Recently, I asked Co-Founder and CEO of New Grounds Food, Johnny Fayad, his opinion on how more college students can start up their own ventures because he is currently operating a startup all the while attending Northeastern University. Johnny and his team raised over $35,000 via Kickstarter for their all natural CoffeeBar, and were featured in USA Today, Boston Globe, and CNBC.
Tip 1: Develop a product you would use or solves a personal problem, and always keep the end customer in mind.
Marquis Cabrera: Johnny, where did you get the idea to develop CoffeeBar?
Johnny Fayad: The CoffeeBar came from a need we had of getting our days going quicker without sacrificing nutrition. We were constantly rushing our 8 a.m. financial accounting class without any time for breakfast or coffee, and wondered why we couldn't just eat our coffee.
[My Co-founder] and I got our start during Northeastern's Husky Startup Challenge, a series of five bootcamps that help you through the process of turning an idea into a reality. Through this program, we were able to develop a minimum viable product out of our dorm room. A lot of research, 14 trial batches, and countless energized college freshmen later, we were able to develop a minimum viable product of four flavors and won audience favorite at Demo Day. Over the past year, we have constantly modified the original recipe to better it based on feedback from our consumers, and have officially been able to scale up our manufacturing here in the U.S.
Marquis Cabrera: Your signature product is CoffeeBar, so why did you create New Grounds Food?
Johnny Fayad: The CoffeeBar was created on a simple question, "Why can't we eat our coffee?" However, the underlying mission for us was to be able to provide people with quicker ways to stay energized throughout the day, without sacrificing nutrition. We wanted to have the flexibility of creating new product lines in the future that supported our mission of providing people with healthier forms of energy, so we created New Grounds Food. By doing this, we are able to grow past our flagship product, and stay true to our motto and "explore new grounds".
Marquis Cabrera: How do college students get more ideas to startup? And - when students have ideas, what steps should they follow to bring them to life?
Johnny Fayad: I believe that the best ideas come from our own experiences, and those that we see happening around us. Whether it is trying to solve a personal problem, a market pain, or capitalizing on an opportunity, there are opportunities all around us. All you need to do is look for them.
[Budding student entrepreneurs] must never lose sight of the consumer and the original mission you set out on while creating your product. It is important to always keep the consumer in mind, and don't be afraid to test out your product on complete strangers for fear of being rejected. By getting honest consumer feedback, there is only room to improve and move forward from it. While [my Co-founder] and I have been bringing CoffeeBars to market, our main focus has been on gaining constructive feedback to better the quality of our product, and work towards our mission of providing people with a healthier way to stay energized throughout the day.
Tip 2: If you want to raise money and keep equity in your company, crowdfunding (i.e. Kickstarter) is the best way to go, but you must have a compelling story and clear ask.
Marquis Cabrera: Why Kickstarter? How is your campaign going? What are your future plans?
Johnny Fayad: Asides from funding, we chose to launch with Kickstarter because of the amazing community behind it. Both Ali and I were always on the site before we started New Grounds Food, and wanted to be a part of that community as we brought our CoffeeBars to market. The campaign has been an extraordinary and humbling experience. After funding our initial goal in the first day, we quickly set a few stretch goals for ourselves. First one being sourcing direct trade coffee, which we have surpassed, and secondly, the addition of new flavors like peppermint mocha and caramel macchiato. We are still working towards achieving our second stretch goal, which we hope can be reached in this last week of our campaign.
After the campaign is over, we plan on rolling out our ecommerce site where people can order CoffeeBars on a subscription basis, and begin scaling to retail locations like cafés, specialty stores, and places like Whole Foods. As we grow, we will begin to cater to another key target market: people who work at off hours of the day. These include first responders, taxi drivers, truck drivers, doctors, and even the army. These people are always on the move and we want to provide them with more convenient, healthier ways to stay energized as opposed to a red bull or a 5-Hour Energy.
Marquis Cabrera: Wow -- you have some big goals! What advice would you give to a student entrepreneur looking to go the crowdfunding route?
Johnny Fayad: Crowdfunding is a great way to raise some money and keep equity in your business, but can take a lot of work to get off the ground. Having a clear ask, telling a story, being transparent, and preparing more than you think you need are all key factors in a successful crowdfunding campaign. If people can connect with you on a deeper level, and know exactly what you need to move forward with your idea, it is that much more likely they will give their support.
Something we did that I think attributed to our success immensely was asking for help. We spent months preparing for our campaign, and along the way we asked everyone we could who had a successful experience in crowdfunding to learn more about what made it happen. We were able to see what worked, what didn't, and plan our campaign based on what we learned.
Tip 3: There is no better time to start a business than while you're in school. If your college or university does not have a great entrepreneurship program, ask for help, network, or create the resources at your college.
Marquis Cabrera: Why did you startup in college? Why didn't you wait until your degree was in hand?
Johnny Fayad: Starting a company in college definitely was not the original plan, but I am so grateful it happened. For [my Co-founder] and I, creating the CoffeeBar was more of a fun project to solve our own problem, as well as getting the chance to learn a bit about what it takes to bring an idea to life. Thanks to the feedback and encouragement we received at Demo Day, we saw the opportunity to turn it into a real business and moved forward with it.
Marquis Cabrera: What resources did your University provide that helped you continue? If someone does not have the same resources at their college, how do you think they could leverage their community?
Johnny Fayad: Thanks to Northeastern, we had just about everything we needed at our fingertips to create a successful company. Right after Demo Day, we were accepted into IDEA: Northeastern University's Venture Accelerator, where we were afforded a business coach, mentors, legal knowledge from 3rd year law students, an actual lawyer, and a $10,000 grant to get our CoffeeBars to market. Along with these resources, we were able to get our packaging and branding designed through Scout, Northeastern's student-run design firm. We were extremely fortunate to be in the position we were, and have the opportunities we've had to scale our business.
If other students don't have the same resources, they should network as much as they can, and not be afraid to ask for help. People have been so willing to help us because we are students, and see our passion in what we're doing. If you are sincere, and show you truly want to learn, grow, and have the ability to build whatever you are creating, there will be someone willing to help. Another possibility is making the resources available at your own school! So many of Northeastern's resources were started by students and are run by students, including: the Entrepreneurs Club, IDEA, and Scout who are all looking to help other students work on what they're passionate about.
Marquis Cabrera: Is it best to startup in college? How do you startup in college?
Johnny Fayad: Starting a business while you're in school is the best time to do so. Even if you don't create the next Facebook, it is still a valuable experience. There is a lot less risk involved to your livelihood in case things don't go as planned, and it allows you to put what you're learning in the classroom to work in real-life situations. Of course, it can be difficult to balance classes, work, life, etc., but if you truly believe in what you're doing and have some passion behind it, you will make the time. It is an amazing opportunity to professionally grow, and in a way that could reap more benefits than a conventional internship. As for actually doing it, it takes a lot of persistence, optimism, and leveraging as many resources as possible. Don't be afraid to ask for help or play the student card, as there are plenty of successful people who were once in your shoes, looking to help you succeed.