Scoop of Success

Red Bull: The founding story of the Thai energy drink that supercharged the world

May 16, 2024

Everyone knows Red Bull. But did you know it started in Thailand?

Chaleo Yoovidhya created the original Red Bull for Thailand’s working class to get the energy boost they need for their hard work.

Now? Red Bull has catapulted Chaleo’s family from humble beginnings to one of Thailand’s wealthiest families. And the company is still growing. It sold 12B cans and hit $10.9B in sales in 2023, a new high.

This is the Red Bull story.

👋🏻 Meet the founder

Chaleo Yoovidhya was born in Thailand to a poor Chinese-Thai family. They were farmers selling fruit and ducks, and he grew up working with them.

When he grew up, he had odd jobs like being a bus conductor but eventually moved to Bangkok and started selling antibiotics.

By the early 60s, he was able to open his own small pharmaceutical company with his experience. They started manufacturing antibiotics.

💡 The key realization

So how did we get to Red Bull? At the time, energy drinks were selling well in Thailand.

They were mainly Japanese and Korean brands positioned as medicinal drinks sold and priced for the urban rich.

Chaleo thought this was a problem. Working class people like himself needed energy drinks more than the rich. So why wasn’t there an energy drink for them? Laborers, truckers, and more.

🧠 Using your own experience

With his manufacturing experience, he created his own drink with the same core ingredients. It was called  "Krating Daeng" (Red Bull).

And it was a hit! Sold in pharmacies, it became Thailand’s most popular energy drink in two years.

⚡ Not like the rest

So what did Chaleo do differently?

Different market, different price. Krating Daeng was affordable for the working class and much cheaper than competitors.

Tap into a culture. He made Krating Daeng the sponsor of many local Muay Thai events, resonating deeply with Thai culture and symbolizing perseverance among the working class. It also highlighted the drink’s effects!

Krating Daeng became popular in Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, especially among truck drivers, construction workers and farmers.

✈️ The West comes knocking

Chaleo’s pharmaceutical company was a distributor for a German household products company called Blendax.

Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian sales representative of the company visited Chaleo. During the visit, Dietrich discovered that these “energy tonics” cured his jet lag.

After a while, Dietrich was convinced that the product could be a hit in the West.

🌎 Going global

Dietrich and Chaleo teamed up. But they couldn’t get any outside funding, so each of them invested $500k into the business.

The deal? They would take a 49% stake each, with 2% going to Chaleo’s son. While the Thai family would have majority control, it was agreed that Dietrich would run the company.

🤔 Adapting to locals’ tastes

Red Bull's journey hit bumps at first. People in Europe weren't into the taste, but Mateschitz and Chaleo didn't give up.

They worked hard for three years, tweaking the recipe to make it fizzy and less sugary for Western tastes. And guess what? It worked!

Red Bull took off across Europe in the '90s. Then, in 1997, it stormed into the US, grabbing 75% of the market in just a year. Talk about going viral!

🇹🇭  Here to stay

From its humble beginnings with Thailand’s working class, it has become a symbol around the world and is a global giant.

In 2023 alone, they sold over 12B cans and reached over 170 companies.

And they didn’t get here by chance. With clever branding, smart pricing, and associating itself to extreme sports and pushing the limit, it became something people wanted to be part of. This is Red Bull.

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