Photography: courtesy of the Fortt Family
above: Omar, Anisa and Khairi Fortt, siblings and management behind the new water business Eleven86
Take a trip with us to Autaugaville, Alabama. Why are we here, in this small town—only some 800 people and only some eight square miles? We’re here because it is the source for a new Stamford business. Eleven86 Real Artesian Water (eleven86water.com), which is water drawn from an aquifer and bottled in the South.
The proud and confident owners of the new water-distribution business call the water the purest on the market. If that sounds boastful and competitive, perhaps that’s because Eleven86 is powered by Khairi, Anisa, Omar and Jafar Fortt, siblings who made names for themselves in sports in Fairfield County and beyond. Now, they have teamed up as business executives at KAO Distribution, and their parents—Dr. Tabitha Fortt, a Stamford physician, and Guy Fortt, president of the Stamford branch of the NAACP—are stakeholders.
Many athletes have learned about hard work, strategy, teamwork and more from participating in sports. With that in mind, let us hint at the advantage the Fortt team enjoys. Khairi, president of KAO Distribution, is a former All-American at Stamford High School and played college football at Penn State University and the University of California and professionally for New Orleans, Jacksonville and Washington. Anisa, COO, played sports at St. Luke’s and Stamford High before running track at the University of Delaware. Omar, CMO, played football at St. Luke’s, University of Connecticut and in the Canadian Football League with the BC Lions. Jafar is a professional Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship fighter.
The aquifer that KAO uses has been protected from surface contaminants and pollutants and can be reached only by a well—a well drilled into the aquifer is called an artesian well, and water that reaches the ground surface under the natural pressure of the aquifer is called a flowing artesian well.
For you, the water is easy to get. It’s available at locations in Stamford and by subscription. KAO plans to expand further into the tristate area and New England. Grab yours by March 22: World Water Day, an annual U.N. observance day that highlights the importance of fresh water.
Q+A with THE FOUNDERS
How did the business start?
The business started on November 25, 2020, when our family first thought of the brilliant idea of distributing Eleven86 water to the Northeast.
What in your background helps you succeed with this?
We have been blessed with amazing parents who instilled the mindset of being able to dream big, persevere through any obstacle and the power of teamwork. Through these three lessons, we have learned that with great success, we must consistently hustle to keep the business moving forward. My dad always says, “If you don’t go get it, it won’t come to you.”
Why do you think the market will want this water?
The market will instantly be drawn to this water because it is an ultra-premium water sold at a mainstream price. When we say “ultra premium,” we are referring to the high-pressured natural filtration process that has taken place for thousands of years, which enables this water to have the purest taste on the market. Not only is the water immersed with the essential minerals our bodies need to function, but it also exceeds the most expensive brands of water on the market, while the price competes with the most affordable.
It’s interesting that siblings are the primary drivers in this endeavor. How did that come about?
What better business partners than your siblings? Also, seeing that each one of us impacts the community differently, we thought it was in our best interest to attack this venture together. We felt that by using our influence through sports and community service, we could bring high-quality and affordable water to various markets, while promoting a brand that is already a thriving family business. Eventually we hope to develop more strategic partnerships with beverage brands in the future to add to our distribution catalog. For now, our main focus is supplying our ultra-premium water to the tristate area.
What challenges do you face when entering the local market?
Some of the challenges that we have encountered are mainly prevalent because we are a new brand trying to establish itself in the market that already has loyal customers to other brands. To solve this problem, we intend to drive demand for Eleven86 water by sponsoring our water in events, attending business seminars and continuing to produce great public relation opportunities. This will increase our brand awareness and brand exposure, as we believe that the Northeast will truly fall in love with the culture of this water and the story of the distributors.
You and your siblings were involved in sports and had a lot of success. What lessons carry over to your business?
We were thankful enough to be introduced to sports at a young age. This promoted a winning mindset and positive attitude when we translate those experiences to the business world. We have all been a part of teams and know how to work together, being that we are all siblings. Also being involved in sports throughout most of our lives has enabled us to know how to quiet and overcome the fear when doubt becomes present. A quote from Abraham Lincoln that we always keep in mind goes, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
What will define your success?
We believe that success comes in all different forms. Our driving force for success is to spread the message of the water across the country.
The title of the water actually has a biblical meaning behind it. Chapter 11, verse 86 reads: “Where there is water, there is life.” We know how essential water is in our lives, so the dream we have envisioned for our company is to spread this water across the nation and eventually around the world. As you can tell from the statement I mentioned earlier, our parents have instilled the importance of dreaming big and that is a lesson we will never take for granted.