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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Updated on Oct 17th, 2023
Fact checked by Deborah Leigh

Driftaway Coffee 2023: Creation/Passion/Great Coffee

DeliveryRank chats with Suyog and Anu Mody, Co-founders of Driftaway Coffee, who are driven by a shared passion for creation and a love for exceptional coffee. Their journey began with a desire to craft something they could take pride in, and they embarked on this venture with unwavering dedication to excellence. From meticulously designing the coffee packaging, drawing inspiration from vintage baggage tags, to the pivotal decision to roast the coffee themselves, Anu and Suyoghave left no detail untouched in their pursuit of perfection. Discover the captivating story behind their choice of the name "Driftaway" and the essence it holds for them and their passion project.

Can you elaborate on the journey from being professionals in the digital marketing industry to becoming entrepreneurs and founding Driftaway Coffee? What were the key moments that pushed you towards this new path?

Anu - Around 2012, Suyog and I were both working in marketing jobs, and we were in London at the time. For me, it had been about 5-6 years since I graduated from college, and I was starting to question if this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like I was getting further away from the actual product - from building something - as I moved into a project manager role. I was managing people who were creating the product, and I was missing that sense of fulfillment I expected from creating something of my own.

The tipping point came when I was working on a project for a banking client, specifically focused on enhancing the digital experience for their private wealth customers. The corporate politics around it made me realize that I needed to find a job that would fulfill me and involve me in the creation process. 

I took a sabbatical for a few months while my partner continued working. During this time, we both developed a growing interest in coffee we received an espresso machine as a wedding gift. We started finding beans, exploring fresh roasted coffee in coffee shops and online, especially after moving from London to New York. Around this time, I had been talking about wanting to do something different for about 7-8 months, and I decided that I didn't want to just talk about it for the rest of my life. Coffee became one of the ideas on the table, and we thought, "Why not give it a try?" 

We may not have known much about coffee, but we were willing to learn and take the chance. We figured that trying and possibly failing would be a better experience than just talking about it. That's when we decided to start something like a fresh roasted coffee subscription. One of our key starting principles was to ensure that we were creating something of our own, and not become a distributor or middleperson. After 9 years, I’m proud to say we’re still true to that principle.

Suyog - Additionally, as a married couple, we found inspiration in a video about a couple, AJ Leon and his wife, who defined their values separately and realized how much they had in common. This exercise energized us and pushed us to pursue something together.

Can you share some insights into the process of testing the business idea for Driftaway Coffee and how you developed it into what it is today?

Certainly, I can explain how our journey began. Initially, our idea was to create a fresh roasted coffee subscription service. We aimed to offer premium-quality coffee at prices comparable to what you'd find in a grocery store. One of the issues we noticed with buying coffee from a grocery store was that you couldn't determine the freshness of the coffee. So, our plan was to send freshly roasted coffee directly to customers at affordable rates. 

To test this concept, we enlisted the help of around 20 friends and family. We had them complete a questionnaire about their coffee preferences, such as whether they preferred light, medium, or dark roast. Then, we sourced fresh coffee from renowned roasters in Brooklyn, like Blue Bottle or Toby’s Estate, to match their preferences. 

Our goal was to send them a two-week supply of coffee since coffee remains fresh for about two to three weeks after roasting. Afterward, we conducted interviews with them to gather feedback. What surprised us was that some participants, even those accustomed to grocery store coffee, weren't as impressed with the quality difference as we expected. We thought that the coffee we shipped to them was exceptional, but people's reactions varied. This realization led us to two key insights.

First, personalization was crucial because people had specific taste preferences. Second, the language used to describe roast levels was inconsistent among different coffee companies, causing confusion. So, for our third iteration, we started sending four small sample bags of different coffees instead of relying on a questionnaire. This allowed customers to taste and choose the coffees they liked, improving personalization. 

We've continued this approach and now offer five sample bags based on customer feedback. This not only enhances the customer experience but also reduces churn because customers transition from asking, "Do I like this coffee?" to "Which one do I like?" This shift in focus has been beneficial for us. Additionally, it's great for gifting, especially during holidays, as it allows gift recipients to explore and find their preferred coffee flavors rather than guessing their preferences.

As founders of Driftaway Coffee, what sets your coffee subscription service apart from others, and how do you ensure that your customers consistently receive a high-quality coffee experience?

There are two key things that set us apart.

  1. Sustainability - our focus on sustainability, both at the consumption level and production level. For example, at consumption level, we have no plastic in packaging, carbon-neutral operations and form-fitting packaging (i.e. no filler materials etc).

    We measure our carbon foot print for our operations and offset our carbon emissions by supporting a reforestation project in a coffee growing region in Peru. 

    At the production level, focusing on sourcing from women producers, minority producers and indigenous producers and meeting living wage standards. With 19 origin countries and 60+ coffees sourced yearly, this is a complex global undertaking and we’re well on our way to it, however it will take some time to fully achieve it.

  1. Education - we’re often cited as the best subscription for beginners or those who just want to get into specialty coffee, and this is by design. We’re targeting this specific consumer and consumption stage where customers are keen to learn more and need a helping hand to get into it. For example, all subscriptions if you buy yourself or as a gift, start with an explorer box with various coffees of different tastes across the spectrum, then you can join a live virtual tasting with our educator who will guide you through the tasting process. Having a real person to help and answer questions is something no other coffee company does, and is truly a differentiator.

Absolutely, there are indeed some similarities between coffee tasting and wine tasting. Both involve the exploration of complex flavors and aromas. When it comes to coffee tasting, it's all about identifying the various tasting notes, which can range from fruity and floral to nutty and chocolaty. Just like wine, coffee has its own unique terroir, influenced by the region where it's grown, the variety of the beans, and the roasting process.

Our approach to coffee education is designed to make this experience accessible and enjoyable, especially for those who might initially find it intimidating. By tasting different coffee varieties side by side and providing guidance during live virtual tasting sessions, we aim to demystify the world of specialty coffee. This allows individuals to start identifying tasting notes and appreciating the nuances of various roasts. Ultimately, it's about helping people develop their palate and discover the coffee flavors they enjoy the most. It’s a little like wine tasting in terms of the sensory exploration and appreciation of flavors and aromas.

The creation process seems to be at the heart of everything you do. How do you ensure that every detail, from website design to coffee packaging, aligns with your vision and passion for the company?

I think staying actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the business has been a key factor in maintaining our consistency and our ability to adapt. From the very beginning, when we started the company with limited resources, we were very hands-on. I personally designed our packaging and website, and we built much of it ourselves. While we now have dedicated teams for various aspects of the business, including technology and design, our hands-on approach has persisted. I still get involved in making changes to the website, for example. This hands-on approach helps us stay close to the details and maintain a consistent vision for the company.

Additionally, seeking inspiration from external sources is crucial. We actively engage with the coffee community in New York and beyond, participating in various organizations and networks. We've also expanded our horizons by connecting with those in the broader consumer packaged goods (CPG) space, such as tea and spice producers. This networking allows us to learn from others and share our experiences, broadening our perspective and keeping our approach fresh.

Furthermore, we're not afraid to run internal tests and experiments. 

For instance, when we introduced the concept of virtual tastings, we weren't sure how it would be received. So, we ran several months of testing to refine the idea and make it work effectively. This willingness to experiment and adapt to what works best for our customers is a core part of our approach.

Ultimately, I think it's important to recognize the role of our dedicated team. Our collective efforts, combined with their expertise and commitment, are what enable us to maintain consistency and continue evolving in the ever-changing world of coffee subscriptions.

Driftaway Coffee places a strong emphasis on sourcing coffee from small-scale farmers and maintaining environmentally and socially conscious practices. Could you elaborate on your commitment to these values and your efforts in supporting small farmers and sustainable operations?

When we started Driftaway, our initial focus was on learning about coffee and building a business from scratch. We didn't have a background in coffee, so we immersed ourselves in understanding the entire coffee value chain. It became apparent to us just how many hands are involved in the coffee-making process, from growing to processing and beyond. This realization highlighted a fundamental issue: many people along this chain weren't fairly compensated for their labor.

To address this, we took several steps. Firstly, we decided to pay 3 to 5 times the commodity price for coffee, significantly higher than the industry standard. However, we recognized that this wasn't enough. We are now working on connecting our pricing with living wage benchmarks in coffee-producing countries. This way, we aim to ensure that the producers we work with are paid a fair and living wage for their hard work.

We've also introduced what we call the "Farmer Feedback Report." This report allows us to create a two-way communication channel with coffee producers. We share information with them, including where we ship their coffees, customer ratings and reviews, and how we determine our pricing. It's our way of completing the information loop and fostering transparency.

Our commitment to sustainability extends to supporting women and minority farmers. Women make up around 70% of the workforce in coffee growing, yet they earn 40% less revenue than their male counterparts. To address this inequity, our goal for 2024 is to source 50% of our coffees from women farmers and 20% from minority farmers, helping to create a more balanced and inclusive industry.

We're also actively involved in sustainability projects, such as carbon-neutral coffee. This initiative covers everything from farming to transportation to roasting, with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of coffee production. Additionally, we're exploring regenerative organic coffee certification. This certification goes beyond standard organic practices and includes soil health, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and social aspects, ensuring that our coffee production is as sustainable and ethical as possible.

In summary, our journey in the coffee industry has been marked by a commitment to sustainability and addressing the inequities within the value chain. We believe in creating positive change in the industry, both environmentally and socially, and we're dedicated to these efforts as we move forward.

If you would like to find out more about Driftaway Coffee, visit https://driftaway.coffee/

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