Startup Profile: COBA, The Coffee Bar
It’s 3PM and you’ve hit that mid-day slump. With no time to grab a cup of coffee, COBA– a new way of consuming coffee by simply eating it– is here to save you. This summer, COBA joined Blackstone LaunchPad’s Fellowship program as one of 50 entrepreneurial teams and plans on bringing coffee bars to those that need an extra dose of energy.
The five founders of COBA, University of California, Berkeley students Katherine Luo, Peter Lee, Taiki Maeda, Grace Lee, and Tina Liao, were inspired by a coffee sourcing trip to Ecuador. They brainstormed the future of coffee and came to the conclusion that the next big coffee product must be high quality, portable, and convenient. As college students, Katherine, Peter, Taiki, Grace, and Tina found a unique opening in the market: students who need to stay awake and alert during class, but don’t have the time to grab coffee. COBA founders knew firsthand the need to maximize productivity and saw how they could bring a product to market that would not only benefit their peers, but also working millennials.
The process of finalizing the first COBA product was not easy. The founders struggled to make a bar that would not go stale; grinding coffee beans quickly led to oxidation and the quality of the product did not meet their expectations. Yet, 200 experiments of roasting, extracting, and molding techniques later, COBA found a proprietary way of keeping the coffee tasting fresh and delicious.
Before coming to the UC Berkeley LaunchPad, the COBA founders were featured in NowThis, Gizmodo, Spoon University, and Korea Daily. They successfully launched two Kickstarter campaigns to expand their product line to include COBA Milk and COBA Black, a vegan chocolate bar with activated charcoal. What’s more, COBA is already available at 10 retail locations at three University of California campuses. But, COBA founders knew they had more to learn, and that mentors and advisors from the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars network could help accelerate their growth.
The founders entered the Fellowship with three key goals. Their first was to finalize COBA’s customer acquisition strategy. Second, to expand their retailers around UC campuses. Lastly, they wanted to test a subscription box for a variety of companies and offices. Prior to joining the Fellowship, COBA implemented a “try 3 free” model to get COBA into the hands of new customers. COBA began testing this acquisition model as part of their COVID-19 campaign, and successfully gave away three free bars to 200 customers. This model has worked so well for COBA that they are emulating this program on a larger scale through the Blackstone LaunchPad college entrepreneurship network.
COBA founders came to the LaunchPad to expand their business and grow as leaders. They were excited about the LaunchPad’s industry mentorship program and were eager to get nuanced advice from people who thoroughly understand COBA’s industry. They were also drawn to the exceptional community of student entrepreneurs. At LaunchPad, participants connect with a program full of driven and passionate student entrepreneurs who are eager to bounce ideas off of each other, discover new ways to solve problems, and challenge each other to do more. Of LaunchPad, the founders of COBA agree, “The mentors helped by giving us a roadmap on what to expect in our next five steps. The guest speakers showed us the goal. The community empathized with us on our journey.”