Truckily’s Derek Kean is moving back to Kansas City with a whole new startup for coffee drinkers who like to try new things.
When Kean arrived in Hong Kong from Kansas City in 2013, he started importing small batches of coffee from coffee roasters in the U.S. for fun.
“They would arrive at our door and we could get it to our customers’ door in about five days–from random town in the U.S. to Hong Kong,” said Kean. “It was absolutely insane how streamlined that supply chain has become. And we weren’t doing anything special.”
The city of Hong Kong was also a big city with very few choices when it came to coffee. Coffee has only just started to become popular in the region.
“Coffee is just starting to blossom in Hong Kong and China, ” said Kean. “It’s huge now, but three years ago it wasn’t.”
Eventually Kean developed his bean importing into a subscription box business in the city, 88 Beans.
“I like working with roasters because of the mentality that they have–super quality, high attention to detail–it’s a physical product,” said Kean.
After two years they had about 100 subscribers, according to Kean. This year Kean sold 88 Beans to someone in Hong Kong.
“They are looking at Australia and Western Europe to bring [beans] into Hong Kong,” said Kean.
About a year ago, Kean decided to relaunch the coffee subscription box as Boxo for the U.S. market, along with his co-founders Candace Cheong, Elaine Chen-Fernandez, Nick Kroon
and Bil Brauer
“The goal was to tap into the outdoor adventure side that the States are known for,” said Kean.
Subscribers get to try new kinds of coffee every month, while supporting high quality small businesses across the country.
Although there are other coffee subscription boxes out there already, many roasters have had bad experiences with them. Kean wants to make sure that roasters are treated like the creative professionals they are.
“A lot of the competitors don’t go out of their way to help out as much,” said Kean. “We try to do all the work.”
Boxo pays roasters for their beans, which means a lot to the roasters and shows them respect. They also don’t repackage the roasters’ coffee.
“A lot of them put tons of time and money into their branding. It wouldn’t be fair if we threw their branding away,” said Kean.
Kean brings his experience from his previous startup Truckily to this project, as well as lessons he learned with 88 Beans.
The key to a good subscription box brand, according to Kean, is to be personable, approachable and human.
“The hardest part about getting a box going is getting people to trust you,” said Kean.
The other hard part, especially for a product like coffee, is getting the shipping time just right.
“We ship out of Kansas City so luckily we are in the middle,” said Kean. “So we can ship and people [on the coasts] will get it a day and a half later.”
Ready to grow
For the past year Boxo has grown mostly by word of mouth. Now the company is ready to start building out its growth strategy, according to Kean.
“What’s going into it now is a lot of legwork, a lot of outreach and planning,” said Kean. “It’s time to amp it up.”
The big vision is to ultimately create an automated marketplace where roasters can ship directly to customers quickly, with as little hassle as possible.
“We want to make sure that if you want coffee from a specific roaster, you know exactly when it’s going to roast and it gets shipped to you as fast as possible,” said Kean. “Much like Instacart for your groceries but for coffee.”
Ryan Pendell is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.