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6 years with Watery

The story behind the scenes, from basement to 45 colleagues

Watery.dk´s story started back in 2016, where I (Daniel Johannesen) after a swim practice in my shower, took a seemingly innocent conversation with my swim mates to the extreme: I wanted to start a business. At the age of 17 at the time. While I was still in high school. And swam 7-8 times per week.

All seven of us agreed that we were sad, that that extremely cool swim shop just wasn’t available in Denmark, as we knew them from USA. You know, the ones where we could find EVERYTHING we needed as serious swimmers. The shop that created a community around the swimmers in Denmark, and where the guidance actually came from other passionate swimmers, and that didn’t take the usual 4-7 days to deliver.

My immediate thought was that this could be done better. And that was the beginning of watery.dk - with the first 14 boxes in storage in my dads basement.

But before this, however, there were more than 10 years in my case. First as a baby swimmer, then on the coaching team in “Horsens Svømmeklub”, and then 6 years on the first team as elite swimmer.

Today my father’s basement has been swapped out for a new headquarters in the middle of Horsens, where more than 45 colleagues have joined the team along the way. The common theme along all of us, is the joy from the many experiences we had in and around the water - no matter the activity.

In the years between, there has been full steam ahead. We won the E-commerce award “Årets Ener” and “Entrepreneur of the year in Horsens” all within few months, a visit to national TV in the Lion’s Den (with a different ending), a catastrophic production of our first own products, a genuine fairytale with paddleboards, four temporary headquarters and so much more.

Get your swimwear out, and take a trip down memory lane with me and Watery for the last 6 years below.

2005

The first seed
Image text: 8 years old, and already ready to conquer the swimming world
2005

Thanks Mum

Thanks Mum

I was practically born with water instead of blood. 

With a mum, who swam on a competitive level in Ikast (between us she wasn’t the best, however) and two brothers who tried to follow, I didn’t really have a choice when it all came down to it. Swimming was calling out for me as well.

Apart from the typical baby swimming, my mum made her intentions clear in 2005, when I was 6 years old: I was to join the “dolphin team” in the local Horsens Svømmeklub with one purpose:

“You just have to learn to swim. If it isn’t fun, you can stop right at that second, but not until you have learned it.”

Luckily I quickly learned to swim and keep myself above water = One happy mum.

But to my mums great happiness, along the way I also discovered how amazingly fun and liberating it was to be active in water = A happy boy.

2014

Should I or shouldn’t I? Hmm..
January 2014

Do you want more morning practices at 5 AM Daniel? Yes please!

To this day I’m still wondering about the very enthusiastic reply that I gave my swimming coach at only 15. Especially considering the fact that I’m pretty good at being a sleepyhead with the snooze-button.

But again, when you’re surrounded by your best mates, and have a clear goal in the horizon, things begin to change.

The background was my coming advancement to the first team in Horsens Svømmeklub. A major milestone after nearly a decade with swimming up through the competition teams (I can’t even begin to imagine the number of laps back and forth, that I have swam in the same few pools..)

The following years came with 7-8 weekly swim lessons (3 of them before school - that hurts just as much every time), swimming competitions in the weekends, training camps during the holidays and a major need to ingest food… You’re welcome, mum!

2016

From innocent to the extreme - Launching Watery
March 2016

What happens in the locker room should stay there..

An unwritten rule among competitive swimmers in Denmark states, that “What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room.”

If only I had lived by that rule in 2016, I had avoided 16 hour workdays the next years, would still have had my confirmations savings of 40.000 kr in the bank, and would most likely still be swimming at a competitive level today.

But alas, the random chat with my swim mates in the shower after an ordinary swim practice in March of 2016, remained firmly planted in my brain: I had to create my own swimshop.

It just couldn’t be right that it had to take 4-7 days to get your new swim gear delivered. Nor the fact that we couldn’t find everything that us swimmers needed at the same place on a danish webshop. And a community around the shared passion? There wasn’t a whole lot of that with the players in the market…

With the naivety of about every other young man, it sounded like something that would be simple to fix.

I’m glad that I didn’t at the time knew anything about the challenges ahead 😅

I couldn’t find a picture of the swim chaps & me from the showers (I wonder why…), but here we are on one of our many training camps.
July 2016

A monumental rejection, and a long (writing-)summer

It takes a lot to knock a 17 year old lad with a grand vision out of course.

But when the State Administration itself ruthlessly rejects you when you ask about being allowed to own, operate and be a CEO in a company, before it has even been started (yes, oddly enough I had to apply for this, since I was a “minor”), you can either just let it go or prove them wrong.

I (obviously) picked the latter.

While the legal issues got sorted out, I went to my basement over the summer, and wrote product- and category texts for our 300 launch products. As self-employed (and when you’re short on cash) there aren’t really a whole lot of other people to do that kind of stuff.

Even two complaints couldn't overturn their decision, so Paw Holdgaard (my father) ended up becoming the first owner and CEO of Watery.
September 2016

Who needs a bedroom?

Now things are getting sporty. The suppliers has been contacted, and goods for 100.000 hard-earned kr., from the confirmation savings, fruits & greens lad in Bilka has arrived (a story for another time). The text is written. The logo is great. The fineprint is done. The design of the webshop is almost done.

Watery is nearly just about ready to go live, and start sending out parcels…. from my little, humble room in my dads basement.

My room was literally commandeered as Watery’s first headquarters with storage, office, dining hall, conference room - the only original piece left was the bed, which as also pretty useful during business hours, when the workdays got long and late (which they did).

All while juggling 2.G on my local high school, and my swimming career with the 7-8 weekly swim lessons. It wasn’t easy, but bloody hell it was fun!

November 2016

Against all odds people actually ordered something (and more orders came)

When I’m looking back on the website I launched Watery.dk with, on November 1st 2016, I actually don’t even understand we got any orders at all. There were spelling mistakes on the front banner, an illegal picture of Jeanette Ottesen that I had no copyright for, 6 totally different colours and two identical pictures right next to each other (why not just make one🙈 ?)

But that’s also the beautiful and the cool thing about an entrepreneurial journey like starting Watery from scratch: You get smarter and better along the way.

Never the less, I could already during the great opening weekend, employ my baby brother Mathias. 13 orders in total. That was awesome, and a huge victory!

2017

What to do when the bank balance is at 0?
Februar 2017

Dad, I’m on the cover of Børsen!

3-4 months after our launch, we already started to receive orders every day. And several of them in fact. It was just so great to see your idea unfold so quickly in the swimming world.

A breath was lost though, when Børsen (as in the largest corporate newspaper in Denmark 😳) wrote me, and explained that they would like to do an article about my beginnings as a young entrepreneur, and how I combined it with swimming and school at such a young age. And not least, why I had combined my existing passion for swimming with pleasure in Watery?

The article in Børsen was followed up by other media outlets, and just like that, Watery was seriously known across the Danish landscape. It really made me busy, and it lead to probably the biggest decision ever, for Watery’s future..

June 2017

Watery buries my swimming career

I have always told myself that it was the lack of large physique in the pool, that made the difference (I’m pretty lean and small by build, at least when compared to the big guys at the other starting blocks) - but when the waves die down, the combination of Watery, the swimming career and school was starting to get the better of me.

In the summer of 2017 I had to choose.

In the months before this I had achieved my big swimming-dream of participating and reach the finals of the danish junior-championships in 200 fly (my time was 2.20.14 - do you think you can beat that?)

So that was the final destination for my personal 10-year swim from baby swimmer, to children’s swimmer and in the end competitive swimmer in Horsens Svømmeklub

I can still remember the slightly ambivalent feeling in my stomach, on my way home after having told my swim coach that I wanted to stop. A weird mix of extreme joy, nervousness, uncertainty and excitement.

Because in reality it was just an acceptance of Watery - and not a rejection of competitive swimming. Now I seriously wanted to speed up Watery, and it just simply couldn’t happen fast enough. I was excited like a little kid again.

Swimming has given me many things, including several awards - but most importantly, it gave me a belief that much can be achieved with hard work, attention to detail, and unwavering determination.
September 2017

No money for advertising? I guess I’ll have to come to the customers

If there was one thing that swimming taught me, it was to fight just a tad more than my competition, and always see possibilities and improvements. It’s the small details that count in the water - and I found out that that was also the case in the business world. 

I knew from my swimming career that there is always around 4-500 people gathered at the weekend competitions around the country. Just my target audience for Watery, and a bunch of them!

At the same time I haven’t really spent any money for advertising on Facebook or Google (every dime was spent on expanding the product lineup at the time…)

The combination made me spend 20 weekends in the following year, going around to the danish pools to sell my swim gear and swimwear to all the swimmers.

Even though it may seem crazy today, on friday after school, i would pack my entire inventory from my basement, borrow a trailer and fill it up in the evening, and then drive to Copenhagen, Aalborg, Esbjerg, Odense etc. on saturday morning, until I got home again by sunday evening.

None of my competitors wanted all that hassle, but that just gave me more of an advantage, because I LOVED to guide and meet the customers face-to-face. And it provided just the knowledge I needed, to take Watery to the next step.

2018

From hobby to (growth-)company
February 2018

An apartment on the pedestrian street in Horsens to Watery

It might seem weird to place a warehouse for a webshop in the pedestrian street in Horsens, where a bunch of physical stores are typically located.

Nevertheless it was the right fit for Watery, when we had to fly from the nest (i.e. the basement) for the first time.

Things were starting to pick up the pace. We received more than 50 orders every day. We had expanded our product line so we also had equipment for open water swimming and exercise swimming. The first intern had joined us (pretty cool..). And my dad was getting pretty sick of people always knocking on the front door to collect parcels at home.

With only my school and Watery to concentrate on, an apartment in downtown seemed like the perfect fit for a young, hungry lad.

This way I could drive to school, get back to the warehouse and pack, take the bike to Bilka with the parcels on my shoulder (or in a shopping trolley), get busy at the computer in the evening, and jump to the back to sleep (shh, don’t tell anyone)

May 2018

Award winning? I mean, Watery? Really?

It was still just me in Watery, all while I was about to finish high school. Tough at times, yes, but a serious dream that I lived on my own.

That dream just got so much better during my last exams. Because in the middle of it all I was nominated as “Årets Ener” for the E-commerce award. You know, where MobilePay, Nemlig.com and Proshop is typically getting praised. 

But now it was tiny little Watery, who had to fight for the award amongst the creme de la creme in Danish e-commerce. And we bloody won! (for celebratory reasons I can’t really remember more from that night, but it was huge)

A few months later Watery got another award as Entrepreneur of the year in Horsens Municipality.

August 2018

The first colleagues (apart from baby brother) joins in

My single-life in Watery was finally over. Some changes were needed, because +60.000 happy customers had already had a great experience, so the concept was ready to spread it out a bit.

At the same time I had finished high school, so now we actually had to make some money as well. Or, that would be the 2.000 kr for my wage (i still lived at home, and I had gotten quite fond of freezer pizzas). 

The first one I could welcome to the family was Martin. Then along came Marvin, Nicolai and Casper in the next six months. Because with more hands, the growth seriously startet to pick up the pace as well.

Here we had already approached the position as Denmarks largest swim shop with more than 6.000 products in lap swimming, open water, snorkeling and kids swimming. Safe to say - a turning point for our story.

November 2018

Vores første rigtige lagerbygning

The year 2019 was creeping around the corner, and here were some BIG news, that would be guaranteed to speed up Watery even more.

Before that we had to move the company again. What in the beginning was a showroom in Watery’s apartment, had in the meantime been filled with shelving. The bed had been swapped out for trash. And the whole apartment had been turned into one-way streets. It just wasn’t working any more (even though it had only been 7 months since we moved in 🤦‍♂️)

A little older, a little wiser, and still incredibly tuned in to create the coolest water sports shop in Denmark, I decided to rent an office and warehouse twice the size for watery. 350 square metres seemed like more than enough for 3 years of growth (but I would get wiser again quickly…)

2019

Can you say no to Jesper Buch?

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