Daniel Flynn didn’t set out to change the world. Not at first. He was going to be a property developer. The business acumen and entrepreneurial flair nurtured in his Melbourne schoolboy days from car washes and pocketmoney schemes had matured into buying property and currency trading.
So, by the age of 19, he was committed to a degree in project management in construction – keen to understand every element of building and developing.
That was until, as he admits, “my life got a little bit disrupted”.
It was 15 years ago that the idea of redistributing wealth from consumer spending germinated into the humble beginnings of an altruistic venture Daniel started with his then girlfriend of one month (now wife) Justine and best mate Jarryd Burns. Today, Daniel is based in Peregian Beach, a 34-year-old husband and father, and co-founder and
managing director of Thankyou: one of Australia’s most successful start-ups and social enterprises.
The Nielsen 2022 Brand Sustainability Report ranked Thankyou No.1 out of 247 leading brands in Australia. The brand, through the Thankyou Charitable Trust, partners with other changemakers to fund safe water, hygiene and sanitation projects, as well as food security programs, in 16 countries and is punching above its weight in the fight for a world where no one lives in extreme poverty.
Thankyou water was the ‘genesis product’ that started it all in 2008 (discontinued in 2020), expanding into a range of food, personal and baby care products that hit supermarket shelves in Australia and New Zealand in 2013. Every product contributes to helping end global poverty. More than $17.9 million in funds already have been distributed. And now, the little project that became a mainstream movement is about to get a whole lot bigger.
It’s the type of story that gives listeners goosebumps – a story that Daniel will share as one of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs and global futurists featuring at Forward Fest on August 2-3 at Venue 114, Bokarina.
Daniel will reveal his “tough decisions, wild mistakes and bold moves” that proved to be the keys to success at the BreakFWD inspirational breakfast.
His career path took a new turn after he was distracted by videos and articles on his computer while doing research for a uni assignment. The videos graphically showed brothers and sisters dying from waterborne diseases in countries where people had no access to clean water. Once seen, it was impossible to unsee.
“To me, that was shocking,” Daniel says, as a stream of dog walkers and fitness enthusiasts pass by at Alex Bluff.
“Interestingly, because I had my head in business and in money, it was this juxtaposition or this comparison of these two extremes: today’s 719 million people living in extreme poverty, and then extreme consumerism. If you combine the properties we’re all buying, the groceries we’re all buying – that kind of collective consumer dollar is about $63 trillion a year. It feels like just a complete injustice. It feels like, surely with a little bit of a tweak of the system, we could right this wrong.
“So, I got a little distracted but I was deeply moved and, from there, started to imagine: ‘What if I am moved not just because of emotion but because I’m meant to do something?’ I remember seeing at the time a statistic that read: $50 billion is spent annually on bottled water. I thought: ‘That’s ridiculous’. Today it’s $350 billion.
“I remember seeing that statistic and thinking, ‘Well, imagine if there was a brand of bottled water that gave the profit to helping in the world water crisis’. That seems logical. And then when you take a step back, there are so many products we buy and so many problems that need solving and this was the beginning of the idea of Thankyou.”
The trio had already gained support from a factory that would provide services at no upfront cost. The key was selling the idea. Their first sales pitch – to the biggest distributor of beverages in the country, Metro Beverage Company – was six parts belief, two parts courage and two parts boldness.
“It was in this meeting with the distributor that we shared the vision: we wanted to change the world, one bottle at a time,” Daniel says.
“On the spot, the director said that he would order 50,000 bottles of our first product, which was bottled water. And absolute shock hit. He asked how quickly we could get it to him. I said to give us three weeks. I made the number up on the spot. The factory was very upset and we couldn’t actually deliver on that. But it was in that moment I thought: ‘We’re on to something’.
“We had a perfect mix, in hindsight, of naivety and faith: not understanding how business really works yet, and this faith and belief that this idea, this mission, was important and we should pursue it.”
Visy donated 30,000 prototype bottles and Thankyou Water was underway. By 2013, with more products in growing categories under the vegan and cruelty-free brand, Thankyou faced a roadblock many fledgling businesses would be familiar with.
“For five years, we couldn’t get Thankyou into any major retailer in this country,” Daniel remembers vividly.
“That was very challenging. Then we launched the Coles and Woolworths Campaign. It was a video – a call to action to our supporters. We were asking our supporters to jump on to the Coles and Woolworths Facebook pages and say that if they stocked Thankyou products, they’d buy them. People did it: they sung, they danced, they rapped. Then we flew two helicopters with these 20,000 sq foot signs: ‘Dear Coles, Thankyou for changing the world (if you say yes)’. Same with Woolworths.
“It got the attention of both retailers.
“Five hours after our meeting at Coles and three hours after Woolworths, they both said yes. That was a bold move solving one of the great problems many businesses face, which is: how do you get big business to notice you and to take you seriously?”
Jarryd left the business in 2018. But Daniel and Justine have had to take another courageous step on their business journey in the past five years: a tough, inward-gazing reimagining process that has sharpened focus on the mission, and cut the team around them from 60 to 18.
“We really thought deeply about how to design the organisation on the inside to: A. Best reach the mission, but B. Play to our strengths. As a small team, we’re doing the stuff that we’re best at. All the other work is through highly integrated partnerships.”
The result of the reimagining of Thankyou from the inside out not only has been the recent launch of more items in a greater number of categories, but also ‘the most innovative and disruptive products’.
“For example, we have an industry first in a 100 per cent Natural Universal Cleaner that is also a hospital-grade disinfectant and that is a complete category disruption,” Daniel says proudly.
“We have a 48-hour antiperspirant deodorant that is 100 per cent natural origin. Another category disruptor.
“We have just launched 40 new products. Over three years, we will have Thankyou products going from this market of 23 million people (in Australia and New Zealand) to just over two billion consumers in 18 or more countries.
“Reimagining at first feels like a backward step and we’re all too busy to go backwards. But at Thankyou, we’ve learnt that backwards is forwards.”
Forward Fest is a transformative business festival organised by Silicon Coast, a local non-profit organisation, that will be held at Venue 114, Bokarina, on August 2-3.
Bringing together small business owners, entrepreneurs, researchers, teachers and students from diverse backgrounds, the event will feature high-calibre guest speakers and presentations and collaboration on four key themes: Innovation and Technology; Customer Experience and Marketing; Skills of the Future; and Business Support and Growth.
The two-day event, with more than 70 expert speakers and 25 industry analyses, will provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise.
It also will incorporate the popular Thriving Through Change Business Resilience Expo, highlighting to the Sunshine Coast business community the expansive network of support available to help build resilience and opportunities for growth.
The Thriving Through Change Expo will run from 3-8pm on August 3, with workshops on AI and digital marketing, plus award-winning global futurist Chris Riddell, who will deliver the keynote address during a free networking session for attendees.
Silicon Coast chief engagement officer and co-founder Craig Josic says Forward Fest will also provide an opportunity for local business to showcase their innovative products and services.
“As the business landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative for decision-makers to stay up-to-date with the latest innovative solutions,” Mr Josic says.
“The inclusion of the Innovation Showcase at Forward Fest promises to be a dynamic platform for businesses to showcase their cutting-edge products, services and digital solutions.”
For the full program and more information, visit forwardfest.co/.
Forward Fest is proudly supported by Silicon Coast, Sunshine Coast Council, Queensland Government, CSIRO, Australia Zoo, Queensland Investment Corporation.
5 MINUTES WITH DANIEL FLYNN
Who was your business inspiration in the beginning and why? – My dad is someone who has always inspired me to stay optimistic and stick to my values. Dad was a lawyer, and then he got into political lobbying. In fairness, my mum, too. Mum’s a schoolteacher and has been one of my greatest encouragers. You need that because the going gets tough.
What is your favourite product in the Thankyou range? – My favourite product has just launched, which is the new Coconut and Santal Natural Deodorant. Santal is the scent from a plant. A type of sandalwood. What I like about this product is that it smells like going to the beach. The efficacy of it is to know that you’ve got a natural product that is 48-hour antiperspirant approved. It is a huge leap. The innovator behind this calls this formula his life’s best work. He gave it to Thankyou because he believes in the mission.
What out-of-the-box ideas would you like to see someone develop that haven’t been done yet? – If we take something like electric cars, it’s exciting – this giant advancement. But the challenge is to get it to a level of affordability for the masses. I’d be excited to see more of this innovation become greatly affordable and accessible.
If you could pass on one great piece of advice to the Forward Fest attendees, what would it be? – It’s never too late to reimagine your business for the better.