Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Author - Kyle Fordham

Spreading the love through water: The Love Bottle story

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Masking Tape Messages

What if there was a way to improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health, help save the planet, contribute to nonprofits, and encourage the growth of manufacturing jobs in the US, all at the same time?

2016-11-19_A7A0470What if it was as easy as taking a drink of water out of a Love Bottle?

The brainchild of Minna Yoo, Love Bottle was founded on the belief that water is central to wellness.

When Minna was working as a nutritionist in San Francisco in 2007, she had started putting small pieces of masking tape on the glass jars she was drinking out of and writing the word “love” on them.

“There was this idea that water has a memory. So, water is receptive to [the] words, pictures, energy around it. … I really love that concept. The idea that water was effected by it’s surroundings. … And so I started writing ‘love’ on all my bottles.”

Gradually, more words like sing, play and fun were transformed into masking-tape-Sharpie stickers and placed with care on her water bottles. Then, one day, it came to her in a flash. In an instant she saw the whole company and knew exactly what she needed to do.

“I bought the domain name that night and I gave notice [at her job] the next day and started on a whole new journey.”

Over the course of the following year, Minna refined her business plan, established supply chain logistics, and solidified the values that would define the culture of Love Bottle—a commitment to health, positivity, and environmental sustainability. The company grew over the next three years, Minna had her first child and brought her sister in to help out. Then, in 2011, Minna, her family, and the company decided to move from San Francisco to Portland.

“For a small business it’s a lot harder to be a little fish in that city. Here, I felt like I was in this welcoming nest with all these—like—‘Come join us! We’ve got food and beer! And network and we’ll support you!’ It was really amazing.”image (1)

Moving Home

As she got settled in Portland, Minna couldn’t help but think more and more about a trip that she had taken to China back in 2009–The smog, the poor economic conditions, the never ending blocks of manufacturing plants. She started asking herself, “Do I want to sell a million bottles this way? Is this how I want this company to grow?”

Minna originally wanted to manufacture the bottles in the US, but wasn’t able to find anyone that could make less than 2-3 million at a time—far more than the 10,000 that she needed. But, as time passed and the company grew, the contradiction between the values and actions of the company started to weigh heavy on Minna’s mind.

“I was pregnant with my second child and I was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to close down shop. We’ve done a good job. This was fun.’ And people were like, ‘No, you gotta go for it! You can do it!’ And so, we started talking to people.”

At this point, serendipity stepped in and the universe aligned in favor of Minna’s vision for Love Bottle. Through aIMG_3566 series of chance encounters, Minna was able to find a glass manufacturer in the US that was excited to make the bottles for her. The only problem was that they still couldn’t make less than a quarter million units at a time. It was just too expensive to shut down all the equipment and swap out the molds for less. Not being the type to give in easily, Minna got to work.

“It was a good challenge for us. We were able to figure out the funding. Kickstarter was part of that. We couldn’t rely on Kickstarter to do all of it. It would have been way too risky at that point. So, we had to find funding and then Kickstarter helped it.”

With funding secured and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the next evolution of Love Bottle was poised to launch. Still, there were a lot of people that didn’t understand what Minna was doing.

“So many times along the way there were people like, ‘What are you doing? The process is moving abroad.’ You know, ‘Get it cheaper. Go to China.’”

But Minna knew that in order for Love Bottle to be a company that she could be proud of, it was of the utmost importance for there to be a more direct connection between how the bottles were made and the message that they stood for. She had to make sure that love was going into the product, from its birth all the way to the customer’s lips. With the glass manufacturer locked in, she scoured the US looking for the right people to make the ceramic, silicon and wire components of her product.

There were times when she thought, “‘I don’t know if this is gonna happen.’ But we totally found the right team and the right people and it all kind of came together.”

In October of 2015, with the manufacturers set to go, Love Bottle was relaunched as a 100% US made product—complete with the raised heart on the chest of the bottle and the “U R Love” message on the bottom that Minna had always wanted.

Through this shift to domestic manufacturing, the company has added both connectivity and value. “It’s really great to visit them and be part of that and know that we’re providing jobs.”LB_Minna With Bottles 1

Creating Community

Love Bottle’s supply chain isn’t the only place that you’ll find them reaching out and supporting the broader community. Since it’s inception, Love Bottle has been committed to partnering with nonprofits. Minna has a firm belief that, “You can’t say, ‘I’ll do that when I can afford it.’ Because it’s a slippery slope when you do that. You have to make it happen from the get-go.”

With this philosophy in mind, Love Bottle has consistently donated to a variety of organizations including: Clean Water Action, the Arbor Day Foundation, and Feeding America. Currently, they’re working with Global Water to help get clean water to school children in Guatemala, and are looking into ways they can expand their impact to the conflict-torn regions of Syria and Jordan.

Another manifestation of Love Bottle’s commitment to social and environmental sustainability is their recent B-Corp certification. When Minna first heard about B-Corps, she immediately thought, “‘That’s our people! That’s what our whole company has been about! Now they have a name for it. Let’s join it and be a part of it!”

So, last summer, Love Bottle went through and passed the rigorous assessment process and officially entered the B-Corp community. With this new support network in place, Love Bottle is experiencing a revitalized sense of optimism—spurred by the knowledge that there are a growing number of businesses, like them, who are willing to do what it takes to make the world a better place.

Whether it’s promoting wellness, supporting jobs, giving to those in need, or saving the environment, Love Bottle is striving to do all they can to improve the lives of those they touch—all through a simple glass bottle and a sip of water.

For more information visit www.lovebottle.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter and instagram.

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Looking at business through a new lens: The Revant Optics story

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Crashing into an opportunity

It took one too many bike accidents and a background in online sales for Jason Bolt to make up his mind. For months he had been buying and selling used cell phones on Ebay. His impeccable customer service skills and seemingly innate business savvy had landed him a top rating on the website.

Everything was going as planned: Both Jason and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were in the pre-med program at the University of Oregon in Eugene and the Ebay business was running smoothly. But in the back of his mind, Jason couldn’t help but think that there was an easier product to sell online. Something that was “lightweight, easy to ship, no moving parts” and, above all, something that people needed.

Then a mountain biking accident happened and out of the chaos an opportunity arose.

Jason was lucky enough to walk away intact, but his sunglasses didn’t fare as well. While the frames were still fine, the lenses were scratched up to the point that the waste basket was the only option. But that’s not Jason’s style.

“I started looking at the lenses and popping them out and went and got some other revant-elite-installing-green-lensessunglasses and popped out the lenses and was like, this is really easy. They aren’t one product. It’s clearly two separate products.”

That’s when he made up his mind. Instead of buying and selling cell phones, he would get in the sunglasses business. Well, more specifically, the lens business. So, like any good entrepreneur, Jason dove full force into researching his potential product line.

“I was in the post-baccalaureate, pre-med program at the time so I would be in classes like Organic Chemistry during the day. Then I’d come home and do homework first, and then from 9 to midnight, or 9 to 2 sometimes, I’d be researching.”

While doing this research, Jason realized that his new business plan just might work. He found out where sunglasses were being made and started reaching out to manufacturers in China. The problem was, everyone buying lenses back then wanted them in the frame as finished sunglasses–Jason just wanted the lenses. It took a ton of emails back and forth, but Jason’s persistence payed off and he was able to get a few manufacturers on board with his plan. With everything in place, he jetted over the Pacific for his first business adventure in China.

While overseas, Jason formed relationships with the factory owners, who made him his first 200 pairs of sample lenses. He was ready to come back to the States and launch his new company, Revant. The only problem was that Jason didn’t exactly have any experience with moving products across international borders.

“I had two duffel bags full of sample lenses and a bunch of sunglasses… So, I roll up to Customs with these huge duffel bags and the guy opens them up and he’s like, ‘Really.’—He even said that to me—And I was like, what do you mean, ‘Really’? And he says, ‘You know, there’s this whole process for doing this. Do you know about importing?’ I was like, ‘Nope, actually I don’t,’ and I told him my story.”

After hearing Jason out, the customs officer decided to let him, and his duffel bags, back into the states and sent him off with a friendly, “Well, next time make sure you go through the correct channels. Go ahead. Good luck. I’m pulling for you.”

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Rolling Out Revant

Once Jason had made it back to Eugene, he stopped by a local jewelry store and bought some small boxes to be repurposed as packaging for his lenses. He printed off packaging labels, took some photos, and introduced Revant to the world on Ebay. With the setup done, he headed out on a trip to Tahoe with a friend. And then things got interesting.

“By the time we got down there all of them had sold. All of them! … I immediately called my friends back in Eugene and [my parents] and I was like, ‘I need you guys to start packaging these things up. I’m gonna send you shipping labels.’ It was crazy because on Ebay, of course, you have to ship out within 24 hours or you get a negative rating. I had no idea—I figured I’d be back in time to ship. So, almost immediately, I was like, ‘This is a viable business.’”

From that point on, things happened quickly. Jason moved into a bigger apartment to accommodate the growing mountain of boxed up lenses, and then into a house so that the garage could serve as base of operations. He left school without his MD so that he could put all of his energy into his burgeoning business. He got married. His wife finished at the University of Oregon and was looking at physician assistant schools. It was time for a change. It was time to move to Portland.

“We settled on moving to Portland because [my wife] was able to go to OHSU, and I knew it would be a great spot to grow the business – we really just enjoyed the community.”

With the help of this new Portland community, Jason and his growing team were able to break through some of the challenges that came from the rapid expansion of Revant’s early days. They smoothed out the hiring process to attract the best talent while freeing up Jason’s time for administrative duties. They zeroed in on the best ways to establish and monitor their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Over the last two years, Jason’s team has “stepped up to get the right monitoring dashboards setup and now [they] are dialed-in to scale faster.”

Not only is Revant ready to scale faster, but they’re also ready to scale in a whole new way–by making their own lenses. Thanks to some amazing technology, including a space-age looking five-axis router, Revant will now be able to make one-off lenses for any type of frame. This means that they’ll go from offering 6,000 different lens types to over 60,000.

But expansion isn’t everything to Jason. While he wants to see Revant continue to grow and mature, he also wants to ensure that that growth is reflected in his community–both inside and outside of Revant.

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Standing for Something

This idea of community and humility is something that Jason had been building into the business since its beginning. Looking back at his original ventures on Ebay, Jason reminisced about the lessons that he had learned:  “The value of word of mouth… creating an amazing experience and being relational rather than transactional… that’s at the heart of what we are and how we’re growing Revant.”

Over the years, his business philosophy has transformed into the mantra “community over capital”, and it can be seen throughout the community engagement, customer relationships, and internal culture of Revant.

“We work for more than just money and profit here. We work to better the community and serve others.”

Acting on this commitment to service, Revant has partnered with a number of not for profits. Currently, they’re working with Outdoors For All to help provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in skiing, cycling, and other outdoor activities.

“We not only give [Outdoors For All] money; we participate in supporting the events and coaching and things like that.”

Screenshot 2017-04-27 07.29.02In addition, recently Revant partnered with Warfighter Made, a nonprofit organization uses shop talk, tools, and a dose of adrenaline to help empower and support wounded veterans. They donated 1% of profits to the organization for 22 days, and also financially backed the restoration of a Light Strike Vehicle that veterans could drive in the Mexican 1000 race and also sent their Revant Raptor vehicle down to serve as a support vehicle. You can read more about this partnership here.

It’s this positive involvement that drives Jason and the whole crew at Revant: It gives them something bigger than a financial margin to focus on, it adds meaning to their daily work, and it proves that doing good and giving back can be a strength and not a sacrifice.

“We have to make sure that we continue to own that story and expand on it and show that it can be successful.”

As the economy of the region continues to swell, companies like Revant will play a vital role in guiding its growth—proving the importance of community through belief and action. Their efforts to create quality products, to make business synonymous with social and environmental sustainability, and to align economic progress with mission-driven morals has the potential to reinforce long-term prosperity and encourage a culture of inclusion and equality here in Portland and beyond.

For more information visit www.revantoptics.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramJason Revant