Words by Daniel, Justine and the rest of the Thankyou Team
15 September, 2020

Moonshot (n.): an extremely ambitious project or mission

To every person that’s ever met Thankyou, and to those we’re only meeting now; we are about to take our Moonshot.

Last month we were flooded with messages from friends who were surprised to read about the ‘big call’ we’d just made to cease production of Thankyou Water. To which all of us had the same thought: that’s a small call compared to what we’re planning.

Amid this crazy year, our team has been preparing for our biggest, boldest, and given where the world is at, our most important campaign yet. It’s a move we’ve been dreaming about at Thankyou for 12 years and began sketching the plans for in 2011 – 9 years ago. That’s a lot of years of preparation, and we’re just about ready to take the shot. You might be wondering - is now really the time? Well, we originally planned the launch for 2021. But the current pandemic’s devastating health and economic impacts on the world’s poorest has left us with no choice in our mind –we've made the call to bring the launch forward.

There’s this term in business called a ‘moonshot’. It’s used to describe the ideas that often have huge risks associated with them, but carry the power to shape history. The moonshot is a very easily misunderstood (and misused) concept.

When the Wright brothers figured out flight: Moonshot.

The driverless car: Moonshot 

When NASA sent man to the moon: actual Moonshot.

That very first (and literal) moon shot was in 1969. Man landed on the moon after a three-day flight from earth in a rocket called Apollo 11. As its name suggests, it wasn’t the first rocket. Over nearly a decade, NASA launched five missions before the sixth one landed on the moon. But what’s interesting is that Apollo 11 was the very first one designed with the purpose to land man on the moon. Every rocket before it was made to trial, test and learn theories, and all built towards the final mission to ensure its success.

Our ‘moon’ at Thankyou since 2008 has been to take this idea to global scale, and empower billions, not millions, of consumers to make a collective global impact. If you met us in 2008 we would have told you it was likely only a year or two before Thankyou was a global brand. In fact, in our early presentations we’d share the idea – before scaling back our approach to make our pitch a little more palatable for people.

We were offered our first ticket to our moon in 2011. We didn’t take it.

A global retailer loved the idea of Thankyou, and the CEO personally offered to help take it to the US and then global markets. Everything in us wanted to take the ticket. We thought this was it, but there was only one problem. We hadn't proven our model yet or even the Thankyou brand's strength that we knew the Moonshot required. We had one product back then - a bottle of water - but the dream of Thankyou had always been so much bigger than that.

We were convinced that preparation was the key, every successful mission needs test rockets before it can launch.

Test rocket 1 was Thankyou Water. After three years and a creative campaign to get the product stocked in 7-Eleven Australia, Thankyou Water was a success — although it took a little longer than we imagined. People backed the idea and used the power of their spending habits to be part of this mission. It proved to us that people are hungry for change and that our concept could work. But this wasn’t our Moonshot.

We’d always believed Thankyou was an idea, not a product and certainly not just a bottle of water. So, test rocket 2 was to see if Thankyou could spread across multiple categories within supermarkets. There are very few examples of the same brand carried across food, beverage, and personal care products - and that’s because it doesn’t often work, thanks to the concept of ‘brand stretch’. You don't have Colgate Cereal or Lipton Deodorant for a reason - it doesn’t make sense to consumers. We were proposing to break this convention by launching a food and personal care range when we were known as a water brand.

The two biggest supermarkets in Australia, Coles, and Woolworths, had said no to our genesis product (Thankyou Water) for 5 years. So the idea of them ranging not just our water, but two new ranges – well, let's say many would have called it a pipe dream. But, thanks to the power of people, The Coles and Woolworths Campaign solved that problem. After a groundswell of support, both retailers said ‘yes’, and when the product hit the shelf, we had incredible launch success in food and personal care. Thanks to your incredible support, our personal care is still going strong today — you’ve helped get us to number one hand wash in our category– another big win! It’s been an exciting journey, and together we’ve proven Thankyou’s ability to stretch. But still, not our Moonshot.

Test rocket 3 started to be built and readied, but never launched. That’s a story for another day (we’ll cover that in Chapter Two). While at the time we thought the mission had failed, it’s certainly not gone to waste.

Then came test rocket 4. We believe that money doesn’t change the world; people do. At first glance, the Chapter One launch in 2016 looked like a crowdfunding campaign, but it was much deeper than that. It turns out that without investors or shareholders, taking an idea to global scale is near impossible. This rocket was designed to fund the future of Thankyou without needing to shift our social enterprise model, via a pay-what-you-want book. It's said that bestselling books are lucky to sell 5000 copies and make $50K revenue, but we set a crowdfunding target of $1.2 million and put in an order for 80,000 books. The funds would go on to launch our next two ideas (missions): entering an entirely new category – Thankyou Baby, and for the first time entering a new market outside of Australia; Thankyou New Zealand.

In the 28 days that followed the launch, we hit our target and today have raised over $2.5 million from 125,000 copies sold. In airport bookstores, the sales of the pay-what-you-want book were topped only by the Harry Potter books! With its success, we began working on our next two missions. To our surprise, or maybe shock is a better word, these missions took four years of our life and drastically changed the course of Thankyou’s history. This wasn’t exactly what we envisioned – we’d seen Thankyou Baby and Thankyou New Zealand as quick learnings to refine us and our final rocket, our moon shot. We were wrong.

Thankyou Baby was a rocket that’s in our original master plan, but we saw an opportunity that we believed could generate sizeable dollars for impact, and one that we thought wouldn’t take us too far off course. Sadly, that wasn't the case. Launching our baby range meant taking on one of the toughest categories, and while we anticipated a fight, it took a lot more manpower and resource than we hoped. It turns out that Pampers, the leader of the two biggest nappy (or diaper, depending on where in the world you’re reading this) companies in the world, has failed every single launch into Australia.

After discovering this fact we thought, what a great opportunity to test the strength of the Thankyou brand. The launch was one of our most successful ever. We took an initial 10% market share in the subcategory we were in and saw a huge consumer groundswell join us. Thank you to every person who backed this! Groundbreaking launch data showed us that parents who hadn't used our nappy gave it the highest net promoter score in the category after trial. Success! But, shortly after, everything crumbled. We saw competitor brands double down on their promotions, discounting so much that their tactics fundamentally changed the category. We couldn’t stay above 5% market share and began struggling to sustain the investment required to keep afloat. In short, it nearly financially killed Thankyou (epic chapter two content alert!).

In one sense, we failed this mission. We learned that the idea, brand, and support from people were powerful, but at the same time, the reality of the investment and scale needed to compete with those big brands was a struggle. While you can still find Thankyou Baby products online and in some retailers, we can't say it reached the destination we'd hoped it would.

Our final test rocket was Thankyou New Zealand. It may have seemed like a small step to some, but it was a giant leap for us. New Zealand has a population of 5 million people, but we were treating every decision as if we were launching into a market with 500 million people. The goal was to jump straight into testing the brand in a new culture and market and then take those final lessons for our moon shot. We'd hoped to launch in New Zealand and get a similar trajectory of the numbers we'd experienced in Australia. Thanks to our nappy wars in Australia (which drained most of our time and bandwidth!), we delayed our launch into New Zealand by two years. During that time, some competitors had launched almost identical products to Thankyou. That aside, the sales we saw in the first 3 months of our NZ launch signalled a very strong start. Our NZ friends fully embraced the idea of Thankyou, and we were blown away by the grassroots movement that took place within the community. But while the support existed, we were up against giant competitors who had the money to fight. This story pretty much mimics what happened with our nappies/diapers in Australia– we lacked scale and investment to win against the big players, even though all the potential was there. Though our sales are only at about half of where they should be, we are just keeping our head above water in New Zealand.

All this to say, the past 4.5 years at Thankyou have been very confronting. If you know our story and thought Thankyou’s first 3 years were tough, you haven’t read anything yet. One of the great challenges could be summed up in a passing comment, a leader from a very big competitor said to me, "don't take this the wrong way, but when you first started, no one really saw Thankyou as a threat.” He went on to explain that after watching the big wins that Thankyou had experienced (our people-powered campaigns, and our quick ability to take market share), were part of the reason that others in the industry respond to us differently now.

In the FMCG or CPG market, you need a few things on your side. To win you need to own the store (think home brands run by retailers) or you need to own the factories and ideally have global economies of scale (which gives you the most margin). Failing this, you’d at least have access to huge amounts of money to invest in battling competitors in the early establishment phase. Our challenge? Thankyou doesn’t own the store, the factory, have global economies of scale or have access to huge amounts of money to compete with the world's biggest companies.

Sure, Thankyou’s had a track record of successfully launching bold ideas for over a decade. But sustaining them at scale against the biggest companies in the world? Well, that’s where it’s all fallen apart. We fought the good fight, and we've given all we physically could.

So what does all this mean? Well, we really see only two options in front of us:

The end of Thankyou. Or the beginning.

In the Apollo missions, not every rocket worked. Apollo 1 tragically blew up at liftoff. Yet, Apollo 11 was the culmination of almost a decade of learnings, and on the day it launched, everyone hoped it was going to work - but it took a whole 46 hours before the world heard those few famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

On level two, up the escalator and just off to the right at the space and flight museum in Washington DC, stands the original Wright Brothers aeroplane. Last year, a few of us stood there looking at this small, paper-thin device that fundamentally went on to achieve the impossible. A few steps to our right, we then found ourselves standing in front of Neil Armstrong's actual spacesuit. We had a moment.

See, flight felt impossible until it wasn’t. The moon felt unreachable until it was reached. We know that extreme poverty won’t end, until we end it. The world's poor are the most impacted right now by the effects of COVID-19.

We believe now is the time. We must go all in to help close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This month, we are launching our Apollo 11.

Our hope for this isn’t just that we, Thankyou, land on the moon. But it’s that this moonshot will be a giant leap for many social missions and ideas across the world. We believe that during this critical time in history, together, humanity could help flip an entire system on its head, to help close an inequality gap so big, that it should not exist.

Consumerism is real. Extreme poverty is too. Thankyou is an idea that exists to bridge the gap between the two. We’ve seen people partner with us to challenge industry standards and take this idea into places it never should have gone. And we’re about to do it again.

We’re inviting you to be a part this Moonshot.
On September 29th, we launch! 

Our rocket is ready and the course is set. Our team is geared up, and we’re willing and ready to go all in for the launch of our lifetime.

Will you join us? Sign up to ‘The Launch Team’ to receive an invitation to the launch briefing.

— Daniel, Justine and the rest of the Thankyou Team