January 30, 2019 | By Katie Capri | Photos by Paola Castillo
Fountains of Youth
You may recognize the name Zak Normandin. Founder & CEO of Iris Nova, Normandin’s entrepreneurial reputation proceeds his current venture Dirty Lemon. Normandin spent a decade as a product designer, gaining success in the organic children’s snack market with Little Duck Organics. Three years ago, the then 31-year old wanted to expand on his experience. Enter Dirty Lemon: the alternative beverage company touting water with a little something extra.
Known for slick, minimalist branding and wellness trend-right ingredients like charcoal, collagen, turmeric, and matcha, Dirty Lemon has garnered a cultish social media following. They owe the following in part because of Normandin’s fresh approach to, well, everything.
The entire operation is plugged into the future of consumer culture. From the premise (water that isn’t just water), to the ingredients (a buffet of Millennial’s favorite health tonic trends) to the social presence (Instagram posts featuring more lifestyle commentary than consumer benefits) but that’s not all. With all the branding acumen, it could be easy to miss something exciting that’s bubbling up just below the surface, something that reaches far beyond wellness trend-right beverages and a palatable name.
Normandin has gone all-in on a new type of exchange between business and consumer: the text message. What he calls “C-Commerce” anchors the more transitory social following and buzzy health additives into a business innovation that could have implications for decades. According to Ad Week, Dirty Lemon has sold more than 2 million bottles and garnered almost 100,000 customers in the past three years. Ninety percent of those orders were processed via text message.
After opening a paying-optional storefront, in Tribeca last fall, there’s been a flurry of further interest in Dirty Lemon. We decided to talk to Normandin about C-Commerce, how SMS-based transactions change marketing and why he chose to be a disrupter.
Zak Normandin: Product Developer, Business Model Disrupter
“We believe communicating by text message is not only effortless but inherently personal.”
What is your favorite part of creating your own job instead of building something for someone else?
The freedom to be creative has always driven me to be an entrepreneur. Seeing an idea become a reality and watching that idea grow into a brand that’s now sold to over 100,000 customers is extremely motivating. I’m always driven by the desire to provide the modern consumer quality products that can be easily incorporated to improve a daily routine.
What’s your least favorite part?
Building a company is extremely mentally and emotionally challenging — the reality of being an entrepreneur isn’t sexy. That being said, I don’t have a “least favorite part” when it comes to building this company. I wake up
Why was it so important to Dirty Lemon to build a whole new business system instead of trying to stand out in the established beverage market?
Before I started DIRTY LEMON I spent 10 years launching products in the consumer space and saw how the traditional distribution system (selling in grocery stores, corner shops, etc.) really limited innovation. I was frustrated that it took six months to a year to get product onto store shelves and I was inspired by the early pioneers in Direct-To-Consumer (Harry’s, Casper, etc), who were using tech to reshape antiquated industries. I knew the key to our success would lie in building a direct connection with customers and wanted to apply a DTC model to the beverage industry, which has changed very little in the face of new technology and shifting consumer preferences.
“I was frustrated that it took six months to a year to get [a] product onto store shelves.”
“I knew the key to our success would lie in building a direct connection with customers.”
Consumer Power in the Palm of Your Hand
C-Commerce … can you explain this concept? Why is it so important to Dirty Lemon to pioneer this way of doing business?
I wanted to go beyond a typical direct-to-consumer model and chose to sell products via text message because it is ubiquitous. We are all on our phones all day, and that will only increase in future generations. Right now, 65% of millennials use tech to purchase food items and 68% plan to purchase all of their food online by 2020.
The process is simple, new customers text us @ 917-588-0640 to set up an account, after they send a text message a DIRTY LEMON customer service rep sends a secure link where the customer enters credit card and address information. After the initial sign-up, customers only need to send a text message of their order to 917-588-0640 and subsequent orders are automatically charged to the card on file.
We’re solving the distribution inefficiencies we saw in the market with a platform that allows for seamless communication with customers. Our goal is always to provide customers a consistent, heightened experience that is rooted in convenience. Therefore, we believe communicating by text message is not only effortless but inherently personal.
How does the C-commerce model change your approach to communications for Dirty Lemon vs. traditional product promotion?
The SMS-based platform we created allows for us to use data to drive our innovation. We’ve collected over 30 data points per customer which allows us to see and use consumption data to offer products and services our customer wants.
Blender Members can pick up a bottle of DIRTY LEMON at the Blender Cafe.