As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hayden Wadsworth.
Hayden Wadsworth is the CEO & Co-Founder of Hydrojug, which sole mission is to help others live healthier lives by making it easier to drink more water and be hydrated. Hayden’s biggest focus is creating better products, customer experiences and helping our team become the best they can be. HydroJug is located in Ogden, Utah and founded in 2017.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mind, even before HydroJug started. I had already built several other ecommerce websites before HydroJug was even an idea! In 2017 I was watching a Youtube video where someone was complaining that there weren’t any large quality jugs in the market and I instantly thought “I can build one!” I consulted with my wife and brother and we all felt it was a great idea. After holding the first 3d printed model of a HydroJug, my brother and I both transferred all our savings to a business account and haven’t looked back since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This brings back some funny memories just reading this question. The first expo that we ever attended was in California. We didn’t know what to expect, but we loaded up all our product, racking and displays into a box truck and my brother and I hit the road. Upon arrival, we learned that it was a $1,000 fee to drive your truck up the ramp to the loading station and park (we were never going to pay that). We started to drive around, looking for anywhere within walking distance to park. Soon enough, we’re parked a block away with a truck full of heavy racking and displays. As we proceeded to slowly carry all of our gear down the block, across the street and up the ramp, it was so heavy that we had to set the racking down over and over again in the process of trying to simply get into the doors. Jake and I were blocking all sorts of traffic that was trying to drive up the ramp and unload. As we slowly made our way from the truck to the expo center over and over again, we were slowly upsetting more and more people. Horns honking, guys yelling… didn’t matter, we were on a mission to get the job done, and we eventually did. Looking back now, it’s a funny story but I learned that day the importance of diligent planning but I also brought home the reward of increased confidence that comes with just going for it and grinding to get something done. Sometimes the hard, self-taught lessons are the best.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Family, easy answer. Obviously my brother Jake who believed in the product and co-founded HydroJug with me but also my youngest brother Nate, who now is our warehouse manager. Also my tremendous wife who is the backbone and support system of my success. She is incredibly positive and has always believed that I could achieve success, even when we decided to start HydroJug and a family while I was attending graduate school. Myself and HydroJug would not be where we are today without her. Finally, my parents played a part in this whole amazing story. We not only stored our first shipments of products at my parents home but they were always there to help pack products on busy days or deliver them to the post office if I had class. I am truly blessed to have the family and support system that I have around me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I completely agree! I’ve always been very health conscious growing up but learned that being healthy that isn’t always convenient. One of the cornerstones to a healthy lifestyle is Hydration, so I wanted to make Hydration convenient not only for myself but for others. The second purpose that I care deeply about is creating a community or support system around healthy living and I think that is something that we do well with our HydroJug family. That family extends from me all the way to our most recent customer. As you customize your perfect HydroJug, interact with us through our social channels and customer service, it’s all just one big system designed to uplift and support one another. Simply put, it all comes down to helping people make a positive change in their life. We’re much larger than just a water bottle company. We give back locally, support a community and strive to improve experiences with everyone we interact with.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
For me it comes down to staying emotionally level. I try not to get too high with the highs and not too low with the lows. This steady balance is something that I feel breeds confidence within a company. A great example of this was in the spring of 2020, we had major issues producing and receiving bottles due to COVID-19. There was a period of weeks where we didn’t have a single water bottle in our warehouse. Can you picture that, a water bottle company without water bottles to sell! I knew that as a leader I had to be the stable voice within the company walls that could reassure our team members that we would get through this and creatively pivot our strategy to sell more accessories in the meantime. By having the ability to keep calm you also give yourself the opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture and make wise decisions.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Never. I truly care about the HydroJug mission and what we can accomplish. My motivation comes from my employees. They trust me and I want to continue to work as hard as I can for them. I see how much work they put in for the company and I feel responsible to them and refuse to let them down.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most critical role of a leader is to be the rock of the company. I’m here first. I leave last. I take out the trash. I am here for my employees for whatever they need and want to lead by example. All eyes are on me as I help guide the company through difficult times and I want to instill confidence within the company that we can continue to work together through anything. If you set the example people will follow that example.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way to boost morale is through a vision that people can believe in. By communicating that mission people will be inspired and want to buy into your process. As a mentor your responsibility is to translate new perspectives to others that will motivate your employees. Everyone must have the same end goal and that is to work together as a team. When your employees succeed you succeed as a leader.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I think the best way to communicate to your team and customers is to be as straightforward as possible. Transparency is always appreciated and there is no reason to give people the run around even if it’s difficult. You want to build trust and the way you do that is by being honest. I believe that overall honestly is what is valued most by people.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I think it all comes down to the perspective and vision that you as a leader convey to your team. By taking a step back and allowing yourself the space to find mental clarity and perspective during difficult times, you ultimately enable yourself to make better decisions and instill confidence in those that rely upon you to lead them. In regards to planning, once I have that crucial perspective, I try to operate like an organizational engineer. I focus on what is happening within the walls of my business and design plans I know my team can execute. Plans that will lead us to success.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Yes, I think having a family-like culture in your company is key. Family is there for you through the ups and downs and if you can translate that culture into the workplace people will care about the people next to them and do whatever it takes to help their family.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think the first and most common mistake that businesses make when faced with challenges is reacting quickly and making impulse decisions. Making decisions in a split second is at times necessary, but for the most part a failure to assess the entire situation. Most problems have complexities that cannot be fully comprehended and thoroughly thought through in a split second. The next mistake I would point out is when a business or team gets stuck in a confirmation bias state and is unable to pivot from their cemented way of thinking. This can cause critical harm to a business in the long term if not corrected early on. Finally, a great mistake that I have seen is when a business is unable to take a step back and view their problems from a distance. From a close up perspective, even a pebble can appear giant based on the angle you are looking at it. What may seem monumental in the moment is many times a small issue that turns into a learning opportunity when viewed with a broader perspective. It all comes down to perceiving and diagnosing problems effectively.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I love to be ambitious but you have to reverse engineer it and learn to be consistent each and every day with the little things. How we do this in our company is by implementing programs that allow for continuous improvement. Everyday all our employees set aside time to work on themselves and skills they want to improve on, we call this our continuous learning time and it’s a simple way to encourage and almost ensure growth for individuals and the company as a whole. This plays directly into another program that we live by at Hydrojug; Kaizen. Kaizen is the continuous improvement each day through small and simple actions done over the course of a long time. Just like our continuous learning, we apply this principle to all things; creative, product development, copywriting and the list goes on. We implement simple processes that encourage small growth each day that leads to greatness overtime. Ultimately, the daily growth at the individual level leads to total growth as a whole. Each employee understands this and it has made all the difference.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
This is a heavy question with a lot behind it. I think any business owner could answer this with a different point of view, but for me there are five important things that are easy to identify.
The ability to be consistent in the actions you say you will take, whether it be meetings, marketing targets or anything else, it’s so crucial to a company. Why? Because it builds the feeling of security for those around you. This can be tricky when you are required to wear multiple hats in a startup like HydroJug, but seeing leaders and the company hold to its marks brings a level of confidence that few things can.
I believe that tough love is the ultimate love. We preach a principle taught by Jocko Willink called extreme ownership which calls for you to not only take accountability for your actions but to hold others accountable for theirs. This at times may seem like difficult conversations but it is ultimately a sign of respect for those you work with each day. I won’t give an exact example for one of these ‘tough love’ conversations but I credit much of our continued growth to them.
I think this is a pretty straightforward one, but I simply refuse to work in an environment where I am unable to trust others. I rely heavily upon my employees just as they rely upon me. Without extreme honesty I don’t believe a company can achieve its full potential. I am grateful to say that I don’t have any examples of situations where this has been an issue at HydroJug.
I think being selfless is a principle often said but rarely put into full practice in our world. When I say selfless, I mean that as a leader you must make decisions for those who work on your left and right each day. Each member of my team knows that I have their best interest in mind because it is also my own. A selfless leader understands that we all rise together. An example of this is how we try to create a balance of work and life. We collectively as a company selected 3 weeks that we would all take time off, to reset, enjoy and just live life.
5. Struggle well.
Everyone has a quality in which they fall short. What separates greatness is those who learn to struggle well through their weaknesses. For me, I know that I have a lower EQ than I would like. To struggle well through this until it becomes a strength, I have implemented policies and services for our employees that show our team members that I truly care for them and their wellbeing.
-Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” comes from Carl Jung. He says, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” I resonate with this quote because most people are unaware that they can control their destiny. Everyday we make hundreds of choices that determine our actions and most of these we make unconsciously. By recognizing what you are doing and why, we can take control of our thoughts and habits to create our own destiny rather than letting it be determined by ‘fate’.
-How can our readers further follow your work?
You can connect with me for business tips, advice and HydroJug insights on my personal account @hayden.wads. You can also stay up to date on all things HydroJug by following our business Instagram account @hydrojug.