Building a Beverage Empire: How Pop & Bottle Carved Out a Niche in Coffee

Summary of Episode

#75. This startup shaped the ready-to-drink coffee aisle we know today. This week we are joined by Jash Mehta, co-founder of Pop & Bottle. You’ll probably recognize Pop & Bottle from your local refrigerated drink section, however, achieving nationwide distribution was no stroke of good luck. Jash discusses carving out a niche early on, building based on data and feedback, and the importance of keeping fundraising top of mind at all points in time. 

About the guest:

Jash Mehta is the co-founder of Pop & Bottle alongside Blair Hardy. The pair launched the brand to replicate their favorite ritual - an afternoon latte. Since its launch in 2015, Pop & Bottle is now sold in retailers including Whole Foods and Target nationwide.

Podcast Episode Notes

[00:01:20] Can you tell us the story of the delivery truck?

[00:04:35] What's the difference between who you were then and now as a founder?

[00:05:27] What is Pop & Bottle? 

[00:06:11] What was the problem that you set out to solve by starting this company?

[00:08:49] What was it like to essentially build a brand new market and what steps did you take to ensure that there were going to be customers for your product?

[00:13:20] What do you mean when you say white space?

[00:16:28] How did you find your customers and get that feedback?

[00:20:40] What was in the reports you were getting from grocery stores and how segmented was the data? 

[00:23:05] What data were you looking to pull from these end user conversations? 

[00:24:47] How do you identify people as a super user?

[00:25:44] How do you determine the feedback to take and the feedback to ignore? 

[00:29:13] What is the one question founders should be asking their end users? 

[00:30:42] What's your experience with fundraising been?

[00:35:22] What are you putting into emails with investors you are interested in partnering with? 

[00:38:40] What is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

[00:40:24] What is next for Pop & Bottle?

[00:42:43] Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Pop & Bottle?

Full Interview Transcript

Ethan Peyton: Hey everybody and welcome to the Startups Avant podcast. I'm your host, Ethan, and this is a show about the stories, challenges, and triumphs of fast scaling startups and the founders who run them. Our guest on the show today is Jash Mehta. Jash is the co-founder of Pop and Bottle, a company that makes organic, ready to drink lattes. You can find them on the shelves of Lil' Momma and Pop shops like Sprouts, Wegmans, Walmart, and Whole Foods. Now, we're gonna get into what Poppin' Bottle is all about here in a few minutes, but before we do, I wanna remind everyone that we are, I'm gonna try that again. Now, we're gonna get into what Poppin' Bottle is all about here in a few minutes, but before we do, I wanna remind everyone to hit that subscribe button right there in your podcast app. It's a great way to help us grow the show, and guess what? Doesn't cost you a dime. And if you do, we appreciate your support. Alright, now that I've paid the bills, let's dive on in with Jash of Poppin' Bottle. Jash, thanks for joining me today.

Jash Mehta: Hi Ethan, thank you so much for having me.

Ethan Peyton: All right, I wanna get straight into something that I heard that is of great interest to me. Now, this is something about a truck on a highway. And I don't know the details of what happened here, but if my instincts are correct, this is one of those situations that really highlights what it truly looks like to be a founder. So can you tell us the story of the delivery truck?

Jash Mehta: Yes, and I want to start by saying that nobody was hurt in this episode, which is why I can tell the story with a smile on my face.

Ethan Peyton: Oh gosh, what a lead in.

Jash Mehta: Yes, yes. Yeah, so I think in the first maybe 18 months of operating our business, so pretty early in our journey, I got a call, early morning call from our delivery driver and his... His routine was to drive from San Francisco, which is where our production facility happened, to another facility in Sacramento with a truck full of product. And I got an early morning call, basically saying there was a problem with the truck and the truck was on fire. And I honestly thought that he was joking. I thought that he was, I thought it was a prank. And so I kind of laughed and was like, ah, that's hilarious, get back to work, talk to you later. And then I look at my text messages, my phone bars, my text messages, and it's a picture of our beautiful black branded pop-and-bottle vehicle delivery truck, a refrigerated delivery truck, basically on the side of the highway with flames and smoke engulfed in flames. And I could just see...

Ethan Peyton: Jeez.

Jash Mehta: I could just see our pop and bottle logo, which was this white logo penned on this black truck. And I could see between the flames and between the smoke, our logo up in flames, literally. And it was one of those moments where I was like, I have no skills for this. I have no idea what to do. I'm completely incapacitated. I don't know what to tell my colleague. I literally was frozen. And there was something almost eerie about seeing your brand literally up in flames. I was like, well, this is the universe telling me that the road ends here. 

Ethan Peyton: Oh man.

Jash Mehta: And we'd taken so much pride in acquiring this van that we got branded. It felt like, oh, we really have a business now. Here we are. And it just reminded you that this game is really unpredictable. Everything was okay. We lost about a vehicle full of product. We had to go through a crazy insurance claim. I learned a lot of new skills as a result. And I layered up on another layer of thick skin. But like I said, everyone was safe. Everything was fine. And yeah, it was one of those moments where I learned that. Wild things are going to happen on this journey and you just have to pick yourself up and keep going the next day.

Ethan Peyton: So people talk about, you know, letting fires burn and that there are always going to be fires burning in your business. And I'm not a hundred percent for sure that this is what they had in mind.

Jash Mehta: Hopefully not.

Ethan Peyton: So let's say now you get that same call, hey, the truck's on fire. What do you do now? What's the difference between who you were then as a founder and who you are now as a founder?

Jash Mehta: I think honestly the only difference is that I've built up so much resilience as is my co-founder, as is our team. So what would have been a panic back then and a moment of immobility would now be, oh, okay. Let's handle it onto the next thing. It's just, we've been through so many reps, you know, luckily not any other fires, but we've been through so many reps of this in different versions that you really do build up a lot of resilience.

Ethan Peyton: Right, like call the police, then stand back and take a video so that we can so that we can learn something from this.

Jash Mehta: Yeah. Memorialize this somehow. There's some learning here.

Ethan Peyton: There you go. All right, so let's circle back to the beginning then. I gave a short description of pop and bottle in the intro, but I'm sure you'll do a lot better job. What is Pop and Bottle?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, so pop and bottle is in its simplest form a healthful way to experience your daily coffee or daily tea. We create dairy free, organic lattes and coffee drinks with no refined sugar, really thoughtful ingredients, thoughtful packaging. beautifully packaged and we create flavors that are unique and that are really aligned with our customers.

Ethan Peyton: So this may sound like an odd question, because it's a beverage, it's coffee. But I'm sure it goes deeper than that. So here's the question. What was the problem that you set out to solve by starting this company?

Jash Mehta: Yeah. So it goes back a little bit to our founding story, my co-founder and I, we were on this wellness journey kind of personally, you know, back when we were thinking about starting this business. where we were really trying to experiment with a plant-based diet. We were removing dairy from our diet. We were trying to remove added sugars and refined sugars. We were adding functional ingredients. And really we're just on this kind of personal wellness experiment. And one of the core tenets was that was removing dairy and was removing adding sugar. When it came to and at the same time, we loved coffee and tea. We loved to meet up for our daily ritual, get our daily latte. It was something that we genuinely looked forward to and felt like a little respite in the day, a little treat, a little thing that gets you going in the morning. And we were also busy people. 

So having something on the go that was easy to access, that you could grab when you went to a grocery store, that's something that we were looking for. And the little aha moment for us was, we were trying to really promote wellness in every aspect of our diet and every aspect of our life. But this daily ritual, this daily latte that we look forward to every day, and we do it every day no matter what, didn't really fit the goals of what we're trying to do in every other part of our day in terms of our diet. And so the problem that we were really trying to solve is, can you, you know, could we marry this ritual, this daily delicious ritual with our wellness goals? And could we still end up with a really delicious product at the end of the day, where you wouldn't really feel like you had to make a sacrifice? You could have something tasty and rewarding and ritualistic, but that also met your personal wellness goal.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, I guess getting together every afternoon and having a nice glass of water doesn't quite have the same bite to it. 

Jash Mehta: Yeah, lots of power to you if it does, but no, for us it did not.

Ethan Peyton: Oh yeah. All right, so we're talking about a product that's fairly common now, ready to drink plant-based lattes. But when you started in 2015, it was crickets, which some people would see as being great, no competition. But others might look at this product and say that you're going into a completely unproven market. So what was it like to essentially build a brand new market and what steps did you take to ensure that there were going to be customers for your product?

Jash Mehta: Yeah. So I'm not saying that we did this in the... perfect order, but we got there eventually. And I think there's some learning that I'm happy to share. You know, we started this, this brand and this product from pure personal passion. I didn't have a food background or beverage background. Neither did my co-founder. And so it was, you know, it was all passion and not a lot of experience. 

Yeah, I think that probably helped us jump in, in the end, but our thesis to begin with was if we create a product that we really enjoy and that fits a use occasion in our life, then it probably fits a use occasion in other people's lives. But that was the hypothesis. That's what we had to test. That's all we knew to begin with. 

So we actually started really slow. We, one, needed to do that learning, but two, we didn't have, had we been from beverage background, I think we'd have known all the shortcuts to how to scale very quickly. We didn't know that from licensing to production to regulation. We really didn't know any of it. We had a steep gliding curve ahead of us and we needed to kind of take it at the pace that allowed us to bridge that skill gap. 

So that hypothesis started with, we like it. We think others will like it. As we started to test the market, get products onto shelf we stayed really close to our customer and our customer in this case is twofold. It's the grocery store decision maker, owner, buyer, whoever that is. And it's the end customer who's actually using the product. And, you know, it's hard to get when you're transacting through a grocery store, it's hard to get end user feedback, but it's absolutely possible to get grocery level feedback. 

So we stayed really close to our grocery customers. We would do deliveries ourselves. And when we delivered, we would check in with them. What was the feedback? How's it selling? How's the price point? And, you know, it started to work. It started to move. We'd get reorders, the reorders would increase. So we started to get a little bit of early feedback that it was working. We didn't exactly know why. We didn't exactly know this is the customer that's buying the product, this is the user case, and this is the white space. But we knew that something was clicking. 

And really what happened is we ended up kind of backwards figuring out, backtracking and figuring out, okay, what is the white space that we're filling? Ultimately, we learned that our hypothesis was kind of correct. Our anchor customer is this, you know, generally female, not always, but you know, that they're usually the anchor customer. Obviously lots of people consume the product. 

But this wellness focused, younger person who is looking at the coffee shelf and doesn't want hyper caffeination. They want moderate amounts of caffeine. They sometimes want their latte in a coffee form. They sometimes like their latte in a tea form. They don't want lots of sugar but they still want a treat. They still want it to fulfill that treat, that ritual, and they want to be able to consume it every day without the guilt factor. 

And so only after getting lots of distribution points, we kind of reverse engineered that, oh yeah, this is the white space that we're in. And once we figured that out, and it took us a little bit to get there, but once we figured that out, we really turned that knowledge into a super flower of sorts. It was a realization that, oh, we're really clear on who we're serving, how they're consuming it, and why they're buying it. How can we take that knowledge and really lean in and be really niche in a lot of ways in terms of we're not trying to do everything for everyone, but we're trying to do this one thing really well for this subset of customers who is a really meaningful and really powerful customer.

Ethan Peyton: So this, you've used this term a couple of times now, white space and finding the white space that you're in. Is this the understanding of the customer on an extremely deep level or is this kind of like filling a pocket of the market that hasn't been filled? What do you mean when you say white space?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, it's a little bit of both. So if you looked at went to the grocery store and you looked at the coffee section, you looked at the bottled or can coffee section, at the time and still to an extent today, you would see lots of brown, lots of black, lots of messaging like triple shot, double shot, 2x caffeine, energy, bold, and the whole market in this section, while coffee is so broad, so widely penetrated, lots of exciting brands and lots of products in this space, it was actually kind of astounding that there was this giant gap. 

A beautiful brand that is inviting and accessible. So we use pastel, very intentional colors to communicate the delightfulness of the product. We don't talk about caffeination in any extreme way. Our product is one cup of coffee in one bottle or in one can. So it's really not about the functionality of the caffeine. It's tea, it's coffee. The point being that when you're having your latte, it's not just about coffee. You might be consuming it just purely for the ritual and that ritual could be tea or it could be actually no caffeine at all. 

And then it's about wellness. And these product attributes just hadn't been applied to this space, even though This was a very prolific, very popular category with lots of different products. So the product was unique, even though it was a busy space and the customer that it aligned with and still aligns with was very specific. So, you know, I guess it's just put it another way. We made a very intentional decision to innovate and produce a product with the values of this very specific customer in mind and that was really the white space.

Ethan Peyton: So it sounds like you kind of started the, or ideated this product, you know, by essentially scratching your own itch. But once you kind of get out of that beginning phase and start collecting feedback from customers, you kind of have to generally move away from, you know, from what you are looking for. 

And I mentioned this in a couple of other podcasts, and we've heard this a couple of different times, is that you can't fall in love with your own product because then you'll be deaf to that feedback because you think that what you have is what everybody wants, even if that's not what they're saying. And so it sounds like you did a really good job of that by going to these customers and getting the feedback. So I wanna double click on that a little bit. What did those communications look like? How did you find the people that were purchasing your product and how did you, what were the mediums in which you communicated with them to get their true feedback on your product?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, that's a good question. And like you said, this is really difficult and it's a really fine line because you need a little bit of, well, you need a lot of belief to put a product out into the market, to invest in it, to put energy behind it. You have to believe that it's going to work. And when you're creating something new, the most likely answer that you're going to get from people is no. So you have to have a lot of faith in that situation that no, no, my hunch is right, or the research I've done is right, or I'm creating something different, but there will be a market for it. Whatever it is. 

But then once you get your, you know, your product, whether it's your minimal viable or not, when you get that product out into the market, You have to then let go of that ego and make sure that you're being pretty intellectually honest about how it is being perceived in the market. And for us, we bought a selection of products in the market and then we expanded over time. We made the decision that these core three seem very safe and familiar relative to what we're doing. And are very likely to be successful versus these other two, which actually if the three work, we can add these two later. 

So, you know, it was balancing that risk. But how did we do it? And how did we get the data back from customers? You know, one thing is we did take it slow. So, we were very proactive in asking for data from grocery stores. They don't necessarily… It's not a two way communication necessarily. You sell your product to a distributor oftentimes, and the distributor then sells it to the grocery store. 

So in those early days, we were working directly with grocery stores, but now we're working with a middle distributor. So we have to be really proactive with keeping that communication two-sided and keeping that relationship, like owning a lot of that relationship, and then really proactively asking for reports. At the end of the day, when you distribute through a distributor, through a grocery store, it is really difficult to get direct communication from your customer unless they proactively write to you or, you know, you proactively seek it out. But they will vote with their dollars.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Jash Mehta: And we looked at those, we looked at those reports really carefully. As much as someone would give us a sales report, we analyzed it. And then as we got a little bit bigger and we were able to afford it, we started to buy aggregated market data. 

Ethan Peyton: Okay.

Jash Mehta: So this would report on our own sales. It might also report on other brands in the space. It might also aggregate up to category level data so that we could really understand, okay, how are we growing? What's our distribution relative to others? What are our in-store velocity rates relative to others? Like, you know, we sell five, how much do they sell, for example. So you could really start to benchmark what success looks like and also, you know, how you are growing, how you are doing. To this day, we really rely on that data as we go into new markets, as we go into new regions, new geographies. We analyze that data really heavily and we try and take action. 

We make a lot of decisions based on data like that. What products to add, what products maybe to discontinue if they're not doing super well. So it's a constant iteration, a constant learning. So that was a really important kind of channel. And then the last one is, we use social media. And we used any and all communication through our website, through customers directly, through our direct to consumer channels. As much as we could use those as a direct sounding board or a direct line of communication with the end customer, we really made sure that we were looking at that, that communication carefully and trying to synthesize it into some insights. And again, we still do that today.

Ethan Peyton: So when you were in those early days, before you were buying the kind of aggregated reports that showed…

Jash Mehta: Mm hmm.

Ethan Peyton: …your brand versus other brands, what were in those reports that you were getting from the stores? And were those on like a store by store, like location by location basis, or was it all of X grocery store, here is the data for all of their locations?

Jash Mehta: Yeah. So it's, it's really hot mess. It's not one simple…

Ethan Peyton: Ha ha.

Jash Mehta: You know, here's a report that everyone uses and you can crunch it easily. You know, it's an independent store might have their own POS system and they'll kindly give you some data based on that system, which is really valuable in those early days. And we partnered with a bunch of independents who really worked with us on some of that insight. I remember actually one of our, there's a great health food store in San Francisco. It was one of our first stores that we ever launched in. Really wonderful buying team who genuinely was very motivated to just help local producers and natural products succeed. And I literally had, I went into the store and had a conversation with him and said, can you give us some data from your system? Because I have an investor meeting and I need to put something together. And he literally printed out data of our sales from his POS system on sheets and…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Jash Mehta: …kind of handed me these like physical sheets. So I mean, that was like one example. Others would have other forms, but, and some would say, no, you know, it was, it was a mixed bag. So at the independent level, it was really a variety and we took what we could get. As we move into more of the chain store level, for example, Whole Foods or someone of that nature, again, it depends, but some of them have portal data where you can see and you can go in and download various cuts of your, your, your brand's performance.

Ethan Peyton: Oh man, that would be cool. I'm a data nerd. So that sounds fun. Like, hey, just give me everything and let me synthesize it the way I want.

Jash Mehta: Yeah, no, it was super helpful.

Ethan Peyton: So speaking of one-off data, let's then go to those final customers, those end user conversations that you were having. What did those conversations look like? I mean, were you just asking them if they would they would like the, if they liked the product, if they were gonna buy it again, were you kind of trying to put together like an NPS Net Promoter Score, or what was the data that you were looking for specifically from those end users that you were contacting via social media and those sorts of mediums?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, I think it was really a mix. Sometimes it'd be customers that would write in and offer ideas of what they'd like to see from us or suggestions on improvement or things that, you know, they were hoping for, you know, qualitative data, which we didn't discount, it was all helpful…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Jash Mehta: …to see. Sometimes it would be that they would transact on our website and they'd get an automatic email to complete a review or we'd encourage them to complete a review by offering a discount on really wanted to make sure that we were incentivizing feedback and reviews. So that was also fantastic to get. And then over time, depending on if we were launching a new product, we needed something really specific or we were testing some branding terminology and we wanted to know, does this resonate, do you understand this? Then we would take a nuanced approach depending on what that was. 

So, you know, we… In one instance, we put together this grassroots Google form with a bunch of questions, and we emailed it out to kind of our DTC super users to, and again, get offered them a discount code on the next purchase if they would complete the form. Really trying to find ways that were not too expensive to elicit 2,000 responses or even 200 responses in some cases. But if customers that we were really aligned with and that really liked our brand, that we could therefore rely on for some engaged feedback.

Ethan Peyton: How do you identify people as a super user?

Jash Mehta: So we have a small direct consumer presence. And so it's as simple as if this person has bought from us with this frequency, they're…

Ethan Peyton: Oh, that makes sense.

Jash Mehta: …a repeat customer, they're engaged with the brand, and they'd be a good person to bring into our feedback channel.

Ethan Peyton: Gotcha. Gotcha. That, that totally, that totally makes sense. It's like, if this person buys three cases a week, maybe they have maybe their opinion is weighted just a little higher than someone else's. But no, let's, let's actually talk about, about ideas waiting for just a second in that not all, you know, advice or suggestions is, is good. And, we definitely shouldn't take it all. And as a founder, if you put the vibe out there that you're open for advice, you're gonna get it. So how do you suss out which pieces of advice are proper to take and which are just kind of like noise in the signal?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, it's a great question and I think that the best measure of advice that I kind of have in terms of my internal metric is, is the advice specific to the individual or not? Because we've had lots of advice along the way of someone who might experience a product in a very specific way or who is really interested in yoga and therefore thinks that yoga is a great market for distribution for this product. When it's very personal leaning advice or based on kind of their unique life preferences or whatever it is  we would typically discount it  or at least question it, but if it's very clear data driven advice then we would take it more seriously. 

And we've had, you know, excerpts of both along the way. The other part of it is, and this is a little bit intuitive, so I don't know how to even describe fully how to do this, but over time, one thing that has happened with me and with our team is a little bit of muscle memory. I think in the beginning, when you're putting a product into the universe and you have no path ahead of you, you don't know what it looks like, you don't know, it's just such a gamble in so many ways. Even if you take really measured steps, it's still a gamble. You do have to have... a little bit of just Dutch courage to put it out there, as long as you're willing to iterate quickly. 

And it's important not to lose that because when you're doing something innovative, there is really no path ahead of you. You don't really know what it looks like. So your intuition coupled with a good team and all the things, that really kind of gets the ball rolling. But after that point, it's really important to look at the data and get the customer feedback, and it's making that judgment call constantly. And that's, and still to this day, that's what we're doing because we don't always know that just because this historical product was a success doesn't necessarily mean that the next product we're going to put out is a success, and we're making that evaluation again and again.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so I feel like I wanna mine your brain for one more piece of customer advice, or excuse me, customer feedback piece of advice, because it seems like this is truly, truly something that you are, you know, excellent, excellent at. So scenario is, let's say I am a founder of a new CPG brand, a consumable, something similar to the product that you've got. And I have the ability to get one question into the inboxes of my end users. And I want to be able to take the answers, the insight from this one question to make the most effective judgments and changes in my business. What is that one question that I'm asking these users?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, gosh, that's a great question. I definitely want to think about it more, probably come up with something better over time, but I, I would say one thing that comes to mind, especially if you're, if I'm asking a super user of the product is already consuming it day in, day out. I'd probably ask them, I mean, if I'm allowed two questions, I'd probably ask them, what's one other product that we could develop for you that you'd be interested in us doing so, because I'm, my mind is always thinking about innovation. We try to be innovative. We try to also really closely align with customers. And so, that's really, really helpful feedback, you know, as we think about that internally. And I think the second, especially for someone who's using it very frequently is, if you could make one change to the product or one improvement to the product, what would it be? 

Ethan Peyton: Those are excellent.

Jash Mehta: Because sometimes yeah, and sometimes even within one succinct demographic, it is pretty surprising how much variation there is in terms of preference, in terms of use occasion, in terms of where they are, where they use your product or yeah, it's always surprising. There's always learning.

Ethan Peyton: I ask for one question and I get a bonus. Thank you for that.

Jash Mehta: You're welcome.

Ethan Peyton: Let's move on to funding. Let's move on to funding. You all have raised three rounds and it seems like you've also been very successful in your fundraising. Can you give us a little bit of insight on what your fundraising experience has been? And I know that's real vague, so I'm gonna talk a little bit while you... Maybe chew on an answer. But you know, maybe since it was 2015, and that was quite some time ago at this point, maybe how the tides have changed and seeing what the differences are. But yeah, let me just go back to the basic question of what's your experience with fundraising been?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, I'll start by saying that I was completely new to fundraising when we started this journey. I hadn't fundraised before, I had no experience, I didn't have a network, I was really a fish out of water. And so I've learned a lot in the years that we've been doing this. I'm still learning, like you said, the environment's changing. The type of investors that we were going to in the early days, it's a very different cohort of investors that I'm going to now. 

So, again, it's still a constant learning curve, but I think a couple of threads that have retained, you know, that I've retained of, you know, best practices or, you know, call it what you may and I learned this the hard way, to be honest, is you're really fundraising all the time. I thought that fundraising was this distinct period of time when you're actively fundraising and you put it, put a deck together and you go out and you have meetings and you pitch and you do the whole thing. I kind of time box it to, okay, we need, we need capital at this time period, okay, six months before that, I'm going to start fundraising or three months before that, I'm going to start fundraising. 

The reality is that you're fundraising all the time. So, it might be inactive, you know, you might be relationship building, networking, keeping people that you're interested in updated on how you're doing, meeting them, establishing trust, providing information, letting them watch your brand, all the things, but some amount of cultivation should be happening, um, really year round. And then, you know, there's the active part of the journey. And at that point, if you do a really good job in the cultivation and the networking in that pre step. Then your active fundraising is so much easier, so much shorter, and more pain-free. 

I've been through a few rounds of this where I didn't understand that. And I understand that now. And one thing that leads to successful fundraise for a founder and for a founding team is having choice. If you create a choice for your brand, you know, you're going to have better terms, you're going to have different investors, some that you align with, some that you don't. It's going to be more brand aligned. It's going to feel better for so many reasons. When you're doing it up against time, you don't have a lot of choice. That can lead to some really difficult outcomes. And so the earlier you do it, the more thoughtful you are on who is the type of person or type of institution, whatever it is, that is it the right partner for your company. the more proactive you are about that, it just leads to so much of a better outcome. And it's really hard to do that when you're fighting fires…

Ethan Peyton: Literally.

Jash Mehta: …and doing all sorts of things, literally, yeah. So my one advice with fundraising is carve out time for it all the time and be really, really clear on who you wanna work with, how quickly you wanna scale. That's another thing that can be really misaligned. And investor expectations of how quickly you're gonna grow and when you're gonna exit, if that's the plan. That needs to be really, really closely aligned with you as a founder and what your expectations are, because misalignment in that department can lead to some pretty difficult conversations.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so you mentioned that when you're kind of in the off season of you're not currently in a round, but you're keeping tabs with investors and with your network and just making sure that you're never completely off the stove, but you're just kind of on a back burner. But I think that that can be really difficult for people because it's... It can be tough to know what to put in an email that doesn't feel like it's, “hey, look at me, look at me, I'm doing awesome.” But it's also not, you know, just like crickets or feeling like you have to reach out, but you don't have anything to say. I don't think anybody wants to receive that email and I sure as heck don't wanna send that email. So can you give us a little bit of insight into maybe what you were putting in your emails that were going out to these investors or other folks that while you were in the off season.

Jash Mehta: Yeah, I think it can feel a little awkward. And for someone who's never done it before, you know, I think that you kind of have to shed a little bit of that. feeling and know that a good investor who is in the industry of investing will welcome that information and that is stuff that they want to see. You're not interrupting their lives by providing that. 

So I think just the mental mindset needs to be that I'm proactively giving you great information about my brand and my company and you actively want that information and this is good for both of us. So I would say like there's one thing about the mindset there. And again, you know, learn that didn't necessarily do that instinctively. 

The second is you know, this, the thought, you know, the form of communication or what it is, what the content I should say, if it's communication. Again, depends on what you do and what you make and what you're measuring, but that can be a really awesome PR article.That was, you know, if you've got a great PR hit, someone wrote about your brand. That stuff is always fun to share because investors, like, you know, it's human behavior. They want external validation. 

As much as they want to see all the internal things are working, they want to see the external things too. So hitting them with a little bit of internal and a little bit of external, like that is a good story that you're building. So a PR mention, that's always fun. You know, in the branding marketing world, if you've got any awards for packaging for a product, notable industry awards, we've had a few of them over time. That is again, a great external validation and can be nice to share. 

Internally, a really exciting win for us and, you know, a really exciting sales win, when we found out that we were going to go into all Whole Foods in the country. When we got an opportunity at Walmart and things that were really exciting and also meant that there was going to be a really exciting shift up in the brand trajectory, we would share those types of things. And then like I said, the aggregated data and all of the forms of data that we collect, we monitor those and we track those quarterly and we put together reports and we still do today. And from time to time when it made sense, we would share some of that stuff as well.

Ethan Peyton: I think that is sage wisdom and my initial thinking was, oh, well, what if we don't have any of those things? But you know what, founders out there, if you don't have any of those things and you're not currently fundraising, maybe you should go create some of those things. Go get a win, go get something that's worth sharing.

Jash Mehta: And sometimes it can be really small. You know, those printouts from that one grocery store, you know, that was, that was for an investor. So even though It wasn't big by any measure. It was big for us at the time. And it was, you know, another set of data that was helpful.

Ethan Peyton: All right, Jash, let's move into my favorite question on every interview. What is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

Jash Mehta: My number one piece of advice is really about team building. And again, I've learned a lot about this over time. I wasn't a natural recruiter of people. I've learned how to be. But yeah, my number one piece of advice is to be really picky with the people you bring along on the journey. Really clear on their role or what they'll be adding to the company and not let at various points of our business, you know, I've just needed support. 

And so having the right team around me, that can be the difference mentally between being really excited to go up, get up and go the next day to, um, really feeling deflated and not knowing how to move forward. So the team really is a huge part of what motivates me to keep building this brand. And I think it's really, really important to be really wise and detailed about how to build that team, who bring on the journey and, you know, make sure that they're long term minded people who are going to be with you through the ups and downs.

Like I said at the beginning, number one piece of advice that I fully believe in is when it comes to hiring, if you are not jumping up and down saying, yes, I need to work with this person, this is a hell yes, then you shouldn't work with that person and it should be a hell no.

Ethan Peyton: Excellent advice. Very clear. 

Jash Mehta: Thank you.

Ethan Peyton: What is next for Pop & Bottle? What are we going to see in the next few months?

Jash Mehta: Oh, yeah. We're at this exciting phase of our business where we have a good foundation of distribution, which we're, you know, it's really exciting. We've worked for years to be in these big grocery stores across the country, and it's really exciting to have our product in the hands of all these customers in places that we, you know, starting in this small way in this localized geography in San Francisco, I never once imagined. So it's making sure that we are really doing a good job and executing on all that business, that our sales are strong, that our partnerships are good. You know, that's the stuff that needs to happen always. And that's the stuff that we're really focused on. 

But as I look forward and kind of the vision for the future, we are in this really exciting category of beverage, of tea, of coffee. There's lots of innovation happening. And we started out with this very clear. kind of idea that we just wanted to make lattes. And as that started to work, we started to expand broadly and say, okay, well now we're gonna make cold brew coffee, we're gonna make concentrated coffee. And that's just kind of this tipping point of how people can experience our brand. 

One thing that was interesting in the pandemic was that people were less on the go, of course, so they were consuming a little less ready to drink and a lot more. make your own coffee at home or buying a multi-serve and you can have it over the course of a week. And so for us, we wanted to make sure we could serve that customer, you know, our same customer, but in a different use occasion because they're experiencing it in a different way. So innovation is just kind of a piece that I continue to think about, our team continues to think about as we move into more markets as innovation happens in our category. So yeah, you'll hopefully see some exciting new products for us in the not too distant future. and we hope to also be in more markets and more geographies very soon too.

Ethan Peyton: All right, well, I'm gonna keep my eyes on those shelves for the nice pop and bottle logo. And I hope everyone else does too. Jash, this has been a lot of fun. I just have one more question for you. 

Jash Mehta: Yes.

Ethan Peyton: And that is, where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support pop and bottle?

Jash Mehta: Yeah, well best way is either through our website or through our Instagram, those would be kind of the two areas we're most active. And yeah, we, like I said, customer feedback, it's really, really important to us. So we respond to everything. We love ideas. If you have thoughts on what product you want to see from us next or things we could improve on, yeah, we're eager for all of that. So appreciate that.

Ethan Peyton: All right, we are gonna put all of those links and everything you heard today in the show notes over at slash podcast. And that is gonna be it though for today's episode. Josh, thank you for stopping by. We really appreciate you.

Jash Mehta: Thank you so much, Ethan.

Ethan Peyton: Alright that’s going to be it for this week’s episode of the Startup Savant podcast. Thanks for listening in! Hey before you move onto the next episode, could you do me a favor? We’re in a challenge to get 100 reviews before episode 100. So if you could go ahead and jump into Apple Podcasts or Spotify and leave a rating or review, that’d be great.

That’s my best Bill Lumberg. I hope you like it. And if you don’t get that reference, go watch the 1999 cult classic film: Office Space. 20th Century Fox, that ad’s on us. You're welcome. But yeah, leave us a review - that was the point I was trying to make. 

Catch us again next Wednesday morning with another excellent episode of the Startup Savant Podcast. And until then, go build something beautiful.

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