Why did you decide to launch Smart Soda?
The idea of Smart Soda, not as a company, but as a concept was born in 2010 as a result of two events that occurred almost simultaneously. I was living in Israel, and led (together with my father) our family business (AquaTal). Every year we sold over 20,000 hot and cold bottle-less water coolers.
I was reading the morning newspaper and saw an article: “Yuval Cohen Takes SodaStream to the NASDAQ.” I knew Yuval (SodaStream’s chairman) and Daniel Birnbaum (their CEO) well. I told myself, “Wow, this old-style company that was around for 80 years, taking over the U.S. market. They are not offering cold or hot water, not ever purified water, just carbonated water.”
I made a phone call to a friend of mine in Italy that produces very expensive sparkling water carbonators and told him, “If we can just develop a small sparkling water unit, not for $600 but for $50, everyone will buy our bottle-less coolers.” That was the first time I understood that regular water with "fizz" is not water anymore, but a beverage.
The idea was born that day. It took me almost 10 years to turn it into Smart Soda Holdings, Inc.
How did you become interested in the beverage industry?
In 2011, I relocated from Israel to the United States. The relationship with SodaStream had strengthened, although I refused an offer from them to acquire our family business in Israel and to appoint me a CEO of a new company, SodaStream Water. I wanted to make it by myself.
In 2013, SodaStream offered me the U.S. exclusive rights to sell SodaStream Professional which was commercial Sodastream machines for restaurants. For this purpose, I formed Smart Soda LLC, but we have not yet sold any Smart Soda products, instead we sold SodaStream Professional.
Many customers asked us for flavored sparkling water or healthy sodas, but our agreement with SodaStream forbade us to sell flavors. SodaStream didn't have a commercial application available. Later on, SodaStream was acquired by PepsiCo for $3.4B. Our agreement was terminated a bit before that.
Based on a lot of knowledge, connections with industry leaders, and my great partners Julia and Sol, we took some time off to rebuild our new and ultimate concept. We registered "Smart Soda" as a trademark with the USPTO and created Smart Soda Holdings, Inc., my 20-years old startup.
What did you learn from your work at SodaStream?
At first, it was flattering that we got a great offer, an appreciation, and then a franchise for the American market. But I was so young. As I got older, when the circumstances changed, I realized that the only way to succeed, to have full control on the strategy and the DNA of the company, was to establish our own brand and company.
How did you meet your co-founders? How do you work together?
I met Sol Mayer in New York in 2015. Sol has invested $1M in Smart Soda LLC, and we have worked closely since then. Sol was always saying, “SodaStream is nice but it isn’t our name.” He wanted us to find a way to promote “Smart Soda.”
I met Julia in 2016. I won’t get into the personal details. Julia is not only my business partner, but my partner in life. Julia has a huge part in defining the DNA of Smart Soda and more so in turning me into the man I am today.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I handle risk with caution and coolness and handle the competition with respect. I am not ashamed to learn every day and keep improving as needed.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Marketing, for sure! How to get the message out? How to make it short? We have so many models, options, benefits, etc.
We have changed our logo, slogan, look, and branding. We hired a new marketing team and recreated everything. This all included a very clear vision for the next few steps.
Globally, water shortage is fast becoming a challenge for millions. What do you think needs to be done to help improve this issue?
There are only two solutions: saving water and seawater desalination. Water is my background and the base of every Smart Soda system. Our 9-stages filtration system and alkaline water system are capable of purifying almost any source of water, globally. If needed, we know how to add a minor desalination system, which may be needed in the future and/or overseas.
You served in a number of leadership positions at other organizations. How has this impacted your leadership approach at Smart Soda?
I have been CEO almost my entire life; I was born into a family business. We had dozens of employees. After moving to the U.S., I was the only one.
I am a team player and I want to believe that my leadership isn’t based on my title or position, but on my values, determination, knowledge, passion, skills, and accomplishments.
What’s your team culture like?
We work as partners. Every team member has shares or will earn shares, based on his/her performance. This dynamic makes everyone part of something bigger than themselves. We work in full harmony.
What is your superpower?
Love, vision, and determination. Without the last one, you will never find the other two. I am a big believer in the law of attraction and it drives me.
What’s your kryptonite?
Love, vision, and determination (it works both ways). I am a person that stops at nothing.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I am not sure if it is so unusual, I am saying/texting “I love you” to Julia, twice a day at 11:11. Wherever I am, wherever we are.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Spending time with my family, traveling, working-out, listening to my music.
At this point my hobby is making Smart Soda a great company. Once done, I will have time for real hobbies.
Have any fun facts?
The meaning of "soda" in the Hebrew language is "sparkling water" or "seltzer,",and this is the reason for the name Smart Soda. Our transition to real, better-for-you sodas came years later, but our base was always alkaline water and sparkling mineral water.