Discovering My Global Business Idea During a 5,000 Mile Row

Jamie Douglas-Hamilton is the Founder and Director of ACTIPH. Jamie founded ACTIPH - the UK’s first alkaline ionised bottled water brand - after he discovered the benefits of alkaline water out of necessity during a 5,000-mile row from Australia to Africa.

Read about his amazing business journey and the importance of life-long learning to his development as a leader.


ES: Tell us about ACTIPH — what do you do?

JDH: ACTIPH Water is the market leader or the alkaline water category in Europe and Middle East with a 90% market share in UK. Alkaline water has been proved to hydrate faster than ordinary water. It also is an anti-inflammatory in the gut and prevents the build-up of pepsin, which causes reflux.

ES: ACTIPH is the UK’s first alkaline ionised bottled water brand — how did it come about?

JDH: My story began in 2014 when I set two Guinness World records rowing 5,000 miles from Australia to Africa across the gruelling Indian Ocean for Save the Elephants.

On this unsupported expedition, the crew of six pulled more than a million strokes, battling the ocean's currents, enormous seas, three major storms and we were even hit by a hurricane. With the rowing broken into two hourly shifts, 24 hours a day, physical demands were so extreme that the rowers were burning between 8-10,000 calories a day and drinking 9-13 litres of water. Crew members would often pass out or have vivid hallucinations.

However, this dramatically changed when one member of the crew mixed his fresh water with sea water; the effect was so profound the crew started to mix every second bottle of drinking water with one third salt water, instantly increasing power, energy levels and reducing hallucinations.

This was when I realised how important hydration is to performance and thought about what else was possible with water. This led to a quest to produce the healthiest and most effective water that would encourage people to live an active balanced life.

ES: As a business leader, what have been some of the major challenges during the past year or so?

JDH: The biggest challenge was keeping our team motivated and engaged when they were on furlough in 2020. We have also had to quickly adapt as retail channels such as travel, convenience and foodservice was over 90% down so had to reinvest our marketing and distribution focus on online, export and grocery.

ES: What have been the major successes of this period of time?

JDH: We have grown our online sales more than 10x in the last year and trebled our exports. In 2020, we doubled our revenue and distribution and are aiming at trebling our sales in 2021.

ES: Are there any particular goals that ACTiPH has set for the next few years?

JDH: We plan to consolidate our position as the market leader of the alkaline water category in Europe and the Middle East whilst growing our presence in the USA. We will enter the Asia Pacific region this year with the intention of being the market leader within 2 years.

ES: How important is life-long learning to your own career development as a leader

JDH: You are always learning because your business is always changing; it's vital to stay ahead of the game.

You are always learning because your business is always changing; it's vital to stay ahead of the game.

ES: Was there a moment, or experience, on the ELD Programmes that stood out to you?

JDH: The teachings from Jay Rao and Les Charm from Babson College were invaluable and shaped the thinking and scaling strategy behind ACTIPH Water.

ES: What can be learned from peers that you can't learn on your own / from a college?

JDH: Peers have so much experience and real-life examples that can’t be learned in the classroom.

ES: When you’re looking for new talent in the business, what are the most important qualities that you look for?

JDH: Outside of their skills and experience, we look at how compatible they are with fitting into our team. Energy, positivity and being active are key traits we look for. We also like key employees to have experience with one of the leading soft drink lifestyle brands.

ES: Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What's yours?

JDH: There are three things that matter above all else: Resilience, Persistence & Positivity.

There are three things that matter above all else: Resilience, Persistence & Positivity.

ES: What are some of the mistakes you wished you could have avoided?

JDH: Hiring the right people and not just looking at CVs and experience. If someone is negative or bringing other people down, they should be removed quickly.

ES: And tips you would now give yourself for when you first started the business?

JDH: Things take longer than expected. So give yourself more realistic timeframes and have realistic assumptions and not best-case assumptions that are shared with stakeholders.

ES: As a member of the ES Community, what do you feel is the biggest benefit and value brought?

JDH: The biggest benefit of ES community is the network who I am frequently in touch with and we support each other.


The Cohort for our next Catalyst programme Resilient Leadership draws together ambitious leaders from a variety of sectors, with different backgrounds, strengths, experiences and outlooks. This programme — designed in partnership with Babson College - will teach you fundamental concepts, methods, and tools of resilient leadership. Find out more here.