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Sirene Water: Young entrepreneurs bottle it up in thirst for change

Sandra Qian

Wed Jul 10 2013

Sirene Water

FOUR Melbourne-based entrepreneurs are seeking to revolutionise retail one bottle of water at a time. Part advertising company, part social movement, Sandra Qian finds out how the young guns behind Sirene Water are setting themselves apart from the competition. 

Photo: Shaun Lee

Bottling it up for change. From left to right, Sirene Water’s William Yau, Caleb Ha, Hwi So and Alex Chen. Photo: Shaun Lee

For Melbourne-based entrepreneurs Alex Chen, Caleb Ha, Hwi So and William Yau, bottled water shouldn’t be about corporate greed and consumerism. Through their startup Sirene Water, the team are on a mission to achieve positive change by promoting social responsibility and sustainable business practices.

In line with the group’s belief that water should be free, production is funded by advertising space on each label, ensuring zero cost for the consumer. This system is based on Japan’s pocket tissue marketing model, which the founders say is yet to be successfully replicated in Australia.

Breaking new ground has not been easy, and the team readily admits to facing obstacles along the way.

“We approached several suppliers, but they asked us for thousands of bottles in our first order, which we couldn’t facilitate,” says William Yau, who co-founded the business with Alex Chen.

“These were companies supplying Evian and Mount Franklin, and to them we were little more than an idea.”

Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is key. – Hwi So, Sirene Water.

Unperturbed, the team began looking interstate and eventually decided on a supplier from Queensland. Today, the company sources its water from the natural springs of the MacPherson Ranges.

“There were times when we thought our entire supply chain was impossible to implement,” says Alex.

“But you can only keep trying and putting yourself out there. There is no short cut.”

Having ‘grit’ is just as important as vision and ambition for a business in the long-term, the team members believe. Business development manager Caleb Ha explains that entrepreneurs should learn to value hard work and tenacity – hardly glamorous qualities, but ones which can make or break a start up.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is key,” adds marketing director Hwi So.

Photo: Shaun Lee

Photo: Shaun Lee

The team also believe  startups should be conscious of their relationship to the wider community. On this front, Sirene is setting a new benchmark by promoting awareness of social issues through their marketing activities and branding.

“We’re hoping to set an example for corporate social responsibility by promoting awareness of today’s pressing issues,” says Hwi.

“On the one hand we want to distribute free water to as many people as possible, but in doing so we also want to spark a conversation for change. Our sponsors see this in what we do and I believe they’re on board because they identify with those values.”

The team are very encouraging of other young entrepreneurs hoping to establish their own start-up and say Melbourne’s business community is full of opportunities for those who know where to look.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with starting a conversation with someone you don’t know and often those experiences can help you develop professionally. – Caleb Ha, Sirene Water

Caleb, who holds a Bachelor of Business (Entrepreneurship) from RMIT University, says the local school of business is always a good place to start for advice and support. Campus-based clubs and societies are useful, as are any community networks dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs such as The Entourage and The League of Extraordinary Women.

The former international student is a strong believer in networking, and believes it’s one of the easiest ways to gain industry know-how.

“It’s quite amazing what you can learn, by putting yourself out there and meeting new people. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with starting a conversation with someone you don’t know and often those experiences can help you develop professionally,” says Caleb.

Photo: Shaun Lee

Photo: Shaun Lee

The team also thinks perseverance and drive are two qualities that all entrepreneurs should learn to develop.

“Ask yourself: are you willing to give up your social life, ready to put up with the scrutiny of your friends and family who want you to get a regular nine to five job?” says Alex.

Lastly, William says that patience should not be overlooked, explaining that it’s fine to dream big, as long as ambitious plans are put into perspective.

“You learn quickly that success doesn’t happen overnight,” he says.

“It’s important to be patient, and work hard.”

For more information about Sirene Water and how it works, visit