Couplet Coffee, which sells both coffee beans and coffee-related products online, is only a few months old and is trying to enter the market with a bang.
Currently, it is available online as well as at select partners such as Lotto.com’s Players Cafe. Founder and CEO Gefen Skolnick joined the Modern Retail podcast this week and spoke about the launch.
“Couplet was my side project in college,” Skolnick said. “I’ve just been obsessed with coffee for over ten years now.”
Over the past year, however, Skolnick has been experimenting to see if the brand could become a viable business. Much of this has been achieved via limited-edition drops, as well as one-time retail partnerships at pop-ups like a recent Bumble-sponsored NYC cafe. At first, Couplet’s landing page was a simple fund deposit site that sold a small amount (say, 30) of limited-edition bags of coffee beans or products like French presses. Those drops sold out quickly — thanks in large part, Skolnick says, to social media buzz — giving the brand more credibility.
Now, Couplet is trying to take things to a new level. Although it still has small-scale partnerships with artists and releases limited-edition products, the brand is also trying to grow its permanent presence. It is currently in 17 retail stores nationwide. In addition to its online offerings, which went live earlier this year, Couplet is opening more than 20 coffee cart locations at Players Cafe. Skolnick said more expansion announcements are on the horizon.
The growth of this type of business was new ground for Skolnick. Although she is only in her twenties, over the past few years Skolnick has worked in a variety of roles, from software engineering to DTC marketing to investing. But, she hadn’t really looked into coffee before. Skolnick therefore developed his network to better understand space.
“I’ve spent the last year… understanding how operations work, understanding how DTC brands do what they do, understanding how coffee companies do what they do, and building an ecosystem of advisors and investors who could help me figure it out,” Skolnick mentioned. All of this helped Skolnick raise seed funding in 2021.
That education isn’t complete now that the Couplet has officially launched, but the plan is to continue to grow the business. As Skolnick seeks more partnerships between coffeeshops and retailers, she also hopes to grow the product line and keep Couplet true to its roots.
Even with the growing number of external partnerships, Skolnick said, “first and foremost we are a DTC brand.”
Here are some highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Trying to build a new kind of coffee business
“I felt like a lot of people would start the same coffee business over and over. They would probably open stores – probably one to start – they would end up roasting their own beans. There are many situations of micro-roasting, small local batches – that kind of vibe. And then…all the packaging would look the same for different brands. A lot of people I’ve met in the coffee community – not the coffee community – have never had real brand affinity. So there’s the community that was missing; there’s the brand that was missing; going fully really DTC was missing, in my opinion. Some people did it really well. But it was still a niche craft so high-end that the target demo was always very small. [it was about] make it more for everyone.
How Skolnick pivoted the concept
“When I first launched Couplet, I almost wanted to keep it as a tech company. The first thing I thought the world needed was a Stitch Fix for coffee, kind of like an iteration on Misto Box. And I lost the passion for it pretty quickly. I was just like, no, I think I really want to build something that’s going to be a lot harder for me to build – which is a whole new brand that sees the light of day. And I think I can do that because I understand what’s missing. And I’ve interviewed at least a couple hundred people – being just one person who’s been interested in [coffee] over the years. I think I have something to work with to kick this off. I have a deep understanding of marketing, as I only work for consumer brands (I’ve never worked in a Saas company). So that’s what I immediately pivoted to: okay, cool, we’re going to be a coffee brand. »
Focus on TikTok to drive traffic
“I put a lot of my eggs into content because we’ve always been really good at content. We’ve been viral on TikTok multiple times, and it was just my face until about two weeks ago. It’s just my face on the TikTok. So I hire several people in video and content creation to help us figure out what it looks like to become a real source of traffic. Because a lot of my traffic comes from TikTok in general. With limited drops, TikTok and Twitter [drove a lot of traffic]. I didn’t put much effort into Instagram. So we don’t go the typical route of Instagram ads. We’re definitely doing some testing there. But as a super small business that only raised an angel tower last year, we’re certainly trying to get really smart about meaningful and profitable ways to get traffic.