Liquid Lessons: Transforming Commodities into Unicorns

Anna Gong

CEO & Founder | June 22, 2024

In a world saturated with AI (hype) and water alike, monetizing ubiquity becomes an art form. For the last few years with Perx Technologies, I’ve championed that In the Creator Economy, Customer Experience is the New Product. Liquid Death‘s ascent epitomizes this, surpassing unicorn territory with a valuation of $1.4 billion by selling canned water in a market thirsty for distinction. It’s not just water—it’s a rebellion against the mundane, blending humor, entertainment, irreverence and a mission for change into every sip.

This phenomenon echoes the recent insights of NFX General Partner Morgan Beller in ‘AI is Like Water,’ where the commoditization of products, be they as mundane as water or as cutting-edge as AI, demands a unique approach to differentiation. Just as AI has become an essential, ubiquitous part of product development, so has water in our daily lives. Yet, Liquid Death has shattered expectations by transforming a commodity into a coveted brand, emphasizing that what truly differentiates a product is not its functional attributes but the emotional connection it fosters with its audience.

What gripped me wasn’t just their market disruption but their origin story and ethos. Their roots trace back to rock bands and musicians disdain for mainstream energy drinks, sowing the seeds for a healthier, more authentic alternative. Their execution? A blend of environmental advocacy “Death to Plastic”, with a punk rock flair, humor that mirrors Saturday Night Live or SNL, and a recognition that emotions dictate our choices, not logic.

Liquid Death has not only quenched thirst but has also served as a conduit for healthier lifestyle choices across demographics, turning kids into water advocates and leaving moms relieved and amused. At its core, Liquid Death positions itself as an entertainment powerhouse, rewriting the playbook on consumer engagement through creativity and authentic connection.

Mike Cessario‘s vision of Liquid Death as an entertainment company first highlights a seismic shift in how brands can engage with their audience, using creativity and entertainment to create viral word-of-mouth momentum.

This narrative draws a parallel to the eventual AI ubiquity, where differentiation hinges not on the sophistication of technology but on the business model and experiences crafted around it. The formula that Morgan Keller at NFX shared is true to the recipe for differentiation and scale.

(Data + Model) x UX x (Distribution + Perceived Value to Customers) = AI MVP

Whether it’s AI or water, the formula for standing out remains the same: blend your content or technology with unparalleled user experience and emotional engagement to captivate your audience.

For traditional brands, the equivalent formula could be:

(Content/Entertainment) x Packaging x (Distribution + Perceived Value to Customers) = Your “Liquid Death Water” MVP success.

So, in a sea of sameness, let Liquid Death’s journey inspire you. While we are all in our AI bubble and figuring out AI, it’s inevitable that we will all adopt or create AI solutions. It’s not about the functional product you sell, but the stories you tell and the connections you forge. Dare to be different, entertain, and most importantly, engage and reimagine your business models.

Just be warned, like the ubiquities (AI or water) we’ve grown to rely on, Liquid Death’s allure is equally captivating. This one got me good.

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