These College Students Invented Coffee You Can Eat — and Raised $44K
What’s one of the biggest daily struggles for college students?
Waking up on time.
As someone who’s missed her fair share of classes because she overslept, I can attest to this -- and if my mom is reading this: No worries, I haven’t failed anything yet.
Johnny Fayad and Ali Kothari had the same problem. But instead of complaining about it, they created a solution: coffee-infused energy bars.
That’s right, you can eat your coffee.
Grinding Out an Idea
As freshmen at Northeastern University, Fayad and Kothari discovered what all college students learn eventually: Don’t take 8 a.m. classes.
They were constantly running late and didn’t have time for breakfast or coffee. And that’s how the CoffeeBar and New Grounds Food were born.
“We started making them for our friends in our dorm room,” CEO and co-founder Fayad says. “We passed them out at the study room late at night, to see if they actually worked; people liked them.”
They decided to put their CoffeeBars to the test. During the spring of 2013, Fayad and Kothari entered the Husky Startup Challenge, a program that gives young entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas to their peers and professionals.
The duo ended up winning the audience favorite award -- and $500.
Kickstarting a Delicious Business
In May 2014, they applied for Northeastern's Idea Venture Accelerator grant and received $10,000 for their business proposal, which helped them manufacture their first 3,000 bars.
Four months later, Fayad and Kothari used those bars to help launch a Kickstarter campaign.
The college juniors spread the word on campus and reached out to friends and family before the campaign started. They also worked with SCOUT, Northeastern's free, student-run design agency, to create packaging that highlighted the campaign.
To get the word out, they gave out these promotional bars on campus and at events in the Boston area, and sent some to influential bloggers.
The goal was to earn another $10,000 -- and they did it in less than 15 hours.
By the time Fayad and Kothari ended the campaign after 44 days, they had received $44,109 from more than 1,000 backers.
New Grounds Food Today
CoffeeBars are now available in more than 300 locations, such as Shaw’s and Safeway, across 21 states, as well as in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. They retail for approximately $2.99.
Fayad and Kothari have hired five other college students to join their team, and recently brought on their first full-time, non-student employee as VP of Marketing. She left General Mills to see what a startup feels like, and the guys say they’re stoked to have her.
The business is growing steadily. It does production runs every two months and is seeing an increase in demand for the products in stores.
While the company is still running at a loss, the founders expect that to change soon. “We’re shooting to break even in November,” Fayad explains.
All the while, they’ve been able to run their business while taking part in their school’s co-op program -- which means they’re required to complete at least two internships before they graduate.
But their teamwork makes it manageable.
“We're great complements to each other,” Fayad said. “He's very analytical. I'm very forward. He's the back end of the business and operations and finance. I'm the sales and fundraising. It's been great. We're three years running. We joke around that it's… like a marriage.”
Interested in Launching a Startup in College?
Before New Grounds Food, Fayad admits that their experience was “basically just eating packaged goods.”
So how do you go from consumer to creator?
The earlier, the better! Don’t let your age deter you.
“Being a student is the best time to launch your own company,” Kothari said. “You don't have a lot of risk.”
Plus, students have access to so many resources.
Kothari said being students is what “turned heads and opened doors” for Fayad and him. They weren’t afraid to ask the pros for help.
Use Your Resources
On top of telling their friends and family about New Grounds Food, Fayad and Kothari reached out to media outlets with a brief email explaining who they were and what they were doing -- and that helped them appear on CNBC and USA Today during the first month of their Kickstarter campaign.
They also used social media and reached out to people in the blogging community who could post about their campaign.
“Bloggers have been a great support for us,” Fayad said.
Pick Tools Wisely
A lot of running a startup is trial and error, from getting the product right to maintaining a business plan. One thing Kothari wishes they’d done from the beginning was pay closer attention to their numbers -- especially expenses.
Here are some online tools New Grounds Food uses and recommends:
- Shopify for e-commerce
- Wave for accounting
- HubSpot for customer relationship management and sales
Minor mistakes aside, Fayad and Kothari were able to gain their own startup experience -- and they won’t even graduate with their business degrees until Spring 2017.
It’s motivating to see people my age with this kind of drive, which only makes me want to work harder. It reminds me that all it takes is an idea -- and maybe waking up on time once in awhile.
Your Turn: What kind of startup would you create with a $10,000 grant?
Teyonna Edwards is an editorial intern at The Penny Hoarder. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and pretending she knows what she’s doing.