Peak Performance Powder: In 2012, when he was 24 years old, Cohen founded Liquid I.V., which makes an electrolyte drink mix. Eight years later, more than 35,000 U.S. stores carry the company's products.
Star Power: The company has attracted a large group of celebrity investors, including Justin Bieber, Kevin Hart, and Kendall Jenner.
Global Ambitions: Unilever acquired Liquid I.V. in September for an undisclosed sum and will help the company expand internationally.
Global expansion is typically a years-long process, even if you overcome all of the logistical and regulatory hurdles. Unless, that is, like this founder, you find a buyer that already has that reach. Now, Cohen says, his company has everything it needs to move at "warp speed."
You started developing Liquid I.V. while working in ticket sales for Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. Where did the idea come from?
I was friends with some of the players on the team and they were drinking these unhealthy sports drinks. I kept hearing that they were looking for an alternative and I was always really into optimization. I became obsessed with oral rehydration therapy, which is where you mix sodium, glucose, and potassium at a really specific ratio and it helps water absorb into your bloodstream faster. It was being used in developing countries for people who were dying from dehydration.
How did you attract the interest of celebrities?
One of our VCs introduced us to Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, who invested and has a Rolodex full of celebrities, so we put together this group. They've all helped with the brand a lot. We did a Steve Aoki flavor, strawberry cake, because he throws cake at people's faces at the end of his shows.
When did Unilever enter the picture, and why was it the right buyer?
At the end of 2019, the business was scaling fast. We had sold product only in the U.S. and there was quite a bit of international interest. We landed on a strategic buyer because it made more sense in terms of international. Unilever could plug us into its distribution network and all of a sudden, we would become a global brand. But every kind of buyer was on the table, and Unilever was the perfect fit. It really believed in our vision.
How has the pandemic affected business?
For those few weeks when no one was going into stores, our online business shot up. Then stores came back, and now those sales are growing faster than they were before. Internally, we turned our events team into a Covid-response program. We had more than 2,000 hospitals reach out to us, and in just a couple of months we donated more than two million sticks of Liquid I.V. to frontline workers. The coolest thing for me was when we started getting DMs from the NBA bubble asking for sticks. I'm a die-hard Lakers fan--they were my team growing up--and now they were using our product to win the championship. It's pretty cool.