Building a Business from the ‘Grounds’ Up

It’s no insult to equate Suyog Mody and Anu Menon’s business to a hill of beans.

That’s because this husband and wife are co-founders of Driftaway Coffee, a subscription-based service thatdelivers fresh-roasted coffee beans to customers’ doors. The married couple, each of whom previously worked at SapientNitro, the digital marketing and advertising agency, started the Web-based business in 2013. But they had to wait until early 2014 before they had the option to adopt the top-level domain that packed the marketing punch they really wanted. When the dot-coffee option became available they quickly shifted their Web address from www.driftaway.co to www.driftaway.coffee.

“We knew that the driftaway.coffee Web address would be much easier and much more straightforward in terms of telling people exactly what our brand is,” says Mody. At the same time, the relative unfamiliarity also works for the company. “People aren’t used to seeing a dot-coffee,” the 32-year-old Mody says, “so they’ll say, ‘Is it driftaway.coffee.com?’ When I tell them that it’s just dot-coffee, it always leads to a deeper conversation about the business.”

Fellow Travelers

The idea of Driftaway Coffee first began stirring when the couple transferred from London to Brooklyn, NY. Feeling constrained by the corporate grind, they began brainstorming about the kind of business they’d find stimulating to start. As it turned out, they both missed an amenity they had savored in London: having fresh roasted coffee beans dropped on their doorstep.“We got an espresso machine when we got married” in 2008, says Menon, 30, who serves as chief of product. “That began a big change in how we made coffee at home.”

Once settled in Brooklyn, they explored the offerings of local roasters and then branched out, ordering beans from suppliers around the world.

They also explored viable business models. They read research reports and studied the crowded, but fragmented, specialty coffee industry. We were testing coffee subscription services, a segment that wasn’t that crowded and wasn’t getting much focus,” says Menon. Having found an assortment of beans they could stand behind, they began to repackage them and send them out twice a month, to a group of about 10 friends.

From that exercise, they learned some useful business lessons. For one, coffee drinkers have very distinct preferences. As for the couple, “we didn’t find it fulfilling to act simply as a go-between,” connecting roasters and customers. “We decided to learn how to roast for ourselves,” says Mody, who studied a variety of DIY websites before modifying a popcorn popper so he could roast small amounts of beans fast. “We needed to have a brand, with packaging that told a story.”

With a unique product to offer, Mody and Menon focused on what to call it. They started by using a formal technique they had learned as consultants, enlisting a whiteboard to conjure such possibilities as Kaffea (the original name for coffee in Ethiopia, where it originated) and Ritual. But Menon was struck by the phrase “drift away” during a late-night Google search and decided that it worked. “We want our name to be associated with travel, so that people appreciate the journey that coffee takes,” he says. That sense of journey works two ways: Each bag contains a sort of luggage tag explaining where the beans come from and how they’ve been roasted. And then there is the emotional experience of sipping coffee on a weekend morning, where the drinker’s mind…slowly…drifts…away.

Full-Bodied Commitment

Around Thanksgiving 2013, the couple began selling prepaid gift subscriptions (ranging from $25 to more than $125) through Etsy. By August 2014, they counted 350 customers, enough to move their roasting to a commercial facility nearby-;and for Mody to leave SapientNitro. “We needed to go all in,” he says, adding that they figured they had enough savings to cover their living expenses for nine months.

That was about a year ago. While sales have continued to percolate, Mody doesn’t expect the company to show an operating profit until early next year. Meanwhile, he’s now hand-roasting beans every Saturday afternoon for almost 1,000 customers. New subscribers first receive a “Rise and Grind” kit, which features samples of four different styles of coffee: bold, classic, fruity, and balanced. Once they’ve figured out their preferences, customers share their “coffee profile” with the company-;which uses the information to customize future deliveries-; by filling out a form available on the website.

That website, thanks to its top-level domain of dot-coffee, “brings a whole new level of interest with it,” Mody says. “People are still getting used to it, so they ask about it. When I tell them there’s no dot-com at the end of the address, they can feel that we are modern and cutting-edge. Having dot-coffee in the address serves as a great descriptor, whereas dot-com just means ‘commercial.’ Everything is commercial, so it really doesn’t add much.”

For more inspiration on naming your businesses for a “not-com” world, visit Name.Kitchen and claim your perfect domain name.