I can’t tell you the last time I drank from a plastic water bottle, and a lot of that is thanks to my Welly bottle. Not only is it beautiful and good for the environment, but when I began learning more about the brand and the founder, I knew it was a message we had to share with our Glitter Guide audience. Ben Kander, founder of Welly Bottle, built his company on the values and ethics he learned from his mother, who passed away when he was in college. With Earth Day just a few days away and Mother’s Day just around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better brand or mission to showcase. We love brands doing cool things for beautiful reasons, and Welly ticks all the boxes. So let’s get into it and introduce you to Ben…
Tell us a bit about your background!
I grew up in Pittsburgh in a tight-knit family and Jewish community. I have a younger brother (Jacob) who is now a full-time employee at Welly and a younger sister who will be interning with us this summer (currently a rising senior at Emory University). I attended Shady Side Academy for high school and played many sports including golf, basketball and baseball. I later studied sustainable business and energy efficiency at Emory University, which is where my interest in social/sustainable entrepreneurship blossomed. During my senior year of college, my mom was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away just after graduation. This forever changed my life. My mom was a larger-than-life type of person. She was a shining light and you could feel her presence and energy the moment she walked into any room. She loved connecting with people and helping others in need. She was an entrepreneur and philanthropist and I started Welly to continue her legacy of helping people and our planet.
My mom was and continues to be my moral compass. Any time I have a tough decision to make, I always think of what she would do and can rely on her guidance to always make the right moral decisions.
Can you tell us the story behind how Welly Bottle came to be?
When my mom passed after her courageous battle with cancer, I realized how fragile life is and wanted to start a business that supported both people in need as well as our environment. My girlfriend at the time Ali (now wife and mother of our daughter, Elle) drinks more water than anyone I know. Because of Ali, I started drinking more water on a regular basis and quickly experienced many of the benefits of finally being hydrated (better focus, metabolism, weight loss, clearer skin, etc.) and wanted to create a product that would help others stay hydrated while also reducing our reliance on single-use plastics and giving clean water to those in need around the world. I wanted to include a renewable resource with our products and found bamboo, which grows four to five times quicker than wood and also looks beautiful. If I could create a beautifully designed and highly functional bottle that gave clean water to people in need, I knew that it could take off and really make a difference in the world. I named the business Welly after my Mom (my dad called her Elly at home) and also after the clean water wells that we help fund in developing countries through our non-profit partner, charity: water. Our first full year of business was in 2018 and we’ve been growing quickly since!
We love that the name honors your mom, Elly. What are some of your favorite lessons she taught you growing up?
My mom was and continues to be my moral compass. Any time I have a tough decision to make, I always think of what she would do and can rely on her guidance to always make the right moral decisions. My mom believed that the energy you put out in the world would be returned. I therefore learned to always be gracious and giving to others. More often than not, that kindness has been returned.
Your mom sounds like an amazing woman. How have her values influenced your own as an entrepreneur?
My mom was tenacious when it came to business. Whenever she was told ‘no’ or shut down, she always said that there has got to be a way and didn’t stop until she found it. As a startup, we face many setbacks. If I can stay as positive and confident as she was, I know we can overcome and achieve great things.
Can you tell us about the charitable projects Welly has been able to support?
So far we have helped fund two clean water wells in Ethiopia and Malawi, Africa giving more than 400 people access to clean water. A lack of clean water impacts mothers and daughters the most as they are the ones responsible for walking hours a day to source water for their families. Because of this, daughters are unable to go to school and get an education and mothers have less time at home with their families or are unable to get jobs. By bringing clean water to a community, daughters are now able to go to school and mothers have more time on their hands to work and help the family. I know my mom is most proud that we are able to help mothers and daughters to live more fulfilling lives.
My mom believed that the energy you put out in the world would be returned. I therefore learned to always be gracious and giving to others. More often than not, that kindness has been returned.
Aside from clean water, are there any other causes or movements you’re particularly passionate about?
Other than clean water, by offering reusable drinkware we are helping to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, which are taking over our waterways and landfills. I’m passionate about changing peoples’ habits to grab a quick plastic bottle and instead refill their Welly bottles.
What does Earth Day mean to you as an entrepreneur?
Earth Day is a time for us to reflect on the decisions we make and to understand how they impact our lives and our environment. Our goal is to give customers a beautiful and sustainable solution to one of Earth’s biggest challenges—single-use plastics.
Are there any other sustainable brands you love that should be on our radar?
I’m a big fan of Patagonia (clothing), Nisolo (shoes), Tushy (bidet) and Grove Collaborative (home cleaning).
What are you passionate about when you’re not running a business?
Spending time with my family and playing golf! I love being outside and in nature. Golf has so many life lessons packed into it such as, “Leave the course better than how you found it.”
Steve Jobs’s biography. It’s incredible to see his passion for design and technology and his relentless pursuit for perfection.
Anything exciting on the horizon that you can share with us?
Hydration is everything. We are currently working on a new smart cap that will give reminders to our customers to drink more water.
I have to give a few of my favorites: “Measure twice, cut once.” “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is!” “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”—Jim Carrey