Money & Career

Justine Flynn Launched A $5.5 Million Social Enterprise

It all started when she was 14

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Thankyou story starts in 2008 when the social enterprise was founded. But the story actually begins seven years earlier in 2001 when co-founder Justine Flynn was 14-years-old.

It was at that age that she travelled to Indonesia on a school trip to work with a local children’s foundation. “I saw poverty first hand and I realised that I didn’t want to be rich and have lots of material possessions when I grew up, I wanted to enrich the lives of others,” she recalls.

Her passion for helping others became a reality in the midst the world water crisis when she launched Thankyou bottled water with all the profits going to water projects in developing countries.

“Eight years ago, the bottled water industry was worth $600 million, and at the same time, 900 million people didn’t have access to safe water back then. The injustice didn’t feel right, so with my then boyfriend (now husband) Daniel and friend Jarryd Burns, we started a bottled water company that was 100% charitable.”

The trio thought the business would take off in six months. In the first year they made just $7,000 and didn’t take a single pay check home. It would take them three years to get where they wanted to be. Three long, hard years.

“I think we were very ambitious and naïve in the beginning,” says Flynn. “The first few years were tough. I worked part time loading boxes in a factory, starting at 4am and wearing steel-capped boots and high vis. Then I’d work on Thankyou from 10:30am onwards and do uni at night.”

The 4am starts weren’t the biggest challenge Flynn would face during this time. Their first product run had to be recalled after the labels malfunctioned, a distributor went into liquidation owing them $20,000 and a retailer backed out of stocking the product at the last minute. 

“It was quite discouraging, we had moments where we thought about giving up, but what really kept us going was the people we were helping,” she says. In 2010, Flynn came face to face with those people in Cambodia when she visited the first project they funded.

There, she met a woman who used to spend her entire income on medical expenses because of the diseases in the dirty drinking water. With access to safe water, the woman was able to spend her money on a plough. “The family used that plough to generate an income for themselves and gave them the opportunity to get out of poverty,” says Flynn.

Since then, Thankyou has grown to have 50 products, including a food and body range, in 5,500 outlets. They’ve raised $5,508,599.53 for programs helping to improve the living conditions of people around the world, and impacted 755,338 people. To be exact. 

And yet, Flynn still isn’t done. “We’re really big dreamers, and we want Thankyou to be so much bigger and so much greater,” she admits. Here’s how…

Secret to success: Take people on a journey and give them an opportunity to be a part of it. We couldn’t have done this on our own.

Breakfast of champions: I have to say our super seed protein clusters.

Best advice: Take a day off! It’s so important to recharge and reset so you can give your best.

Hardest lesson: Transparency is important. People want to know where their money is going when they buy a bottle of water, so we tell them.

Top interview tip: Find a way to stand out. Our communications manager sent us a bottle of Keen’s mustard in the post to say she was keen as mustard to get the role.

Coffee order: I quit coffee in January!

Wind down: My two-year-old is a bundle of joy with an incredible belly laugh, so when I’m around him, all my stress seems to disappear (until he has a melt down).

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