Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 29: Alfred Liggins
Jamarlin talks to Alfred Liggins, CEO of Urban One (NASDAQ: UONEK) about why he never merged with BET and whether going public inspired the Fox series “Empire”. They discuss the Democratic Party neglecting Black media when it comes to campaign ad spending, and the disconnect between Black CEOs and Obama. They also examine the need for more Facebook regulation, and what really happened with Roland Martin at TV One.
This is one in a Moguldom original series that shines the light on the founders featured on MogulWatch, our comprehensive list of startups that have received venture capitalist funding. Find out how much money they have received from whom, and news and data about their company.
Not many founders can say their company started with the desire for six-pack abs.
Edwin Broni-Mensah can claim this as the beginning of an international movement to put free drinkable water in the hands of consumers while reducing plastic waste in landfills.
Broni-Mensah founded his global social enterprise in 2010 from his dorm room while finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Manchester in the U.K. While working out to get six-pack abs, he needed to find places in the city where he could get free water so he didn’t have to carry heavy bottles around all day or buy expensive bottled water. Give Me Tap was born.
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Give Me Tap app reusable bottles are made from stainless steel. The Give Me Tap app provides users with the location of businesses that will give free tap water to people who have purchased the bottles. Some profits from every bottle sold are used to buy water pumps to make free drinkable water in Ghana, Malawi, and Namibia. In November, the Give Me Tap water bottle is on track to go to market in partnership with a major retailer.
“Knowing my father grew up in Ghana without easy access to clean water inspired me to pursue this dream. It was an amazing moment to be able to go back to a community near where he grew up and be able to provide access to clean drinking water to the area.” — Edwin Broni-Mensah, founder of Give Me Tap
Since its inception, Give Me Tap has received awards. It has been a part of Google for Entrepreneurs and Y-Combinator, and now has corporate clients including Facebook, Deloitte, and Google.
The company has seen 15x growth in 2018 compared to 2017.
Broni-Mensah spoke with Moguldom about Give Me Tap’s beginnings, how he went from having a team to going solo, and what’s on the horizon for his company.
Moguldom: Share your story of how you started Give Me Tap?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I had this vision of being 25 and having certain things in place in my life. I had this sense that when you get to 25, it’s the age of becoming a man. So, if I didn’t have certain things in place by then, they will never get done. One of those things was having a set of six-pack abs. I believed that after 25 your body disintegrates, everything kind of goes downhill. I thought what better time to try to get into the best shape of my life, at the age of 24. I started looking at a fitness program to try and get abs quickly. It had me drinking about five liters of water a day and eating around 3,500 calories per day. To sustain that level of water consumption it meant I would be carrying around several water bottles or would be tapping the restaurants to try and get access to clean water. I was met with so much resistance, I thought there must be another way. That’s how the company started.
“Give Me Tap has manufacturers and suppliers in various countries … I have a virtual assistant, external accountant, but no employees on the payroll at this time besides myself. Even still, it’s been an incredible year. We’ve grown 15 times compared to last year.” — Edwin Broni-Mensah, founder of Give Me Tap
Moguldom: How did you go from the concept of Give Me Tap to the Give Me Tap bottles?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: When I was trying to get access to clean water I thought I could I map out all the different locations that were tapwater friendly, so I could get clean water on demand. I felt the only way you could do this sustainably is if the person had a reusable water bottle with them. I thought, OK if I could sell reusable water bottles, I could raise funds that would enable people to get free water on-the-go, and simultaneously provide funds to build water wells in Africa. That’s how the bottle came about. We would sell a bottle, and for every bottle someone buys, we’d give another person in Africa five years of clean drinking water.
Moguldom: How effective is your company and your water program, how many people have benefited and in what areas of the world?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: We have just over 50,000 people in Ghana, Malawi, and Namibia collectively with access to clean drinking water for life. We put in water pumps, and they lasted more than five years. We’re happy and proud we’ve been able to impact that many people. At the same time, we helped to save millions of plastic bottles and cups from being used and instantly discarded to landfills because people are reusing their water bottles.
Moguldom: What are some of Give Me Tap’s other notable wins?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I think the dearest one to me was visiting the community close to where my father grew up. It was one of the things which motivated me to start this company. While I wanted a six-pack, knowing my father grew up in Ghana without easy access to clean water inspired me to pursue this dream. It was an amazing moment personally to be able to go back to a community near where he grew up and be able to provide access to clean drinking water to the area. It was fantastic to experience for myself and just something I was very proud to be able to do. It was a great feeling; it was a great feeling overall.
Moguldom: So, did you get your six-pack and at age 33, do you still have it?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Notably yes, I did. I got it in 65 days, but my theory was right. After 25, I haven’t maintained it.
“People are looking to switch to something more sustainable, like a stainless-steel water bottle rather than plastic coffee cups or plastic water cups in offices. Some of our clients were using 5-to-6 million plastic cups every year. Now they’ve made the switch to Give Me Tap bottles.” — Edwin Broni-Mensah, founder of Give Me Tap
Moguldom: You were based out of the U.K. before. Where are you located now?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I’m located nowhere right now. For example, at the beginning of this year, I was based in Thailand. Since then I traveled to six different countries. Right now, I’m in Columbia. There was a time I was in China for product development for innovation of our products. I’ve been almost like a traveling salesman or a traveling entrepreneur or nomad if that’s what they’re still calling them.
Moguldom: How much capital have you raised thus far?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: We raised a round for funding in 2015 while we were going through the Y-Combinator. We raised about $500,000 and we haven’t raised any funding since that. I don’t have to do any more fundraising right now. Our primary focus is continuing to grow our customer relationships, build better products, and to keep growing the way we have. We’ve had an amazing year. We’ve grown 15 times compared to last year.
Moguldom: How many employees do you have?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Only myself right now.
Moguldom: You’ve had 15x growth as a solo entrepreneur?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Yup. While Give Me Tap has its manufacturers and suppliers in various countries, we partner with ProNet North to build and maintain the wells. I have a virtual assistant, external accountant, etc., but no employees on the payroll at this time besides myself. Even still, it’s been an incredible year, and a lot of that is due to macro factors. One being because China is no longer accepting plastic waste from the U.K. and North America. That leaves some 11 million tons of plastic waste without a place to go. Governments around the world are now looking at solutions and putting pressures on companies to be more sustainable and reduce the amount of plastic they are creating. This has been great for Give Me Tap. People are looking to switch to something more sustainable, like a stainless-steel water bottle rather than plastic coffee cups or plastic water cups in offices. For example, some of our clients were using 5-to-6 million plastic cups every year. Now they’ve made the switch to Give Me Tap bottles which could eliminate that number.
Moguldom: Are corporations purchasing the bottles as well?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Most of our clients are companies. We work with about 450-plus different companies from Facebook to Deloitte to Google. We’ve also done a few hotel chains in Virgin Hotels, in Rosewood Hotels, that also want to minimize their waste onsite.
“I’m looking at how can I expand the Give Me Tap ecosystem and provide economic opportunities in those communities we serve. We’ve put in an irrigation system in Namibia, which allowed them to start growing vegetation and crops, which then enabled them to go and yield economic output because they can go and sell those crops to generate money.” — Edwin Broni-Mensah, founder of Give Me Tap
Moguldom: What was it like to go from having a team to no team?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I would say it was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had while running the company. It wasn’t an easy time for sure. It wasn’t a smooth transition. A lot fell on my plate. I’ve had to fall back on my computing and mathematical background, implement and automate processes in the business. When I had employees, we were doing less volume than we are now. Today, we’re doing 15 times the amount of volume, and it’s only one internal person. It was difficult when it was just the small team before; now there’s even more pressure.
Moguldom: You said eventually you’re going to build a team again. How will you build it and what do you want that team to look like?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I think some of the ways I’m going to rebuild the team is to hire people who are self-starting, self-motivated and are comfortable with not being physically next to me as the CEO of the company. People who are autonomous in their work approach. Before, I kind of hired on people’s passions. While I do want them to have a passion for what we’re doing, I know because we’re such a small company having people with the right skillset for an area would help us do more with fewer people.
Moguldom: How do you keep your creativity flowing so that you have the best product and service for your clients?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Well I think now I’m probably in the happiest state I’ve been in for the last three years or so because I try and break up my days and incorporate salsa and Spanish learning, and other things outside of the company. This gives me the ability to gain perspective. Sometimes it is a great way to find creativity — in not doing direct work on your business but in the time away. There’s something I remember my Ph.D. supervisor used to say, “Sometimes you’re sitting at your desk trying to come up with a solution, and an idea. But sometimes it’s better just to go and take a walk and do nothing. That’s when the ideas come to you.”
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Give Me Tap?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I have no clue. (Laughs) I’ve been living in a real moment-to-moment, day-by-day kind of approach, especially this year. My transition to being a solo entrepreneur on my own and a nomad at that was a new experience in itself. At times, I barely knew where I was going to be staying and sleeping for the next night. Everything has been moment by moment. I think there’s something nice about that approach. It’s also seeing tremendous results in the company’s growth. While I do have some soft targets, I don’t look out in specific details as far as five years.
Moguldom: What does success look like for Give Me Tap?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: I think it looks like what we’re doing right now. We’re a profitable company, we impact the communities we wish to serve, and we help the environment by eliminating necessities for plastic waste. I think how we can be even more successful is by building out our water network, such that more people can have more places to get free water refills. So when they’re on the go, they can know there’s a place they can get free water refills and do not need to buy a plastic bottle of water again.
Moguldom: What’s next for Give Me Tap?
Edwin Broni-Mensah: Well regarding creativity and stuff, we’ve got a new water bottle we’ve designed and developed we’re bringing to market the beginning of November. It’s going to be a partnership with a major retailer, which sadly I can’t say right now. We’re also exploring opportunities for taking more people with us to the field to go and see the water projects themselves and meet with different communities as a way to closer feel the impact from every purchase being made. We have a trip planned next March with a few of our corporate clients. I’m also looking at how can I expand the Give Me Tap ecosystem and provide economic opportunities in those communities we serve. When I started the company, I wanted to help people get access to water, because I felt that’s the first step to improving your quality of life. So, then I think there’s other additional areas we would like to continue to explore, such as irrigation. We’ve already put in an irrigation system in Namibia, which allowed them to start growing vegetation and crops, which then enabled them to go and yield economic output because they can go and sell those crops to generate money. I think longer term, it’s those types of initiatives that I want to start looking into further — initiatives surrounding how water can impact people’s quality of life in terms of health, but also improve their economic opportunities in life in general.