Cheski | Founder of H2OSQD | Inspiring Interviews

Cheski | Founder of H2OSQD | Inspiring Interviews

Tell us a little bit about yourself...

I’m Cheski, an adventure seeking; sustainable loving; road cycling enthusiast from Surrey, UK. I’m a bit of a thrill seeker and enjoy daring activities, I’ve bungee jumped tied to my twin, solo skydived, sailed down the Suez Canal and paraglided off a Slovak mountain.

I love seeing new cultures and experiencing new adventures and have been to 38 countries at the age of 25 including living in Poland, volunteering in Sri Lanka for a Tsunami charity and sailing across the Atlantic with my family.

You launched your company, H2OSQD, earlier this year, congratulations! How has it felt to launch your new venture during the coronavirus pandemic?

Thank you! Well it’s quite funny as people keep saying “wow you launched during the pandemic” but I really don’t know any different as I can’t compare it to another business launch.

It’s definitely felt like I’ve achieved something so I’m proud of that - I actually took a career break in October 2019 as I wanted to go travelling before I started the standard career ladder climb, I travelled to Australia & New Zealand and managed to get caught in the bushfires and flooding before the pandemic. For obvious reasons, my year of travelling couldn’t be pursued so spending time on building H2OSQD has been mentally beneficial for me.

I’ve actually found it quite helpful launching during this time as the stage of business I’m in has mainly been around awareness and working on the back-end/operations side of things. I’ve found I had more time to focus on H2OSQD because there is less going-on and usually I’d be very busy (I’m a big sufferer of FOMO). I’ve also found that the increased time spent online helpful, given my business is e-com only.

I came across your brand through Instagram, and could not believe that a squared bottle hadn’t been created before! What initially triggered the idea?

I know right?! It’s like reinventing the wheel! Well I’m one of those people who will not leave the house without water and pretty much anywhere I am, I bet you’ll find a bottle of water next to me (I might or might not have been known to panic if I lose my water bottle). And so when I was going for long walks in the countryside during the pandemic and my water bottle wouldn’t fit into my bag or pocket, I found it very annoying! I like to wear small crossover bags and only wanted to carry my phone, earphones and water. I also realised this was a problem for emergency staff - my step-mum is a doctor for the NHS and my boyfriend is a police officer and both have been working throughout the pandemic and because they were so busy, needed a water bottle that could fit into their uniform pockets. I also was not a fan of the metallic taste from metal water bottles and liked drinking fresh water so preferred a smaller ml size. That’s what made me look for a flat water bottle but I couldn’t find any that I really liked that were colourful and had the ethos of a company I would usually buy from. Also, coming from a large family with 5 sisters and 1 brother, we would always need our names on everything so then I thought about adding personalisation and that’s how the H2OSQD personalised flat vegan carbon neutral water bottle was born! 

Having an idea for a product is one thing, but making it happen requires a lot of self-belief, hard work and determination. What made you go after this particular vision?

Starting my own business has been something I’ve always wanted to do but I just never had an idea that I was passionate about. I come from a family of entrepreneurs - my grandad started a care home in Sussex, which is still run by my family and my dad set-up a Graduation photography company called Success Photography which he sold a few years ago - so I guess you could say entrepreneurship is in my blood.

Working in Supply Chain for my previous job, I’ve seen the full product cycle and think it’s important that everyone is aware of the total environmental-cost of the product they purchase. The only way to show this is through labelling and comparison.

That’s why my ultimate vision is to have the carbon footprint written on every product as you would see with nutritional labels on food, so everyone can make an informed choice about what they’re buying. It will also encourage businesses to improve their products for the better.

So you have the vision and belief in your product, what next?

H2OSQD is still a very new brand with our launch only happening mid-August 2020 so I will continue on improving the awareness. I really enjoy partnering with brands with similar ethoses so I want to continue building our H2O SQUAD, a community of people who have the common interest of leaving the environment cleaner than when we found it. I would love the brand to be known as the first carbon negative company too I.e. going a step further and taking more carbon out of the environment than we produce. As we move into a circular economy and machinery improves, I’m excited about each component being made from recycled raw materials. 

Tell us how your journey evolved with The Prince’s Trust?

I started working with The Prince’s Trust a while ago now through their online platform and have been working on perfecting my business plan ready for the “Launchpad”. I’ll have to present to a panel from the senior Prince's Trust team in November in the hope to secure mentorship - all virtually of course. Running a business can be very lonely, especially during the pandemic, and so having weekly workshops with experts on various subjects, from Facebook marketing to tax relief, has been vital to improving my skills and connecting with other budding entrepreneurs. I’m really looking forward to the next steps with Prince’s Trust, as I’ve already met some great people through it - you included!

Tell us about the process of protyping and manufacturing for your product…

I worked in supply chain for over 3 years previously for brands such as Lynx, Vaseline and Dove so I luckily had quite a bit of experience in sourcing, manufacturing and logistics. I started with sending a request for quotation to multiple suppliers which is a formal document stating exactly what you require for your product. I knew I wanted the bottle to be vegan, have various colour options and be flat in shape! Once I found a supplier who already had the capability to produce what I wanted, I ordered samples - which are a lot more costly than you would think! After some tweaking to make it perfect (I was not happy with the packaging they could supply so have a few suppliers for different parts of the bottle) I organised a courier to deliver the products to HQ. There was ongoing back & forth discussion with the most challenging part being the time difference which prolonged the whole process. The other part which took huge consideration were the volumes. All suppliers will have a minimum order quantity which I spent a long time negotiating, as at 2000 units per colour was far too many for my first order! In the end we agreed on 2000 bottles split between different colours (black, white and pink) which is still a hefty investment but something I knew I had to make.

Creating and running your own company is challenging, to say the very least! What lessons would you pass on to another budding-entrepreneur who is dreaming of releasing a product?

The most important part of selling products is demand and supply, if there’s no demand, there’s no need for supply and so you don’t have a business. So the first step is to test the market to see if your product is really in demand. You can set-up a free shop on Etsy or Amazon depending on your product and you can use software to mock-up your product to see if people want it or not. For example, with H2OSQD I used Etsy and took pre-orders only. This enabled me to see if the product was really in demand or not. Because I was getting sales everyday from organic search only, I knew this could be a viable business. I’d then make sure your idea is really unique and base your keywords around that. I also found it really helpful to have a mentor (or two) to hold you accountable to deadlines and to give you a different perspective.

Learn it - as a business owner, you’re going to need to know how to do everything, from delivering parcels to coding your website so you need to continuously learn and gain new skills daily

Plan it - without a plan things can get messy, I found having a marketing schedule really useful so I know what needs to be done every month

Do it - sometimes in life you have to take a financial risk, and if it doesn’t work, have a back-up plan

But overall, a strong belief and determination goes a long way. Focus on your own path, don’t get distracted by others as these can lead you the wrong way.

Looking at your website: www.h2osqd.com, you have a very strong set of values and give clear transparency to your customers on being environmentally friendly, suitable for vegans all while planting trees for every bottle sold. Plus, if an order is made within 5 miles of you, you deliver by bike! As a young entrepreneur, why is it more important than ever to give back, protect the environment and be honest as a brand?

I mean have you seen David Attenboroughs’ new documentary?! We all have the power with choices we make to change the world we live in and it really is that simple. The choice between eating plant based or not, the choice between cycling or driving your car for a particular journey, the choice to buy a sustainable product or not. These decisions we make everyday can have positive or negative effects on the world. I believe all businesses should be accountable for their environmental impact. That's why with every purchase, H2OSQD work with Carbon Footprint to offset the carbon we emit with tree planting in schools in South East England. You can even plant our tags!

Working for large brands, I’ve realised they’re not going to change, so small businesses, like ourselves, are the ones that have to drive that change. That change needs to be more drastic, such as planting trees to offset your carbon footprint, in order to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere.

How has it felt since launching H2OSQD?

Everyday is different, some days I’m like wow I did it, and other times I’m overwhelmed with a growing To-do list.  From my previous job, I’m used to having a supportive team around me to encourage and support me, so working completely on my own has taken some time to get used to. Building a brand is not easy and you have to gather energy and enthusiasm everyday from inside when sometimes there’s nothing to give.

There have been some huge ups though, especially the fact I recovered 50% of my initial investment within 6 weeks of trading. The more of these moments is what keeps that dream and passion alive.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has changed the world as we knew it from even a year ago. How has your lockdown been and what do you hope we will learn and keep as a society moving forwards?

Lockdown for me, although super busy setting up H2OSQD, has been really enjoyable. I felt less pressure to be doing things all the time and I really enjoyed dressing up for the weekly quiz nights with the multiple different family and friend groups. I hope we’ve all learnt and seen that life is precious and we should follow our desires and not wait for opportunities to come to us. The togetherness we felt as a nation, such as the clapping on Thursday evenings and seeing neighbours I’d never met before, smiling at people down the street, me and my sisters would all go in with tears in our eyes, I hope we keep that feeling as we move forward.

What little moments of wellbeing do you add into your everyday?

I love, love, love cycling and I actually hand deliver local orders or cycle my orders to the post office. That time when I have the wind in my face and get my legs moving is when I feel alive. PLUS a cup of Yorkshire tea as soon as I wake up, that’s just non-negotiable!

What inspires you?

My parents - my dad just built a new house from watching YouTube videos during the pandemic at the age of 63 - impressive right?! And my mum works for the NHS, volunteered on the wards during lockdown and does gardening for elderly people at the weekends. Having parents that do not stop inspire me to do that same, I just hope I have as much energy as they do at their age!

What keeps you motivated?

My motivation comes from within, it’s a desire to prove to myself that I can achieve it - whatever the goal. I also genuinely love learning (my nerdy side is showing now) I remember one of my teachers in school always saying you should learn 5 new skills a day so as everything is still new, that gives me the enthusiasm to get up and do it again daily.

What do you wish to see more of in the world?

Smiles. The best things in life are free. I wish people could be nicer to each other.

What’s your happy place?

An off-grid rural cabin in the middle of absolutely nowhere with my boyfriend Rob; waking up and going on long-walks in the countryside and bumping into cows and sheep then finally resting on a beach in the sun.