Kun Yang Pricklee

216 – Growing Pricklee Cactus Water with Kun Yang

See how Kun Yang took his idea and made it a reality with the creation of Pricklee Cactus Water.

LinkedIn: Kun Yang
Website: Pricklee Cactus Water
TikTok: @drinkpricklee
Instagram: drinkpricklee


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From Healthcare to Hydration: Pricklee Cactus Water’s Journey in the Beverage Market

Welcome back to another insightful blog post about the journey of innovative companies in the marketing landscape. Today, we’re diving deep into the story of Prickly Cactus Water, a health-conscious beverage brand co-founded by Kun Yang. From initial conception to hitting the market, Kun shares the experience, challenges, and victories that shaped this unique brand.

The Birth of Prickle Cactus Water

Pricklee Cactus Water was born out of a passion for health and wellness. Co-founders Kun Yang and Mo, both pharmacists with over 12 years of experience in the healthcare industry, aimed to introduce a healthier alternative to the high-sugar artificial products that pervaded the market.

The inspiration for their product came from Mo’s Lebanese roots, where drinking pricklee pear cactus water was common due to its rich content of electrolytes, antioxidants, and vitamin C. After trying a family recipe based on this cactus, they were amazed by the unique flavor and health benefits it offered.

Recognizing the potential of this low-sugar beverage, they decided in 2018 to create a product that would resonate with their health-conscious audience while offering a unique flavor profile. The journey from concept to market-ready product took about two and a half years of research, testing, and optimization.

The Growth Journey

Pricklee Cactus Water officially launched in 2021, primarily through an online direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel, supplemented by a few local retailers. The journey has been an exciting roller-coaster ride of growth, with the brand poised to have its biggest year yet.

Funding the initial product development was a challenge. Despite the availability of inexpensive capital at the time, they chose to bootstrap the business for the first two years. They refrained from raising any significant capital until a year and a half later when they began fundraising from friends and family.

Balancing Growth with Sustainability

In the early stages, the brand faced pressure to invest heavily in branding and top-of-funnel awareness. However, they chose to focus on building a strong business foundation, prioritizing product optimization and customer acquisition over flashy press coverage.

After the launch of iOS 14, they pulled back from all DTC spending, even though their unit economics looked promising. Instead, they focused on building a strong community of customers through brick-and-mortar outlets, which provided more favorable unit economics.

A Regional Approach

Pricklee Cactus Water adopted a regional growth strategy, starting with the Northeast due to the dense concentration of their founding team. They treated this region as a testbed, enabling them to refine their product, optimize their operations, and build a playbook for expansion.

The ultimate goal was always to reach the Southwest – the heartland of cactus country – where beverages aren’t seasonal and the product could resonate more powerfully with local culture. However, before venturing there, they needed to ensure that their product was ready to scale, that they had addressed potential customer objections, and that they had optimized their logistics and cost structures.

An Ethos of Health and Education

A significant part of the Pricklee Cactus Water brand ethos revolves around educating consumers about healthier hydration choices. They aim to steer customers away from sugary beverages and towards healthier alternatives.

However, they also recognize the importance of delivering a high-quality sensory experience. As Kun Yang puts it, “people are buying products, not just narratives.” So, while they strive to communicate the health benefits of their cactus water, they also focus on creating a beverage that tastes as good as it looks.

The journey of Pricklee Cactus Water is an inspiring tale of passion, perseverance, and strategic thinking.