For ages, the question of hydration has been one most closely – if not exclusively – linked to athletes and athletic performance. But as the importance of hydration seeps more and more into the mainstream consciousness, the hunger – or rather, thirst – for wellness products that satisfy the rising fascination with enhanced hydration for everyone off the courts and fields as well as on them has consequently spiked. That’s where Hydrant – an electrolyte-infused powder meant to pair with water to create a hydration solution that helps balance out your body – comes in. Inspired by the need for a hydration solution that appeals to the masses, biology pro (and self-proclaimed science nerd) John Sherwin saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the hydration market and founded Hydrant with that goal in mind. Now, the Brit-turned-New Yorker is just a month away from Hydrant’s big launch, and couldn’t be more eager about the prospect of changing up the hydration industry. Here, we chat with Sherwin about how Hydrant came to be, and what we can expect when it starts selling on November 7.
Before Hydrant, what kind of work were you doing in the science space?
I worked at this little nanotechnology company, which was more of a convenience thing than anything else. It was a startup, and I think that was always a big thing for my family – just the idea of getting in somewhere early and being really scrappy. That lasted about seven months, and then I went to Silicon Valley and did the whole Hacker House thing for a while, worked at a software company that made tools for scientists, and then, after two years, I decided I wanted to do my own thing. So I packed up and headed to New York – which in hindsight, was a terrible, terrible idea without a plan, but it luckily has worked out.
So how did the idea to create Hydrant first come about?
I basically had a six-month period where I was figuring out what I should do next. All along I had been playing with hydration and there was a product – Pedialyte – that wasn’t really fulfilling my needs properly. And other things, like Gatorade, were similarly just not meeting the need, so I just felt that there was an opportunity for something to be made better. Basically I started thinking about making a product that was a steep change over Pedialyte and other very high sodium-content products, and we just figured out that you could essentially make Pedialyte taste way better, and it doesn’t have to taste like medicine or syrup every time you have it. I called up my brother and my sister and I was like, “What do you guys think, does this sound legit?” They both said it sounded like a really great concept, and I just kind of went with it.
Beyond flavor, was there any major missing piece of the puzzle that you were trying to solve for by creating Hydrant?
For us, the goal is to link cognition and hydration because for a long time it’s always been about athletes, but then there’s this whole other thing going on where there’s research clearly linking hydration and cognition.
What was the process like in the early stages of getting the business off of the ground?
I feel really lucky and spoiled in many ways to have a great network of people to tap into who are in the startup community. I didn’t know a ton in the food and beverage space, specifically, but I was able to meet people early on and basically pitch them just to know if the idea sounded crazy. So that was great to get feedback quickly, and that kind of gives you a complete picture of whether or not the idea is actually viable. When we were sure we were ready to go with it, our next step was to just get into the actual product, which we did kind of early on. Then came the branding.
In terms of the formula of Hydrant, I know it comes down to a few key components, the first being electrolytes. Can you tell me more about the electrolyte breakdown of Hydrant?
We’ve got 520 mg of sodium, 390 mg of potassium, 60 mg of magnesium, and 4 mg of zinc per serving, which gets mixed in 500ml or 16.9oz of water. So starting with sodium, this is kind of the primary electrolyte that you have in your body and it’s the main one that you lose when you sweat. It’s important because it’s used in signaling your nerves. Basically, if you’re brain wants to send a signal to your finger to move, it does it by sending a kind of Mexican wave down your arm. In that context, sodium is the trigger that tells everyone to stand up, which makes the wave start moving and keeps it moving. Then potassium is the piece that tells them to sit down. And if you don’t sit down again, you can only send one impulse – i.e. your finger would move but you wouldn’t really be able to move it back, it would just kind of stay in that position. So basically, sodium and potassium are heavily involved in signaling in your body. Magnesium and zinc, on the other hand, are smaller players when it comes to hydration and cognition but are important to replenish when they’re lost in order to help other systems in the body. When you’re sick from your stomach, for example, you lose a lot of zinc, but then a deficiency of zinc can just make your sickness worse. So by adding back the zinc, you’re stopping that loop.
What was the method behind choosing the particular quantities of each electrolyte?
All of these are in high concentrations that try to mirror your body. So rather than being a little topper after you’re done playing a sport, it’s about rebalancing you to when your body is at its best. It’s about optimal levels.
Another ingredient in Hydrant is sugar. What was the thinking behind including that in the formula?
Flavor was a big component, for sure. The function definitely came first; the drink was designed around the function. It was about the electrolyte levels first, but then after that, the question was about how we could make it taste good. So the short answer is that sugar just helps the taste of the drink. I mean, what we’re using is straight up cane sugar – that’s not something we’re trying to hide. The amount of sodium and potassium in here is a lot. This is a really potent beverage so you need something to mask it, and having a sweetener in there was just really important to offset the salt, but I’ve never liked the taste of sweeteners like Stevia or other sugar alternatives, so we chose to go with a little bit of sugar to do the job.
Is there a functional element to the sugar beyond just the flavor?
Yes! So there’s this mechanism in your small intestine called the sodium glucose cotransport mechanism, and basically what happens is that your body is absorbing water, sugar, and salt all the time to try and balance what’s in your blood versus what’s in your stomach versus what’s in your cells; there’s like this balancing act happening all the time in which your body is just striving to achieve homeostasis. And what researchers have figured out is that if you add a little bit of sugar, it increases the uptake of sodium and water. So by adding sugar, you speed up the hydration process and increase retention of water.
The final piece of the Hydrant formula is flavoring. How did you guys decide on how to move forward with selecting flavors?
We’re starting with one flavor: lemon-lime. I think there’s just so much information that we’re looking to give to people, and by adding a choice to that, it will throw them off. That’s just one more step. Plus, we’re semi-bootstrapping this. We’re not doing it with a lot of capital, so one flavor makes everything infinitely easier.
What are some other flavors you think you might consider down the road for Hydrant?
Lemon plays so well with the electrolytes and the saltiness that, in my mind, it makes sense for us to just stick with a lemon-and-something theme for our first few flavors. I think lemon is just generally pretty unoffensive while other flavors may be more polarizing. So in terms of other flavors that we’ve looked at, lemon-ginger is pretty high on our next-possible-flavor list. We actually developed a version of that and it was pretty good but it wasn’t quite as good as the lemon-lime yet, so we’ll come back to it.
Is this something that people can only use with water, or can Hydrant get popped into a smoothie or some other drink, for example?
Right now, I would say only water. We’ve formulated it very carefully to just be used in water, and I think if you were to add it to something else, the flavor and maybe function would probably be a little weird. I think if I was going to make something that would mix with other things, I would want to do a flavorless version, which is also something that we’re talking about. There seems to be some demand for a flavorless.
You mentioned that the really key, unique benefit of Hydrant is this idea of connecting hydration with cognition. Is there a risk at all of people kind of misconstruing the purpose of Hydrant?
When we compare ourselves to Pedialyte or something like that, a lot of people first think of Hydrant as something to cure hangovers. And to some extent, it is, but I’m always very careful with Hydrant to say that it’s not a hangover drink, but given that the majority of symptoms for your hangover are associated with dehydration, we take care of that part well. Basically, when you drink a lot of alcohol, you lose a lot of electrolytes and water so having a product like Hydrant will take care of the dehydration component.
Who is the target Hydrant customer?
The common advice is to start with a small market, but I think we’ve kind of gone a bit beyond that. This is aimed at the lifestyle user. And it’s hard because that has almost become a bit of a tired trope – everything is kind of targeted at the person who “has trouble managing their busy lifestyle” – so figuring out that messaging has been tough. So we’re kind of playing around with messaging about complex lives, demanding lives, and we’re doing it with the thinking that our target customer is someone who is early twenties through their 40’s even. Basically, it’s young people who live in the city and work really hard and just need something to fall back on when dehydration happens, whether that’s from drinking, or sickness, or whatever. I really just think that people are slowly getting to a point where they really understand hydration, and there’s room for someone to be this trusted hydration brand that isn’t just for any single type of person.
So Hydrant is kind of for everyone?
In a sense. The person this product is not designed for is the athletes, really. If they want it, they will find it and can benefit from it. But there’s enough people addressing that market, so there’s no reason for us to get in there and go head-to-head with Gatorade or even Nuun and any of these younger brands that are doing a great job there.
Will Hydrant be available exclusively through the brand’s website, or can consumers expect to see it elsewhere, as well?
Indiegogo first and it will be exclusively there. And then after that, I think the plan is to try direct-to-consumer.