Jun 21, 2022 • 45M

Gefen Skolnick Is Making Coffee Fun

The founder of Couplet Coffee eschews traditional ideas to make delicious coffee available to all.

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Ashley Rodriguez
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My guest today is Gefen Skolnick, founder of Couplet Coffee. Gefen has been an avid coffee fan for years, and she worked in the tech world before starting her brand. In her previous role, she was tasked with assessing users’ experiences and insights, calling people to learn what they liked and didn’t like about the products they interacted with.

Gefen used this consumer-focused lens to start Couplet. Couplet is a fun, colorful, and, most importantly, approachable brand. On its website, it reminds folks that coffee is “for fucking everyone.”

It’s no secret that coffee can feel inscrutable or exclusionary. Many assume that, to make it well, you need a certain amount of knowledge, or access to tools and gear that might be expensive or out of reach. Gefen turns those assumptions around, presenting consumers with fun ways to enjoy coffee, and removing the pressure of making a perfect brew.

For me, what pops out of this conversation is how diverse the coffee market really is. Though the industry can feel oversaturated, Gefen reminds us that worrying about a crowded market might not be the result of actual competition, but rather a sign that we’re all pursuing the same target. Couplet is a fresh reminder that we can create fun, interesting, and novel approaches to coffee, and in turn, invite a whole new group of drinkers in who might have otherwise felt too intimidated or unwelcome to participate. Here’s Gefen.

Ashley: Gefen, I was wondering if you could start by introducing yourself.

Gefen: Yeah, of course. My name is Gefen. My pronouns are she/her. I'm the founder of Couplet Coffee. And for the past few years, I've been thinking and dreaming up what it would be like to start a coffee company. So I'm super excited to chat.

Ashley: What were your first interactions with coffee? Did you grow up with coffee as a child?

Gefen: We could talk about this for like 20 minutes, so I'll try to condense it. But, yes, there was a lot of coffee culture just in my family. And so a lot of our culture is surrounded by having a nighttime coffee, like a Turkish or Armenian coffee.

And it always felt super communal—like by a fire, with a bunch of friends, and I kind of felt that was missing in a lot of the other different cultures that I'd have [coffee]. It's kinda like a grab-and-go situation typically. And so once I graduated from high school, went into college, and I was in this 300-square-foot apartment, and I just wanted to get out at any time that I could.

So I would just go to these different coffee shops. And in high school, I thought Starbucks was the peak of coffee. Like on my birthday, people would just have a bunch of these coffee cups on all the little—you know how everyone brings like the little gifts for your birthday? I just had coffee cups everywhere, all over desks in homeroom, because I thought that that was the best coffee.

Once I was in college and kind of exploring a little bit more of my surroundings—I was at Santa Monica College, I went to community college for a few years—I realized there were other shops, other places to go.

I first found Groundwork Coffee, which I am forever indebted to them because I was so in shock that coffee could taste that way and that people were making cashew milk from scratch. I thought that was insane in the best way, and I was just obsessed and taking everybody there and working from there and studying from there.

Then I discovered on my little walks near the beach that there are other coffee shops around. And then I very much realized that there is a whole ecosystem here that I had no idea about.

Ashley: Are you the type of person who like, gets really into things?

Gefen: (Laughs)

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Ashley: Because that to me seems like—I love trying to pick apart like these facets of people's personalities. Like I wonder, are you someone who really passionately pursues interests?

Gefen: Yes. (Laughs) That's exactly what happens. In high school, my first love was basketball and I was extremely obsessed with it. It was probably excessive. That was kind of like the first thing that I fell in love with. And so I was watching YouTube videos during class, after class, of new moves that I wanted to try, new ways to train. I was constantly in the loop on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA—just like obsessed. Before school at like 5:30 a.m., I would try to get to school really early so that the basketball courts were empty and I would just play in the freezing cold and just keep trying to get better. And I was just super obsessed with it.

And after school, obviously, that was what I was doing, too. On the weekends—that's what I was doing. And eventually, I got really good and it became kind of like a really big part of my life, but I was virtually obsessed. My fingers were really messed up constantly from playing outside in the cold and having these little, like little injuries on my fingers constantly—either I had a splint on or some sort of cast, because I just messed up my body from doing it excessively as a kid.

That was the first way that I got obsessed with something. And then coffee! That's why there were seven to 10 coffee cups every birthday, because everybody and their mother knew that I was obsessed with Starbucks at the time.

Side note, we can talk about this later, but I applied to Starbucks to be a barista over a hundred times. That is my villain origin story for sure in coffee.

Ashley: Over a hundred times?

Gefen: I actually wanna go back to my old email from middle school and high school to see how many times—it was 100% more than a hundred times. Because every time I submitted it, it was to like 45+ locations, because I was in the Valley in LA so there was a ton of options for me. Never once heard back. (Laughs)

Ashley: Ugh, that’s a bummer!

Gefen: Yeah, but maybe that's why I became obsessed with one day doing something in coffee. This is probably a very positive thing that happened.

Ashley: It's like the mountain that you could never overcome. So you're like, okay, F this, I’m going to do my own thing.

Gefen: I'm gonna do it myself.

Ashley: I'm trying to even do the math on that. Like, how many times a year you would have to apply to…

Gefen: You have no idea. I'm gonna get you that number because I am now very curious as to what it was.

Ashley: I love math. I love numbers. So you're speaking my language here.

Gefen: Fantastic!

Ashley: At what point, when you were exploring these coffee shops in the Santa Monica area, what kind of switched it for you? When you were like, “Oh, I'm a casual fan,” or someone who is really into coffee, to, “This is something I maybe wanna work in or explore as a business, or maybe even just enmesh myself in more than just a person who goes to the coffee shop every day”?

Gefen: Yeah, that's a great question, because there was absolutely a transition from a person who's just drinking an absurd amount of coffee every day to, “Oh, I wanna know what's happening behind the scenes here.”

I will say it took a very long time for me to get to the point where I was comfortable in even asking certain questions, because I just kind of felt like I—I never really felt that I was supposed to be in those places. And that's historically how I felt, both in tech and other places as well, where I just kind of went into places where I don't necessarily look or act or seem like I belong there.

But, I went to these different shops, and like I said, because I lived in such a small apartment that was not insulated—so it was just either hot or cold all the time, and [there were] not really a lot of places to kind of work from—I just became friends with so many baristas. It was funny, they just like knew that I was just gonna be there all day, most days.

You talk to someone enough that you just start to get curious about their job and what they're doing. It’s not even me going to look into, “This is a business that I wanna start one day.” I never thought that this was something that I'd be doing, especially not right now.

I really did think that tech was my biggest passion in life and that I would be doing it forever and I would start multiple tech businesses and we'll get into that after, but really, I just started looking at the beans.

I was getting bored, you know, taking breaks in between studying. I studied linguistics and computer science in college. I’m not sure how much you know about either of those, but it's just super technical and tough. And you don't wanna think about that for four hours straight. So just like, I'm gonna let my mind wander. And so I picked up some bags and was reading things about elevations and origins.

I was just like, so curious. There's a lot of information on this bag. What does any of this mean? I slowly kind of built up the confidence to ask the baristas, “Like, okay, what does this mean? Why is this bag of beans for espresso specifically?”

And most of my friends and consumers are still like, “Oh my god, I accidentally used my espresso beans in my French press! Oh my god, is it gonna break down?”

I'm like, “Oh my god, no, it's totally fine.” I didn't realize how many people also had those same thoughts. And so I just asked a lot of questions like that. Like, “Okay, why is this bag of Brazilian beans different from this bag of Peruvian beans?” Every kind of time that I'd be there during my breaks, I would be doing that.

They [the baristas] became super friendly with me. It wasn't an annoying thing. I just ended up actually hanging out with some of these people outside of the coffee shop too, which was funny, but yeah, it was just out of complete, sheer curiosity.

I will say it took me a very long time to upgrade my own setup at home because all of the things being sold at the different coffee shops were so much more expensive than I could afford. I was working at AMC Theatres, cleaning bathrooms for 40 hours a week during college. For the first few years in college, until I started teaching computer science to kids to kinda switch it up a little bit.

Even though I might have been able to afford some sort of new grinder, which like, who even knows? It was just so hard to even know, “What do I need to make a cup at home?”

It was just so [a] very big question mark. I just always had assumed that I would never be able to make that same cup at home until one of my best friends, Zach—he's the founder of Gnarwhal Coffee, he is the co-founder of it. We met in 2017 and I used to go to his house and he had a Breville espresso machine and a Breville grinder.

And somehow he just made the best coffee. Sometimes I would just be like, “I don't need to go to a coffee shop today. I'd rather drink your coffee.”

Ashley: I'm just going to your house!

Gefen: I've loitered at his house a lot cause he had a nice apartment and he's a little bit older than me, so I was just so excited to go to his house and hang out and loiter and just like be drinking his coffee all day.

That's when I first discovered, “Oh my god, like, wait—people can make this same taste at home, if not better? And make it tailored to their taste? That's wild.” I had absolutely no idea.

He's the one who pushed me to get that same setup at home. I had that setup for years up until very recently. That's what led me to kind of also push a lot, like dozens of my friends also started getting the same setup at home, because I was just so passionate about the fact that you can do so much with that same setup at home.

Ashley: I feel like you identified so much in that answer. Going back to the very beginning, you mentioned being curious about just looking around and seeing—

Gefen: Just looking around.

Ashley: That there's these Brazilian beans here and there are these Colombian beans here. What's the difference?

And I think what you said that was really fascinating was about how you still have customers to this day who are like, “Oh my gosh, I put my espresso beans into my French press. Like, will it break?” That sounds silly as we say it out loud, but that's a binary that we draw pretty hard in coffee shops. Espresso looks so different than filter coffee, but we don't explain very well why that difference is drawn.

So when people go home and we don't explain it on the bag, or we don't make that information accessible, people might have that freakout moment of like, “Oh no, did I break my equipment by putting my light-roasted Colombian coffee into my grinder and making espresso?”

Because we don't explain that stuff well. The fact that you picked up a bag of beans and you're like, the elevation is on here, but I don't know what that means. Then what's the point of putting it on there?

Gefen: That's why our bags are the way that they are. We don't put a ton of information. We kind of make it obvious that you can reach out and ask us about things. And then we're gonna also continue building out the coffee program, of course. We'll highlight a lot of producers that we work with and farms and things like that, and a lot of that's gonna be super accessible.

But it's like, [consumers] don't need to know the elevation and sometimes even tasting notes. I mean, when I was picking up these bags and seeing tasting notes, like molasses and stone fruit, and just words that I'd never seen before, honestly, that's why it took me probably an extra six months to a year to ask the next questions, because it's just like—if I don't know this basic terminology of just tasting notes, I'm gonna sound super stupid asking any other question, in my opinion.

That's basically the biggest thing for me was the tasting notes, to be honest with you.

Ashley: Right. And then even if you do know what those words mean, if you go home and you taste the coffee and you don't taste those notes, then you're like, “I'm a failure. Like I messed this up.”

Gefen: God. I know.

Ashley: I had this experience and you know, I've been making coffee for a long time, and I was a trainer for a coffee shop in San Francisco when this happened.

And my job was to go to different coffee shops and taste coffee. And I remember going to this one coffee shop and one of the tasting notes was orange wine. And I remember thinking like, “I know what this is only because this is my job, but that is the only reason why I know what this is and what the fuck? This is a tasting note that nobody else is gonna know!”

So it's really interesting that you thought really specifically about what tasting notes convey, because it's another way that we set up folks essentially to fail. And it seems like a lot of what Couplet is founded on were these very personal experiences that you were having, but seemed to mimic a lot of what almost every consumer of coffee is feeling.

Gefen: That's the best way—I couldn't have put it better, honestly. That's exactly what I'm doing. So first it started with my own personal inklings, but then my friends were making fun of me for being obsessed with coffee. They were just calling me bougie and they're like, “Oh my god, like you take so long to make us coffee and blah, blah, blah…”

They just were just making fun of me for having this whole setup at home and having—what's it called? Like a certain grinder that costs a little bit more all of a sudden. And I went from having my Mr. Espresso one-group little guy—it was like $30 at Bed Bath and Beyond—to having this Breville at home and people were just making fun of it.

But then they would try the coffee. And it was the same thing, like when I went to my friend Zach’s house: It was comparable to that $5, $6, $7 latte. And that's when they changed too.

My only argument really with Couplet is that we just need to stop judging people for how they consume coffee and just educate a little bit more in a non-pretentious way. That's literally all I'm about.

Ashley: Right. The reactions that I get from people when I talk to them about coffee, especially non-coffee people, it tells me a lot about the perceptions that we have as a society about coffee.

So people will be like, “Don't judge me, but I'm doing this.”

And I'm like, “Why would you think that I would judge you?”

And then I have to remember that it's not about me. It's about what society has imbued in us about how coffee is consumed. That we have these very difficult-to-access coffee shops, where we treat coffee like it’s this precious thing in certain spaces. But then in other spaces, you can go to a bodega or you can go to a diner and get coffee without any pretension or fuss.

That has to be really confusing for people. I realized that as people were reflecting this onto me like, “Oh, don't judge my coffee.”

And I'm like, “I'm drinking coffee that I brewed—not even I brewed—brewed five hours ago because my boyfriend was up much earlier than I am. And if he's not home, I will make instant coffee because I'm the laziest person alive.”

And I have to tell this story to people to get them into a safe place where they feel not judged by their coffee consumption. It's just funny to see you talk about your evolution, but still getting like this reaction from your friends, because that just reflects on a lot of the things that you were talking about earlier—about not necessarily feeling comfortable asking questions about coffee, not feeling comfortable being like, “Okay, I'm gonna pick up this bag, but what does this all mean?”

Gefen: Yeah. I think, especially when we talk about literally just coffee grinders—let’s just isolate coffee grinders in this argument.

We are gonna introduce a $30 price point for a coffee grinder and yes, it's gonna be a hand grinder. And it's because my friends, when they go to these coffee shops with me, the only thing that they're selling in terms of a way to grind your beans at home is like a $140 grinder.

Some of my friends come—as of more recently—come from more privilege and money, but most of my friends don't, especially my friends from college and community college and growing up. I'm a first-gen immigrant, a lot of my friends were first-gen immigrants. They would think this is hilarious.

There are a couple of little things that people notice when they go into shops and sometimes it's the tasting notes. Other times it's like, “I can't believe y'all are paying $140 for a coffee grinder. Like, are you joking? That’s not even like making the coffee yet.”

Those things, I think, have led to so many people—I wish we could do a study on this—to just not even go into it, not even ask the questions, because they're like, “I can't even afford this. I would never buy that. Why would anyone buy this?”

That's gonna be the attitude of so many people. I've seen it in the dozens—probably, if I think about it, at least a hundred people I've come in contact with, in my life, in the past 10 years, have gone into coffee shops with me and been like, “Oh, that's hilarious. This is a joke right?”

It was my choice to go on my journey, to put a lot of money and effort into it, because I find a lot of joy in the process of making coffee, but I think that a lot of people don't recognize that not everyone needs to be like you, but they should also have access to good coffee, or they should at least try it, or we should make it a little bit more accessible for other people, and we just don't all need to act the same.

And not everyone wants to make little swirlies in a pour-over. I love it. I think it's so fun. And so meditative. A lot of my other friends, when I make them pour-overs, they're laughing out loud. They think it's hilarious.

I just think we need to recognize that there are so many different types of coffee drinkers, but again, just my only argument is that they should all enjoy coffee, not depending on how much money they can spend on the setup.

Ashley: For me as a person who's worked in coffee for years who has spent so much time almost idolizing this hoity-toity pretentiousness that coffee was like in 2010, 2011, 2012, where I remember going to a coffee shop once in New York and there was like four things on the menu.

It was like espresso, espresso with milk, and maybe espresso with chocolate, and I thought that that was like the fucking coolest thing in the world.

And as I reflect on that, now I'm like, “What?!?! How could anybody read that menu and be like, ‘I just want a latte. I don't know what any of this is.’”

It's really interesting to hear you reflect that idea back too, of like, people can think whatever they want about your setup, but that doesn't mean that they can't have good coffee.

“Tell me what your budget is, and I can get you a delicious setup no matter where you're at.” We should be doing more of this work—and I do think coffee is getting to that point. I think more and more people, as I go to different coffee shops, as I talk to more people thinking about what hospitality and customer service look like, I'm starting to see that sea change.

But I wonder with your background in tech, how did that inform the way that you approached coffee, and maybe we can get a little bit into your background before you started Couplet?

Gefen: I—and this was kind of my next obsession in life—when I quit basketball, I discovered computer science. I got really into computer science because it was like the one thing that really humbled me to my core in high school.

I was kind of like a little jock, not in the worst way, but just kind of a little jock, like chillin’ it in class, making jokes, always got the little “talks too much in class” and still getting good grades, even though I was not really studying much so really needed to be humbled.

I took AP computer science in my senior year of high school, which was when I quit basketball. And then I just completely reinvented myself and found my new obsession and my new passion. I started off doing software engineering. That was kind of what initially piqued my interest. And I went to community college because I couldn't afford to go directly into college.

So I knew, junior year, I was gonna go to community college for sure. Spend about three years in community college. And that was really crucial. Those three years—I took an extra year to finish up classes—but those three years were really crucial because I got a lot of time to explore what I really wanted to do, a lot of extra time to do some research on like, “What are things that I can do with computer science? Does it have to be software engineering? Probably not.“

You only discover that typically later, but I was just barging into doors that community college students were not welcome in. I would go to these professional women developer conferences and all of these different things, and get scholarships to go on trips, and do these little hackathons where you create products in 48 hours and compete for prizes from big tech companies.

I learned a significant amount, just doing a whole lot of that and very quickly realized, “Okay, I actually don't really care to do non-consumer-facing stuff,” which is super relevant because it was kind of another thing where this was just replicating high school: I had a passion, I was pursuing the passion, and the classes didn't matter. I worked at a bunch of different consumer companies like Hulu and Tesla, and like super small five-person apps for consumers.

That's when I started studying a lot of human behavior and understanding consumers or people, and that I’m a person and not everything is about marketing—it's about connecting. And there's community, and literally, all of that was because of those roles in tech. I otherwise would probably kind of build for me and my needs and what I think.

At Tesla and at Hulu specifically, we would work with user research—if there is a user research team, we usually kind of tell them who we need and get the information. But at Tesla, even though it was a huge company, I had to get on calls with people who own Teslas and ask them about certain issues and have just conversations, human to human, to like understand what we could build on the tech side.

I apply that same philosophy now as a product manager when I had to do a bunch of user research so that I could tell developers and engineers what to build next. It's kind of the same thing, right?

I'm like: One, remembering that every consumer is a person with needs and problems, and my goal is to build alongside them and take their advice and their needs very seriously. And that's just my philosophy with Couplet is, “Cool. I had a lot of these personal experiences. I saw a lot of my friends have these experiences,” and the reason why people have been really receptive to Couplet, in my opinion, is that I have been building it alongside people.

Being like, “Hey, I am very new to coffee. I am gonna ask a lot of questions.” And I don't even think that a lot of people in coffee have answers to these questions. How about we talk to the consumers and how about I have conversations multiple times a week with people who I've never met before, who found Couplet somehow on the internet and asked them why they like it, what they hated about it, what could be better? What is it about the packaging that really spoke to you? Is there something you wish you saw in there? Is there information we're missing?

I mean, I just asked a bunch of questions. I'm still really new to coffee and I still ask a bunch of stupid questions, but it's just like, that's my building philosophy, right? I took a lot of those learnings from the tech world.

Ashley: I was listening to an interview that you did with Modern Retail with Cale Weissman, who I used to work with. In the interview, you mentioned that you interviewed a couple hundred people. I kind of wrote it down as a hundred, but you said a couple hundred, and I'm gonna even extrapolate outward that you've probably interviewed, at this point…

Gefen: Yeah, hundreds, yeah.

Ashley: Hundreds, maybe in the thousands at this point, because based on all of what you've talked about, working in a way to figure out what people want or what people are looking for. And I think that that's something that's often missing in coffee. I think we often do things without considering—who is this for?

Gefen: That's literally exactly what I've been telling everybody.

I will say I am a big fan of a lot of the brands that have been like, “Okay, so what's next?” Like, are they gonna do something more interesting? Like, are we gonna go funky? Are we gonna learn from other DTC brands or streetwear brands—how are we gonna expand on what it means to a coffee brand?

I just kind of waited for someone to do something like that. And a lot of them do coffee, so, so well, and I was waiting for that. But I also kind of felt like a lot of these different coffee brand owners were building for them and their friends and their fellow roasters.

I just felt like a lot of me and my friends and coffee consumers, that was my original thought was I just don't think that they care. I just think they're building for each other. I agree with you. That's just kind of been what I've seen, but again, I still have a lot of respect for what has been done—significant amount of respect.

Ashley: Right, right. It's not to say that anybody's doing anything bad, but it seems like—and maybe you can speak a little bit to this, because I have to imagine that this maybe is informed a little bit by your background, maybe this is just something you've observed—but it seems like we're pursuing this single exit in coffee where quality is the only target. And how we measure quality is also very narrow.

So not only are we pursuing a very narrow target, but we've even narrowed that even further by being, “Quality looks like a Gesha quality, looks like a 90+ coffee from the Cup of Excellence” versus, oh, maybe quality can look like we bought a past-crop coffee and we were able to roast it excellently.

Maybe we were able to buy all of the coffee from this one producer and sell it all for premium. There are other things that are valuable in coffee that we sometimes, I think forget, but could really benefit us.

Like people care about their coffee being fun and approachable. People care that they can pick up a bag of beans and feel successful. Going back to that idea of tasting notes can kind of set us up to fail—people wanna go home and have that feeling of like, “I made this coffee and look how cool my stuff looks and I made this and I'm gonna drink it and it's gonna taste fucking awesome because I made it and I feel great.”

Gefen: Yeah, there's that, but another part to that, which I think is really funny, is when people—so when I looked up videos, when I was first starting out and I still look at the same videos today of what's kind of the best way to brew like this or that, I think that one thing that we also forget as coffee people is that not everyone wants to weigh things.

I think none of my friends will ever weigh things. It'll make them feel way too bougie and they think it's unnecessary. I drink Couplet every day, and multiple times I have just completely messed up the recipe or it was just extracted so poorly, but it still tasted good.

And I think that's the thing that really deters a lot of other people as well that I've noticed. They're gonna get another expensive thing, like a scale, and not only do they not want that as an extra step, but I will argue—and we've had this in our copy. Michelle [Johnson] actually wrote this copy for us when we made our how-to guides for the Moka pots and French presses, Michelle from Ghost Town Oats—basically I was like, “Hey, let's add something in there that’s like, ‘By the way, if you mess any part of this up it's okay. And also it still might taste great.’” Like that's just it, you know?

Ashley: Right. Setting people up to not fail. How can we make people feel like they won every time they brew?

Gefen: Yeah, that's the thing is like I've made many a sour coffee, many a coffee that was just, nah, just extracted poorly, but it was still actually really good. And so when I mess up things to the gram on a scale, I think that that's okay. And I think a lot of the times it might not be super relevant for everybody in the way that they wanna make coffee at home.

Ashley: Something else that you mentioned in that interview was that you've used social media to test different thesis—thesis? The—I'm not sure how the plural of that is, but that you've used social media to test different ideas that you've had about coffee and to see if they're viable at all, or if people are interested in them, which I think really speaks a lot to like the scientific method of just trying new things and seeing if things work.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. What are some of the things that you tested on social media and what have you learned from putting stuff out on TikTok or on Instagram or just out for the world, for people to consume?

Gefen: Every single thing that I've done has been a test so far. Like every single thing, it just seems like weird, and for a reason. I think we are trying to be the weird brand, weird, but in a fun and approachable way.

I would say one of the tests that I had—so like, I was looking for ways to source coffee equipment that was just more affordable and also just fun.

I just didn't wanna put out some sort of—I didn't even know if I was gonna do equipment, that wasn't even the plan. I did this test and ran with it and it did really well. And I was super surprised, but also not super surprised, because I just had this intuition that people would be down for funkier-looking coffee equipment.

So I went and searched for a couple months for what that was. I got our cow-print Moka pot, and I was just like, “Listen, we have a queer audience and people who like our bags, I think that they would like something that looks different, even if they're not queer.” Also Urban Outfitters has noticed that people like cow print. I just went there the other day and saw a bunch of cow print stuff, so it's definitely reaching a wider target audience than that.

But that was my first thing was like, “Okay, I think people would be down to have like a non-stainless-steel Moka pot.” That was just my only intuition. I made a video with both the cow-print Moka pot and our lover's French press, which is just this red French press with a heart in it. And I literally just took the samples that I got and made a video. Like, “Would you guys like this?” Made a video about it and then the video went pretty viral.

I had, I think it was 800 comments that were super aggressive, like really funny aggressive, like “Drop the link now or I'll kill your mother.” Crazy shit like that. Super funny. Then they were like, “Oh, we'll rob you if you don't do this.” Or like, just, if you go through that video, I'll link you after if you want.

But it was just really funny, like really funny how passionate people were about having these things. I just like, don't get why nobody else has done this before. This feels like low-hanging fruit to have something that looks just like more fun. I'm not innovating here.

I'm just offering something a little bit different and it's like, I didn't do any real innovation. I just saw something that I thought would be cool and oh, people are obsessed with it. And then every time someone buys or we gift it to somebody and they make videos with it on TikTok—even the other day, there's a pretty big creator who made a video with our cow-print Moka pot. And then we like made a couple thousand dollars that day just because that video.

People haven't seen it before. That's kinda like one of the ways that I tested and then I immediately bought a ton of them, and I was in a big rush and there were supply chain issues, but anyways. Now it's part of our offerings and we're in a bunch of different retail locations with it. And we're selling out of them because people just haven't seen something like that before.

They're used to the same run-of-the-mill, either matte black or stainless steel equipment, and it's usually priced pretty high. But I thought that a Moka pot and a French press would be a really good entry point for people. So, yeah, that was the one major test that I ran that was super successful, and I was excited about.

Ashley: What I'm taking from this conversation is two main things:

One of them is that you're not afraid to observe people. You're not afraid to notice what they're looking at, or even just notice what's popular around you. The fact that you went to an Urban Outfitters and it's like, “Oh, there's cow print here,” or, “Oh, I saw this somewhere else. Let me just try this out and see if this works in this arena.”

Two: It seems like you're able to put a lot of things together and notice where there's gaps and you've talked a little bit about that—that there are definitely gaps in the coffee industry.

I think this whole conversation is kind of an ode to all the gaps in the coffee industry. But I was wondering like, as you were collecting interviews, as you were talking to people, what stood out to you and what do you think Couplet is responding to?

Gefen: I mean, even if we just hone in on the bag: We are now doing pretty, pretty damn well in retail. Like I'm focusing on like, a couple loca—well, that's not a couple, we're like at 20 now, but, we're in a couple retail locations. And it's funny when I went to New York, I think we had like seven accounts there that I went to and went and took some pictures.

Every time you see Couplet on a shelf, it stands out because of the holographic nature of the bag, but it's also super maximalist and a lot of super fun elements on it. But it's funny, when you walk past it—this was by design—but when you walk into a store, you walk into any store or if you're in a different aisle, the light reflects off the bag. You're gonna, it's gonna catch your eye whether you like it or not. That is the first thing that people, they look at it, they pick it up, they're like, “Oh, that's cool.”

I think the funny thing about Couplet is that there's an element of surprise. If something looks really, really pretty, you don't think it's gonna taste good. So it's funny because then people end up really liking it. We get a lot of people posting about Couplet all the time. They're like, for some reason, super passionate about it.

And this is the gap. Why are people so passionate about Couplet as a brand? Like why are people posting about it constantly? And we're small—we launched two months ago—posting about it constantly like DMing me.

And we're gonna post this on Instagram today, but DMing me hilarious paragraphs about how much Couplet has brightened their day just by having really good-tasting beans, but also something to like really show off on their counter. It's always something that they like to put on their counters, almost decor.

For some reason, they’re just obsessed with the cow-print Moka pot, the French press. For some reason, a lot of the people that are into cow-print end up interacting with each other and share tips and stuff and recipes, and it's because that audience is not the typical specialty coffee audience.

And I will say a lot of specialty coffee people are also still impressed with the quality of Couplet. Because of the nature of who is a part of Couplet, whether it's a lot of the people in the queer community who they've just never seen a really very queer brand for coffee—and like so many people drink coffee. So it's been super easy to connect with that, but it's the offerings that are queer. It's the offerings that are fun and it just feels a little bit more inclusive.

We're tweeting funny stuff about making fun of people who make fun of others for how they drink coffee at home. And they haven't seen a coffee brand do that, especially when they're positioned as a specialty brand.

So I think there's multiple elements where I just felt a lot of people were maybe fans of brands, but were they posting about it all the time, were they really excited about it? Are they telling their friends about it? Are they buying every new thing that we're putting out? Are they reaching out to us to say how excited they are? I just didn't see that happening with other brands. And I'm sure that it absolutely exists and it will continue to exist. But I just wanted to create a brand that felt more like you're a part of something. That was the gap.

Ashley: Yeah, that's a really good point. It's something that I've heard only talked about when people are talking about former employees. Maybe this is a jump, but go with me here. We're gonna take a journey.

Gefen: Let's do it.

Ashley: I feel like when people leave a job in a really amicable way, those are the people that are gonna talk about that place well.

Those are the people who are gonna be, they're like your alumni, almost. “You should apply for this job here. I had a great time working there,” or, “You should buy coffee from this place because I used to work there like, and it's so much fun,” versus when you leave a job and it's not amicable or not even memorable, then you never really mention it.

It seems like a lot of that rhetoric is kind of being applied to the way that you think about Couplet with like—you want people talking about this, your best marketing is other people sharing their passion for your brand. And we don't think about that in coffee. You're absolutely right.

There are very few coffee bags that I would pick up and be like, “I'm gonna tell everybody about this,” or “I'm gonna take a photo and put it on my social media,” or "I'm gonna message you directly and be like, ‘I loved this,’” like that, that doesn't happen. We don't think about that.

Gefen: Yeah, I just haven't seen it. And like I said, I'm sure there's things that have existed that I have just not seen, but I wanted to create sheer excitement and joy from my brand that embodies my values and principles.

And obviously these things—I have a lot more to learn and do in this world, but just core stuff, I feel like people honestly just connect with others on a human level or with brands on that level if they just feel heard.

I always like to DM everybody who's posted and like, “Hey, how do you feel about this? If you didn't like this bag, or if it wasn't as fresh as you expected, I will personally send it myself, from my apartment, not from our fulfillment center. I will go to a roastery and grab a bag for you.”

That's another element that I had also not seen is Instagram and all that—all of the ads just felt like the same thing over and over again, like this is just a bag. Someone is showing me the same visual of someone like pouring, just making a pour over. I could not decipher the multiple ads that I see from coffee brands. Could not decipher which brand was. I wanted us to be like, “Oh, that's Couplet. Oh, that's so Couplet.”

And even before we launched and we were just doing the limited-edition drops and things like that, and people were like, “Oh, that's so Couplet.” And we didn't even have our brand identity done. But we had a voice though. And I think the voice is what stuck with people.

It's just something recognizable, but just different in that people connect with it. That's it really.

Ashley: Is there anything that you'd want people to know about either you or Couplet that maybe wouldn't be obvious from reading about you or even listening to this? What would you want people to take away from this?

Gefen: That's a good question. I would say one takeaway is that I am not self-made and I know absolutely nothing. And the only reason I accomplished anything that I've ever accomplished in my life is because I just ask a ton of questions. I don't think Couplet is perfect and I think we could do better and be better.

And I think that's the same for me, but I always welcome opinions, rebuttals, feedback, negative feedback, criticism … all of those things. I'm very open to hearing different people's opinions. Whether it's something that I said on this podcast or tweeted or whatever, I'm just happy to collaborate and chat in positive ways with other people.

So I hope that's clear, uh, and also, yeah, nobody, nobody is self-made. So I think that we should just acknowledge that, that like me going to UCLA to study computer science and then going and working at Tesla and raising money to like start a coffee brand. You know, there's a lot of privilege that went into that.

And I just like want to be clear about the fact that there's privilege in everything that I've done, and I'm trying to give back in the best ways that I can. If anyone who ever wants to reach out and ask how to start a business, or has coffee questions and things like that, I'm very open to chatting.

Ashley: Gefen, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Gefen: Thank you so much. This was fun.