Customer consultation and coffee without coffee — Founder’s Journal #1

By Jake Berber, Founder in Residence, SG12
24 October, 2022

Each week, one of the founders on our twelth Singapore cohort in Singapore will share their journal, offering real-time insight into the first 14 weeks of founding a startup.

In Week 1 we meet Jake Berber.


“Day 1” of EF has come! I put “Day 1” in quotations because at this point, many people have already met, teamed up, explored ideas, broken up, etc. After figuring out how to get to the cohort coworking space, the day was filled with welcomes and introduction presentations that touched on the following questions: What is a regional juggernaut? Who are these other people in the cohort? How does one come up with an ambitious idea to work on? While I love being welcomed and all, in between talks I was sneakily setting up meetings on my phone. DJ and I spent the afternoon speaking with plant-based companies and coffee shops to hear about their problems.

EF has a partnership with IndieBio, a biotech accelerator…hmm this could be useful.
EF has a partnership with IndieBio, a biotech accelerator…hmm this could be useful.


Berny [Cho, Partner at EF Singapore] and some of the programme’s alumni came to speak with us in the AM. Berny was reminding us of the importance of having hard conversations with our co-founder, so I asked DJ to tell me all the things he doesn’t like about me. He laughed and we moved on. That afternoon, we spoke with startups working on fermenting algae and mycelium for plant-based companies; although it sounds niche, we were starting to realize that this space was very crowded. We spoke to one of Singapore’s fastest-growing coffee chains in the afternoon and started hearing the repeated problem that ever since the freeze in Brazil last year, the price of coffee has been rising. Hmm… can coffee be created without using coffee? Let’s test that…


That morning, I took a 7am call to speak to the CEO of one of the companies creating beanless coffee; she was kind enough to tell us a bit about the mistakes she’s made and the technology she uses. When I showed up to the cohort space, we got to have an AMA with the Founder of PropertyGuru. He told us his founding story and what he’s most excited about as an investor: sustainability. At the end of his talk, DJ greeted me with a smile and some brown liquid — he had created a coffee from *insert secret ingredients here.* We met with Didier [Vermeiren, Advisor at EF Singapore] and tried version one of our beanless coffee together. We came to the data-driven conclusion that it tasted like ehhhh ~40% coffee. We had a long way to go but at least we were on our way.

A light-bulb moment in the middle of the night.
A light-bulb moment in the middle of the night.


Meetings started with the US at 8am. A highlight of that morning was speaking to a major player in the coffee business; they were really helpful in helping us understand the issues in how coffee is being produced. While we thought our biggest value proposition was creating a more sustainable coffee, our real value was that we would be a reliable source of coffee, regardless of extreme weather. This was the first time we soft-pitched our idea at the end of the call; they were excited and said they’d make intros to more relevant people within the company. That’s all you can ask for. That afternoon, I went for a meeting with a local plant-based chain in Singapore. I had set this meeting up when we were exploring mycelium and seaweed, but I’m not one to cancel a meeting. We met at a bar and he welcomed me with a pint. Then another. And another. By the end, I was drunk with a bunch of Singaporean entrepreneurs warning me about the challenges of starting a company. At the end though, they respected my hustle and each of them introduced me to everyone they knew in the coffee industry. This meeting reminded me of the importance of just showing up — while not much business was done, I made great friendships.

Some of the awesome people on the SG12 cohort.
Some of the awesome people on the SG12 cohort.


Friday began with three back to back meetings starting at 8am; happy Friday, Jake! We spoke with some potential customers and competitors, but the most exciting meeting was with another heavy hitter in the coffee industry. Per usual, I began the call by introducing myself and Mom Testing them. Before I could ask about their problems, they stopped me: “ok cool just pitch me your idea.” Oh. Ok. Got it. Our pitch. What do we do again? After blurting out the problem and our vague solution, They seemed… interested? That’s a good sign. They asked for our pitch deck (which we didn’t have) and we’d have a follow-up from there. This was the first time we told coffee people what we were working on, so the fact they had a positive reaction was really motivating. That afternoon, we had our first group pitches. Each group that had teamed up gave a two minute pitch that included what they’ve been working on and how it’s going. I really enjoyed that hour. I had a moment of gratitude when I realized every person in that room actually gives a shit about themselves, each other, and what the future is going to look like. What a group of people to be a part of.

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