My guest today is a perfect example of how one man with a strong vision, big heart and a good dose of get up and go, can make a difference.
At 19 years old Daniel co-founded Thankyou with a couple of friends. What began as an idea to tap into the millions and billions of dollars that consumers spend on bottled water to help tackle the World Water Crisis, has grown into 45 products that are stocked in over 4000 outlets, with 100% of the profit going to Impact. To date, Thankyou have given over 4.69million dollars to Impact, helping hundreds of thousands of people across 17 countries.
I had the amazing privilege of meeting Daniel in person and hear him present to a large crowd just a few months ago and I was moved to tears. Daniel and his team have achieved so much, despite some massive setbacks along the way.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Daniel Flynn or the Thankyou story, please pay them a visit and do your best to support their work as they expand into New Zealand, and then take on the world.
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Have you always considered yourself to be socially aware?
I think I was always aware but at a surface level. I wasn’t the kid at school that was always driven to do charity stuff all the time. I’d heard about issues and I grew up in family that was always thinking about the world in some way, shape, or form.
I sponsored a child through World Vision in my teenage years. That was probably my action point of “hey I’m going to do something about the problems in the world.” But to me it was also a bit of a tick-of a-box. My contribution has been made. So I was aware but not super motivated to make a huge change.
That’s a polar opposite to Justine, one of our other co-founders and my wife, she was that kid. She was so driven to raise money to go overseas and do great stuff.
When I look at my childhood, I think that sponsoring a child was a turning point. When I was 19 and Thankyou started, I had a much deeper turning point. That moment was the moment that started this whole idea.
Can you tell us how Thankyou started?
It did start small and the beauty of Thankyou is such a simple and small idea. Yet it has the potential to hopefully one day really change the world.
The simple idea begins the moment I’m literally at my computer reading about the world water crisis. There were statistics that shocked me. One was that 900 million people didn’t have access to clean water, this was back in 2008. The second number was 4500 children dying every day from waterborne disease, and I found that quite confronting.
What really moved me though was when I started watching the stories of other young people. Because I’m sitting there at 19 but I’m watching stories of kids as young as 4 and 5, and they speak of collecting water for their family. They are spending half a day or a whole day collecting it, and it’s this water that can end up killing siblings, or themselves, and I am in this particular moment, deeply moved.
I find myself at my computer crying because what I’m seeing is shocking. Also I’m thinking if that was me and I lost my sisters Jess and Mel; a) losing them would be a shocking thing but imagine finding out as the brother, that it was waterborne disease from the water you were getting them. I can’t in this moment really even process that thought, and there are other young people in our world going through this.
I think I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer kid, positive and negative, head in the clouds sometimes, but I think we all have dreams. For me, it was shocking to watch videos of other young people and I reckon they’ve got dreams, of course they do. But they’ll not have the chance to even start chasing them, because they’re stuck collecting what is a basic human right, water. And it’s not even clean.
That to me was this moment of emotion but also this sort of anger in me that’s like how can we live in a world so developed yet this is still a thing. I looked at this incredible comparison with bottled water because when you research world water crisis, you’ll read numbers around the bottled water industry.
It’s a really interesting comparison of these two worlds so to speak and in 2008, we were spending 50 billion dollars on bottled water. Today it’s 137 billion dollars, 600 million dollars in Australia alone. I’ve always said it but bottled water is a silly product and it should not exist in our world. But it does and this is interesting. It exists because of us, consumers, and what we do. At Thankyou, the whole idea was let’s turn this dumb product into a moment that’s more powerful, if you need to buy water. What I love is that Thankyou isn’t a bottle of water, it’s an idea.
Now 8 years in, it’s transferred to many other more practical products, in my personal view, but bottled water’s a funny starting point because it’s kind of a push in our own faces. We shouldn’t be spending 3 or 4 dollars but we are, let’s make our profit go further. That’s what it began.
My best mate Jarryd and my girlfriend Justine both loved the idea and it’s one thing to have an idea, but when you get a couple of people around it, that’s when some cool stuff can happen.
Would you mind sharing some of the larger stumbling blocks you’ve overcome in your journey?
I’m so glad we’re talking about this because sometimes the outside-in view is like “man, those guys have got it all together.” I know because I’ve thought that about so many people, businesses, and ideas, then I get to meet and know them, and discover it was hard for them.
The truth is that every single one of us is on this journey and it is hard. If you are starting anything, leading anything, trying to change anything, then it is not easy. I promise you that today is still so hard and even though we’re getting bigger, I assumed it would get easier. I think the problem just gets bigger.
I look back at the start, and our first three years were really interesting. Day one we landed a really big deal, one of those deals-of-a-lifetime. It was an order for 50 thousand units of product in the very first pitch. I thought that would set the tone of the future of Thankyou. It didn’t.
That product was delivered and there was a labelling issue. That led to not just a normal launch, we did a launch and then a product recall. We then built up after our relaunch to 350 customers stocking our product. Then our first factory didn’t keep up with supply, and that supply issue was 5 weeks of no product which led to us losing 300 of our 350 customers.
That was at the one-year mark. People weren’t willing to work with people who can’t deliver product. At the end of the day in a product market it makes sense, we found it a bit tough.
We re-relaunched at the end of year one, we had two retailers looking at our idea and we thought if one takes it, everything would change. The relaunch was with a new factory and distributor. This distribution company promised us the world, we sent them literally a truck load of water. The order was absolutely massive. These guys were going to launch us into 2000 stores. But instead they went into liquidation…Then the two big retailers looking at our product both came back saying no. Both then came out with their own bottle that went to funding water projects. That’s good, I mean that’s why we started, but it’s bad for us because that’s our idea.
The biggest challenge we’ve had at Thankyou is a challenge we all have. It’s getting other people to see your vision. We could get our friends and family to love it, at street-level people even said they thought the idea was cool. But every time we’d go the retailers, they would say you’re up against the biggest beverage companies in the world, these guys are spending millions of dollars every time they launch a new product, and you guys are talking about Facebook and word-of-mouth, it’s nice but it’s not enough. So I think that was our challenge.
After 12 months of negotiations, one particular supermarket gave us national ranging, which was our break at 2 and a half years. Three weeks later a new category manager took over and didn’t want a bar of us.
I could go on and on. We recently released our book “Chapter One” about our story, and essentially the only reason we even have a book worth writing about is because it was so hard. Knock back after knock back after knock back. But I think when you get these setbacks, it does two things; it leads to giving up and there were so many moments where I wanted to give up, or it leads to building a resilience or ‘stepping stones’.
So we had a choice, every time we got a knock back, do we learn from it? Do we let that build to what we hope is one day a future breakthrough? Or do we just literally give up?
The reality is that all of us have stumbling blocks, we have them every day. I’ve got some in my inbox today! There’s not a day that goes by where there’s not an issue. If we are able to learn from it and grow, we’re building ourselves a ‘mini degree’. You’re building something that will hopefully lead to that breakthrough one day, if you persist.
You’ve been known to say that “it’s not good enough to just know your why.” Would you mind explaining this?
I have said that, and I put it out there because I’ve seen a lot of people who clearly know their Why, drift. Organisations have this term they use called ‘mission drift’. Essentially, you’re drifting from the mission. You’re drifting from the foundation, the beliefs, the values, the Why. ‘Mission drift’ can happen for a whole team or an individual, not because you don’t know you’re Why. Intellectually it’s there, but what can happen is you lose perspective of it, you disconnect from your Why.
So I don’t think it’s just good enough to know your Why, you’ve got to find a way to stay connected. I talk about daily reminders. What are our daily reminders to the Why? I have them, I’ve built them in. I do a presentation and it includes 2 particular slides that are definitely for the audience but they’re actually for me too. I could be having have the worst day, but when I’m on stage sharing the Thankyou story, these couple of slides remind me of moments in time that have built my way.
If I didn’t have these daily reminders, over time they would become distant memories. That’s where you lose that connection to your Why and get ‘mission drift’.
Did you ever come close to walking away from Thankyou?
There are multiple points where I’ve gone to walk away, more so in the first three years. They were moments when we were getting all these knock backs and they’re crushing. Now on a podcast or in a book, it’s not that painful to share it because I know how the story ends, it gets better.
But at that time you have no idea or hope that this is ever going to end. One setback is one thing but when you have ten or twenty in a row, you literally think you’re a failure. You think there is no hope; that you’re never going to get there.
Sometimes you’ll watch these other ideas pop out of nowhere. For example, we launched in 2008 which was when Facebook was starting to gain that real momentum. In fact, in our office (which was a windowless room that smelt bad) Justine and Jarryd, our co-founders, were trying to convince me to get on to Facebook. I refused, explaining I didn’t have time for that because I’m trying to build this organisation. Funnily enough Facebook has now practically built our movement and connected us with everyone.
But I’m trying to lead this vision, and then you hear stories of Facebook being 100 million people plus and you wonder why everyone else is able to make it work. Why do we keep failing?
There were 3 things that stopped me from giving up. One; there was the cause, so the Why behind Thankyou. This wasn’t even about product, sales, and deals, this was about helping those in extreme poverty, and if we could just help one person, then another person, it’s worth it.
I didn’t have that perspective until I went to the field, saw our first programs, and realised that it was worth the day-in day-out struggles. But more than just cause, I think it’s a vision. I really have a picture of what Thankyou will one day look like, and we’re a long way from it but I think visions are powerful because they give you hope.
I also have great co-founders who encourage each other. If you want to give up they say “no, we’re not giving up.” Then other days they might want to give up and I’m going to say “no, you’ve got this, we can do this.”
The truth is there are still moments when I feel like I can’t do this; the pressure gets too much. They’re much fewer and far between now. I suppose I’ve built in really good habits and stop measures with mentors and others around me, to strengthen me in those moments of weakness. The challenges when you are leading change; there’s always a gap between where you are and where it could or should be. Sometimes that’s a really lonely gap.
It took great people with great perspective to show me how to celebrate the wins, and also just keep looking back on what we have achieved. I am so often just looking forward. But we have to look in the rear vision mirror from time to time, otherwise we lose perspective, and perspective really does change everything.
How do you ensure all your employees are aligned with Thankyou’s vision?
One day, years from now I will be so much more equipped to answer this question because some days I feel in the middle of it. I really hope that no one’s drifting, and that they’re all on board as much as I am. Only time will tell if we get there.
If I do look in the rear vision mirror for a moment, and say what are we doing right; we’ve built in measures. I hear organisations all around the world talk about rituals; those things that happen that almost force your team to connect at some point in the day.
Later today I have one of the team’s favourite meetings. It only happens once a quarter and it’s essentially our project meet-up. Pete, our Chief Impact Officer, shares where our funding’s gone for the last quarter, and where our funding is about to go. We have videos from the field and sometimes we zoom in on Google Earth on all the different projects. Our Projects team talk about it and share the issues behind it. Usually there is not a dry eye in the room by the end of it, and it further just reminds us all of the Why. It also gives us a really good understanding of where our money is going, and what all of our hard work every single day is equalling. You need to go deeper than just seeing a number like a profit growth, or statistic growth on more people helped.
We will spend two or three hours today, and we always wish it would go longer. That’s only one thing – there’s lots of other little things that we’ll do throughout the day, throughout the organisation to celebrate the wins and keep everyone connected with other people. We’ve got a long journey on this but I do look around the team and think “wow that’s a lot of passion”, and it’s a real privilege to work with them.
Was there ever a stage where you were surprised by just how much support there was for Thankyou?
Yes, I have. E-mails like that come in most weeks or even days now, they get sent around to the team or go to me and I am mind blown.
Two or three weeks ago I posted on Instagram the story of a mum, who emailed me saying her 11-year-old son returns empty bottles in South Australia to the recycling plants for 10c per bottle and saves up. When he hits 20 dollars, his mum drives him to the airport, they buy a copy of “Chapter One”, and then he gifts it to an important person in his life who he thinks will go on to change the world. I’m reading this email just thinking “man this kid is out spreading the word, raising money to fund the future of this vision. I can’t wait to see what that 11-year-old does because I was never thinking like this at 11.” That’s the above and beyond stuff.
So I posted this story on my Instagram and received an overwhelming response from people who were just blow away by this kid’s effort. One of the comments on there was from Danni Minogue saying how blown away she was by this kid and I couldn’t believe that she was following this!
I’m moved by the whole post because I didn’t even know that Danni Minogue knew what we were about, let alone be so moved by it. And I can’t believe that a celebrity born in South Australia is on board. I don’t think that either of them are more or less important, I’m just really humbled that we’re a part of it and can see this stuff happen.
Earlier today I received an email about a real estate agent who is giving 10 percent of his profit from every sale of his houses to some incredible local charity, and he was crediting it to “Chapter One” and hearing about our story.
That blows my mind because I can see the flow on effect that Thankyou is having. Not necessarily for us, it’s not even about us, it’s about all of us really making change.
Would you mind sharing how you’ve handled blurred boundaries after going into business with your girlfriend and best mate?
It’s a fascinating one. People do look at it thinking that we are crazy and I can see why. Jarryd and Justine and I have all grown up a lot and had to mature pretty quickly in the process, because we are balancing best-mate relationship, husband-and-wife now, and growing a very exciting and very challenging enterprise.
What I love about it, and what I think we all love about it, is trust. We have ultimate trust there between the three of us. No-one’s out building an agenda, no-one’s trying to cross someone else, and I think because we get each other and trust each other we’ve actually been able to go and lead this team on some pretty epic adventures, and we love that.
There are challenges definitely, I mean for Justine and I, learning to switch off has been hard because we live and breathe this and actually talk about it a lot, but you’ve got to create space to be able to just be married, to have a family and enjoy that. We’ve had to build in weekly and daily things to protect that family time and switch off from Thankyou.
On the weekend we’ll pick a day and Thankyou can’t be mentioned. It’s almost a game to us. But there are no emails, it is literally family time, and that’s become a real foundation for us. If you get disciplined I think you can make anything work, and there are benefits to this and there are challenges to it as well.
What advice do you have for those who have a burning desire to create positive change but are feeling overwhelmed?
When I was 19 and sitting at my computer looking at this huge problem, I literally thought one person can’t do much.
I would say to you if that’s how you’re feeling, I know that exact feeling but I have seen first-hand not just one person, but that all of us can make a bigger impact than we realise.
At the end of “Chapter One” there are literally hundreds and hundreds of names of individuals. From lawyers who donated their time, to mums who met with their mother’s groups and shared the story, from school kids who got the product into their canteen, to helicopter pilots who one day flew banners for free for us. Thankyou is a collective of heaps of individuals saying “well I can’t probably change the whole world but I can do one little bit.”
Extreme poverty is a big issue, there are now 1 billion people living on less than $1.50 per day. When you hear a number like that, as an individual you think that you can’t do much. But an interesting thought is that there are 6 billion people not living in extreme poverty.
That doesn’t mean that 6 billion people aren’t having any issues, there are issues everywhere, but just looking at extreme poverty, if we all made an impact on one person well our world looks completely different. We all need to understand the difference that we can make.
I met a mum yesterday, she said that she wanted to come and work at Thankyou one day and told me that she fosters a child. I said to her “hey, I don’t want to crush your dream of working at Thankyou, but please never look at this and think that this is bigger than what you’re doing.”
Sometimes I think that we get caught up in the numbers and lose the importance of one, making a difference in one person. I just encourage people to just start.
At my conferences and talks now, I’ve started asking people at the beginning to tell the person next to them to get out and stay out. Everyone turns to the person next to them and they say it, and then they all look really oddly at me. But right at the end I basically say the greatest challenge we all face is to have the courage to get out and stay out.
I’m eight years in to staying out of my comfort zone and some days it’s pretty relaxed, but for most it’s uncomfortable. But if I have the courage to stay out of that comfort zone, I know that we will achieve great things. So that’s my message to you.
What does Chapter Two in Thankyou’s journey look like?
Right now we are heading into a launch of the Thankyou Baby Range that’s reusable and disposable nappies, all profits funding maternal and infant health programs. That’s on the market right now in Coles and about to launch in other retailers.
New Zealand is about to launch in about 5-6 months’ time and that’s the beginning of Chapter Two.
To me, Chapter Two is this idea going a lot further than one country, but it’s also about this idea becoming very sustainable. Sustainability; built to last. So Chapter Two is about sustainability and all of us getting on board in a really sustainable way; being happy to buy the products, not just once but regularly. I think sustainability is a big mountain to climb, but that’s what we’re climbing right now.
Where can our listeners today best find you and support Thankyou?
We would love for you to check out more of what we do. Our website is Thankyou.co.
Jump online, you can buy our book “Chapter One”, learn about our past and hopefully take something away for your own journey.
You can buy hampers for Christmas, there’s a whole bunch of stuff on there. You can also learn about our impact and our programs around the world. That hopefully will encourage you next time you’re at your local supermarket or store to choose Thankyou.
If you want to be part of something bigger, follow us on any of our social media channels. Join our online platform called The Latest where we can keep you updated, because we’ve got some future launches and campaigns planned. Our New Zealand campaign is our next one and we need as many people as possible to share those videos and help back them.
Follow us and we’d love to have you on the journey.
Well there you have it!
I really want to encourage you to flip your thinking around on this and see that you too can make a difference, whether is on a global scale like Daniel, in your local community, or even just in your household.
Daniel isn’t just making a massive positive difference in the world, he’s enabling everyday people to make a difference too. Indeed, one man (or woman) can change the world, and that man (or woman) can most certainly be you.
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