Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! We’re James and Álvaro, the founders of Jibby Coffee—the feel-good coffee brand. We cold-brew organic Colombian coffee and balance it with tasteless, lab-tested CBD.
Did you know that caffeine is the coffee plant’s natural defense mechanism? By design, it’s supposed to make you feel jittery and anxious. We added CBD to help balance that out. We’re just wrapping up a hugely successful beta launch on our website, and working on a new production run—we actually sold out of our boxed coffee last week!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
So this is a really interesting piece I want to preface with: we built Jibby Coffee entirely online over the last 9 months. In fact, I hadn’t seen my partner Álvaro in person until just a few weeks ago when we unloaded our first batch of coffee.
We wanted our core product to be a really damn good coffee—and for the CBD to only affect the feeling but not the flavor.
Álvaro and I met in early 2019 during our training period as Venture for America fellows, and our mutual interest in mission-driven entrepreneurship made us fast friends.
When Jibby was just an idea, I was working for an influencer marketing startup in Detroit, and Álvaro was working in economic-development in Birmingham, AL. It was the height of the pandemic—in March I remember. Álvaro and I were catching up on Zoom, both drinking our afternoon coffee. We talked about our lives, and how the combination of startup-stress and COVID was taking its toll on our mental health. Álvaro mentioned he had been adding CBD to coffee, which helped improve his mood and make his coffee a little calmer (his brother, a hemp business veteran, had introduced him to the ingredient early on). So I tried it myself too, and that’s really where it all started.
People have been making coffee the same way for hundreds of years—it’s an experience that’s so rooted in ritual and tradition that the idea of a different, or even improved coffee was frankly crazy, but exciting.
As a Cuban-American-Puerto-Rican, Álvaro has loved coffee and its spirit from a young age and even worked in the industry at Starbucks Spain for a summer internship. I’ve been roasting coffee with my mom since I was a little kid, which inspired me to open a pop-up café in Brooklyn called Devil Spit Coffee back in 2015—so coffee has always been a special part of my life. Now the idea of innovating around an experience that we both loved was really what started this whole adventure.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I think starting a business is just one big web of coordinated problems all leading towards one goal. So when we began working on Jibby in early 2020 we knew our overall goal was clear and simple: we wanted to create a better coffee experience.
So we started unpacking that. We’d need an excellent tasting coffee, and we’d need a consistent and clean CBD ingredient to balance the caffeine.
We try to set up 10-minute calls with all our early adopters to hear the good and bad and work that back into the experience.
I learned a great deal building Devil Spit Coffee a few years back, and that set the standards for Jibby Coffee super high. We wanted our core product to be a really damn good coffee—and for the CBD to only affect the feeling but not the flavor. It took us about 6 months to get the flavor profile we wanted, and we’re both super happy with the Colombian beans we chose. This also influenced our decision to launch with just one flavor: a straight-black cold brew. Although we know sweeter coffees usually sell better, we wanted to have a solid foundation before expanding into the heavily requested oat-milk latte, which is coming in Q3/4.
Working during COVID was also really interesting—most of our original team was outsourced and decentralized.
- We nailed down a great designer in Australia on Behance and woke up at odd hours so we could Zoom with him on brand direction.
- We hired a Food and Beverage lawyer in NY who specialized in CBD products to help us launch our product to rigorous standards.
- We found a fantastic partner to roast and brew at scale for us in Twin Cities and we shared our flavor profile with him. There’s a reason so many breweries are based in Minnesota—they have great water, which is a hugely important factor in the great coffee they’ve helped us brew.
About nine months later, like carrying a baby to term, we finally held Jibby Coffee in our hand. I’m glossing over a lot of 12+-hour workdays, strategy realignments, and motivational speeches, but in essence, that’s the story of how we got to where we are today.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launch has been fantastic so far. We’ve had tremendous support from our friends, family, and the Venture for America network—so the word got out fast. Just two weeks into our beta launch we sold out of boxed coffee from our initial production run.
I’ve had a fair bit of experience building websites in the past, and that was a huge help in getting us up and running early on. Since Álvaro and I bootstrapped the entire business, we’ve developed a strong do-it-yourself attitude which personally I think is really fun, because you get to learn a ton along the way.
Website pic on beta launch:
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I see ourselves still in this “beta launch” phase, meaning, we’re still learning. We’re getting tons of feedback from our early adopters, refining our messaging, and really understanding our brand’s positioning within this novel marketplace.
We’ve made a point early on to communicate with our customers as much as possible. That meant being transparent about production delays we had early on, and it means keeping touchpoints throughout the post-purchase experience where we collect feedback. And I don’t simply mean automated review-capture emails. We try to set up 10-minute calls with all our early adopters to hear the good and bad and work that back into the experience.
We haven’t hit the ground too hard yet with external advertising—almost all of our traffic and sales right now are through word of mouth and some early and free PR. One channel I’m particularly excited about from a content marketing perspective is our blog series Coffee & Art, where we highlight and interview up-and-coming artists. This is a super fun way to put out engaging, aesthetic content and while cross-promoting our audience to the artists, and vice versa.
As for retention, we’re in the process of implementing our coffee subscription service on Shopify, which should be rolling out in a few weeks. Repeat orders have already been strong (around ~20-25%), but we think we can double that with a dedicated subscription service and stronger messaging. Coffee is habitual after all.
Here are some photos of Jibby in the wild!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The CBD food and beverage market is still in its infancy. There’s a lot of uncertainty from a federal oversight perspective, and there’s still tremendous growth potential from a market perspective. We’ve been following the FDA’s stance on CBD since day one, and we’re really hoping that more refined guidelines are released soon to help shift this semi-unregulated market. We see regulation as a good thing—it will introduce a lot more certainty, allow new players to come into the market, and in turn boost consumer education and trust in the industry.
As for ourselves, and as a brand developed and founded during the COVID era, we feel strongly about our tie to the Internet and want to focus on our eCommerce DTC model. Long term, we see that as our beachhead onto shelves when mainstream retailers (Wholefoods, Sprouts, TJs, etc.) start opening their doors to CBD products.
Right now, we’re focusing on the east coast and expanding our presence in specialty and wellness grocers, particularly in Miami (Álvaro’s hometown), and New York (my hometown). We’ll be launching a very cool brand activation at Showfields Miami and NYC this March, so please stop by if you’re around!
Find a co-founder. No amount of money or equity is worth going through the shit you’re gonna go through alone.
As for the vision, we see ourselves being the go-to feel-good coffee brand. We plan to expand our SKUs across the coffee category into milk-alternative and sweetened ready-to-drink lattes, whole and ground beans, compostable k-cups or Nespresso pods, and much more throughout the next few years.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
A few learnings, and a few fun facts, from along the way:
- Perseverance always wins in the end
- Fun fact: there was a huge can shortage in America in 2020 which made it hard for new beverage brands
- Be a self-learner. Anything you want to learn is free.
- Commit early on to improving communication internally with your team, and externally with your customers
- The first evidence of cold brew coffee is dated to the 1600s in Japan.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’ve had some experience building eCommerce brands on Shopify in the past (actually I was featured on StarterStory a few years back for another biz I run called The Nut Button, which helped fund Jibby). So a lot of the same tools applied:
- Klaviyo for email marketing
- Postscript for SMS (which is our primary means of communicating with our audience)
- ShipStation for fulfillment
- Quickbooks for accounting
- Adobe CC and Canva for designing
- Upwork, Dribble, and Behance for outsourcing
- Soon to setup ReCharge for a subscription-based coffee model
- Notion has been an absolute godsend while building Jibby—since Álvaro and I aren’t working together in person this has kept us and the business so organized
- Google Drive for cloud-based file sharing, for the same reason as above.
- FoodBevy and Startup CPG for industry connections and to outsource decision making to experienced founders
- SCORE for free mentorship from industry veterans
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a huge sucker for self-help books and business books, not just for information but also for validation of the strategies we were already implementing, albeit not confidently. The best books I read for inspiration and motivation were Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, How I Built This (The Book) by Guy Raz, Business for Punks by James Watt (not your typical business book!), and Traction by Gabriel Weinberg.
Then, I also like to read books that make me feel smarter or, at least, make me feel like I understand the world a little more and can navigate it confidently as a business owner selling products to people. Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, and Post-Corona by Scott Galloway were all fantastic reads I did while building my business. For general entertainment, I’m a big comics fan and cannot recommend Jonathan Hickman’s current X-men run more.
In terms of podcasts, I love the following podcasts and listen to them regularly, with HIBT being the only one that I won’t miss a single episode for Shopify Masters, How I Built This, Business Wars, Axios Re: Cap, and Stuff you Should Know.
Business-related newsletters I love are The Hustle, Startup CPG, and The New Tropic for Miami-related news. Sticker Mule has probably the most effective emails. We always fall for the great deals!
God, it’s got to be the most cliché podcast recommendation but honestly How I Built this is even more inspiring every single episode I hear. If I’m ever feeling down, uninspired, or simply unmotivated, this is one of those things that always gets me back on track. Shoutouts @Guy Raz.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
This may seem counterintuitive but don’t tell anyone what you want to work on and don’t ask anyone if you should do it. This is also true as you’re building it. Don’t invite too much opinion into what you’re building. Why? Because you’re already doing it or already want to. Positive opinions and feedback will only blow hot air into your business and will only give you a false sense of confidence. Negative opinions will only create doubt in what you’re doing.
You need to believe in what you’re doing. Don’t ask for permission. Start building it, come up with the cheapest possible way to do it, and do it. Then, you can ask people you trust (with relevant experience and aligned vision) about strategy, but don’t ask people for affirmation.
The second tip I’d offer is to be simultaneously working on other short-term goals. If my business getting up and running was the only thing that had a positive impact on my self-esteem, I would have been low on self-esteem for a while. Thank God, I was also working on my tennis game and had picked up running. That helped me feel better about where I was at in life because I was getting better at those two hobbies.
The last tip I’d give is to find a co-founder. No amount of money or equity is worth going through the shit you’re gonna go through alone.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking to collaborate with passionate creatives who have experience in the space, but most importantly are enthusiastic about what they do. Whether you’re a coffee expert, eComm whiz, wellness guru, or just feel like you have skills to contribute to the Jibby Team, hit us up!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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