became a pilot I became an airline pilot. I first flew skydivers, which was a lot of fun. And then for Seaborne Airlines flying seaplane, St. Croix St. Thomas in Puerto Rico, we moved up to Florida became a jet charter pilot flying predominantly LIRs hawkers and Falcons out of Stuart, Florida got tired of that and moved back home to Oregon started bend fencing just kind of after a bottle of wine and just kind of a wild like idea. And sold it took off to a wall who started a wall who signs and screen printing where we had sort of an agency handling all sorts of startup business stuff. And then one day Hydroflask came and started Hydroflask the double wall vacuum insulated water bottle and sold that and took off and just traveled all over the place some more and then yoga came into my life one day and started learning and teaching and meditation and spent a lot of time in meditation and in yoga, and yoga practices and then I moved back home to Oregon again and bought some property and some chainsaws and started homesteading. So that's kind of where I am now with I had the Tamila group which I helped people start businesses. So that's that's kind of me in a nutshell.

Mary Harcourt  5:00  
Oh, I love it. You're so adventurous. And like Oregon, I feel like the bounce back between all these tropical islands to Oregon had to be just a such a different feel.

Travis Rosbach  5:09  
No matter where I am in the world, I come back to Oregon and I'm like, why am I here? But at the same time, I know why I'm here also, because it's not there. And there's something comfortable about that.

Mary Harcourt  5:21  
I'm from Pennsylvania. I totally get it. I traveled the entire world. And there still is that thing that you go home to that only home can give you. Let's talk Hydroflask How did that all start?

Travis Rosbach  5:31  
Well, there were a couple of different things that sort of brought that up my partner and I owned a sign and screen printing and banners and embroidery company in a wahoo. And I got this magazine that was for the print industry and it said, Hey, you can now print on these aluminum water bottles and kind of like a screen printer. And I thought, like wow, I'm interested in this because I I had kind of this odd fascination with Nalgene water bottles and just water in general. I love water I've been in on and around water most of my life. So I told my brother, I was like, Hey, man, you know, you should check out this this water bottle printer. And he was like, Nah, I'm just too busy. He just bought a sailboat and they were not interested. So I kind of put it out of my mind. And then a few weeks later, as Downtown Honolulu there was sporting goods store where I was like, oh, I'll just go in and get a plastic Nalgene water bottle and I'll be happy. I'll just drink my water. I'm thirsty. And I went in and the shelves were empty. There were no water bottles. And they said there's this thing called BPA. They weren't really sure what it was it was just starting to come out. I was like, Okay, well, who's going to fill up this wall? And they said, No one, there are no other brands. And it just kind of came in the back of my head came out my mouth, I will I will do that the guy kind of like laughed at me. And I kind of like saw the future of myself, you know, 10 years forward talking about this water bottle company. And I was like, I don't know it just happened. But it looks like I own a water bottle company now.

Mary Harcourt  7:08  
So you had no background in like the drink industry. So to say it was just seeing a hole in the industry and knowing that you had a fascination with screen printing. If you put the two and two together juice screen print the Hydroflask bottles.

Travis Rosbach  7:20  
No, we never ended up doing that. We got laser engravers which are a lot easier and faster screen printing is very slow process. So we always let the factory do that if we were going to be printing nowadays, it's all modern digital Slynt digital printing, which is really cool.

Mary Harcourt  7:38  
Got it. So you left Whole Foods You walked out and then you decided to take a research into water bottles like how did you find your sourcing Where Where did you go and get prototypes made if you've got them made?

Travis Rosbach  7:50  
I always like to hire and work with around people who are younger than me. So I kind of have my finger on the pulse like what's cool, what's hip what's going on right now? And I said Hey, what did we do? Because I can't get a Nalgene. What do I do? One of the employees said sick, you gotta get this aluminum bottle called sick. I said, Okay, great. So I went over to Patagonia on the north shore where I was living at the time and a wahoo bought a really expensive aluminum water bottle. And I realized I couldn't fit my ice cubes in it. I couldn't put it in the freezer. I dropped it this gold stuff on the inside flaked off. I called them I asked him What's this gold stuff? They were really rude. They wouldn't tell me no. And when they were rude, they just they almost like kind of like hung up on me. And I remember thinking okay, it's on like Donkey Kong. Here we go. Then I found a single wall bottle that was just starting to kind of come out into mass production. So I thought okay, well maybe I don't need to do this. I'll just get one of these metal water bottles instead. bought one drink out of it. It ran all over my shirt all over my face. It was just ergonomically non correct. And it would be so hot. I couldn't drink the water by the time I got back from surfing. So I was like, we got to do something different. And I remember my grandpa had a he had an old school thermos that had glass on the inside and metal on the outside and it stunk and it's really heavy and I was like well why can't we just do metal and metal and make it a water bottle so that was kind of my first idea as to double wall vacuum insulation could possibly work on a sports bottled drink bottle and then I took off to China to go make that happen.

Mary Harcourt  9:35  
And so what was your first order size? Did you go to try to find a manufacturer or are you like sampling a little bit of everybody to see which ones work the best?

Travis Rosbach  9:43  
Well, so when I got there, I had thought that I had found a factory that did water bottles and they said that they were willing to do some sort of insulated bottle. So I got to Shanghai found my way to the factory. This was 2000 It was a radically different country back then. And they're like, No, that's not what we do. We do plastic water bottles, like, Well, yeah, but you told me in the facts that you could do, you know, insulated. They're like, yeah, no. So I was just getting ready to leave. And this guy came up and he grabbed my arm. He's like, Hey, man, I got this cousin down in hijo, you should go meet him, he could probably help you out, like, Okay, I don't know what that means. But I'm gonna get to that. So I found my way to Hanzo and met his wife and met him. And they're like, Yeah, we don't know what this means. But we can go ahead and help you try. So we spent the next couple of weeks just going from factory to factory to factory to factory trying to figure out who can help us do some sort of installation. I think it was like literally the last or second to last factory that we finally went to after everybody else said, No, the guy just kind of like, I remember the look on his face. He kind of scratched his head. And he's like, I guess I could try, like, awesome. That's all I need. So that's how we found the factory, then the minimum order quantity, the MOQ was 3000 pieces. I was like, Well, I don't really have that much money. But yeah, okay, if that's what we have to do. That's what we have to do go ahead and start flew back home to Oahu, we sold everything we owned, we sold everything except for one bag each and had the money for the 3000. From there, we move back home to Oregon because Oregon is a better place. It's just easier and cheaper to do business from then Hawaii. And Ben's, you know, it was starting to kind of become this outdoor place where people were starting to kind of pay attention to then come to find out we didn't have enough money to pay for all 3000. So I was like, Hey, can we just do 1500? And they said, Well, yeah, but we're never gonna sell the other 1500 We're just gonna have to scrap them because this is such a bad idea. So it was like, Okay, well, you know what, watch this. We paid for the 15. We got those. And then it just took off from there took off like wildfire.

Mary Harcourt  11:57  
You mentioned that you walked into this store that had the empty shelves, did you go back to that store? And say like, Hey, I have your water bottle? Or how did that work?

Travis Rosbach  12:05  
No, unfortunately, not. Because that was back in a lot. But the very first day, we got the 1500 I walked into Whole Foods, and then was the guy's name, who was the buyer for that department. He was pulling all the signals off the shelf, and he was livid. He was on the floor, literally pulling them out and putting them in the boxes to send back because they had lied. And they did have BPA. He was livid. And I was like, Guess what, here's Travis got this water bottle. He's like, is there BPA? Of course not. It was like, I'll take them all. So I started with whole foods. And then every store that I went to from there was you know, fairly Dare I say easy because I could reference Whole Foods. Well, of course,

Mary Harcourt  12:50  
anytime you say that they're in Whole Foods. Everyone's like, Okay, let me see it. Let me see. And what else do you see the opportunity you put yourself where it needs to be? You went and did all the research you found, like, I'm sure just hopped around trying to trying to understand this all and got it made. So it's not luck. But you took advantage of the opportunity and put yourself in the right place to have everything work. I have a question here from Instagram. And I feel like it's ties right into where we're at is the size and need for a long lasting drink container. Why do you feel that Hydroflask has become a top of the line coveted container.

Travis Rosbach  13:21  
A lot of that was just always built into the DNA of the company, I think being first played a big part, we were really the first in the space. And we were good people doing good things I was I was making water bottles for the masses, I really wanted to hydrate everybody. I wasn't doing it for money. I wasn't doing it for fortune and fame or any of that I just wanted people to I wanted to drink out of a good water bottle and I wanted my friends and family to do the same. I think that that sort of ethos and that DNA was baked into the company. And so as the industry grew Hydroflask was always right there at the forefront. They took a couple of hits here and there and they made a couple of I would say bad decisions here and there which really opened up for the competition to really get a foot in the in the door. But other than that there's still pretty much synonymous with water bottles today. It's you know, a lot of people use the word flask or even Hydroflask when referring to a water bottle, which again was always the goal from day one. There's Q tip, there's Speedos. There's Kleenex and there's hydro flasks and it doesn't matter what brand but that's what I wanted people to associate with Hydroflask is a water bottle.

Mary Harcourt  14:39  
I love it. I mean you've truly done that. You're like proud to have that water bottle you have it you take it with you everywhere. Everyone has their different color that they like and that's what you do and it is it is a brand it is a little bit of a you buy into the culture of the company, which I love.

Travis Rosbach  14:55  
Yeah, I studied Coca Cola I studied a lot of the Colts You know, the cult of Coca Cola, the cult of Patagonia, the cult of Zappos, and I studied other businesses and brands and and secret societies and how do we kind of bring our, our fan base and our customer base really inside and make them diehards? Because we were doing good things. We weren't giving them tainted lemon or Kool Aid, we were given them hydration, people started feeling better, the more hydrated they were. And they can start to see a one to one relationship between their water bottle, ie a Hydro Flask, and how they felt better. So they, they appreciated Hydroflask. So it was easier for them to go out and share it amongst their friends and family.

Mary Harcourt  15:42  
That's a very valid point. I've never thought about it like that. Obviously, you have you come from this world. But it really is something that makes you feel better. When on a hot summer day, you're hiking up a mountain and you have ice cold water, you just feel not only refreshed, but hydrated, almost a little happy where you're like, Okay, I'm out here in the sunshine in nature and ice cold water, that would never happen any other way. So I see how you build that relationship with your customers. So let's talk about the lessons you've learned and how it was scaling your company. You started with 1500. And you do way more than that. Now, I'm sure. But what were some of the lessons you learned while you're scaling,

Travis Rosbach  16:16  
I learned a lot, I've never really had any formal business training or schooling, I just had always kind of ran and shot from the hip and just read books and did what I felt was intuitively best. So when I would get into the room with really, highly intelligent people, I would always just try to learn what was going on and try to learn something new, every single meeting every single day I learned from our employees, I would always try to hire employees that were really good at what they did. So I could learn from them and then higher, better and better. And the more that we could afford bigger positions and better positions, I would just keep trying to learn every single day. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned upfront was that if you don't have enough sales, you can go out of business. And most people kind of know that. But that what I learned was that if you have too many sales, you can also go out of business, it got really expensive meeting the demand. And the bottles back then just like they do today, they cost $5.50 from the factory, nothing is changed. It's the same price today as it was back then. But when you have to start doing 40,000 a month, it adds up when you start doing 60,000 80,000 a month, every single month. And the customers don't a lot of these accounts wouldn't pay for a net 60 or even a net 90 on some of these distribution accounts. It was a long time to float a lot of cash. I learned that pretty quick like oh geez, we can be too successful.

Mary Harcourt  17:55  
That's where we're at with my company. I mean it the supply and demand is so amazing. We love the number one company but it is trying to keep them and make them as fast as possible is I feel like aside, people don't see very often, it's a really hard balancing act to be able to grow as fast as possible and meet the demand and keep prices where they are.

Travis Rosbach  18:14  
Yeah, especially nowadays. I mean, with the supply chain issues, and the shipping and the logistics and everything is so expensive. It's it's tough. I mean, we're headed in a direction of a bit of an unknown, it's going to be interesting to see what happens with you know, Southeast Asia and how we continue to work with them or don't work with them even more interestingly, we're at a time unlike any other because I don't feel like we really have a lot of good backup plans. I don't feel like if tomorrow, the shipping from that side of the world shut off. I don't feel like we're ready to pick it up here in the States and start manufacturing everything that we need to survive. It's so interesting

Mary Harcourt  18:55  
to kind of break down this old school mentality versus this new style of manufacturing. Of course, the support systems are still linked all around the world. If one gets shut off suddenly it hurts us all. So hopefully that doesn't happen. But I think you will start to see a little bit of a pivot and a shift of things coming in and being more manufactured on home base idea to

Travis Rosbach  19:15  
I'm starting to see that a lot with the Tamila group and and does that but a factory up in Washington and they have robots to run. The production. Part of me is like no, I want to see Americans working. I want to see humans working well. In reality, these robots are what's keeping these prices down. The owner the factory was telling me that the raw material cost for them is the exact same as it is in shins in they're paying an exact pound for pound they're paying the exact same price. So it really comes down to labor. And, you know, leasing the warehouse owning the land taxes, you know, sort of ancillary costs like that. They call that out and yeah, it levels the pool. infield, it doesn't

Mary Harcourt  20:01  
I totally agree with automation, we do automatic laser welding and cutting. And it's so precise. It's so precise, that of course, we want to see humans but they find other jobs. They're the ones that are becoming the sales reps. They're the ones that are making these connections. They're the ones that are conditioning, the team to make the whole machine run. But it's almost becoming more skilled labor, where people are working on how to organize these machines, how to get them to do whatever they need to do lift their arm here and do this, do that. And that's what really skilled force of I don't know what you call them, like machine programmers, but it really is starting to be like a new trend. And I think you'll see a lot more of that

Travis Rosbach  20:39  
take to these different factories where I see a lot more, you know, dare I say like intelligent people who have more and more degrees running these robots and running these machines and these programs and the just the throughput of all of the factory floor is so well thought out and mapped out and charted out and it's running like a well oiled machine. I've been to a lot of factories all over the world. But typically, they throw manpower at it, you know, if you have a machine, you typically about three or four people, they're sweeping up and wailing and doing this and doing that doing the other and there's four humans at one machine. Here in the States, we have one human for four machines. And it's like, that's pretty cool. Well, and

Mary Harcourt  21:25  
start to look at the floors, these floors are there, they're crystal clean, they're so clean, they're spotless, and they're white. You know, when you think of factories, you think of oil on the floor, people in jumpsuits just covered from head to toe in these little dark patches of oil and whatnot. And it's not like look at the Tesla plants. I mean, these robots are so incredible pumping out these machines all day long. And the people working on them, it's a really established high class job to be able to be a part of that manufacturing. So I think that's a little bit of the pivot to is a little bit of a way of the old school manufacturing into this new, clean, automated, educated way of doing it. So do you still Oh, no. Hydroflask? Have you sold it? Is it still part of your everyday thing?

Travis Rosbach  22:10  
No, I sold I sold a number of years ago. And then they went on and they pumped a tremendous amount of money into it, and then sold it again to who it's with now. And quite honestly, they pretty much just whitewashed me out of the history books that I have really nothing more to do with them. And I buy my water bottles from you, if I don't get them directly from the factories that I get them from Costco,

Mary Harcourt  22:32  
you have a new venture tombolo group tell us what that's all about

Travis Rosbach  22:36  
the tumbler group is is to keep me in business because I love business so much. And I love having the ability to help people really is what it comes down to I do a lot of sourcing. So we help with finding these factories, which is a lot of fun, because I really enjoy seeing what are the prices in Detroit versus Shinzen. And we look at all of that. And we weigh the pros and cons of both. And so that's a big part of the Tamila group. And then also consulting, I work with a lot of startups and a lot of middle size, you know, sort of the one to $5 million range, businesses that are sort of looking to go over that $5 million hump. But then also big fortune, whatever companies that are looking to get back into touch with the common person, those sorts of accounts are starting to really come in as well.

Mary Harcourt  23:32  
I love that it's everything you use. You study those books, who studied cults, you studied everything on what made these amazing companies such as Coca Cola, and Zappos successful. So you have a knowledge, you went through it yourself with a Hydroflask and launched your own company, I could see how it's so much value myself having a startup, you don't know it all, like you have this great idea and you want to see your idea come to pass, but you don't know it all. So I think it's a perfect plug in what you're doing to help people get over these humps. Because you go in with this great idea. But you you almost wish you had someone that had done it to hold your hand through it, just to make life that much easier.

Travis Rosbach  24:10  
It's like a therapy almost, you know, I'm absolutely not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV, but it feels like a lot where, you know, I sort of get these phone calls the proverbial 3am Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? It's late and the shipping is not ready and this isn't ready and that that it's gonna be okay. Tomorrow is another day, get some sleep. We'll talk about it tomorrow. And sure enough, Tomorrow the sun comes out and they're like, Oh, well, it does work. But I've never had any mentors. I never really had anybody help guide me. I never had anybody to give me the you know the little push this way or that way. So the fact that I get to do this now with other people, it just feels awesome. I really love business and so I love having my wheels turning With an idea or a problem or a, you know, opportunity,

Mary Harcourt  25:03  
yeah, I think those books did it for you. There's so much value in books. These are like everyone's claim to fame, I went through all of these life experiences, let me compile it into a readable format to give it to someone else as Cliff Notes for here's how to do it your way. And not everyone reads. So if you could get your your real life in person doing consulting and having phone calls, you're the ones that calling pricing things out sourcing it, like it's such a great thing for anybody in the new business startup. I could totally see where you're going with that. And I'm sure it's extremely fulfilling, knowing that you came from a background wishing you had someone that did that. And here you are. And it's a great thing. I'm glad you're out there helping all the startups. So where can people learn more about that? Tamala?

Travis Rosbach  25:46  
Well, so I'm Travis at Tamila, group.com TUML. O gra up.com. I'm also a little bit on LinkedIn, Travis Ross back on iOS ba ch on LinkedIn.

Mary Harcourt  25:59  
So you're a huge adventure. Are you still out there diving, swimming, flying, boating around

Travis Rosbach  26:04  
as much as I possibly can I just actually I was accepted into the Explorers Club, which is like a huge honor I was I was blown away that they even would consider me. And that's the goal is just to get on as many expeditions and adventures as I possibly can. I really want to go out and I want to go push the ice wall and go see what's out on the other side of the ice. I think that I think there's a lot more out there than we know. And I want to go check it out.

Mary Harcourt  26:31  
I love that my parents went to Antarctica. And I think it's like the little thing in the back of your head like I just have to get there and make it equal if not one of them. Because come on Antarctica, I've been to six other continents. But I haven't been to that one. That's just

Travis Rosbach  26:45  
a peninsula where they take you and everybody who and I think it's I and I may be wrong. And I probably need to be fat check. But I think that it's actually Disney that owns that peninsulas, the expedition, all of the expeditions that go to that one peninsula are all owned by the same company. And it's a very Hello, you're here. This is Antarctica, take pictures. Tell everybody, you're on Antarctica. But there's way more than that. And I want to find the cracks that go to the outside worlds that I know that are out there. And we're starting to now finally start talking about.

Mary Harcourt  27:17  
Well, Travis, you have been so much fun. Thank you so much for being a part of us. Everyone knows where to find you or also document all of your stuff on my links at Mary harcourt.com as well as on all of the bios of the Spotify and Apple iTunes, wherever we are posted as a podcast. You've been an amazing guest. Thank you so much. That wraps up today's episode. For more information on our guests. You can find them at Mary harcourt.com under the episodes tab. You can always find me on Instagram at Mary Harcourt underscore in app the cosmic glow light. I hope you enjoyed today's episode and many more to come