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.”
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.”
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.”
|Offices||San Francisco & Auckland|
|Biggest markets:||USA (NZ 2nd)|
|Domestic / Export:||30 / 70%|
|Recent highlight:||publicity in Wall Street Journal|