Have you ever heard about Kyoto Coffee? Back in the 1600s, this brewing style was invented by Dutch sailors. After some time the method was re-engineered by Japanese artisans and has since gained popularity across the world. Today, I have the pleasure of talking with Dolores Villegas, Co-Founder at Dripdash Inc.
Dripdash started off as a hobby gone wild. Zac and I were neighbors while I was working at Blue Bottle and one day I brought back a sample of their Kyoto Coffee for him. Before the end of the next day, he came knocking on my door and asking me where he can get more – he was hooked. We started conceptualizing the idea when I realized the cafe was running out of the product every day by 10 am so we started tinkered with a bunch of devices to try and figure out a way to produce more of the product and get it into the hands of the people.
We thought the world needs this incredible coffee and we will get it to them. From there, we contacted Or, who had prior business experience and asked him to lead our team. He was hooked on the coffee so he wanted to make this dream into a reality. And after a full year in business, we’re now in 150 stores across the Bay Area, Michelin star restaurants, and steadily growing into new strategic areas.
Kyoto-Style coffee is created using one drop of water at a time of over 16 hours. An extremely intricate and slow brewing methodology, but the outcome makes it worth the wait: a body that is very dense, a flavor profile that is complex, and a drink that remains low in acidity.
As you might imagine, there were quite a few challenging parts with scaling a beverage that uses one drop per second. One of the first few were creating the same style of coffee on a large scale without compromising quality and flavor.
Traditional coffee beverages use heat and immersion, while we use lower controlled temperature and erosion, so we continue to learn through trial and error, along with research and assistance from a variety of engineers and chemists. Aside from the creation of the product, the next challenge is tapping into a food compound that has little to no regulation. Coffee is a living thing and in order to preserve the flavor and body in its ready-to-drink format, along with ensuring food safety and meeting regulatory standards, there was once again a lot of experimentation, patience, and over-caffeinating.
I’d say that making it through year 1 of the business has been the largest achievement. As a team, we’ve focused on maintaining good team dynamics and enjoying the journey along the way.
We’ve gotten validation across the way by being asked to bring Dripdash into Michelin Star restaurants, have been reached out to by the largest natural distributors in the country to bring our product into their incubator program, and received tremendous feedback along the way. But overall, these are indicators that you’re building something people want, rather than what we’d consider our largest achievements.
Ready-to-Drink coffee has been on shelves in grocery stores for over 50 years, but no one has ever attempted to make it anything more than a convenient form of caffeine while ignoring the craft and flavor. For the first time in packaged goods, our coffee is more desirable and of higher quality than what you’d be able to find in coffee shops due to the science in our brewing methods. There is more flavor, more caffeine and the quality of the coffee is noticeably different.
Our target market started off as the coffee connoisseurs of the world, but as we’ve been growing, we’ve been finding different personas that gravitate more towards our product. We’ve done a variety of strategic marketing approaches from communicating with our retail consumers via a Snapchat code that sits on the label to creating creative packaging that will be released in the next year. Currently, it’s available across the majority of high-end independent retailers in Northern California, a dozen restaurants, and upscale bakeries.
Securing larger and national distribution channels, focusing on creating better brand presence through new SKUs, and building a solid online community of coffee lovers.
No prior experience with large-scale manufacturing prior to this business, simply a combination of passion for coffee, design, and business development.
Aside from the challenge of creating a scalable system for producing a style of coffee, we bootstrapped the operation so staying lean in such a competitive landscape has been a challenge, but it ensures we make every move strategically and based on data. From there, figuring out distribution channels and demand generation seem to be a pretty large battle most beverage startups face as well.
Don’t do it! JK. The best advice would be to gather as many contacts as possible from the industry and try to collect data, as well as learn from their mistakes. Build every aspect of your brand and think about your ideal consumer’s life in-depth – what do they look like, what do they eat for breakfast, what type of phone they have, how do they get to work, what are their political opinions. It sounds like a lot, but to understand how to engage your target audience and appeal to them in today’s day and age, there is no shortcut because today’s consumers are overwhelmed with products, and you have to stand out in split seconds.
For more information visit Dripdash’s website.