This post was originally published on August 28, 2015.
Austin-based entrepreneur Wes Hurt’s life has been a whirlwind. After high school, he lived in four different states (Alabama, California, Texas and Colorado), attended four different colleges (Auburn, Baylor, St. Edwards and Austin Community) and had what he calls an “eight year run of insanity.” That insanity stemmed at least partly—yep—from a growing problem with alcohol and drugs.
This past July, Hurt celebrated his first year sober and he’s pretty excited about it. “In terms of sobriety, I mean… it’s amazing.” he says.
Hurt’s entrepreneurial track record was impressive pre-sobriety, despite a few fits and starts. His first major venture, the bakery Hey Cupcake, opened in Austin, Texas in March of 2007. Though the first location went under after only two months, it quickly re-opened in an airstream trailer. It has since had runaway success and become iconic in the Austin, Texas food scene. Though Hurt sold off his majority share of the company in 2014, he takes that experience with him to his latest business venture, Clean Cause.
Clean Cause Water is at this point a bottled water company that draws from Texas’s Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, and it’s named after the company’s support for all things sober. In other words, Hurt isn’t someone who got clean, started a business and then forgot how he was able to make it all happen: Clean Cause donates half its profits to recovery-related enterprises and hires employees who are in recovery.
Hurt is, of course, aware of the potential difficulties that can accompany hiring addicts. “I don’t like reality, but the reality is that people like me—and, well, when I was an [active]addict, I did not have a great track record,” he says. “I was not honest. I was not hard working. So objectively speaking, I shouldn’t be given that much trust—at the beginning.”
Still, Hurt is quick to clarify, “The reason I say it like that is that you’ll hear, ‘Well, they’re good people, they just made mistakes.’ Well no shit!” he says. “They are good people, they did make mistakes. And they currently have to earn back that trust. So yeah, there’s a much higher risk.”
For Hurt the trust started with his wife, and he credits a lot of his sobriety to her tough love at the end of his run. “She wasn’t willing to enable me,” he says. “The greatest thing she did, when I was the closest to my death I’d ever been, was just to not fold. She said, ‘You cannot come home if you don’t have a desire to get clean.’”
Though Clean Cause Water is roughly four months old, Hurt says he formed the initial concept within his first 30 days of sobriety. Hurt understands, however, that massive undertakings can come with massive personal risks for addicts. “For me there’s a lot of big dreaming and grandiosity even when you’re sober, you know?” he says. “My ambition, I get drunk on it often. The idea that you go really big.”
Hurt does his best to keep the hardest challenges ahead in focus. “Continued sobriety—that’s first and foremost,” he says. “Without that, everything else is screwed. Staying focused on the true North Star, not Wes. This isn’t called Wes Water. That’s a difficult one for me.”
Hurt’s take on the road ahead is equal parts sales pitch and prayer. “If you’re gonna buy a bottle of water, buy one that has a chance to give back,” he says. “Something that will ultimately have the opportunity to affect big things and have a ripple effect that’s true. [With addiction] we’re facing the greatest epidemic we’ve ever faced. That’s fact. Why wouldn’t we attack this the same way we would attack someone threatening our freedom across the ocean? It’s killing us from the inside.”
Hurt’s ambitions may be enormous but considering the dramatic journey he’s had, they may not be so out of reach. “I was living in a warehouse with a homeless man, which I guess makes me homeless, about a little over a year ago,” he says. “I was beat down, popping 35 Vicodin a day, smoking crack. Today I’ve got a business that has purpose, that’s doing well, my marriage is restored, my wife and I have a baby on the way…it doesn’t make any sense. It’s just insane. I’m living the dream.”
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