HOME - INTERVIEW
Monday, September 3, 2018
Eric Barnes, Founder and CEO of KOR Water
HOME - INTERVIEW
by Beren Dere
Water is the source of life and only 1 percent of all water in the world is drinkable. In many places where it looks very clean, water is not healthy and drinkable. Drinking water can be obtained through filtration. From a different point of view, Eric Barnes offers an innovative solution with coconut filter system and water bottles designed for home and daily life use. In order to learn more about his clean water solutions, I asked Eric Barnes, Founder and CEO of KOR Water. Enjoy this interview and drink clean water.
KOR Water Fall
Eric, before start talking about KOR I would like to learn a little bit about you, could you tell us about your background and design experience? Who is Eric Barnes?
I've taken a circuitous route to my current venture starting KOR, but I do think every experience has helped influence and support my success along the way. Coming out of an Ivy League school, I took the road most traveled (and least interesting) to a predictable job in investment banking. It only took a year to realize that wasn’t for me. My real love was the music and entertainment industry, but landing a job in those industries at that time was difficult. I spent two years freelance consulting and throwing parties in New York City to make ends meet before landing at HBO in their strategic planning group. I had an amazing experience at HBO managing new business ventures and technology at a time in the media industry was being turned upside down by digital. After getting an MBA at NYU, I landed a unique role at EMI Music in Los Angeles just as the Internet was destroying the traditional music industry. I was only 30 at the time, but managed to have the most internet knowledge at EMI so I ended up getting assigned with developing many of the web initiatives for the labels and artists. The music industry was changing so fast. New startups, unencumbered by a traditional business model, were rapidly gaining traction and investment. Frustrated at the pace of being an “intrapreneur” inside a Goliath, I left to join a small software startup as CEO. This company was actually building many of the web initiatives for the entertainment industry.
It was at this software startup that I fell in love with being an entrepreneur. When I joined we were only eight employees, but three years later we would grow to 120. We worked so hard and played hard. But what goes up fast often comes down quickly, and the tech depression and fear that set in 2002 wiped out demand for technology services. However, by then I was transformed and could not see myself working for someone else ever again. I started two Internet companies, one based in college apparel (Ivysport.com) and the other online learning for college-bound students (eprep.com). As I was growing these two companies, I struck on the idea to redesign the reusable water bottle after failing to find one I liked. Normally, I would have just walked away frustrated, but something about this challenge (and getting to a point where I had the confidence I can do something about it) led me to start KOR.
KOR Water Fall
How do you first became interested in water filtration and clean water storage? What inspired you?
At first, I just wanted to cool reusable water bottle - one that looked sleek and worked great. But very quickly I discovered my bottle was part of a broader developing category we called “sustainable hydration”. In only 10 years, Americans had gone from drinking water out the tap to buying into a bottled water industry over $12 billion US (and $50 billion globally). How did this happen?
There was growing recognition and guilt over the fact 4 out of 5 plastic water bottles were tossed in a landfill or the ocean. The sustainable hydration opportunity was so much larger than just making a reusable bottle. Our vision was to create a company back could design and develop amazing products and solutions that allow people to hydrate in a health-safe and sustainable way that did not destroy the planet.
Could you tell us about KOR brand?
Our KOR brand is so much more than just the physical products we create. We wanted to be design-driven for starters - to create beautiful and functional products that put water on a pedestal. Water is a powerful force. It turns the potential in the world into wondrous things. It sculpts landscapes. It generates electricity. It transforms seeds into plants. And, in humans, water fuels the mind and body to achieve greatness. At KOR, we celebrate and treasure water for the life-giving role it plays. It’s literally the one thing that connects us all. We also realized that part of the reason you’re drinking from a reusable water bottle is 1) you’re probably drinking water to be more healthy and 2) you want to be a bit more sustainable in your life. We called this “Better Me, Better World”, and it was an idea that most of us want to improve our lives while not consequently harming others or the planet. Could we create hydration products that accomplished all these brand goals?
Design plays such a leading role because we believe beautiful products and well-considered solutions not only work better, but they last longer, and are inherently more sustainable. Great design is the enemy of disposable. In a world that consumes and discards, products we fall in love with getting used longer.
KOR Water Fall Filter Cocounts
How can coconut clean our water? Could you tell us about the technology inside the KOR Water Fall?
We actually use coconut husk to create the catalytic carbon which ultimately filters water. Carbon has long been used as a filtration medium due to its ability to attract and remove contaminants from water. Mother Nature does, in fact, know best. The process is natural, simple, and sustainable - and creates amazing-tasting water.
When we set out to create the Waterfall filter, we had a few simple requirements. It had to safely remove the most common contaminants in household drinking water. It had to use sustainable, natural materials. And the water had to taste great. And along the way, we learned something about your tap water that the “industry” probably doesn’t want you to know. Increasingly, water treatment facilities are mixing ammonia with chlorine to further protect the water from bacteria and germs as it travels through pipes to your home. While that might be good to fight bacteria on the way to your faucet, it’s not something you necessarily want to be drinking once the water gets to you. Water Fall’s filter has been designed to remove chloramines (i.e. chlorine + ammonia), something most typical filtered pitchers cannot do.
KOR Water Fall
What are the features of KOR Water Fall?
We studied filtered pitchers up and down. We didn’t see the point of keeping a filter and reservoir inside our pitcher every time we poured a cup of water. We also didn’t like waiting to filter more water until we had finished our current pitcher of water.
Our goal was to design an object so striking that people would want to display it on their kitchen countertops. The reservoir and filter are completely separate from the carafe, allowing you to have limitless filtered water in attractive, filter-free glass carafes. Water Fall by KOR was designed so that you can easily filter one carafe at a time without having to refill the reservoir to fill the carafe. We also sought to solve the “when do I change my filter” problem by offering Water Fall filters by subscription so they arrive to your door just when you need them. Regarding the filter, we chose a high-grade catalytic carbon that is made from coconut shells, which are widely recognized as the most effective material for carbon filtration. After harvesting, the shells are converted to activated carbon using a proprietary process that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions.
KOR Water Bottle
What are the advantages of using KOR Water Fall in our daily life? Is it an alternative to bottled water?
Water Fall is an innovative, at-home, water filtration system. It allows you to have multiple glass carafes of pure, great tasting water whenever. We borrowed an idea from pour-over coffee whereby Water Fall simply suspends the filter above the glass carafe, allowing you to filter as much water, in as many carafes, as you want. We wanted to design an organic form that mimics water’s beauty and simplicity. The stand, reservoir, and carafe come together to form a fluid form as water is prepared. There’s something special and artisan to manually filtering your water into the Water Fall’s beautiful glass carafes.
KOR Water Bottles
Which features of your design makes KOR Water Fall and Bottles unique and different from competitors?
Our KOR product line has deliberately been designed to be striking, innovative and provocative - which we hear all the time when our customers tell us “you won’t believe this, but everybody stops me to ask about my bottle”. Early on, one of our customers blogged about what others called her KOR “WTF” bottle. We take that as a sign of being noteworthy :)
We called our first product, the KOR ONE, a “hydration vessel” because we felt it was so much more than a simple water bottle. Nowadays most in the industry have borrowed that term and use hydration vessel without consideration. Elegant, beautiful design is a core feature of our hydration products, and we put a lot of thought and effort to deliver an unparalleled hydration experience inside of that. An example is our “perfect spout”, which is a rounded lip exactly 31mm in diameter that makes the simple activity of taking a sip feel wonderful. The rounded spout is 4mm thick and feels like your favorite pint glass where your lips on the beginning and finish of your sip. It’s a feature we can tell you about but you can’t see until you actually use a KOR bottle. This is why we believe KOR’s designs have been called thoughtful.
KOR Water Bottles
How many different types of KOR bottles do you offer?
Over the past 10 years we’ve taken our time to develop what is now a complete line of hydration bottles. On a side note, we spend on average 2 to 3 years to design and develop each KOR product. We now have large (750ml) and smaller (500ml) bottles in both BPA-Free Tritan plastic and double-wall stainless steel, as well as a perfect spout and straw/sport spout options. We launched KOR Nava, a filtered reusable bottle in 2013 and followed with Water Fall for the home, providing a home and on-the-go option for sustainable hydration. This past year we took a giant step to launch KOR+ (mykorplus.com), a new bottle and enhanced filter that provides antioxidant and alkaline water on the go via a subscription service.
KOR Water Bottle
Should we wait for new designs and products? Do you have new sketches on the drawing table?
Funny you should ask :) We have an amazing new line of hydration bottles and filtered products set to launch early next year (2019). These products have been in design for the past year and one of the things I’ve learned is to have patience. Unlike my days on the internet/digital industry, where you can reboot the server in 1-minute and have a new website or app, making physical products is an art and takes as much time as it needs. It’s much easier to change “bits” versus “atoms”.
KOR ONE Iron Man scene
What is the importance of social media for KOR? How can our readers follow KOR?
We love connecting directly with our customers and fans, and social media provides an amazing medium to do that. KOR is big on Instagram (@korwater) and Facebook (@KORwater)
KOR Water Bottle
How can our readers buy KOR products? Do you offer the worldwide delivery option?
KOR used to more focused on retail distribution, but over the past few years, we’ve pulled back to connect more directly with our customers on KOR’s website (www.korwater.com) and Amazon. What’s amazing to us is how quickly KOR became an international brand as distributors around the world sought to carry our products. You can find KOR almost everywhere now around the world in your local country.
What are the next steps for you and KOR?
We have so many ideas and big plans for KOR, and we think the age of “sustainable hydration” is just getting started. There is still a massive and unsustainable bottled water market, as well as the growing functional and enhanced water market that we believe KOR can provide a better alternative. Stay tuned as 2019 will be a big “coming out” year for KOR’s next chapter.
Thank you Eric.