AUSTIN, Texas — Josh Cliffords and his team deliver free water just about every day of the week. He's the founder and CEO of FreeWater, a startup in Austin that sells ad space on its bottles so the water is free for you.
“The future is free and the future is local,” he said.
Cliffords plans to give away 30,000 bottles by the end of the year and between 500,000 and a million by the end of 2022. The company will expand to include free vending machines and grocery stores.
“In the United States alone, 30% of all fruits and vegetables go straight into the trash,” Cliffords said. “We throw away $170 billion-plus in food every single year… So when we scale into the world’s first free supermarket, a lot of this waste will be prevented."
The company has also purchased a truck that will be able to deliver up to 10,000 bottles a day. The spring water comes from Georgia and is bottled in recyclable aluminum cans or paper cartons. Still, the company wants to be even greener.
“These were the most eco-friendly containers that were available today,” Cliffords said. “But big picture, we’re going to create the world’s first 100% hemp carton. And we’re going to do that all in a single location here in Austin.”
The company plans to grow by building micro-factories all across the U.S. The goal is to keep the water close to its source.
"There's no way to make money on water if you're shipping it really far," Cliffords said.
FreeWater has gained lots of traction online, especially on TikTok. People are now inquiring about internships, jobs and advertising opportunities.
“We’re having too many people reach out to us and we’re going through them one by one, and it’s a great problem to have,” Cliffords said. “The demand is ridiculous for our product."
Cliffords said that several big-name companies have emailed FreeWater about potentially buying ad space, including Air France, HP, Google Fiber, Grubhub and Afterpay.
FreeWater has made such an impression that Capital Factory gave the company office space rent-free in downtown Austin.
"It's been a blessing," Cliffords said.
Next, Cliffords wants to launch free beer in Texas.
“People are already starting to reach out to copy. And it’s just a matter of time before Coke, Pepsi or Nestle copies, which is a great thing and hopefully they obviously copy the charitable donation, too,” he said.
FreeWater donates 10 cents from each bottle to Well Aware. The Austin-based nonprofit builds water systems in East Africa.
"It's just going to feel really good to be able to help people," Cliffords said. "Help Americans to save money, release products that are better for the environment, but most importantly, donate to the people who need it most."
Follow Charlotte Scott on Twitter.