ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
What comes to mind when you think of Instant Coffee? How about if we added the words Healthy and Decaf in front of it? Exactly. Is something like this even possible? Well, our next The making of… guest, Sharon Taylor, founder of ‘Healthy Decaf Instant Coffee’ brand, Velty has totally changed our worldview. This is her story.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of... To start, can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Sharon Taylor and I’m the founder of Velty, a gut-friendly decaf coffee company. My background is in design and Creative Direction. For the past 15 years, I’ve been building brands and e-commerce experiences for CPG, beauty, and lifestyle brands.
It’s not every day someone says ‘I want to create a decaf coffee company’. How did you come up with the concept?
During the pandemic, I suffered terrible burnout and my body really took a hit. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived and struggling to focus. Taking a sabbatical from my agency job, I sought medical help and was diagnosed with ADHD. This was a life-changing moment for me because, for the first time ever, I had answers for why my mind and body were the way they were. I realised I had been masking my body’s needs with too much caffeine. Whilst it was wreaking havoc on my adrenals and my nervous system, it was the only thing that kept me going and focused throughout the day.
Listening to my body, I looked around for decaf coffee and caffeine alternatives but was really unimpressed with what was out there. Finally settling on an ‘ok’ option, I started adding adaptogens and mushrooms to my cup to help me rest and focus. The combination was amazing and the idea for Velty was born right there in those first cups!
Sharon Taylor, Founder of Velty
It sounds like a bit of a journey… and we’re so glad you landed at your destination. How about the research? What did you do to arrive at what you've got now? How did you test your product-market fit?
I created a 10-question survey to get initial customer insight. The overwhelming feedback was that people like their coffee black and are looking for something easy and portable. This was totally the opposite of what I went in thinking was going to resonate. From there, I developed a recipe with a dietician and product developer, before sampling the first iterations of Velty with many of the survey participants. Taking onboard feedback, we finally chose two blends to move forward with: our Classic and Spiced Coffees. It was important for me to go to market with these blends and iterate as we grow because I'd seen too many founders miss the boat by waiting too long to launch. Through the irritation process, we’ve continued to interview customers and get feedback on Velty which has been a really helpful investment in understanding what our customers want and if we're getting closer to product-market fit.
We know how difficult it can be to develop the right formula. What were the first iterations of Velty like?
The first iteration is actually what we’re using now. Our target market really enjoys the blend and loves that it still tastes like coffee but includes the benefits of mushrooms. We’re lucky this first iteration is still working really well for us.
Like everything there’s a process you run through to get to the right formulation and it sounds like you got there pretty quickly. Developing new products can be costly so we’re interested in how you funded everything?
We’re fully bootstrapped. Before starting up, I was looking into going back to school to get an MBA and in the process, one of the recruiters said it’d take at least two years to even get in due to delays in admissions from the pandemic. It was then I realised I could use the money I'd saved for the MBA to start something immediately rather than waiting years to finish a course.
Knowing you have a background in CPG as a creative director, how did you go about your branding?
Branding was obviously very important, so I set out early to create a brand that was vibrant and elevated the word "decaf." I wanted to show off Velty as a new beverage that could be enjoyed in the afternoons/evenings without the crash, so cocktail-inspired copy and imagery became my muse. We shot the photography as if the coffees were cocktails and I felt this brought a fresh take to the product. I really wanted to turn the decaf category on its head with a brand that not only resonated with the audience on price and product, but more importantly as being a new perspective in the space. We launched with single-serve sachets and quickly tested bringing bulk pouches onto the market and they’ve been a big hit. I’m excited to share our next iteration of the bulk packaging in the next few months!
With branding out of the way, how are you getting the word out there? How are you scaling the brand?
We hired a PR company for pre- and post-launch and loved the press and kind words we received. We’ve featured in goop, SELF, Buzzfeed, Architectural Digest and bon appétit to name a few, and I’m really happy we invested in a team that could help us grow awareness and bring in new customers. We also do influencer gifting and sampling for events with like-minded brands like Phyla plus Create & Cultivate’s Health and Wellness events. Our next push for awareness will be in the pregnancy space since decaf has a perfect home there to support moms and moms-to-be who are sensitive to caffeine.
Having a good PR agency to support your launch is a good move. Just looking at your coverage so far, it’s definitely paid off. What about your future challenges? What's the biggest challenge or challenges you think you'll face moving forward?
Customer acquisition while bootstrapping will always be a slow and steady journey for us and will continue to be a challenge in this post-iOS14 world. We plan to get scrappy and connect 1:1 with customers now more than ever. Building a solid foundation of community is at the forefront of our mission and the challenge is that it just takes time.
It’s been amazing learning about you and Velty. Before you go, we have one final question. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who is embarking on their own startup journey?
Find your community. Building this business has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’ve been in the industry for years. It takes a lot of heart, dedication, honesty and an ‘I-must-make-it’ mentality that you will not and cannot fail. Having a group of supportive entrepreneurs, advisors and friends to keep your spirits high is essential on the road to building this dream. Go find your people and keep them close! It really does take a village.