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The story of No More Bottles: A company's mission to make the UAE bottle-free

Author: George Hojeige, Chief Executive Officer
Safer, Cleaner, Healthier

By Paul Godfrey, CEO of PG International

Safer, Cleaner, Healthier

That's the mantra of highly innovative water filtration firm No More Bottles. Paul Godfrey spoke to Director & Co-Founder Carol Fraser about life at the vanguard of Sustainability – and how Formation specialist Virtuzone has helped smooth a remarkable journey…

According to the World Environment Organisation (WEO), every year, humanity discards in excess of 323 million metric tonnes of plastic. So much of it is ending up in the world’s oceans, that -unless the trend changes – by 2050, the mass of plastic in the sea will weigh more than all the fish and marine life combined. While many of us aren’t necessarily well-placed to do very much about the vast industrial consumption of plastic, there’s one area that we’re all becoming more critically aware of – the sheer wastage of using single-use bottles. Plus, if we’re not using those at home or during a workout, we’re more than likely using the office water dispenser with its plastic five-gallon water drum.

What are we to do? Well, there are options – and very good ones. There are also Champions determined to make a difference, and Carol Fraser is one of them.

Carol has spent more than 30 years working in the water industry; she’s an acknowledged expert, and with experience gained in key urban settings like the city of Glasgow, she’s seen a major change in the way we drink water – in fact, she’s been one of the pioneers in leading the shift from bottled water to filtration. That shift has been big news in Europe and the USA for more than a decade because it not only cuts out plastic waste but puts toxic-free hydration top of the agenda. It also maximises convenience, removing the need for unsightly water drum storage space and replacing it with a use-as-you-go commercial model that’s cost-effective and virtually carbon-neutral.

So, when she met an ex-work colleague on holiday in Dubai, they decided to lead that same healthy transition here in the UAE. After dedicating two years to rigorous R&D, developing the right business template for the region, Carol approached Water Logic, the world leader in water filtration systems. In a territory dominated by water bottles and water storage, she was able to offer a unique market opportunity – and in 1997, No More Bottles was founded. The company’s powerful Mission Statement captures the essence of the hydration revolution that it has led ever since –

“..Redefining the drinking water needs of the nation’s people with the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to consume water… with excellent customer service at the forefront.”

Paul Godfrey spoke to Carol about her unique business vision and the role that Virtuzone, the region’s leading Company Formation Specialist, has been able to play in accelerating the business and smoothing its licensing and development to date. Had Virtuzone, for example, been a useful catalyst in adding value to the enterprise? Indeed, for a proven entrepreneur like Carol, does a Formation Specialist bring many advantages over the option of following a ‘DIY’ approach?

First things first, Carol – why did you choose to set up your own company?

I’d sold a business – again in the water sector – a few years before, and I was looking for the next opportunity. I’d also seen how, in Glasgow, about 40% of businesses were shifting from bottle to filtration – so what an opportunity there would be here. The UAE was a real’ ‘greenfield’ market because probably less than 1% of businesses were even aware that such a shift was possible. Plus, this is probably the place – pro-rate – that drinks more water than anywhere else in the world: so I believed that the potential was massive.

What were your challenges as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?

Well, the first challenge was how do we go about opening a business? So – would you believe – we actually searched on Google how to start a business, and found out what the various steps were. If only I’d known about Virtuzone then, we could all have saved a lot of time!

The second challenge was why would people change from plastic bottles to water filtration? How could we show them how to make the change? The key step was to overcoming people’s concern about drinking tap water. There is a kind of ‘hearsay’ that it’s not healthy for you, but in reality, Dubai and Abu Dhabi probably have the safest tap water in the world. We spent most of 2018 getting that message out into the world. You have the choice – pay a few AED for bottled water where the plastic is seeping into the water, or drink pure water? The choice is yours!

What is the biggest success you have achieved to date?

Well, success number one was becoming the authorised dealership for Water Logic – because they have the best products in the world. This gives you the most credible platform and the confidence in knowing that you always have a better product than the competition. The second success has been supplying premier-brand hotels with filtration systems. The first hotel account that we won was Trip by Wyndham, and we took them to be totally plastic-free. Remarkably, in the first year this transition meant they saved 300,000 water bottles – and by now, the figure is close to a million. This shows the real scale of the difference that we can make. We have since also secured Hilton and Rotana groups, too – giving us a major presence in the hospitality sector.

I should also mention that in the last quarter of 2019, we won a contract to supply Mubadala – which is in effect a pilot project for the Abu Dhabi government. Very exciting, and meaning, of course, that we will be seeing top-down messaging from the Government itself about the benefits of water filtration.

Why have you stuck with Virtuzone over the years?

The real key to this is that when we started the business, we had a local sponsor – and this experience taught us many lessons about the need to deal with an expert who is knowledgeable and quick to respond. The reality was that when we started to see huge opportunities, our sponsor simply couldn’t appreciate the bigger picture. I should say that in many ways, he was a very decent man, but he was always looking for a proverbial ‘quick fix’ – and because he wasn't supportive of our wanting to grow the business, he didn’t respond to our need for more visas. Plus, there is also the issue that it’s very challenging to raise external investment once potential investors know there is a majority shareholding local sponsor already in place.

In terms of the situation with visas, Virtuzone was able to take us from three visas to 12 visas in the space of a year. Working with them has taken all the visa admin headache away from me, and lets me focus on my strengths, i.e., building the business. Virtuzone can also see the bigger picture and were able to identify exactly the right trade licence and platform we needed.

In your experience, what is the greatest benefit of working with a Company Formation Specialist?

There's no doubt in my mind – it's timesaving. Having an expert that knows the ‘in and outs’ of the visa process. I'd actually say that it's like having an extra member of staff. Simple as that.

How personalised service have you received, Carol?

It's actually a very personalised service; we can simply call, explain what we need and we get a very fast response. Virtuzone staff has really got to know our business well, and we have two dedicated account handlers that I can't speak too highly about. This means that you don't have to keep explaining what you need from the very beginning each time: they understand the context of what you're asking, and why you're asking it.

In the case of Virtuzone, how long does the whole formation process take, from first enquiry to collection of trade licence, etc.?

It’s always within a couple of weeks, or less. I'd go as far to say that – looking back – if only I'd known then what I know now, I would never have wasted all that time doing anything else.

Has working with a Formation Specialist given your business more flexibility and scope for growth?

Of course it has. Working with Virtuzone has given us much more scope for growth. For example, they have been in the business for 10 years and have lots of contacts, and we get to share in that wealth of connections. This has resulted in significant new client leads. We’ve been able to leverage Virtuzone’s presence on the Arabian Radio Network (ARN), for example – and because Virtuzone deals with startups, we’ve been fortunate to have a raft of introductions, which means we can approach those businesses from Day One. We can then offer a water filtration service that will grow alongside them as their business grows.

Have the benefits of working with a Formation Specialist encouraged you to start other new business ventures because you were confident that things would happen quickly and smoothly?

To be honest, my view is that there is still tremendous potential in the current business – especially since, at the core of its offer, is the commitment to Sustainability. This has now become a powerful buzzword here in the UAE, and remember, it's also one of the key verticals of Dubai Expo 2020. At No More Bottles, we’re offering a tangible route to ending one of the principal causes of plastic pollution, and my feeling is that with growing awareness here in the region, our growth has only just started.

I should also mention that we have lots of scope for expansion; for example, I'm very excited that we’ve recently signed an exclusive Distributorship with Blue Water International for the whole of the Middle East. This will empower us to gain key market access and enriches our offer to the raft of current stakeholders, too.

At the end of the day, I ask everyone to remember that filtration is safer, cleaner, healthier for you, and that’s a prime business model. It's also one that we couldn't have grown so quickly and professionally without the invaluable support from Virtuzone.

If you like Carol have a business idea, which you are looking to launch in the UAE, contact our team of experts today. Please call us on +971 4 457 8200, send an email to info@vz.ae, or click here.

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