Astute entrepreneurs can “see” opportunities just about anywhere. Ten years ago, childhood friends Ira Liran and Michael Kirban began a friendly chat in a New York bar with two young women from Brazil – which led to a classic “aha” moment.
“People, especially in the US, didn’t get it. They never heard of coconut water before. They had no idea what it was good for”Michael Kirban, CEO
When asked what they missed most about their country, the ladies said “agua de coco,” which they called the most nutritious and delicious drink in the world. Soon, Ira hopped on a plane and learned that the coconut water phenomenon was real. When Michael joined him, they got down to business with a plan to bring coconut water to the U.S. “Coconut water didn’t exist here, but it was massive in Brazil,” says Michael, who was a software developer and had never been in the beverage business before. At the time, Vitaminwater was the only alternative to sports drinks, so the market was wide open. Thus, Vita Coco was born, the first coconut water in the U.S.
“Today we’re cracking 1.5 million coconuts a day. We’re producing in 7 different countries around the world.”Michael Kirban, CEO
But that didn’t mean it was a smooth launch. With a focus on production, but no knowledge of distribution and FDA regulations in the U.S., Michael had to sell their initial run in the Bahamas, door-to-door from the backseat of a rented car. Soon, however, they regained their footing, and six years after hitting the scene in Brooklyn, Vita Coco dominated the category with a 60% market share. Today it’s available in more than 75,000 stores in 13 countries around the world.
One of those adoring consumers happened to be pop icon Madonna. “We heard she was talking about Vita Coco at her concerts, but we didn’t have the money to develop an ad or endorsement campaign,” Michael says. “So we asked her manager if she’d be interested in investing and, to our surprise, she agreed.”
That led to singer Rihanna coming on board as a spokesperson, along with additional celebrity investors like actors Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore.
It's not just celebrity endorsements that have led to the popularity of Vita Coco in the US. Yoga instructors and fitness trainers have embraced and recommended the hydration and health benefits of potassium rich coconut water. And since coconut trees are so productive all year long, Vita Coco has become an important employer in countries where opportunities for work have been limited.
“They are incredibly flexible even today - Very special and personal.”Michael Kirban, CEO
“We couldn't be happier with our partnership with Michael and Vita Coco. We have seen them grow from a small company with a big idea, and I'm proud to have been a part of his success.”Louis Barone
“Before our factory in Brazil was built, there were very few jobs in the community. Now we’re employing the majority of the people in the town, which has lifted spirits and disposable incomes,” Michael says. “We’ve also launched the Vita Coco Outreach Program through which the company is helping to fund a sanitation project, an education program and even a tuberculosis hospital in places like the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Brazil.”