Fayad and Kothari started selling the Eat Your Coffee Bar on grocery store shelves in the Boston area. Soon they were working with social media influencers. “We actually work with ‘fitspiration’ bloggers on Instagram,” Fayad says. “We saw this as an 8 a.m. alternative, when people don’t have time for coffee. But a lot of people use it as a pre-workout or post-workout snack.”
The company is now in retail locations around the U.S., in grocery stores and at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. They have promotional marketing deals with Uber and Lululemon. They’ve raised $45,000 in seed funding from angel investors. And they’ve hired their first non-college-student employee: Kate Prince, vice president of marketing.
There are three Eat Your Coffee Bar flavors: mocha latte, coconut mocha, and caramel machiatto. And there are plans for two more.
THE STUDENT CARD
When asked if being a student was an inconvenience or an advantage, Kothari says there are two ways of looking at “the student card,” as they call it.
“It can be super helpful, because we can say, ‘Hey, we’re students who are working on this idea, and we’d like to ask you for some advice,’ and that opens a lot of doors,” he says. “But at the same time, when you tell someone you’re 18, they can kind of laugh you off.”
Fayad, too, acknowledges the pros and cons. “On the sales side, it was great. But on the fundraising side, when people hear that we’re part-time, they don’t trust us. They think school is taking up too much of our time,” he says.
“But I think the pros outweigh the cons. This is the ideal time to do it. I definitely have more time than someone with a family and a mortgage.”
STARTING A COMPANY WITHOUT DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL
Marc Meyer, the Robert Shillman professor of entrepreneurship and co-director of the Center for Entrepreneurship Education at Northeastern, says the school gives an unusual amount of support to undergraduate business founders. In particular, he says, the CEE is designed to enable students to start companies without dropping out of school.
“That’s the whole point of our design. When people first launch a company, they don’t know what they’re doing anyway, so why not do that at a university?” Meyer says. “I think our educational system was exactly what they needed in order to do what they wanted. They didn’t have to take a huge risk, because they didn’t drop out of school — and if they wanted to, they could get a job anywhere.”
Meyer served as a mentor to Fayad and Kothari after they entered IDEA. “My first interaction with them — we went out on a beautiful, almost California-like day in Boston, and we went to the student courtyard. There were all these people at a food fair, and we were doing some ethnography with students. We got some design ideas there. And they just kept doing that sort of thing to improve the product.”
Meyer says there are more than 200 companies being launched in the campus incubator, both student startups and startups created by recent alumni. “Johnny and Ali have become tremendous mentors to other young entrepreneurs here,” he says. “They give back a lot of their time.”
SHORT TERM PLAN: GRADUATE
Fayad and Kothari will graduate this spring, and they’ll work on Eat Your Coffee full-time after that. They’re coming up on 1,000 retail locations, and in the short-term they want to get that number closer to 3,000.
“We’re also fundraising to help support this growth,” Kothari says. “In the last month we doubled our locations, but in order to support that growth, we need to build brand awareness.”
As for their five-year plan, Fayad says they’re hoping to be a leader in the natural foods movement. “We see a lot of different companies out there trying to make snacking healthier, and we see caffeine as the next step. Clean, convenient caffeine,” he says.
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