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Patience and Faith Built S'Well into a $100 Million-Dollar Brand She could have gotten a real job. She didn't.

By Kate Rockwood

This story appears in the April 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Photograph by David Rinella
Sarah Kauss at S’well’s New York City headquarters.

When S'well founder Sarah Kauss finally made the leap from making manual invoices in Excel to using QuickBooks, in 2010, she called in an accounting pro to get her set up. He looked at her statements -- and the scant $2,000 she had left in savings -- as well as the rent on her New York City apartment, where she was working and storing the 3,000 high-end water bottles she hoped to sell. "You know," he said, after a long pause, "you could get a real job."

Related: How This Once-Dismissed Fitness Brand Found the Secret to Scale

She didn't. Instead, she spent two long years as S'well's sole employee, bootstrapping her line of sleek, stainless steel water bottles with $30,000 in savings after a successful, hard-charging career in commercial real estate development. It paid off: The company's overall sales hit $50 million in 2015 -- a fivefold increase from 2014. In 2016, the number doubled, to $100 million. But Kauss credits this boom to those early, lean years, when she intentionally grew slowly, with no investors to answer to. "I got to be really picky," she says. "Target wanted to work with us for four years, and I kept saying no because it would have cost us the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, which we're in every year. I knew I needed to build the brand awareness to a certain point before we could have a diffusion line. But telling an investor I'd turned down Target? I wouldn't have gotten away with that."

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