The Growth of 5-hour ENERGY® Is Now Helping Its Founder Change the World for Good

5-hour ENERGY® may be ubiquitous in grocery stores and gas stations today, but just over 17 years ago, the company was just an idea. Learn about how Manoj Bhargava built the energy shot and is now using his wealth to solve global issues for the poorest third of the world.

By Brooke Bilyj

5-hour ENERGY® may be ubiquitous in grocery stores and gas stations today, but just over 17 years ago, the company was just an idea. While attending a health trade show in 2003, Manoj Bhargava stumbled upon an energy drink formula that sounded interesting. He decided he could develop a better, sugar-free version to help people stay alert without the crash most energy drinks usually entail.

With profits from the sale of another business, Bhargava built a company that looked for great technologies in the chemical space and a lab to formulate products like 5-hour ENERGY®.

Early energy

The core product is 2 ounces of a B-vitamin supplement that doesn’t have to be refrigerated—perfect for truck drivers and busy people on the go. Now the company has more than 15 different flavors, extra strength versions, a tea, and a drink form.

Bhargava understood that consumers would only give a second or two of attention to a new product, so he leaned into function over fashion for the name 5-hour ENERGY®.

“The beginning was interesting,” Bhargava said. “GNC took a chance on us because they were always looking for new products.”

The bottles were displayed at the register and didn’t sell much at first, only 200 bottles in the first week in 1,000 stores.

“Six months later, it was selling 10,000 bottles a week,” Bhargava said. “Word-of-mouth was key for us and with those numbers we were able to go to the larger drug stores and expand our distribution.”

Experience over education

By 2011, 5-hour ENERGY® was generating more than $1 billion in annual revenue and by 2012, Bhargava landed on the Forbes World Billionaires list. Since then, the caffeine-packed drink has earned billions of dollars in retail sales, claiming 88.7 percent of the energy shot market as of May, 2020.

Bhargava says that while some find entrepreneurship challenging, his principles have given him simple practices to follow. His business success is the result of common-sense decision-making.

“Decisions are based on fundamental principles, stick to your principle,” he says. “Don’t pay attention to what’s fashionable. Look for useful solutions to real problems. Time spent on nominal ideas is time wasted.”

“Your success depends on listening to and understanding the views of your customers, employees, and vendors.”
Manoj Bhargava
Founder, 5-hour ENERGY®

Engaging employees

Finding the best people to help grow the business can be a major hurdle to realizing growth like 5-hour ENERGY® has, but Bhargava says it’s critical.

“Recruiting great talent is always the biggest challenge,” he says. “And it’s important to act quickly in all aspects of talent management.”

Once you have the right people who are happy in their roles, business leaders should consider their perspectives before making decisions.

“As a leader, your viewpoint is irrelevant,” he says. “Your success depends on listening to and understanding the views of your customers, employees, and vendors. After doing so, you make the call and go.”

Boon becomes blessing

Bhargava knows he had certain privileges that enabled him to build wealth that some around the world simply don’t have.

“Wealthy people have a duty to be servants to those who are suffering,” says Bhargava. “What else am I going to do with it?”

As part of a pledge to give 99 percent of his estimated $4 billion net worth to charity, Bhargava has devoted much of his time recently to philanthropic ventures through his capital venture firm, Stage 2 Innovations. A 2015 documentary called “Billions in Change” describes these efforts to solve global poverty through simple solutions that make clean water, electricity, and other fundamental needs more accessible.

One particularly close to his heart today is the HANS Premium Water® (HPW) device, a modular water purification system that uses reverse osmosis to remove salt, waste, and other contaminants to produce clean water. Each device can supply an entire home or building, or they can be linked together to serve a whole village.

“We’ve designed a solution to address the most obvious problem with climate change—the availability of fresh water,” Bhargava says. Our solution is about the size of a dishwasher, can be set up as a single unit or a thousand depending on the need, and makes dirty, brackish water better than bottled water.”

Additionally, Stage 2 Innovations has developed a stationary bike that generates electricity, a medical device that facilitates circulation, and a large-scale desalination device that distills seawater into drinking water.

Display of bottles of 5-hour ENERGY

(Photography by Jeremy Witteveen)

Fueling the future

Working with Huntington has helped 5-hour ENERGY® grow, which in turn enables Bhargava to continue leveraging his wealth to care for the underserved populations of the world.

“Every relationship is defined by the way someone responds when there’s a problem,” he says. “Huntington has always responded well, and that’s rare to find.”

But Bhargava says the success of 5-hour ENERGY® and its efforts for social good haven’t peaked yet.

“We have just started,” he says. “I will let you know when we succeed. We are from the Midwest - we do more and talk less.”

For more information about 5-hour ENERGY®, visit 5hourenergy.com.

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Leading energy shot brands in the United States in 2020, based on market share,” Statista, Updated July 2020

5-hour ENERGY® is a registered trademark of International IP Holdings LLC.

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