Flooding the Market: Vivid Roots plans to make a big splash
One day during their 2013 summer break, Boise State students Trever Bostrom and Dylan Carlson and University of Idaho students Dallas Crum and Connor Kingsbury were backpacking around Loon Lake in McCall.
“Any opportunity that we had, we were outdoors,” Bostrom remembered. “We were adventuring. We were spending time with family and friends. And we looked at each other—it was at the point where we were about to go back to school—and we were just like, ‘What are we going to do with our lives? What are we going to do start a career?’”
On the drive back to Boise, Kingsbury answered those questions with another question: “Why don’t we start our own damn company and do this every single day?”
That idea led the four friends to start Vivid Roots, a lifestyle brand that currently sells t-shirts, hats and water bottles. Founded on the concept of social entrepreneurship, the startup has resolved to donate approximately 20 percent of its profits to projects providing people in developing countries sustainable access to clean water.
This past March, Vivid Roots won first place in the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge’s Business Model Competition, which came with a $10,000 cash prize. The company has partnered with Rotary International and the nonprofit Water for the Americas to help build a clean water system in Chiquimula, Guatemala.
The Roots of Vivid Roots
According to Bostrom, the name “Vivid Roots” reflects the way that he and his partners want to live their lives.
“The ‘Roots’ really represents where we’re from. Always remember your roots—your family, your friends, where you came from, where you grew up,” he said. “And obviously, the ‘Vivid’ part stems from living vividly—the adventurous lifestyle, not taking anything for granted.”
The friends laid the foundations for Vivid Roots when they applied to Boise State’s Venture College in early 2014. Their initial business concept was, Bostrom said, extremely vague.
“When we presented the idea of Vivid Roots, it was more just an apparel company that wanted to change the world,” he said. “We didn’t really have the specifics laid out, and we didn’t know how we were going to do it.”
But the Venture College admitted Vivid Roots, Bostrom said, “because of the passion that they saw in every single one of us.”
As the four men researched various causes, clean water seemed especially important.
“We knew we wanted to give back to a charity, We just didn’t know what charity at first,” Kingsbury said. “And I think we came across [the] fact that nearly one billion people lack access to clean water. It’s a huge problem. Water, it’s just so easy for someone to go into the bathroom, turn on the sink and have it. And a lot of people don’t realize that a lot of other people don’t get that same opportunity.”
Part of the Stream
Professor Kevin Learned, Director of the Venture College, sees Vivid Roots as an example of a common trend among today’s twenty-somethings.
“I think that the principles of Vivid Roots are very typical of the Millennial generation,” he said, “Which is this kind of (asking), ‘How can we make a living and make the world a better place at the same time?’”
Learned said many Venture College students focus on starting a nonprofit or a business “that is a serious for-profit venture but also is going to help somebody someplace.”
Learned helped connect the Vivid Roots founders with the Rotary Club of Fort Collins, Colo., which has worked on water projects in Central and South America as well as in Africa. After winning $3,500 in the U of I’s 2014 Business Plan Competition and receiving $4,400 from the Venture College, Bostrom, Carlson, Crum and Kingsbury flew down to Guatemala. They spent a week traveling to villages in the Chiquimula area, which persuaded them to help fund the Chiquimula project. This involves creating wells and water filtration systems.
“People usually think of the ideal vertical well drilled in the ground,” Bostrom said. “In Guatemala—especially in the areas that we are working in—it’s very mountainous, so they can’t drill vertical wells. So instead, they use runoff from the mountains and essentially block it off, creating a horizontal well. That just means the water shoots across a valley or wherever it is into these little villages.”
Vivid Roots will contribute $5,000 to the Chiquimula project. After a Rotary club in Chiquimula matches those funds, the Rotary Foundation will give an additional $25,000. Professor Learned— a longtime Rotarian who has worked on projects in Ecuador—explained how this funding will allow Water for the Americas and the Chiquimula Rotary Club to set up the water system and keep it sustainable.
“There are all these issues that have to be worked out,” he said. “And so when we go to the third world, we’re typically working with water engineers who would be members of the local Rotary Clubs there in order to put a project together.”
Rooted Present, Vivid Future
Just as the Chiquimula project evolved through diligent planning and preparation, Vivid Roots developed through careful research. This is a key component of the Lean Startup method, which the startup’s founders were taught at the Venture College.
“It’s a new model,’ Learned said. “I was a professor of entrepreneurship for a number of years in the old school, where we brought all these young people into entrepreneurship class and we spent a whole semester writing a business plan. And we’ve walked away from that now, saying, ‘The business plan is just a big, detailed document about your guesses.’”
Instead, Vivid Roots grew out of extensive networking, interviewing and trial and error.
“You’re doing all the research before, and you’re validating every step along the way,” Bostrom said. “And if you don’t validate, you go back to the white board.”
Before they had any inventory, Vivid Roots had generated $6,000 in pre-order sales. According to Professor Learned, the company expects to sell $100,000 worth of products this year.
Bostrom and company aren’t losing sight of their roots, though. They plan to fly down to Ecuador this summer and research a potential project. They also plan to attend as many summer events as possible to spread the word about their brand. This should give Bostrom and his friends the chance to break in the new Vivid Roots van, which they purchased with some of the IEC’s cash prize.
“It’s funny thinking about it,” Bostrom said, “but this is literally what we said from day one when we started Vivid Roots: Let’s travel, let’s get on the road, let’s do cool stuff.”