In August last year we launched The Weekly Review’s Startup Stars initiative to find and celebrate Melbourne’s most exciting budding entrepreneurs.
With Startup Stars 2017 set to kick off on June 19 with a prize worth $10,000 for the city’s best startup, we thought it would be a good idea to check in on last year’s winners Pod & Parcel to see how they’re going.
We caught up with founders Elliott Haralambous, Ben Goodman and Jai Felinski at the launch of their 100% biodegradable coffee pods and collaboration with award-winning coffee roaster and social enterprise, STREAT.
TWR: So, it’s been nine months since we’ve seen you. What is the best thing that’s happened as a result of winning Startup Stars?
Elliott: One of the most important we’ve found from Startup Stars was that our product really resonated with a Melbourne and Australian customer. When we started and when we came to Startup Stars we were very much a fledgeling business, finding our feet, but in the nine months since then, we’ve had validation from numerous fronts, we’ve brought on new partners and we started to realise who our customer was. At the start we had no idea who they were and now we’ve very much validated that over time. Startup Stars was a pivotal moment in that because we started to understand that a) our product was aligned with the people that buy it and b) they kept coming back. We’ve built on those successes to, kind of, get where we are nine months later.
Ben: Everyone knows The Weekly Review, so, actually winning that (Startup Stars) and getting that exposure gave us clout. From when we were speaking to new roasters, new suppliers, new customers looking on our websites – it gave that immediate validation that, oh, okay, they’re a real business. They know what they’re doing. They’ve usually seen us before and yeah, really building on what Elliot said, that again helps us really find our target market. Which as been super-important.
TWR: Did you find that increased exposure, came in from the voting stage or was it just after you won?
Ben: It was both. Before, through the social media, through the social push of The Weekly Review, certainly we had a lot more views to the website, a lot more eyeballs on us. That was something that we could leverage within our own social networks as well.
Elliott: I’ll also stress that for any other small business out there, going on a Programme like Startup Stars is of instrumental value because a lot of small businesses get created but the validation from actually having, you know, city-wide press, is huge. People go from hearing about your product to knowing that it is a real product and that it’s there to stay. It’s not a side project. So, I’d stress to anyone who’s thinking about entering the Startup Stars to really, really, give it a red hot crack.
Ben: The tangible outcome for us was actually the monetary reward as well as the extra sales – helped us build the capital to partner with new suppliers, new roasters and switch over to biodegradable pods. So for us, it was huge.
TWR: So the Startup Stars prize money helped get you over that next hurdle?
Ben: That money was literally our first run, in January, to purchase the first biodegradable stock, to do the testing. So, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity otherwise, as Elliott mentioned, we were fledgeling – no money. So $5,000 and $ 5,000 advertising goes a long way.
TWR: On a personal level you were all working full-time in jobs, at the time, and now Ben and Jai you’re full-time at Pod & Parcel, how are you finding the change of pace?
Ben: Interesting. A learning curve. But, I think the amount you learn through running your own business completely outweighs, at least for me, being engaged on that front and what I was doing, personally, in a corporate environment. You’re learning skills here that, like how to build a customer funnel, marketing, accounting, everything that goes into a small business. You’re not going to get that exposure if you’re not working on it full-time. You win the award, you get the biodegradable pods, it’s all trickle – flow effect. A waterfall. You have the Streat collaboration, you get the exposure. We have this event tonight.
TWR: Last time we spoke you said your five-year goal was to be the number one specialty coffee pod provider in Australia. Are you still on track, have your plans accelerated?
Jai: It was definitely number one, now we’ve realised that. For sure. Before, it was all guesswork. Our plan was to be the number one. We now know we’re the number one, so we’re trying to keep that position and then grow on it. So, our next steps, it’s definitely changed rapidly but we’ve just moved it further along and expanding a lot more than what we thought we would, nine months ago. So our plan was to hold that position, now it’s to move beyond that position and really spread the word as much as possible. I definitely think we’re moving a lot beyond that and trying to be the best company we can be; which is definitely happening.
TWR: Are you doing many interstate sales?
Jai: About 20 to 30%. We’ve definitely seen it grow a lot, in the last, maybe, three or four months.
TWR: International sales?
Jai: We do a few. We tend to try and hold off on them just because of shipping costs but as soon as we can bring that down, we’re going to open it right up. But, in saying that, we still get people every week e-mailing us about international orders and things like that and if they’re happy to pay for postage, we’ll send it to them. A lot of expats, overseas, who want Melbourne coffee and miss Melbourne coffee, they love it.
Elliott: There’s a funny story. That was one of our very first customers, was a homesick expat living in London who basically said, “I just miss coffee from home so much.” This is, like, customer Number Two. People, I think people underestimate how committed you can be to something like that. I mean, coffee, it’s everywhere but I mean if you come from the city, it’s actually, there’s something more to it. I’m not sure why but there is definitely something more to it.
Jai: There are a lot of people who miss Melbourne coffee, I think that’s a huge, kind of, market for us to move forward – is bringing Melbourne coffee to the world. In an easy way.
TWR: The collaboration with the, Streat, congratulations on that. Any more collaborations in the works? Anything you can reveal?
Ben: Yes, we’ve just signed and sealed another collaboration and it’s with a roastery, in fact, not a café, a roastery in Brunswick called Your Coffee, founded by the guys who have the award winning Industry Beans and Penny Farthing Café. Penny Farthing’s in Northcote. And Industry Beans is in Fitzroy. These guys are called the ‘Café Creating Savants’! They are freaks at what they do. They’re amazing! So we’ve developed two new blends. A decaff and an ultra dark one. And so hope to expand on that. And that is special because it’s the first thing that we’ve tailored. We have designed these coffee pods based on the amount of feedback that we’ve gotten; which is something special. We honestly believe we’ve created the best coffee pod in the market, in terms of taste, in terms of quality and in terms of biodegradability – the environmental impact as well.
Elliott: I think it speaks testament to where this business is going. We’ve gone from having one roaster to having two roasters when we first got engaged with The Weekly Review. To now having six roasters and then, you know, in six months time, I mean, it’s becoming more and more clear that we are the place to go for specialty coffee pods.