With a little help
Like many entrepreneurs, 22-year-old Justin Bereber found the inspiration to put up his own venture, Steep Coffee Bags, after discovering a gap in the market he believed he could fill. “It’s basically ground coffee in a bag. So you prepare coffee like tea,” says Justin. “Sa house kasi, instant coffee lang kami. So whenever I’d brew coffee, applying the old-school method of filtering using cheesecloth, a rubber band, and a mug, it would take me ten minutes to make one cup. As a result, na-le-late ako sa office. So one morning, I thought, ‘What if I put ground coffee in a tea bag?’ If I had that product, napaka-convenient na to brew coffee without investing in fancy machines.” Justin had worked up the perfect business concept—and it was a noble one at that: More than seeing it as just a venture he could earn from, he envisioned it to be one that could support local communities. All he had to do next was find the resources to make it happen.
JUSTIN’S EUREKA MOMENT TOOK PLACE IN 2014, back when he had a full-time job and hardly any funds to start a business. But such circumstances didn’t stop the young entrepreneur from seizing the opportunity.
After playing with the concept in his head for months, Justin resigned from his job and, using P15,000 from his personal savings, developed the first batch of coffee bags. “I came from humble beginnings, and capital, for me, was really the challenge,” explains Justin. “And I had an eight-to-five job. So the very big risk that I took was nagresign ako sa job ko without knowing kung saan ako kikita; zero income ako nu’n.”
Justin spent a whole year prototyping the products until, in September 2015, he formally introduced them to the market as Steep Coffee Bags. From his small capital, Justin was able to single-handedly produce an initial inventory of 2,000 coffee bags, all made from local ground beans. “I bought raw materials, ako pa yung nag-weigh, cut, and seal nu’ng tea bags,” he says. “I would even skip meals just so I could buy raw materials, and have gas for my motorcycle.”
SCALING THE BUSINESS
Justin started by selling the coffee bags in bazaars and a couple of retailers, using his earnings to keep his inventory stocked. But many more stores would later carry the products as the brand captured a share of the coffee market.
Steep Coffee Bags were picked up by over 50 stores nationwide, including popular outlets like SM Kultura and Echostore, selling 100,000 coffee bags on average each month. It was a welcome development for the business. To satisfy the demands of a growing number of merchants, Justin knew he had to expand his product line and operations as well. And to do this, he needed more funds.
In September 2016, Justin turned to crowdfunding, a type of fund-raising activity that pools small sums of money from a number of individuals who wish to support or fund a project. He launched a campaign through The Spark Project (thesparkproject. com), the same local online crowdfunding platform that launched Gouache Bags, the start-up business Justin worked for in 2014.
The goal was to raise P50,000 for the development of new blends for Steep Coffee Bags, but the campaign surpassed Justin’s expectations: After just a few months, he had raised P200,000, which allowed him to purchase raw materials for products, build his own production facility in Cainta, Rizal, and hire six underprivileged mothers from the neighborhood to work for the business full time.
Later on, this expansion also allowed Justin to increase his production capacity. He started exporting coffee bags to Australia in March 2017, in an effort to further expand the brand’s market, which Justin admits is still not as big as he wishes it to be in the Philippines.
THE CROWDFUNDING ADVANTAGE
Justin encourages other entrepreneurs to consider crowdfunding to help their business ideas come to life. “Besides raising funds, it’s a good way to get validation for your project,” he says. In the case of Steep, Justin believes it was the uniqueness of the product that won backers’ support.
Crowdfunding is also a good way to test the waters. Says Justin, “You won’t have to produce your products first. Kasi crowdfunding is like pre-ordering: you have to take orders first before you have to produce them.”
It’s also a convenient way to get started on your entrepreneurial dreams. Creating a crowdfunding campaign on an online platform like The Spark Project is about as easy as signing up for an account on social media. However, proponents stress that it still requires a lot of hard work.
The campaign proper runs for only 30 to 45 days. Justin prepared for this by talking to potential backers three months ahead. “So para akong nag-crowdfund for four months. It gave me enough time na manligaw ng backers,” he says. Justin explains that his first backers were family, friends, and fellow entrepreneurs. By the time the campaign was launched, word had already spread about Steep Coffee Bags.
“Preparation and planning are really the keys to a successful campaign,” he adds.