Commencement Address 2021 - Scott Allan

OSU-Cascades Commencement Address 2021
Scott Allan, Former CEO of Hydro Flask

Congratulations Oregon State University - Cascades Class of 2021

It is an honor to be here today to share this important moment with all of you. Thank you to Oregon State University Interim President Becky Johnson, OSU-Cascades Interim Vice President Andrew Ketsdever and to the faculty, administration and supporters of this remarkable campus in Bend. What a special event to celebrate together.

Of course, today’s ceremony is virtual. This is a familiar compromise and another reminder of the added challenges that make your accomplishment that much more impressive. I know this is a disappointment for you. Please know that all of the pride and love that you earned as a class is very real and NOT virtual.

While this is a clearly greater sacrifice for all of you than it is for me, I was promised center stage at the Les Schwab amphitheater where so many great musicians have performed. In other words, I missed my rock star moment.

Fortunately, I’m not here to sing today. I won’t even do my air guitar, which according to my wife Annie, is quite disturbing. No, I am here to recognize your noteworthy achievement.

So, no matter what impressive degree you earned from this amazing university, you did it. And very likely, it was difficult. Perhaps you encountered moments of stress, doubt, frustration, anxiety, tears, sleeplessness, or over caffeination. Now you know what hard work looks like. Ideally this hard work makes your achievement that much more worthwhile.

I can empathize. Because while you were hard at work on your degree, we at Hydro Flask were working hard alongside you. Well, maybe not right alongside you, but rather a few miles up Mt. Washington Drive from your new and expanding campus. Then, like each of you, Hydro Flask worked hard to emerge as a great product of Central Oregon. And what we learned while building the Hydro Flask brand may have practical applications for new graduates.

But first, you might be thinking, “Oh please! Working at Hydro Flask? Compared to midterms, finals, sheltering in place, and remote instruction, working at Hydro Flask must have been more like a lazy float down the Deschutes River.”

Not true my beaver friends. What those outside the company didn’t realize was that we the employees of Hydro Flask weren’t just working, we were actually fighting an epic battle. While not necessarily of today’s pandemic proportions, our enemy was everywhere. Like the hot water surrounding the proverbial frog in the pot, our enemy’s arrival was also sneaky and gradual. Then once established, our enemy drained the joy out of what should have been great moments. Who is this enemy you ask? Yes, let’s address it by name. I’m talking about “lukewarm.”

At Hydro Flask, our mission was to Save the World from Lukewarm. For over 10 years, we battled lukewarm and this [HF bottle] was our weapon of choice. Despite the advantages of double wall vacuum insulation, on trend colors, a cool logo, and a Central Oregon headquarters complete with kegerator, it wasn’t easy. For lukewarm was pervasive. But once we identified it in subpar water bottles, we could recognize it everywhere. It caused the many compromises we otherwise came to accept as normal in our society. For example:

  • lukewarm was plastic and trash on our trails, in our lakes, on our beaches and in our oceans.
  • lukewarm was the prevalence of landfill-bound products made by companies that didn’t stand behind their work.
  • lukewarm was toxic company cultures and self-centered leaders parodied by the popular series the Office; funny but the truth was that this was all too common in the real world.
  • lukewarm was living our lives out of balance – not eating healthy, not getting outside, and not spending enough quality time with friends and family.

As it turns out, we were on to something. After people experienced Hydro Flask, they said goodbye to lukewarm water, coffee, and beer forever. Then, the more they learned about Hydro Flask, the more they liked both our products and larger mission. This isn’t surprising in hindsight, for who doesn’t want to live a more vibrant, refreshed, and better life?

Our brand went from local favorite, to the #1 US water bottle brand, and then to a global brand that brings joy and reduces plastic waste around the world.

Today I’ll share four Hydro Flask takeaways to consider as you embark on your next great adventure. Let’s call these “Tips for Avoiding a Lukewarm Life." So, enjoy your ice water, hot coffee or other public university-approved beverage and listen up.

Number one — don’t settle. There would be no Hydro Flask if in 2008, our founders hadn’t thought about what “should be” instead of accepting lukewarm water and water bottles. Their quest for a great drinking experience is what made everything possible. It led to a new category and millions of happy, global fans. We carried this ethos forward with high standards in our products, our business practices and our culture. The takeaway? Always remember that the path to lukewarm, while well-travelled and familiar, rarely leads to greatness.

Given your choosing OSU-Cascades and forgoing the lukewarm experience of being amongst 800 detached students in a lecture hall all struggling to stay awake, you are off to a strong start. I’d say that you have what it takes. In your future research, or while developing innovative products and services, or starting and building a business, or pursuing any important area of your life, think what could be and should be. Don’t settle. Definitely apply this to your career. Anytime you find yourself in an overly comfortable role — meaning you’ve stopped growing long ago — recognize that this is lukewarm trap, a form of settling. Break out, bet on yourself, keep going.

Second, let values guide you. There were many tough decisions we made at Hydro Flask, for example: we fired bad factories, cut off unethical retailers, and rebuilt previously lukewarm aspects of our business. Every time, we stood by these decisions based upon how they aligned with our values. If these decisions helped us Deliver Delight, Honor the Trust, Help One Another, or Champion Quality, we were on the right track.

For all of you, listen to your gut and define your own North Star. When faced with a tough decision, get to your favorite, peaceful spot outdoors and quietly let your inner voice weigh in. Chances are you already know what the right decision is, you just need to slow down and embrace it. Do this well and trust me, you will sleep better and live with fewer regrets.

Third, never stop learning. Hydro Flask was a continuous learning experience. Going into Hydro Flask, I left a high-tech career for a risky opportunity in the mature and crowded water bottle category. Nearly everything about that was completely new to me. It was probably more scary than exciting at the onset. If I didn’t value the opportunity to learn, be willing to make mistakes, and surround myself with a smart team and advisors, I’d have missed the best years of my career.

For you, the biggest gift you received from OSU-Cascades is “learning how to learn.” You probably just became good at this. Do NOT let this atrophy. Stay curious, open minded and continue to learn. Enjoy it — travel, experiment, continue to ask why and why not? Never stop learning. Oh, and beware those that claim to already know everything. They are especially dangerous.

Fourth, embrace community. Connect with your tribe and contribute to your cause. For Hydro Flask, our team was energized by delivering great experiences, partnering with Central Oregon causes, advocating for and financially supporting public lands, and confronting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues in the outdoor industry. These went beyond the company and connected us to the larger community.

You soon to be OSU-Cascades alumni, are already part of a special community. Given your alma mater’s broad and practical areas of research, many of you will directly tackle our larger societal and environmental challenges. For others, all you need to get started is to find your cause, no matter how local. Then find your tribe passionate about this same cause and make a difference no matter how small. There is so much need in our community, our state, our country, and our planet. Every action matters.

Of course, the breadth and scale of today’s needs are overwhelming. Despite today’s dire circumstances, I’m optimistic. From where I stand, society hasn’t fully factored YOU into the future. You, the Oregon State University - Cascades class of 2021, ARE the brighter future. I can’t wait to see the future you help create, all while living exciting, not lukewarm, lives.

Congratulations to all of you. Be proud of your great accomplishment today. And remember, don’t settle, live through your values, continuously learn, and contribute to community. And of course, stay hydrated my friends.

Good luck and Godspeed.