Who owns Liquid Death? The innovative team and investors behind the brand

By Chege Karomo — ON Aug 10, 2022
Liquid Death
Liquid Death/Twitter

“Don’t be scared. It’s just water,” reads Liquid Death’s website. The brand’s name might scream extreme, but it really is just water sourced from the Alps and bottled in Austria. Liquid Death’s founder Mike Cessario told The Hollywood Reporter the brand is a combination of three passions:

“I care about health. I care about sustainability. I also grew up playing in punk rock and metal bands and love that culture. It was a way for me to combine them all together into one thing.”

Liquid Death’s innovation and creative marketing have made drinking water seem cool and fun while creating awareness about the impact of plastic bottling on the environment. 

Key Takeaways

  • Liquid Death founder and CEO Mike Cessario worked on Netflix productions, including Stranger Things and House of Cards.
  • Science Inc.’s investment in Liquid Death has given the startup a substantial minority shareholding in the water company. 
  • Cessario hopes to compete with brands like Coca-Cola soon as Liquid Death continues its rapid expansion. 

Liquid Death’s founder Mike Cessario serves as its CEO

Mike Cessario
Liquid Death/YouTube

The idea of placing bottled water in a tallboy can occurred to Mike Cessario during the 2008 Warped Tour. He noticed that performers preferred to drink water rather than the products made by their energy drink sponsors. 

The performers, therefore, put water in their energy drink cans to prevent them from breaking sponsorship deals. Mike decided to create a water brand that rock fans and performers would feel comfortable drinking. He told eater:

“A lot of the brands that are in the alternative space are really unhealthy. t’s a lot of cheap gross beer and energy drinks that most people don’t want to drink. We wanted to give people permission to participate in this cool rock-and-roll brand without needing to consume something gross.”

Cessario linked up with bartender Pat Cook, artist Will Carsola, and partner J.R. Higgins to create the first Liquid Death ad. The team shot the commercial for $1.5K and paid $3K on Facebook ads – within three months, the ad had 3 million views, and Liquid Death had more followers than Aquafina. 

“Seeing how people in the market are actually reacting to it on social media is a much better barometer for figuring out whether or not we had an idea that would actually work,” Mike said. Cessario’s experience working with ad agencies and Netflix paid off big time – Liquid Death had caught the world’s attention before selling a single can. 

The team found an Austrian supplier they contracted to source and bottle liquid Death’s water. Even as sales grew, Mike decided to keep importing from Austria rather than source water from the United States. He told eater that sourcing from Europe did less harm to the environment:

“Ocean freight is far and away the most carbon-efficient form of transportation by the pound, because one giant ship can move an insane amount of cargo. You would need something like 500 trucks to move that same amount of freight.”

Startup studio Science owns a strong minority of Liquid Death and wishes it owns more

Liquid Death received its first significant funding in early 2019 when Michael Dubin, Jen Rubio, Biz Stone, and Science Inc. invested $1.6 million in the company. Mike told Insider that the extra cash would boost the company’s marketing campaign:

“In 2019, if you want to communicate this is small and craft, you have to look and sound and do things that a big company would never do. Everything we’ve done so far has been so scrappy, and we’re excited to continue scaling our efforts, especially marketing.”

In March 2020, Liquid Death acquired $9 million in Series A funding from its initial investors and others like Velvet Sea Ventures. Several months later, more investors, including Pat McAfee, Fat Mike, and Convivialite Ventures, pumped $23 million into Liquid Death in Series B funding. 

In early January, Science led the largest investment yet by helping raise $75 million for Liquid Death in Series C funding. Science’s investment gave it a ‘strong minority’ position, with co-founder Mike Jones stating that the startup studio wished it owned a bigger share. 

It’s unclear how much the company’s investors own in Liquid Death as the company hasn’t released its ownership structure. However, we are confident that Science and founder Mike Cessario own a significant chunk of the company. 

Mike Cessario plans to continue the company’s rapid expansion

Liquid Death, a brand many initially dismissed as a gimmick, has a value of $525 million and plans to keep growing that valuation. Mike told eater:

“Red Bull is a gimmick. All it is is soda. It’s the same thing that’s been around forever, but they created this brand around action sports. What does riding a dirt bike have to do with an energy drink? These guys are professional athletes, they don’t even drink that stuff. But they do drink water.”

Liquid Death has arguably grown faster than Red Bull: Initially, you could only purchase Liquid Death online; it’s now available in $29,000 locations throughout the United States. The company’s revenue hit $45 million in 2020 – a sharp rise from the $3 million revenue in 2019. 

Experts predict that the global functional water market will grow by 7% annually in the next five years, which is good news for Liquid Death. The company plans to strengthen its position in the market by rolling out more flavored water products. Three Liquid Death flavored water products are already on the market: Mango Chainsaw, Severed Lime, and Berry It Alive. 

Mike hopes Liquid Death someday competes with brands from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, but he understands that Liquid Death doesn’t have the resources of the long-established companies. Therefore, Liquid Death will continue relying on savvy rather than expensive marketing to grow the brand. He told TechCrunch:

“We’re not going to have Coca-Cola or Pepsi-like budgets to spend. We don’t have $300 million to throw at something, so every piece of marketing that we make has to be interesting or entertaining so that people organically spread it.”

Liquid Death will likely expand its deal with Amazon, given the positive returns of the current agreement. Amazon no longer charges Liquid Death for selling through Amazon; the retail giant purchases directly from Liquid Death and sells the products for a lower price. 

“For a lot of food and beverage brands, Amazon is often their biggest sales channel,” Cessario said.