Andrew Patterson talks to James Mayo of SOS Hydration about how he is building his business using key sports people as investors and endorsers

Andrew Patterson talks to James Mayo of SOS Hydration about how he is building his business using key sports people as investors and endorsers

By Andrew Patterson

SOS might still be the international distress signal that famously came to prominence following the sinking of the Titanic but it’s also the brand name for a new international sports drink that boasts two high profile kiwi connections.

The fast acting electrolyte replacement drink utilises the body’s natural water absorption mechanism, called the Sodium/Glucose co-transport system, to effectively prevent and combat mild to moderate dehydration due to physical exertion and active sporting lifestyles.

As everyone knows, our body is made up of 60% water and losing just 2% of your body weight through dehydration can lead to a 20% loss in athletic performance.

SOS can be compared to a drinkable IV drip for treating mild to moderate dehydration, making it a potential game-changer for effective rehydration.

With a growing interest in exercise fitness and the phenomenal growth in multi-sport activities such as triathlons, the product has tapped into a market with significant potential growth prospects.

The recently launched product also has NZ IndyCar driver Scott Dickson and triathlete Hamish Carter as co-founders.

Spotting the gap in the market

In what is already a very crowded category, US based CEO and co-founder James Mayo, himself a former British army officer and athlete who previously represented the UK, says that despite the large number of existing offerings, he identified a gap in the market for a high quality rehydration product.

Produced and sold in a powder form, which you mix yourself with water, the product is designed with athletes in mind.

“What we found was there isn't actually a healthy sports drink option available [the product contains less than 25 calories and has no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives] and from a commercial perspective no one had actually solved the problem of dehydration.”

“So coming from a running background myself, when we looked into it, we actually came up with our own concoctions to actually try and help us rehydrate better.”

“We were also fortunate that my wife Blanca, who is a doctor, had previously spent time treating cholera patients and had worked with Oral Rehydration Therapy, which is the basis for IV drips, and she suggested, we could adapt a similar approach to developing a drink that focused on rehydration.”

“We got thinking about the idea and then actually came up with a formula for SOS, which is loosely based on the World Health Organisation's oral rehydration guidelines but focused on active lifestyles. What you get is a product that has got six times the electrolytes of a normal sports drink.”

“We spent an awful lot of time both on the research from a medical perspective because we wanted to get it right. We’re also planning to launch a research study with AUT University in Auckland so we've got more research to back up our claims.”

“Basically, what we believe we've been able to do is solve the issue of thirst.”

Improving performance for athletes

Everyone gets thirsty, and if you're an athlete, even if you’re not necessarily a professional, research suggests that just 2% body loss through sweat is equal to about a 20% loss in performance.

Mayo believes that fitness gurus and athletes will welcome the new addition to their kit.

“Athletes tend to get excited about their new trainers, and don't get me wrong; I like a new pair of trainers when they turn up. But imagine when you’ve got a product that can actually deliver a performance enhancing ability to the athlete which is what we believe SOS is able to do.”

“Think of somebody going down to the gym. They’ve usually been working all day in an air-conditioned environment and probably drinking caffeine of some description. You get dehydrated from caffeine, from air-con, from stress, running around all day and then you get to the gym; you're dehydrated before you even start. Now with SOS, you can properly rehydrate yourself before you start your workout.”

“The problem with sugary sports drinks is that they tend to sit in the gut and not hydrate you. What you do feel is a big sugar rush but then after the sugar rush you get a sugar crash and that’s obviously not a good situation for someone who is serious about maintaining peak fitness.”

Mid-career change

For Mayo, his new found passion for developing a rehydration substitute led him to give up a lucrative career in recruitment background in order to start SOS.

“We realized there was an opportunity to create a product that would be a real game changer in rehydration. And it was really a big leap of faith. So at the end of last year I told my former company I was moving on and we launched the product in April of this year.”

The business has attracted a number of high profile athletes to its ranks who have all brought their own skills and talents to the table.

“We've been very lucky in that respect. Scott Dixon, the IndyCar driver, who's gunning for his championship. At the moment he's one of the founding investors. We've got Sir Ben Ainslie and Ben Ainslie Racing and we've also got Hamish Carter. We've also managed to recruit Kim Chambers, the New Zealander who recently swum the channel. She's aiming for the six big ocean swims which is pretty scary but also very impressive.”

“One other high profile user for us was Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup. At one stage they were going through about 1400 packets which was certainly good for us.”

Product development

The product was developed in a series of stages and much like the infamous recipe for Coco-Cola, Mayo isn’t about to reveal too much about the formula for SOS.

“We loosely based it on the World Health Organisation's oral rehydration formula. We did have help from a flavour house to basically put it all together but we just played with the various levels to ensure that rather than being a cholera treatment, it become a dehydration preventer for active lifestyles.

The multiple number of end users and the ability to adapt the product to different markets has the founders excited about its potential.

“The market opportunity is potentially huge because everyone gets dehydrated. With this product we can look after people right the way up to moderate dehydration. Obviously anyone that’s seriously dehydrated needs to seek professional medical advice.” 

“Initially, we’ve been focused on sports because that's potentially our biggest market but you’ve also got recovery after flying which as we all know can leave you feeling very dehydrated. What you can do is take SOS right before you land and it can help counter the jetlag. You've also got the recovery side in terms of too much caffeine, maybe too much alcohol.

More end users in the pipeline

Mayo’s former experience in the British Army has led to an official trial of the product but there is also the potential to supply NGO’s such as Red Cross.

“We obviously have to grow a little bit more, but the ability to go and assist with the likes of the Red Cross where we can actually go in and provide oral rehydration solution to those working in disaster zones is something that we’re really excited about.”

To this point, SOS has sought to differentiate itself from its competitors by creating a category of one.

“We are a medical grade type of hydration - and no one else can actually make that claim. We’re also investing heavily in education. So we don't mind taking a little bit of time talking to people, and making sure they understand what the product actually offers.

So how does the life of an entrepreneur compare to that of a corporate warrior.

It's fun. It's slightly scary but if you don't take a risk, nothing is going to happen. I could have stayed in corporate life which I enjoyed but I’m enjoying this new adventure.

‘We’ve really bootstrapped and I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved in just six months to get the business up and running.”

“In the future I think growing our online offering is obviously the biggest margin for SOS. We’re also looking at niche stores, so sweat-based sports and leisure stores on that side, but we're also looking from a pharmacy angle to cover both those sort of markets and regions. The nice thing is also gyms and cross-fit studios and yoga studios are all potential outsets for us.

Our five year goal it be the leading hydration product here in New Zealand, to have launched in the UK and to at least be up there in the US where we are dominating the lifestyle recovery space. We’ve got to get ourselves firmly rooted in the main hubs of San Francisco, LA, New York and Chicago

“It’s an exciting brand and an exciting concept and it’s great to be doing something that no one else has done so far.”

 

KEY FACTS

Sector:  
Founded: 2013
Staff: 6
Offices San Francisco & Auckland
Biggest markets: USA (NZ 2nd)
Domestic / Export: 30 / 70%
Ownership: Private
Profitable: Almost!
Recent highlight: publicity in Wall Street Journal
Website: www.sosrehydrate.com

 

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For medical application, great.
For sporting purposes, I'd say the jury is still out on the weight loss = performance deterioration.
http://www.irunfar.com/2012/08/waterlogged-part-ii-trials-questions-and-suggestions-regarding-hydration-and-ultramarathons.html
 

Hello Hamish, not every athlete is the same. Why should we wait until we are 2% dehydrated to start drinking water? (we start sensing thirst when we are already 2% dehydrated).
The main electrolyte lost through sweat is Sodium. We can loose up to 800mg of sodium per liter of sweat.
Weight loss (sweat loss)= performance deterioration. Performance decreases because we are dehydrated, cramping, etc
Thanks

My last marathon was sub 2.45. I had 1 cup of tea and maybe 500ml water in the morning before the run. During the run I had half of one paper cup of water. After the run I rehydrated with alternating glass of water and pint of lovely cold ale. Funny thing is, each subsequent marathon I've done has been quicker, and at the same time I've kept cutting back on carb supplement and water intake during each marathon. There's plenty of training adaptation that you can work on if you give your body the opportunity to adapt.
Unverified, but the great Haile lost approx 10% body weight when he set his world marathon record in Berlin.
http://sweatscience.com/asker-jeukendrup-on-gatorade-and-geb/
I would regularly lose 4.5%+ on longer training runs and never felt I was suffering for it, or that the next day's training became compromised.
Until current athletes can get back up to the consistency of performance that many athletes were churning out in the 60's. 70's and early 80's before all these wonder training aids and supplements came along, I'll keep my money in my pocket.
Good luck with the product though.
 

I have no idea if these rehydration products work or don't work as i come from an era of water and oranges at half time,however in 20 or 30 years time it will be interesting to see if some of our current so called sports heroes are enjoying their lives and living as long as some of the sportsman from the 40s and 50s.

 
I definitely recommend SOS, I use it after running and it rehydrates me faster than anything else I have tried.

Have you tried beer?

Moa beer , man ? ....
 
... or Gummy beer ....

Funny thing that whole rehydrating business...it's benign condition at the onset insofar as, by the time your thirsty your already seriously dehydrated...so bloody water from the tap will be just as effective in reality.
 But why wait..? skip the run and get straight into a glass n a half of what u fancy as a warm up, followed by fifty elbow bends, a coupla shots,some deep breathing, n take another look at the fish n chips you had for lunch.
 Now that's a workout. 

Have you tried water? How do you measure rehydration rate? If it's simply how quickly you get back to your pre-exercise weight, then the also mentioned beer will work just as quickly as water, or SOS.

Good question Hamish, we need to understand our hydration status and sweat rates to know what works for us. Sometimes even a headache could be due to dehydration.
One of the best ways of knowing if you are dehydrated is through your urine... how much are you urinating and what's the color of it.
SOS will get absorbed faster than water and beer due to its formula. Beer will dehydrate you even more because it has alcohol.

That's awesome GrantC!

There is evidence that sports drinks containing electrolytes are absorbed faster through the digestive system than plain water (due to ion concentrations). However at just 25 calories I struggle to see the application for sports. It may rehydrate but with such a low calorie count you'd miss the significant window to start replenishing glucose within the 30 minutes (approx) following exercise. The optimum for absorption during exercise is about 8g per 100 ml providing as much carbs as possible for prolonged exercise.
From memory I thought Powerade (for example) had apporx the same quantity of electrolytes as the WHO oral rehydatration they sell at the chemist - used this for the wife when she was sick for a week as it provided more calories which she was missing anyway by being sick, and approx 8g carbs per 100ml.
Also seems contradictory
"The problem with sugary sports drinks is that they tend to sit in the gut and not hydrate you. What you do feel is a big sugar rush but then after the sugar rush you get a sugar crash" 
You get the rush due to the rapid absorption of the electrolytes and sugar and water, hence not sitting in the gut.
Curious to check this out.

Hello MiniMe, interesting comments! what enhances the water absorption process is the low osmolarity of the solution, compared to the body's osmolarity  (normal osmolarity 290mOsm).
Sports drinks contain too much sugar (30 gr/500ml); this concentration will increase the osmolarity of the drink (average of 355mOsm) - decreasing the water absorption rate as it has to get absorbed from a higher osmolarity into a lower osmolarity. On the other hand sports drinks don't have enough electrolytes like sodium, chloride, potassium and magnessium. That's why athletes cramp or get exhausted as they are nor replenishing everything that they are loosing.
You can check the WHO recommendations and ranges here: http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js4950e/2.4.html
The lower the osmolarity the faster the rehydration. SOS is pure rehydration, we only have 7gr of carbohydrates as they are needed to aid the water absorption in the gut. Our osmolarity 230mOsm.
Thank you