Jonathan Byrt and Jesse Leeworthy grew up in the coastal town of Red Hill with salt in the air, surf under their boards – and discarded plastic water bottles bobbing around in the ocean.

Over the years – as the friends studied, worked, travelled, and returned to their hometown time after time – they expected the introduction of reusable bottles to come along and turn the story on its head. All it would take was a simple shift in consumption habits, they knew, to create a lasting difference.

Only that never happened. So they did it themselves.

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From idea to Oscars (and Anne Hathaway)

After researching the growing environmental impact of single-use bottles together, Jesse, a product design engineer, made a prototype reusable bottle. “We wanted to flip the equation,” Jonathan, a financial consultant, said. “We wanted to prove you can make a product that has a positive difference.”

They knew the product needed to be conveniently sized to work, so they made it flat enough to fit in a laptop bag. Then, in August 2014, they launched a Kickstarter campaign using homemade video footage. The plan was to ‘test the validity of the idea’ – so they set themselves a $15,000 target over 45 days…

“We ended up being fully funded in 36 hours,” Jonathan said. “By the end of the 45 days, we’d raised $261,000. It funded production of the product and a global business. It was insane. Suddenly we had to turn an idea that had been bugging us into something real.”

As the campaign attracted media attention, and the environmental ethos underpinning the product won hearts, Jonathan and Jesse were contacted by the Academy Awards. They were invited to include a Memobottle in every celebrity swag bags of 2016 – an achievement that prompted Anne Hathaway to share an image of the bottle on Instagram, and receive more than 63,000 likes.

Working nomads

Jonathan was based in Boston when the idea took off and Jesse, Melbourne, which meant a flexible remote-work system was non-negotiable from the outset. The first thing the new business partners did was establish a powerful platform of integrated add-ons that could be used from anywhere, and could scale at any time.

“That distance framed our thinking from day one,” Jesse said. “We love the outdoors and we’ve always believed you can be successful and nomadic, so we set up everything online. We could talk to each other straight, without a physical office – and that really helped us.”

Thrown in at the deep end, Memobottle needed things to work fast if it was to keep its head above water. “We researched what would help us automate and the services that would easily integrate,” Jonathan said. “We chose Xero as our base, Stitch Labs to manage our inventory, Shopify as our e-commerce solution, ZenDesk for customer service tools ….

“We now have more than 250 retailers and ship to over 70 countries. That’s a whole lot of currencies. I can’t even start to tell you how much time we’ve saved through automatic currency conversions, bank feeds, reconciliations and invoice follow-ups. We were lucky to start here. It’s been huge.”

A vehicle for change

Beyond the creating of a painless operation, Jesse and Jonathan have used the online ecosystem to change the way business operates in deeper sense – creating unique opportunities for similarly expansive minds.

“We wanted our business to reflect our lifestyles, and show what life can be,” Jonathan said. “We’re recruiting for ‘Probably the best job ever’ at the moment. Our new Sales & Relationship Master will be able to work from anywhere in the world, as long as they have laptop and wifi.”

But more than that, the memobottle has started to become a vehicle for environmental change, in the way the Red Hill friends first imagined.

“The beautiful and minimal design has really assisted in people wanting to take their bottle out and create momentum online,” Jesse said. “It’s become a fashion accessory. Whenever someone carries their bottle, they carry the idea attached to it too – the idea of a reusable society.”

“That’s what we’ve been trying to achieve from day one. And we’ve still got a long way to go.”

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