Year Founded: 2016
Funds Raised: $200,000 and counting
During his sophomore year as a mechanical engineering student at San Diego State University (SDSU), Jake Solomon was deep into his studies at the campus library, a place he frequented. His love for coffee meant Solomon would regularly hit up the library’s BCB Cafe to fuel up for his study sessions. Jack Doheny, a fellow engineering student who worked behind the counter, took a liking to the tie-dye shirts Solomon would wear and gave him free coffee because of it. The two became acquainted and went on to launch Bold Brew in the spring of 2016, a year before graduating from SDSU.
Bold Brew is a Pacific Beach-based natural alternative to energy drinks that meshes the high-caffeine qualities of cold-brewed coffee with the active, health-conscious community. Bold and bright tie-dye packaging and a compact can size makes this portable beverage ideal for trips and treks of all types. Bold Brew is free of sugar, dairy, and preservatives, making it suitable for virtually anyone.
We chatted with the two co-founders about their experience being Aztec entrepreneurs and the strong foundation they were able to build for their business during their time at SDSU.
The Beginning: Solomon and Doheny tapped into their savings to start Bold Brew. “Jake and I both had about $2,000 each saved up from our engineering internships that we started the business with,” Doheny said, adding that they also taught themselves to brew coffee, initially using Solomon’s kitchen by SDSU. “Our official and permitted brewing location was in El Cajon before we moved on to a large scale manufacturer that we use now.”
Fueled by Tech: Although they’re making a beverage, the guys at Bold Brew rely on technology to keep their company going. A local agency they’ve been working with is San Diego-based Jumper Media, which has helped Bold Brew with its Instagram marketing efforts, as well as with creative content creation.
Doheny raves that his new favorite technology is that of San Diego-based Retention Rocket. The up-and-coming marketing platform has been helping Bold Brew with its customer retention efforts, offering an unconventional text message-based strategy. Instead of sending out emails to customers, Bold Brew sends text messages to keep fans in the loop.
“We’ve already been seeing a lot of positive results with that. We want to not only acquire new customers through our site but also make sure that we’re keeping customers engaged with us,” Doheny said. The duo is using numbers to their advantage, recognizing that text message open rates are usually about 95%, whereas average open rates for email are around 10%.
On the production side of things, the Loring Roaster is one piece of technology that has helped Bold Brew refine its coffee-making process. The roaster “maps out the temperatures and the roasting curve of the coffee on a computer,” explains Solomon, adding that this allows the company to maintain consistency throughout the many batches of coffee.
Brewmance: A better story couldn’t be written about how the Bold Brew guys became friends. “This guy working behind the counter at the coffee stand would always give me a free cup of coffee because I was always wearing tie-dye t-shirts. Every time I would see him, he would say ‘Yo man, nice shirt! Here’s a free cup of coffee,’” Solomon said. He and Doheny also had mutual friends and were in the same engineering class. “He was the only one giving me credit for my t-shirts,” Solomon joked. Meeting at an on-campus coffee shop and bonding over their love for coffee, tie-dye, and action sports is the kind of “brewmance” people write books about.
Entrepreneurial Interest: “I stumbled into entrepreneurship at San Diego State,” said Doheny, who got involved with the Lavin Entrepreneurship Program, a two-year curriculum designed to provide students the resources needed to design, pitch, and pivot their business ideas. It was there that Doheny learned about business fundamentals and entrepreneurship. “I owe it all to the Lavin program,” he said.
When asked what drove him to pursue entrepreneurship, Solomon said, “I was inspired by Jack. At the time, right before we started Bold Brew, Jack got me involved in student government.”
It was through that involvement that Solomon was asked about his five-year plan and realized that his vision of the future was a bit foggy. “I was going to school for engineering but I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer. And Jack seemed to have it all figured out,” he said. Doheny already knew he wanted to own his own company and ironically, Solomon thought it was a crazy idea for someone to want to start their own business. What opened his mind to the entrepreneurial path was “being surrounded by Jack’s positive energy all the time and just kind of having that motivation,” Solomon said. Additionally, combining his passions for coffee and action sports made it easy for Solomon to be excited about the idea of starting a business.
Aztec Resources: After deciding to start their own company, Solomon and Doheny immediately knew they needed to turn to the Zahn Innovation Platform (ZIP) Launchpad, an on-campus incubator where Doheny was interning at the time. “For me, the ZIP Launchpad was the most impactful, although the Lavin program did give Jack a lot of connections that really helped us out,” Solomon said.
“Once we got all that we could out of the ZIP Launchpad, they introduced us to another program called San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI),” Solomon said. SDSI is an incubator for startups focused on the sports and active lifestyle industry.
An unexpected resource that played a big role in Bold Brew’s start is SDSU Dining, which overlooks all dining offerings on campus. “SDSU Dining gave us our first opportunity to sell our product on campus in the cafeteria on Friday mornings, and that was instrumental in starting us out and eventually parlayed us into the Thursday farmers market on campus,” Doheny said.
Bold Branding: Doheny and Solomon’s first few interactions at the coffee shop helped inspire their branding. They started by tie-dyeing their own Bold Brew t-shirts and selling them on campus, and eventually putting the designs onto their cans. Speaking to the Bold Brew brand, Doheny said, “It really is authentic and true to us and our love for tie-dye, coffee, surfing, skating, snowboarding, and the like,” Doheny said.
‘Can’ You Spot the Difference? Initially, Bold Brew was known for having uniquely short cans, but the startup recently upgraded to a smarter, more functional shape. “We just launched our slim cans and one of the biggest things about them is that they no longer require refrigeration, so now we’re able to make it easier for the consumer to stock up on our product and keep it in their pantry. It makes more sense for our target audience to be able to bring our cans to the skatepark, the beach, on a hike, or a camping trip, wherever you want it without worrying about it spoiling out of the fridge,” Solomon said. With this new design, none of Bold Brew’s products will require refrigeration.
Meaningful Mentorships: Doheny and Solomon were connected to many mentors during their time at SDSU. Upon joining the ZIP Launchpad, they were paired with mentor Brit Swanson and met other mentors through attending networking events at the incubator. Doheny’s Lavin mentor was Tom Franklin, founder of Triangle IP, who is also an attorney. Franklin was able to help the young founders with the legal side of their business. Another mentor of theirs is Dylan Whitman (founder of Retention Rocket), who Doheny said was “very instrumental in lighting the winner fire under us, to win at all costs, but not at the detriment of anybody else.”
Other mentors that have contributed to the Bold Brew journey are Dane Chapin (co-CEO of Zephyr Partners), Daina Trout (founder & CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha), and Steve Gallo. In their time at SDSI, Doheny and Solomon were connected to more mentors like Steve Lake, co-founder of Sector 9 Skateboards, and Brandon Lowery of California Training Facility in Vista, a training ground for many 2020 Olympic skateboarding hopefuls. “That’s just another example of how being part of the ZIP Launchpad has led us to move on to another organization where we met some very influential people who’ve pushed us in the right direction,” Solomon said.
Sporty Sponsorships: “We sponsor about 30 athletes from amateur to pro, in skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing, skydiving, among other sports,” Doheny said. “And as our brand grows, we hope to sponsor more A-list athletes.”
Raising Funds: In the past, Bold Brew raised $200,000 from a friends and family round. Currently, the company is nearing the close of another round of funding (amount undisclosed).
San Diego Scene: Solomon shares that he thinks the local startup scene’s many programs and resources have been “pretty awesome,” but adds that “it has been quite challenging being a consumable product in the startup scene. Most investors don’t really care about you when you’re a food/beverage product because they’re looking for technology companies.” Overall though, he says that his experience in the San Diego startup scene has been a positive one.
Doheny added, “We’ve been lucky enough to take full advantage of all the resources available, and even despite not being the target product for most investors in the area, they still give us a lot of soft support. The San Diego community is so warm, inviting, positive, and really supports the hustle of young folks getting after it. So, even though there might not be a lot of checks being written, there’s a whole lot of love being shared and we appreciate that. People are not shallow in San Diego; they’re very deep and they’re very relaxed, and that’s the way we want to live our lives.”
Looking Ahead: Bold Brew plans to launch in the Pacific Northwest within the next month and is also introducing a new product: dairy-and-sugar-free lattes. The lattes will be made with coconut milk, among other nut-based milk options.
“Our website has been optimized for online direct-to-consumer sales. We’re really excited about creating an awesome experience from whenever anybody orders our product,” Doheny said.
With its large spring launch into the Pacific Northwest, a relaunch on Amazon Prime, new can shape, and new product launch, 2019 is looking to be a big year for Bold Brew.
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: “I was born for this question,” Doheny said, sharing that his favorite taco joint is Ortiz’s Taco Shop #2 in Pacific Beach. “I always order the California burrito. In my opinion, it’s the best one in San Diego,” he said. “The only one that’s better than Ortiz’s Taco Shop #2 is Ortiz’s Taco Shop #1 in Point Loma.”
Solomon’s #TechoTuesday pick goes to Sandbar in Mission Beach. “It’s always a good time.”
Hoppy Place: You can catch Doheny enjoying a beer at Amplified Ale Works in Pacific Beach. “I live in PB, so it’s really convenient, but my new favorite place to go is JuneShine, the new alcoholic kombucha company in town. It is heaven on earth.”
Solomon is a big fan of the beer at Modern Times. “They have really solid coffee too.”
Editor’s Note: AzTech is an original Fresh Brewed Tech series on San Diego State University Aztecs (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem-solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs. #AzTech