Jason Shiver of Waterloo Sparkling Water: “Challenge your team to think differently”

Challenge your team to think differently. To maintain your competitive edge, you need to think outside of the box. Almost anything can be copied, so how do you keep a moat around your brand? Working to keep our brand differentiated is our challenge every day. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an […]

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Challenge your team to think differently.

To maintain your competitive edge, you need to think outside of the box. Almost anything can be copied, so how do you keep a moat around your brand? Working to keep our brand differentiated is our challenge every day.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Shiver.

Jason Shiver has served as CEO of Waterloo Sparkling Water since August 2017. Prior to Waterloo, Mr. Shiver held several positions at SkinnyPop/Amplify snack brands from May 2013 to January 2017, including President of North America prior to his departure. He was instrumental in helping take the company public in August of 2015 and won awards from both Nielsen and IRI for SkinnyPop’s performance. From 2008 to 2013, Mr. Shiver served as Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Glutino USA, a gluten free snack food company, which was acquired by Boulder Brands, Inc, a diversified food company. From May 2003 to January 2008, Mr. Shiver held several roles at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc, the leader in low carb food and beverages, including Vice President of Sales. From September 2001 to May 2003, Mr. Shiver was a Southeast Regional Sales Manager at Acirca, Inc, an organic foods and beverages company. From August 2000 to September 2001, Mr. Shiver was a National Account Manager at AriZona Beverages USA LLC. Mr. Shiver holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from University of South Florida.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I wish I could romanticize the story by telling you I have always dreamed of being in the better-for-you food space, but it was more practical. I had just graduated college and had worked full-time for Sam’s Club as I put myself through school. AriZona Iced Tea offered me an opportunity to be a sales person at their Tampa, Florida distribution facility. It wasn’t glamorous. I was essentially throwing cases of tea on the shelves of retailers across the Pinellas County area. Over the course of the next several years, I was promoted multiple times until I was a National Account Manager for some of AriZona’s largest customers. This is where I developed the entrepreneurial spirit that followed me into the low-carb craze (Atkins), Organics (Walnut Acres), Gluten Free (Glutino), better-for-you snacks (SkinnyPop) and now, sparkling water with Waterloo. I was seemingly always one of the youngest people in the room, but was given a large voice in smaller organizations. Today, let’s just say I have become one of the more “experienced” people in the room.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Early on, as we started to hear people from all walks of life around the country talk about Waterloo, we were wowed. We were all holding our collective breaths that our hard work and determination would pay off. Waterloo is an interpretation of what our team felt a better-for-you sparkling water should taste like. Fast forward to today, we send out a monthly Loo Love report that outlines the comments our most loyal consumers spent the time to send. It reinforces to our team that we are making a difference.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think this was a question from a previous interview I have done with Medium, but a good one nonetheless. It was during the early days of Waterloo, just after we launched at Whole Foods Market. We received a call from the Costco San Diego buyer requesting to set up an appointment to discuss Waterloo with her. You can imagine the excitement that permeated our small, young team. This is the thrill of the chase in the early days of starting a company. We nailed down a time and I flew to San Diego full of hope. As my regional salesperson and I sat outside the buying office for two hours strategizing, we had no idea what was happening inside the building. We confidently entered the buying office and told the receptionist our name and who we were there to see. She informed us that we were two hours late for the meeting. Needless to say, my heart was in my throat and I was thinking of all the excuses I was going to use when I got back to Austin. Somehow, the “magic” that is supposed to happen when you change time zones with Outlook had me thinking the meeting was two hours later than it was. Fortunately, the buyer stayed late and met with us. We eventually earned her business and I consider her a friend. Thank you, Debbie!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

What we do at Waterloo, we do because we think it’s the right thing to do — whether we tell the world about it or not. Internally, we discuss ways to help and deploy funds and resources to help where we can. That could be through the donation of nearly a million cans to first responders or working with the University of Texas on their intern diversity program. In the news we just announced, we are focusing on helping to address the financial struggles facing small businesses. My wife and I have always been present in the Austin food and entertainment scene. Many of these business owners/employees are customers of Waterloo, and more importantly, friends. We discussed making a donation to help those in the service industry back in April. At the time, in the early days of the pandemic, we could not find an efficient way to get cash in the hands of these great people. Last month, we noticed what the Barstool Fund was doing and reached out to Erika Nardini (CEO of Barstool Sports), wanting to make a personal donation. When I shared this with my executive committee, they also wanted to step up for small businesses. This was the genesis of our new employee benefit that provides each employee with a monthly 200 dollars allowance to spend with local, small businesses in their communities. We budgeted this for the entire 2021 calendar year.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I would direct people to The Barstool Fund | Barstool Sports website to watch the videos of how lives are being changed each day. Many of these very successful business owners are faced with losing everything through no fault of their own. If our efforts as a company inspire other companies to implement similar programs, or if spreading the word of the great work from the folks at Barstool Sports inspires others to donate, then we are improving the lives of people one day at a time. Through this new employee benefit launched this month, our 35 employees are helping small businesses in 11 states.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We believe it is important for individuals in their daily lives to make a conscious effort to patronize the small businesses in their communities. Through no fault of their own in this COVID time, small business owners are facing dire challenges. We can make a difference with decisions we make throughout our day. As an entrepreneur myself, it has been heartbreaking to see so many members of our community, many I consider friends, watch their livelihoods evaporate. We can all help

We also are looking for fellow business leaders in Austin and in cities around the country to use their voices, ingenuity and resources to support these struggling small business owners. That is the motivation behind our new employee benefit to support this essential sector of our economy — one that is critical to driving innovation and bringing vitality to the communities where we live.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

As an organization, we would define leadership as having the courage to think differently and to act, in order to make a positive impact on your business and community. I believe that our new, small business benefit is a clear example of leadership in action.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Stay true to your values.

To enhance corporate culture, establish corporate values and hire people that embody those values. Culture should be easy if you follow this principal. Approximately 70% of my team has worked with me at least one other time.

  • Following other brands is not authentic, it is the opposite.

Either be the category leader, or challenge the status quo by bringing positive change to a category through differentiated attributes.

  • Lead from the front and listen.

We spent countless hours reading reviews of other products before we launched Waterloo. One thing I can tell you is that if a customer spends the time to leave a review, they are passionate about what they are saying. This led us to distinguish ourselves not only by taste, but also by bringing a more elevated experience to the consumer when they open a can of Waterloo Sparkling Water.

  • Challenge your team to think differently.

To maintain your competitive edge, you need to think outside of the box. Almost anything can be copied, so how do you keep a moat around your brand? Working to keep our brand differentiated is our challenge every day.

  • Don’t get too caught up in what is happening today — keep your eye on the prize.

I have seen brands make short-term decisions that affect their ability to achieve their long-term goals. Focus on how the big decisions you make will affect the future of your brand. Don’t give up the long term for a short-term gain.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is a big question. I believe that it takes all of us. When people tap into their individual passions and act in good faith, we can all, collectively, get to a better place. For me, I have been moved by the struggles of small business owners. I have chosen to lend my voice and our brand’s resources to this cause. Austin is a city of entrepreneurship and independent thinking, and we lean hard into doing the right thing — the foundation that Waterloo has been built upon. In this spirit — staying true to Waterloo’s brand values — we have encouraged other business leaders in Austin and beyond to lock arms with us to help the small business community, which is a vital sector of our economy and essential to driving innovation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up. Life is difficult and we have to have the perseverance to get back up and the tenacity to succeed. I have always worked with early/pre-revenue brands that have to believe they can be the challenger brand in the category. This takes a delicate blend of unwavering belief, tenacity, and perseverance. Success does not come easy.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Tom Brady. Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he’d accomplished. What are those unwavering traits that have made him so successful? How does he find success in the face of defeat?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Your readers can keep up with what’s going on with Waterloo by following us on Instagram (@waterloosparkling), Facebook (@waterloosparkling) and our LinkedIn page.

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