Javazen’s three co-founders during a trip to Honduras to visit their farmers: from left, Ryan Schueler, chief relationship officer and director of sales; Aaron Wallach, chief executive and wellness officer; and Eric Golman, chief operations officer and brewmaster. (Photo courtesy of Javazen)

This week,  the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship offer suggestions for giving a jolt to a new coffee start-up.

The entrepreneurs

Eric Golman really got into coffee while working as an intern in Washington, D.C. during his sophomore year of college. He explored the offerings at many different shops, but realized the options were basically limited to a few blends of coffee with different types of milk or flavored syrups. He thought the brew could use some innovation to make it more interesting – perhaps a bit of a healthier twist.

Golman started concocting things in his kitchen, mixing coffee with superfoods and teas. He was testing for taste and how the blends made him feel. He hit a winner with a blend of coffee, matcha green tea, and raw chocolate cacao.  It made him feel so amazing, he wanted to share it with others. He and two friends shared samples with students. It was such a hit that they decided to turn it into a College Park, Md. company, Javazen.

The pitch

Aaron Wallach, chief executive and co-founder

“Javazen is creating a new category of coffee by blending it with teas and superfoods. We take organic ingredients to create new functional blends of dry coffee. You brew them like you would any other ground coffee. Most people use a French press or an automatic drip coffee machine.

“Currently, we distribute to stores in the local D.C. area and we also have a few national accounts that expand our reach beyond this region out West and to the West Coast. Locally we are in about 30 stores, including MOM’s Organic Markets and Yes! Organic Markets. We also sell our blends on our Website at www.DrinkJavazen.com and on Amazon Prime.

“There aren’t many other companies blending coffee and tea. We differentiate ourselves with the addition of the superfoods. Our blends truly taste like a new combination. Consumers really enjoy it – it’s a different take on what a coffee can be.”

Golman, chief operations officer and co-founder

“We are selling three blends: Our Original Blend – a cross between coffee matcha and raw chocolate with a medium bold flavor. Our Boost Blend is a high-energy blend that mixes highly caffeinated yerba mate tea into coffee. We also have a Decaf Blend – a 50-50 blend of decaffeinated coffee and honey bush tea and goji berries.

“We started out sampling our products at farmers’ markets and local stores. Consumer feedback helped us launch the two additional blends.

“Our challenge now is really getting our brand out there. We’ve created a new category within coffees and teas, and people don’t understand our product until they actually try it. But it’s very costly to get out there in front of people to give out samples, spending hours at demos brewing and distributing tastes of Javazen products. We are trying to figure out a more cost-effective way to get people to understand our brand and our products. The demos aren’t scalable for our small team. There has to be something else that we can do along with that strategy.”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

“You are introducing a new product — it’s something very different from your standard daily coffee – so people need to understand when they will use your product. You need to make your own niche in the market.

“Find the ‘foodies’ who are willing to try new products and figure out what they might buy Javazen with. Think about the possibility of bundling it with other products.

“Tasting your Original Blend coffee, I’d classify it almost as a dessert coffee, with its chocolate flavors. As you’ve noted, samplings are labor-intensive, as someone has to brew and pass out tastings of the coffee. Is there a way you could pass out free sample-sized packages of your product that people could take with them? You could bundle your samples with other items that are associated with coffee or pair well with your coffees. Figure out what other purchases your perspective customers would be making and try to bundle those items. For example, Javazen might fit in well as part of a party supply or entertaining purchase. Or perhaps packaged with fine cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, or similar dessert items from other local companies.

“You could also approach the merchandising managers at the local stores that already carry Javazen to see if they can put your packages near dessert foods in the stores, rather than on the shelves with all of the other coffees and teas. This will help get customers in the mindset of when you are supposed to be drinking it.

“You could also go after food or entertaining bloggers to get them to write about your products. This will help build awareness in the market.”

The reaction

Golman

“I really like the idea of bundling Javazen with other products that our target audience is already consuming. Furthermore, your suggestion of moving the product away from the coffee section can definitely help communicate the uniqueness of the product.

“Bloggers and celebrities should be key to building awareness. We recently sent out samples to Dr. Oz. (Dr. Oz, if you see this, give me a call, I’d love to chat).”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.