In April 2012, 25-year-old Ken Unaeze was sitting in his cubicle at a Chicago-area Career Builder, when he came across an article about the rise of EDM music and the billion dollar industry it created on corporate sponsorships alone. "I saw a joke in the comments section that said how most of that revenue must be coming from water sales," Unaeze tells Fuse. “So I started brainstorming some ideas about how could I effectively use this information and capitalize on it.”
Fast forward to February of this year. After scrapping the names Electronic Water, PLUR Water, Trap Water and Bass Water, Mollywatr, a new brand of water "created exclusively to satisfy the hydration needs of EDM fans in clubs, concerts and festivals worldwide," was born. While the water is available in select clubs in Chicago, Detroit and Austin, Unaeze is looking to expand his product's reach, even as it's come under criticism for promoting the drug culture tied into EDM. “I know what I’m doing here," Unaeze says. "I have a degree in economics from Michigan State University. I have experience working in corporate America.”
The outspoken founder spoke to Fuse about honesty in advertising and lashes out at critics.
So what’s the difference between Mollywatr and Evian, Fiji, Aquafina, etc.?
Check this out. You’re having an interview with me about Mollywatr. I’m sure you’re savvy enough to figure out why my product is way better than all those other products that you just listed. Mollywatr goes with the environment. I see people holding bottles of XYZ water that look like they’re at a first-aid emergency site. It's like Red Cross handing out bottles to victims of the latest hurricane. This is not designed to be that.
One of the biggest problems with the way water is presented and delivered to people is that it definitely takes you out of the moment of what you’re trying to enjoy. You don’t go to a club to hold first aid paraphernalia in your hand. The whole process of ordering a water at one of these venues can be a little bit intimidating. You order a water and the bartender might give you a look like, “Hmm, why aren’t you getting a Jameson?”
But wouldn’t you get a weirder look if you ordered a product called Mollywatr?
Ummm. [Pauses] First of all, we can play devil’s advocate all day.
But you don't think that makes sense?
To me, not really. A bartender will feel a lot better serving Mollywatr than pouring a cup of water and hoping for a tip. Water is currently apart from what is going on; it’s not in the moment. People think of hydration as an afterthought. When you talk about a clubgoer, they’re thinking about the music they’re listening to, the clothes they’re wearing and the company they keep. It's not necessarily about how important it is to stay hydrated. If you’re like me, I get it in when I go out and if you’re trying to turn up, man, you’re spending a lot of energy. I wear my Mollywatr gear all over the place and people come up to me asking, “Where’s molly?” and later in the night, they walk up to me and say, “We need water and we need it here.” [Laughs]
If you want water named after a country, there's plenty of that available at Wal-Mart. This is definitely something a little more exclusive.
So this was mainly designed to be drunk at clubs?
This is definitely designed to be consumed in bars, clubs and festivals. We have a way of serving these different environments effectively and making sure that we’re communicating that this is for the nightlife community. If you want some water named after some country, you can go to Wal-Mart and there’s plenty of that available. But this is definitely something that’s a little more exclusive.
Look, I’m just trying to get people hydrated and that’s the goal here. I’m communicating that message in a way that’s the most effective way to communicate. There is nothing that can be done to change the reality of the scene. People will go out and do things that their mother wouldn’t necessarily approve of. [Laughs] This government has spent trillions of dollars and affected millions of lives. Countless souls have been lost trying to assert the correctness of “Just say no” as a viable policy. The abstinence-only approach doesn’t work when dealing with the realities of the scene.
If you’re facilitating an environment where people aren’t going to be honest about what’s going on, you’re putting people at an even greater risk. Unfortunately, this leads to some people getting into situations that result in tragic outcomes. I’m saying that Mollywatr is definitely something that mitigates that set of circumstances. It’s honesty in the face of hypocrisy.
I agree that the War on Drugs has been ineffective, but the criticism of Mollywatr is more based on the idea that you're trying to cash in on a current trend.
You don’t think that the festival that you spent $700 on a 3-day ticket to get into and a $1,500 cabana isn’t for monetary gain off of what people like? A lot of the criticism is from old heads that are part of this movement like, “Hey, we say one thing and we’re actually experiencing another.” People make money off of stuff that people like. I’m sorry. That’s just the reality of things. And people have rent to pay. C’mon. [Laughs] Didn’t you read the Forbes article that says your favorite DJ makes a gajillion dollars a year? I think a lot of the negative reaction that you’re seeing are reflections of the people that are expressing those reactions.
I’m focused on having fun and a good time and making sure that these extreme negative outcomes are less likely to occur as a result of this company’s contribution to the culture. That whole “Be the change” mantra. Boom. You’re talking to it in the flesh.
Are you a fan of dance music?
I love electronic dance music. A lot of people that question my dedication to dance: I mean, yo dude, I’ve been listening to house music for years. I’ve been going to festivals and shows since college. I’m deeply embedded in the scene. Most of the people that have the harshest negative reaction to my product are people that have something to do with what they’re criticizing, either they are problem users, have dealt the stuff, etc. Most haters are eventually going to become hydraters down the line. Your mom is going to drink Mollywatr.
The popular EDM site Do Androids Dance said about Mollywatr: “To promote a company named after a drug is simply foolish, reckless, and downright thirsty. It’s like promoting sex without using a condom, or driving without mentioning how to use a seatbelt. There’s 1,000 other ways that they could market your product to the rave culture, and somehow decided to choose the worst possible one.” What’s your response?
Condoms are gross.
I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.
Honestly, ew. Who likes sex with a condom? To really have sex, you have to…I’m sorry. I love sex without condoms. I like going really, really fast. If I’m driving a convertible and I really want to go fast the way that it’s designed to do, man, a safety belt? Come on. [Laughs] If I could be any kind of sex, I’d love to be sex without a condom.
That whole “Be the change” mantra. Boom. You’re talking to it in the flesh.
Okay. Are you worried about the long-term health of the company if the name “Molly” falls out of favor?
Can I show you something?
[Unaeze e-mails me this 1980s Coke ad]
Look very carefully. It says "It’s the Real Thing. Coke." Now tell me what’s sprinkled around the Coke.
It looks like a lot of cocaine.
Nooo. It’s not cocaine. It’s shaved ice. This is from the ‘80s. What was the hottest thing going on and they’re saying, “It’s the real thing”? They know what they’re doing. I know what I'm doing. People have not gotten this excited about hydration in a long ass time. So I think I’m doing something right here. The reality is this: Soon, Mollywatr will be a lifestyle brand for millennial consumers. You’ll be able to purchase Mollywatr swimwear, Mollywatr nail polish, Mollywatr body wash. What Red Bull did for extreme sports, I’m doing for the EDM scene. There are going to be people who are upset about that, but they’re just upset that they’re not the ones doing it. [Laughs]
This is a movement. By being this honest and forthright, I’m putting myself and the people that I’m working with at great risk. The lying and dishonesty foster an environment that puts people at risk and in dangerous situations. As an agent of honesty and change, I know I’m taking that risk, but I know I’m doing some very righteous work here.