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Nov. 19, 2022 7:00 AM PST

Mike Cessario, co-founder and CEO of canned water company Liquid Death, arrived in Palm Desert, Calif., sporting a Slayer hoodie, designer stubble and the effortless chill of a movie star. He had driven from his home in Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley to give a talk about the meteoric rise of his brand at Summit Series—a 1,400-person gathering of artists and entrepreneurs, many of whom already seemed to be customers. Tallboy cans of Liquid Death lay discarded on the lawn of La Quinta Resort & Club and lined the conference’s beverage cases. Everywhere, harsh desert sunlight lit up the cans’ metallic slogan: “Liquid Death—murder your thirst.”

Cessario, a Delaware-born former advertising creative director, started the company in 2019 and has rapidly grown it to over $100 million in annual revenue. It’s become a staple at concert venues, convenience stores and even at Whole Foods, where it intimidates nearby cans of LaCroix with its brawny 16.9-ounce size and tattoo artist logo. Cessario has raised $195 million in venture capital at a recent valuation of $700 million—a number that left plenty of people scratching their heads. “Even at the brink of a global recession,” one Danish management professor tweeted, “late capitalism roars along.”

In the desert, Cessario seemed indifferent to these critiques. He rolled his eyes at the idea that Liquid Death is some kind of drinkable memestock. “Everybody says to me, ‘What makes your water different from other water?’” he said. “They don’t ask Gucci, ‘How is your cotton T-shirt different from Target’s cotton T-shirt?’”

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