Maybe you’ve got an enviable position with a top-dollar company. Maybe you’ve got a steady job with health benefits and pension — but something doesn’t feel right. What can you do when the entrepreneurial bug has bitten?
Debbie Wei Mullin found herself in a similar position. Though she held a cushy position in supply chain development at World Bank, she felt stuck. Her innovative ideas were constantly pushed to the wayside, and she dreamed of a company where she could change the status quo and create great new products. So instead of finding that business, she built it. Now Debbie has created a household-name coffee brand with distribution in major retailers like Walmart, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Whole Foods. What does it take to make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality?
In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, Diana Fryc is joined by Debbie Wei Mullin, Founder and CEO of Copper Cow Coffee, to discuss her entrepreneurial journey. Debbie talks about why she left her steady corporate job to start her own business, the impact of her sister and brother-in-law’s support, and the unique aspects of Copper Cow Coffee. Debbie also shares tips for venturing out on your own entrepreneurial journey!
In this episode we learn:
- Debbie Wei Mullin describes the unique aspects of Vietnamese coffee flavors
- How did the coffee culture evolve in Vietnam?
- Copper Cow Coffee’s growth during the last five years
- Why Debbie left her enviable position at World Bank to pursue her own business
- Debbie explains why her sister and brother-in-law’s support made all the difference
- The benefits of entrepreneurship versus a corporate job
- Debbie’s advice for young entrepreneurs
- Debbie’s proudest moments with Copper Cow Coffee
About Debbie Wei Mullin:
Debbie Wei Mullin is the Founder and CEO of Copper Cow Coffee, the first premium Vietnamese coffee company in the US. Copper Cow Coffee connects sustainable farms with the American specialty coffee market, which is the largest in the world. Their signature Pour Over Latte kits come with delicious, sweet creamers and single-serve filters that fit over any cup, so customers can brew a perfect latte anywhere.
Debbie’s first entrepreneurial venture was founding Wei Pantry, a nationally distributed Vietnamese all-natural heritage food line. Before that, Debbie worked as a Consultant for World Bank, managing their supply chain development.
Guests Social Media Links:
LinkedIn Debbie Wei Mullin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/debbie-mullin-308a168/
- Debbie Wei Mullin on LinkedIn
- Copper Cow Coffee
- Natasha Case from Coolhaus Ice Cream on LinkedIn
- Reshma Chamberlin from SUMMERSALT on LinkedIn
- Function of Beauty
- Diana Fryc on LinkedIn
- Retail Voodoo
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo.
Retail Voodoo has been building beloved and dominant brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness CPG industries for over 30 years. They’ve served multinational companies like PepsiCo. and Starbucks, startups like High Key, and everything in between.
Their proven process guides hundreds of mission-driven consumer brands to attract a broad and passionate fan base, crush their categories through growth and innovation, and magnify their social and environmental impact.
So, if you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, Retail Voodoo is here to help.
Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:45
Hi, Diana Fryc here. I’m the host of the Gooder Podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. Thanks for joining us today. Really quick here. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo retail Voodoo is a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks kind Rei, PepsiCo High Key and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food wellness beverage and fitness industry. If your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new innovative ideas, give us a call. And let’s talk. And for more information about retail video, you can visit retail-voodoo.com or email email@example.com. Well, today we get to talk about culture fusion, entrepreneurship and coffee. By by way of Debbie Wei Mullin. Debbie left her career at the World Bank in supply chain management to create a business based on two of her biggest passions, Vietnamese cuisine and sustainable development. Over the past five years, Debbie has grown Copper Cow Coffee to support sustainable farms in Vietnam, now sold in over 3000 retailers including Whole Foods and Sprouts. Well hello, Debbie. How are you today?
Debbie Wei Mullin 2:08
Thanks. Hi, welcome. I’m very excited to be here. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 2:12
Where are you calling from today?
Debbie Wei Mullin 2:14
I’m calling from Los Angeles, California.
Diana Fryc 2:17
Good. LA, we’re in the same time zone. I love it when that happens. Yes, it seems rare these days. So the first thing you have somebody is where they are. And it might be different every call you have with the Yes. And even with the same people because people are starting to move around a little bit more. Exactly. Yeah. Hey, before we get into the really meaty stuff, I always like to give my guests an opportunity to share about their brand. Can you tell us a little bit about Copper Cow Coffee and why it exists?
Debbie Wei Mullin 2:47
Yeah, so the Copper Cow Coffee is the first premium Vietnamese Coffee Company in the US. So it’s really exciting to be able to connect sustainable farms with the American specialty coffee market, which is the largest specialty coffee market in the world. And we do so with our signature product, which is our pourover latte kits. So, for a perfect latte anywhere have no equipment required. We have these handy little Single Serve filters that fit over any cup. And then we make our own secret creamers that are really awesome. Yes, yeah, you can buy the whole the whole kits on our website or in stores.
Diana Fryc 3:27
Awesome. Um, so tell us for those of us that are maybe not coffee aficionados tell us a little bit about the difference between Vietnamese coffee flavors, etc, versus what the average coffee drinker can get in the market right now?
Debbie Wei Mullin 3:47
Absolutely. So it’s a very good question. And for there’s multiple ways that you can define Vietnamese coffee actually, because you can sometimes see it on menus in places like I know down here, you know, groundworks has a Vietnamese coffee that they have on their menu, but it’s actually they just serve it with condensed milk. So there’s a few ways that we hear coffee, how coffee to find Vietnamese coffee. The first and foremost is that it comes from Vietnam. Vietnam is actually the second largest coffee producer in the world. And it’s known for having these really strong coffee beans that are rich with like mocha and Neti undertones, it’s a little bit different than what you would get in South America or Africa, which will have more floral or fruity tones. So that goes really well with how it’s traditionally served, which is really like really strong and with sweetened condensed milk. So like nice and caramella. With this, we can condense milk and sometimes people just associate via that nice coffee for that part. But for us, we really believe in highlighting the region and the agricultural story that we’re supporting.
Diana Fryc 4:52
Gotcha. I have a strange, weird, tangential question. I’m noticing a lot of beverages at least the ones that
I run into a vendor from Vietnam have a lot of milk or heavy cream in them? Is that is that an inaccurate observation? Or is that just what Americans are drawn towards? Are those ones that are creamier?
Debbie Wei Mullin 5:14
I think it might be a bit of both so in Vietnam you definitely coffee is almost always drink with cream. Okay, but it’s usually with sweetened condensed milk. So because I think that back from you know, it’s a really, really hot tropical countries or refrigeration was an issue, which is why
that’s milk is shelf stable, which is why we can just pack gin on a boxes shelf. That’s why it proliferated in the country. But then also, like, Vietnamese people do really love things packed with flavor. And I think that things being really creamy is normal, whether that’s with condensed milk or with coconut milk. But I think that if you if you find something in the US, I mean, we will have things like nice and rich here. So probably just the meeting of those two things combined is probably what you’ve experienced. Yes, yes. I know, when I spoke with sashi over it tea drops, big fans of the boba tea, and then also the milk tea here in this house too. And I’m like, okay, milk tea, and we got milk coffee. There’s a lot of milk going on. So yeah, yeah.
Diana Fryc 6:22
Now, when we were preparing for this call, you hit some interesting things that you wanted to share about the history of coffee, and communism, which is a very, it’s kind of a sorted, not fun topic between the United States and Vietnam, considering its more recent history, but it’s really important component of the coffee culture or not the coffee culture, but maybe the farming practices. Maybe you want. Can you share a little bit more that I know you were really interested in sharing that?
Debbie Wei Mullin 6:53
Yeah. So one thing that’s really interesting about Vietnam is that it was it was formerly colonized by the French. And that was when coffee was really introduced to the region. Gotcha. And it just grows so well, there. It’s so conducive for coffee. And so Vietnam, you see coffee totally proliferate across the country, there’s just so much coffee growing and into there’s a lot of history there for the beans that are meant for French roast, which is the way that we that we do a dark French roast for our coffee as well. But when the communists took over, you have price setting, right? So one of the things that they do is they don’t want the market to figure out prices. So no matter what quality of coffee you produce, there was one price for it. So it ended up being this like major degradation of quality. So while Vietnam continued to grow as it as an exporter and coffee, they just grew in terms of pounds, not in terms of quality, not so so so that’s why Vietnam is such a big coffee player, but just not in the specialty coffee space historically. And then, as you see, you know, the, you know, the Vietnamese economy open up over the last 20 years particularly the last 10 years. You see this the the country industrialised a middle class emerge, and and Vietnam has always because it’s such a coffee powerhouse had a huge domestic coffee scene, coffee culture. I mean, I kid you not that if you go to Vietnam now, like every other storefront is a coffee shop in LA, everyone’s always hanging out drinking coffee, it’s that you do you assume that someone’s doing all day long, drinking, sipping on this super strong coffee with condensed milk. And so when when you see this, the the population evolve and begin to have disposable income. Coffee is obviously a place where that goes. And so you’re seeing this whole renaissance in of coffee culture in Vietnam, where people really care are beginning to ask questions of how it was grown. What’s the varietal? How was the process? Okay, how is it roasted? You know, what they’re interested in the different types of brews from cold brew to lattes, and macchiatos. And I think it’s just really interesting to see that evolution and for me to have started to look into the coffee space. This was about seven years ago, when I started, you know, asking the question of like, what would it take to be able to do something that was similar to the third wave coffee scene, I was immersed in blue bottle coffee and film and all this fun stuff, but with a take on Vietnamese coffee that I have grown up with. And just when I started to talk to domestic suppliers here, you know, people were kind of laughing at me saying like, you can’t find that great of coffee from Vietnam, it doesn’t exist, but when I travelled there, there totally was it just was only being consumed domestically. So to be able to support that type of farming and agricultural practices and then most importantly, to be able to offer a price per pound That really incentivizes the quality that we’re after has been been really impactful.
Diana Fryc 10:06
Wow. And and so that’s kind of influences what you were wanting to do with Copper Cow Coffee anyways, right? Like there’s some pride in there and bringing this amazing richness of Vietnamese culture into the United States. And I don’t know, do you infuse that kind of? I don’t know if there’s a way to say this. Do you infuse that kind of POV this the Vietnamese people and and into the brand at all? Or do you feel like you want Copper Cow to stand alone?
Debbie Wei Mullin 10:44
What I would like to do is because something that I was really surprised about when I launched the brand was that people didn’t know that Vietnam even made coffee, even though when you’re drinking, you know, coffee from you know who it’s, it’s from Vietnam, they just don’t label it that way. And so I think that that’s something that was really eye opening for me was when I started to, you know, just be at shows and asking people, do you want to try some Vietnamese coffee? The number one response I get is what’s Vietnamese coffee? I didn’t know Vietnam made coffee. So I think you know, I’m really big. One of the things that I think starting a company has really taught me is that I can have all the ideas I want and all the ways that I want the brand to be but I have to meet my customer where they’re at and just say like, like for I think that we’re in a position to make coffee cow coffee, a Vietnamese coffee synonymous? Yes for for the US market. And that’s really what what we’re trying to do today. So we want to highlight the farmers, you want to highlight the region, we want to highlight, you know, I and let’s face it, we’re now seeing other Vietnamese coffee startups that are freemium startup. And we’re so excited, and we’re all friends. And we’re like all tides will rise together once people realise how amazing this inventory is.
Diana Fryc 11:56
Yeah. Well, and you have some big fans, right? Like, I know, you and Sasha, you’re friends, you have you got some love from Shark Tank amongst? I think I saw you had a capital raise that was earlier this year. So you’ve got a lot of people supporting you. How are you feeling about the adoption rate in the marketplace? Like, is this going as well as you wanted it to?
Debbie Wei Mullin 12:22
Is it going as well as I want? I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s hard to see, you know, I think it’s about like, how things turned out how you thought they would I say, in some ways, it’s so much exceeded my expectations, you know, yeah, I mean, I think that, that I set out, you know, to, to, you know, start a brand that would highlight, get a nice coffee that would show people how awesome it was that I would get to work with people that I love and and try to create a household name, like, those were the things that kind of got me started with it, you know, and now we’re, I’m in my fifth year of doing it. And I think what’s funny is I, if you’d asked me, you know, seven years ago, like, oh, five years from now, you’ll be at this place. You know, I think it’s like, I think that I was thinking much more about the destination when I started. And now that I’m five years in, I’m like, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Like, I feel like it’s such a privilege to, to still be doing it. And so I think that that’s, that’s something that I think I’m humbled by is just the the fact that I get to work with the people that are willing to work for me that are so incredible, and that we do have people love the product, I think that the adoption has been quite fast, we’ve grown I mean, we’ve over tripled in size every year for the last three years. pastic Yeah. And it’s and at the same time, like I think that those those growth rate comes with challenges. You know, we’re very sustainability focused. And there’s, there’s think challenges that come with scale, you know, these handshake agreements that you start a business with are really different than what you do, and you’re a national Whole Foods brand with with major supply demands. And I think that that’s something that these are all these are all welcome to challenges that that I you, because you’re the beginning, you’re just trying to convince people that you’re really going to do something and then now that you’re doing it, how are you going to really stay true to all those things that you set out to? So I think that in some ways, it’s it’s better than I ever thought it would be. And then in some ways, it’s so much more challenging to
Diana Fryc 14:30
Yeah, I think my business partner and I, when we talk about those issues, we call them better challenges, instead of bigger or different, you know, because you want to always, you want your challenges to always be a bigger challenge than what you started off with, like, oh, how do I support 1000 doors versus 500 doors now? Oh, am I gonna get ingredients for X number versus x number? So I yeah, I get it. I get it. So Let’s jump back for just a moment to the Debbie. That’s that World Bank doing now. So you were working on supply chain? Correct?
Debbie Wei Mullin 15:11
Right. So I was I was working on projects at the World Bank. So So financing projects that would support supply chain development at Asia. Okay, yeah.
Diana Fryc 15:19
So was there? Was there something that happened in your time at World Bank? Was there something ceding you there that started pointing you in this direction of copper coffee?
Debbie Wei Mullin 15:31
There were many things. And I, it’s interesting, because over the course of my first met, the first first part of my career working in international development, you know, I think what happened was, it’s so different than this, where I kept thinking like, oh, if I get to this point, it’s not going to feel like this anymore. And if anything, it just kept feeling a little bit worse. And I think that that’s for a number of reasons. One being that it was just a really, really big bureaucratic place. So culturally, that was really hard for me, because I would have really crazy and want to do things really differently, or, you know, want to work a lot faster. And culturally, that really rubbed people the wrong way. You know, especially it was that place that was very honestly ages, you know, being being a young, young female, it was really hard, it felt like to be taken seriously. So I think there were there were all these things that were just a terrible cultural fit for me. And then, you know, what’s really interesting is that, I think a lot about how having a kid has like input, or being being a mom, or thinking about being a mom has influenced me towards this path. Really, even though oftentimes, you know, you think about like, Is it possible to do something as crazy as this, but I remember, I think it was, my last boss at the World Bank was particularly terrible. And I remember thinking to myself that I was getting ready to the point where I was thinking about having kids, and I was like, there’s no way I would want to be away from my kid to be like to be here. Yeah, to be here. And I was like, I should at least go try to do something that I really, really want to do. And so I think that there was, there was that coupled with that I just didn’t feel effective. I didn’t feel like I was like, spent doing what I was setting out to do, which I feel like I’m much more effective at with with my skill set and went in with what I’m doing today with copper cow coffee with it impacting sustainability in the region.
Diana Fryc 17:35
God, I think that all families, women in particular tend to be this way, but I’m seeing particularly with younger millennials, definitely with Gen Z, men and women looking at quality of life when they’re thinking about an employer and making those decisions. Now, there are plenty of people that would love to have the role that you had at World Bank and, and God bless them, right, like let them have that. It is interesting to think starting a new business and having young family don’t seem to be compatible. And yet, I will say that almost every entrepreneur or not it not 100% that I’ve interviewed so far that’s been a woman has a young family, and it seems to be having a kid or thinking about having a kid seems to be this opportunity to go, Oh, I want to I want to do something different. And if it’s going to be hard, then let’s be hard all the way around, right?
Debbie Wei Mullin 18:41
Yeah, exactly. Yes. make it worthwhile to like put your you know, cuz I don’t know, I’ve always I’m a bit of a workaholic. And I love working and, and if, if I’m in a work like that, it should be for a place where I can really, really dig it and feel feel valued, right. Mm hmm.
Diana Fryc 19:02
Well, so you talked about kind of the big turning point for what you wanted to do just leaving World Bank, but was there some sort of aha that said, Vietnamese coffee?
Debbie Wei Mullin 19:15
Yes. And so I spent, it was about six months that I was beginning to really go down the like, let me think about the entrepreneurial path. So I remember I moved to I moved to Seattle, I was fully working for the World Bank remotely Yes. Knowing that I was going to leave so doing a contract position full time that that could be as long as I wanted it to be but I’m thinking like I’m gonna do something different. I was I was like, interviewing with like, you know, the Gates Foundation. Oh, and I like just wandering not not sure in your in Seattle. I just had I was honestly quite lost just knew that what I was doing wasn’t working. You know, and I remember thinking even you know, I I feel like I’m playing somebody else’s game that I’m just like, never going to win. Like, I just remember having that feeling of like this like bureaucratic game that like really just culturally didn’t fit with me. And I actually wanted to just work at a startup, but because my background looked the way it did, like, I wouldn’t even talk to me. And so really, yeah, it was really because they were just like, oh, he believed it had really huge organisation experience, like, it was something that was that I that I began to say, Well, if if I think it’s like, if I’m going to complain so much about how things are run, and want to be at a startup, like I should just start my own company. And I had a bunch of really bad business ideas. And this, this was, this was one of the better ones, I guess. But I actually first started off with a cooking line, because there were all these like, kind of like bottled products that my family would make, so that you could like more easily with Vietnamese food at home on a weeknight. And there was this like this infused oil and vinegars that we would make that I thought would be a great business business. And what’s nice about that was I was able to dabble in it, like I was able to rent commercial kitchen space. In the evenings, weekends, I sold it door to door all while working full time at the World Bank. And so I think I was able to kind of dabble in it. Before I left to learn about distribution, how you sell things, what the market is, you know, just just learned some of the fundamentals before you know while and I remember having like lots of meetings with people about some other business ideas I had an each time you go and have a me and be like that’s probably out of that, that I I’m it would put you off the set. But once you begin to, like, look more and more into the idea, you just get more and more, you know, kind of encouragement. And that’s, I think that sometimes people ask me about like, there was the moment of like, deciding to kind of move away from the World Bank, but like sometimes I think about when this concept took over. Yeah. I it just it was just one day, it was like all I could think about like it just kind of slowly took over my brain. It was all I wanted to work.
Diana Fryc 22:05
I understand that. Yeah, yeah, I totally do. I it’s Did you have anybody kind of guiding you? Did you have anybody in the industry where your parents according you like what was that whole ecosystem like for you as you were figuring things out? So I had
Debbie Wei Mullin 22:26
my, my sister and my brother in law were entrepreneurs, and they were the ones who were pushing me really a stretch, especially my brother in law, because he’s someone who’s raised venture capital, he’s had a lot of successful businesses. And so he made it look really easy. And he was the first he was the first person to say to me that he thought that I in particular, he’s like, I feel like you have the the mindset to do this. I think you have the pert the personnel, the disposition for it. You know, and it’s funny when you think about that, like, if no one had said that to me, I don’t know if I would have ever you know, you don’t see a lot of women who look like me doing this. It took him saying that being like, your mind thinks like an entrepreneur, you act like an entrepreneur, like you should do some you get so much more excited talking about silly business ideas that about the jobs you’re interviewing for. And and so when I was doing this beside business, he just pulled pulled me aside, he was like, I’m really excited that you’re moving forward on this. I think this could be more than a side hustle. Like I would invest if you were willing to quit your job and do it. Oh, really? Yeah. So I think that was that was a really, you know, not everybody has somebody, you know, that kind of vote of confidence. And yeah, this was kind of in the face of like my parents, especially my mother, who’s a refugee from Vietnam. It was really hard for her to to Face Face it when I decided to do this because, you know, she has spent her whole life just trying to make like, mitigate risk. How do I give myself My life, my life, my family, like, we were talking last night and somebody that I didn’t know was when she when she left Vietnam, she got on a on a fighter jet and literally didn’t know where it was going. She’s like, I didn’t know mostly to Asia. I didn’t know I was going to Hong Kong. I was going to the US I had no idea. I just knew I was leaving Vietnam. And that was like all I cared about and he’s like, you want a pension? You want a stable paycheck, you want a job, you know? So the World Bank was really great for like her to feel releases for me to say, you know, I remember her saying like, why would you work in food? That’s what you do when you have no other skills. You know, like, what a lot of her brothers and sisters did. Yeah, open up a hotdog stand like what’s the thing that you can do you know that that doesn’t require any skills or language even. And I think it was just really hard for her. She’s, she’s okay with it now. I think for a long time, it was really, really hard for her. So I think I’ve had both ends of the spectrum with support but but definitely really, really amazing support in my family.
Diana Fryc 24:54
There we are sorry, I don’t know. Tech. I can certainly understand That my parents are immigrants, my dad a refugee, as well. And it’s so funny, funny in an interesting way. Because in technically, if you are self employed, you actually have more stability. Because you have control of your future, you have control of the opportunity, you have to work hard, don’t get me wrong, right. But if you are an employee at an organisation, even the larger the organisation it is you become, you become, you’re an asset that the organisation either needs or doesn’t need. And I know that we are living in a different time now where companies look at employees differently, that type of thing, but its employees are more expendable, then, especially since I’ve been working with my business partner for cash 15 years now definitely have more say over my schedule and my time, granted, I work long hours, but I do have more control. I at least I think that I don’t know how if that shows up for you that way,
Debbie Wei Mullin 26:09
I feel the exact same way. And I think that resonates with my comment earlier about playing someone else’s game. You know, I remember just being so frustrated when I was like, I feel like my whole career trajectory, or the the wave the possibility of me being able to do a project that I want to do, would all rely on the opinion of one person. Yeah. And you know, whether it’s your boss, or the person who’s controlling something to do with the company and feeling so subjective and so difficult, and, and so linear in a way that like, if it didn’t go the way you wanted it to, you would just get stuck. Yeah. So as opposed to now, it’s like, you know, if I, if I pitch to an investor and ask them to invest, and they say no, I’m like, all right, on to the next like, it’s not like or, or if a retailer says no, you know, that’s fine. There’s a million other retailers out there. You know, there’s there’s, for every every, you know, there’s infinite yeses, like possible and I think that I felt like I suddenly now have total control over my destiny compared to before.
Diana Fryc 27:13
Yeah. And, you know, some people want that stability. And that’s okay. And kudos to your sister and your brother in law for inspiring you encouraging you to go your own way. Because you definitely, definitely. I mean, you just exude entrepreneurial ism. That doesn’t exist in everybody. And I’m sure you’ve been around plenty of people, you can identify it when it’s there as well. Totally. Yeah. So those early days of, of the business and of the brand. Were there any? Were there any things out? Outside of, you know, kind of pulling things together? What were some of the big learnings for you, in the early days of maybe what you didn’t know, and those things that kind of just stick in your brain that you wish that you could like, ever to every entrepreneur, here are the five things that I did that you should not? Do? You know, what, what does that look like? Oh, man,
Debbie Wei Mullin 28:13
I can’t even I had a lot of expensive lessons. I think that probably one of the biggest things was,
you know, just knowing your market, I think is something that is and to know that you are not your mark, you are not your mark, yes, I think that that’s something like because that’s pretty much my first product line I made was for me, like, I would pay so much for this, and I would use it all the time and sell it my friends and family, you know, and just and that, and that was one of those things were, you know, my I still think that that it was a worthwhile exercise, but just not exhaustive enough in the beginning of that where I made a small batch in my kitchen and and learned how to bottles that have been, you know, learned how to make labels and just kind of came up with a little prototype and then you know, just gave it to all my friends and family and saw if they would use it and ask for more. And they all did you know and so that was like this proof of concept yeah itself, where I remember investor saying something like just stand outside a whole foods and talk to 100 people. And I’m like, that would have been a better exercise to have done in the beginning. Rather than just I remember that I had i or i had like, some parties where we would do those on packaging. There were loads of fun things that I did, but it was always so like network centric, right? So then you end up in this like hyper foodie crowd which is just not actually the way the world is like, most people, they can’t taste the difference between you know, like, like something that’s like a $5 chocolate bar or a $2 chocolate bar. You know, they they appreciate the brand, they appreciate free, you know, they want something that they’re told is healthier for them, but they’re not going to be as discerning as known as my community was. So I think that that was a huge lesson for me is is just Is there a way for you doesn’t mean you have to, you know, hire some expensive research firm, it just means like, try to find a situation where it’s not just your friends and family. I think that was that was something that was really big. And then the other thing is not to be afraid to think really big. And I think that when I was first fundraising, you know, like, now that I know much more about it, I really kind of was just so in shock that people would even want to give me any money that I didn’t really think about the long term, like if I was to raise many, many rounds, like what would this look like? And I think that just not being afraid to set yourself up for for a big vision. I think that there’s nothing there’s no, there. That’s only rewarded, in my opinion. And I think that being able to, to embrace that and set yourself up in the beginning for that is
Diana Fryc 30:59
also important. Yes? Well, I’m just thinking of that a lot of the things that we see with brands, when they’re struggling, particularly in the innovation side, and talking to the point that you’re talking that you’re saying is, oftentimes, when you’re looking at that immediate, those people that are around you that are giving you feedback, you need a little bit of that just simply because you need a little bit of ego stroke, you need some you need some love, because this is a personal thing that you’re working on. Yeah. But you do need to get input from people who don’t care who you are, and who don’t censor themselves, because that’s where your real market opportunity is. And so good on you for moving in that direction. Sounds like you did that pretty quick? Or was there a little bit of time before you got that insight?
Debbie Wei Mullin 32:00
I think that it was whispery all the time. But I think what’s hard is like I didn’t do that, that like, what would be the cross section. This is also just me, me knowing not not understanding the food and beverage levels More, more. Now, I know that there’s a big difference between a grocery product at a farmers market. Right. And so I was getting, in my opinion, in my mind, like all of this, like, you know, unbiased data going to craft fairs. And farmers markets are people who are really looking for that kind of product that that I had. And that’s really different than something that’s going to sit on a grocery shelf. So I think like literally like someone is saying, like, you know, they might tell you that they might shoo you away, but like go outside to Whole Foods and like just like, survey their customers and ask them if they want to try this and if they buy it. And so I think that just to be bold that way would have been helpful earlier. And I think that, that the the real aha moment came when we started to get into grocery stores. And and that the the managers would tell me that it sold well. And I was like, it doesn’t sell well, it sells really, really, really slow. But they were saying this for this category for making products. You know, Americans just don’t cook that much. I had no idea. And so if Americans aren’t cooking that much, you just do the math, and it’s not going to be very easy to sell it up to make a living. And so and I remember we got into Sam’s Club, Sam’s Club, put gave us this like huge purchase order, it was more than the whole lifetime revenue of the company. And they put in a clause there that if it didn’t sell, I’d have to buy it back from Oh, that’s brutal. And I just remember thinking to myself, because I remember my sister at the time was like, well, maybe you should just do it, just do it. And I was like, I don’t believe it’s gonna sell. And I was like, I have the wrong product that I have to start over. Yeah. And just just to have that realization and to be able to admit it was was really hard.
Diana Fryc 34:01
Good. Like, that’s good self reflection and listening. I also not a big fan of buybacks for a for younger brands general I wouldn’t
Debbie Wei Mullin 34:09
I would never agree to that. Yeah, ever, but I think it was the fact that I was like, I know that this product. Yeah, that I know that the chances is not selling just realised that that was actually really the issue with the business. Of course, I was gonna say no to that. Those kinds of terms for food. I mean, yeah, that puts an entrepreneur in such a bad position. Yes. But it was the fact that I didn’t believe it was going to sell like I would probably take that deal. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, but if like my business hinged upon it, like I would bet on this coffee, for sure. Yeah.
Diana Fryc 34:42
Well, so what’s been your proudest moment to date with Copper Cow Coffee?
Debbie Wei Mullin 34:47
What’s been my proudest moment to date? That’s a really good question. Um, you know, recently, we instated
paid full health care for all of our employees. And I remember when we when I was first able to afford any health care a couple years ago and just be like, you know, because it feels so terrible to be offering people’s jobs and just like there’s no health care, you’re my first employee and it’s just this, you know, minimum wage job and then and then being able to say like, okay, we have enough employees where I can offer health health care benefits that are at the minimum that I could possibly afford to have the company and partners in place where we believe that this is something that’s important for the team. I think that that was just a really great moment of its symbolises, like that it’s a real company. It symbolizes that we’re investing in people it symbolizes that, you know, we’re just, we’re not afraid to say that, that your health is like one of the most important things as this company. So I think that that’s something that, that it’s it’s funny, it really has been like a really big, proud moment for me.
Diana Fryc 36:03
Oh, congratulations. Thank you. Oh, I love hearing that. And I love that it’s, I mean, this, this is not the right fit for everybody. But I love that it’s not, I don’t know, financial or distribution or something like that, because this is all about people and community. That’s awesome.
Debbie Wei Mullin 36:20
Yeah, cuz when you when you raise money, obviously there’s there’s relief in there, there’s pride. But it’s also like that money is is by no means that accomplishment, it’s just an opportunity to go do things, you know, and each time I get into a retailer, it’s just an opportunity to, to, you know, get to like, serve customers, everything is I still feel like we’re at the point where most things are just an opportunity, even when you make a purchase, it’s just an opportunity for us to convince you It’s an amazing products that you’ll buy again, you know, I think that there’s the we’re still in a such a, I think that the brand is just getting started and being able to have the right people’s is the only way we’re gonna get there, you know?
Diana Fryc 37:02
Oh, my goodness, that’s awesome. Well, now looking forward, what’s the future look like for you? And even Copper Cow Coffee? What what’s what’s the next couple of years look like? Or what do you do you hope to take over the world, what’s
Debbie Wei Mullin 37:20
always always in the back of my mind taking over the world, obviously. But on the road to that over the next couple years. We I think that there’s two things that I’m really excited about. One is it’s been really amazing in the pandemic that people are so open to subscription that that’s become something that people are much has much more dependable consumption habits, especially at home, and that this has become such a wonderful way for us to be able to serve and honour our customer to give them better pricing and better products and being able to invest in that experience to to be able to like own the whole coffee moment, I think is something that’s been really, really exciting. So investing in that best strategy, I think is probably the top front of mind about how to how to create this wonderful like thing that you get to look forward to every day at home. And then on the other end of that I think we’re really excited that I know that the pourover is just the first expression of Vietnamese coffee that we’re bringing to market. And I’m really, I really can’t wait to make it even more accessible. You know, and I think that we’ve got some innovation in the pipeline that we’re going to be launching new products next year. And I think a theme that I’m I’m very, very excited for.
Diana Fryc 38:36
I’ll be keeping my eye on that. So Debbie, our time is almost up, but I have a few questions that I ask every single guest and I’d love to go ahead and I’m just going to go ahead and ask them the first one I think you’ve already provided in some way shape or form, but I’m gonna ask it a different way. And that is I love it when a guest provides some sort of interesting fact I call it a happy hour fact that did you know, water cooler fact about their industry or the category that they’re in? Do you have some sort of like, soundbite about Vietnamese coffee or anything else that our listeners could take away with them today? Might be tricky because you gave some good ones earlier already. So maybe we could tuck that one away if you don’t have one that pops up right away.
Debbie Wei Mullin 39:29
Um, I don’t have one that pops up right away. Or actually I have I have one one that I think is interesting that I’ve learned about coffee behaviour in the US because a lot of times you know we sell it we’re one of the few coffee companies that sell coffee with cream and sugar that you can add to it of course but that that’s that’s much like about 70% of our customers buy it with the creamer. Oh and and I thought that that seemed high and then I found out that 70% of Americans drink their coffee with milk and sugar every day. And I think that being like a coastal being being a coastal resident being an LA resident, you know, I think of people drinking black coffee I drink I think my coffee black most days, and then my this weekend is milk is more of like, an afternoon treat. And so I think that that’s been really interesting to learn how much like that and learn a lot more about how the US is the whole string? Well, I
Diana Fryc 40:24
bet if we took a look at frappuccino sales, we probably do quick some quick math, and that might mic out for us pay. Exactly. That’s so funny.
Are there any other women leaders or rising stars in our industry or not that you would like to elevate or just simply advisor for the work that they’re doing right now? And why? Are you still there? I think it might have just, I Oh, are you there time here? Let me repeat that question again. All right, just in case. Yeah. Are there any other women leaders or rising stars out there in our industry or not? That you would like to elevate or simply admire for the work that they’re doing right now? And then why?
Debbie Wei Mullin 41:11
Um, great question I have I have two people, okay. That that I’ve really had a lot of great mentorship over the past past several years that I’ve been doing this one would be Natasha, Natasha from Coolhaus ice cream. She was one of the first people I met who, you know, really, really, and this is back when I still had just the oil and vinegar products because she’s an she’s a hardcore foodie. And she was just she really blown away by it and really has been so supportive every step of the way. And so I think that that’s somebody who I can’t I can’t believe like, I think something that’s so surprising after having really felt like it was hard to find mentors in my last career, how much how generous and available female entrepreneurs are, yeah, you know, and I think that another person that is always a phone call away, is Reshma, the founder of SUMMERSALT, who was started off in bathing suits. And now they are taking over the world in terms of all Wow, and yeah, she’s she’s always available, whether it’s something that I’m trying to figure out how to create great culture, how to find investors, you know, she’s always available for a half hour call, even though I met and I met her back when she was, you know, just starting out. And she always makes herself available to me, even though we’ve never met in person. But you know, she and which is normal now in the pandemic, but she’s just somebody who’s so generous, and I can’t say enough great things about her as an inspiring mentor.
Diana Fryc 42:36
Wow, that’s awesome. Well shout out to them. We’ll make sure they get some extra love today. Yeah. All right. And then my last question is, what brands or trends Do you have your eye on right now and why?
Debbie Wei Mullin 42:51
Well, a friend of mine started this company Function of Beauty that I think is just so exciting. And that’s customized haircare. Now they’ve they’ve gone into some other beauty products. But I think the idea of people wanting something that’s customized to their to their behaviours and having that come to them where there’s a small element of surprise and delight, but that they get to say exactly what they want to exactly for their deeds is something that that’s very inspiring to me that I think there’s going to be more of an in terms of the world of CPG automation. Hmm,
Diana Fryc 43:28
that’s awesome. That sounds great. I’m going to have to look, look them up. Yeah. What’s the name again? Oh, Function of Beauty Function of Beauty. Okay. I’ll have to take that. Well, we have been talking with Debbie Wei Mullin. I got that right, didn’t I? Yes. Whoo. The CEO and founder of Copper Cow Coffee. I have to record that all over. I’m so sorry. Go for it. Okay. We’ve been talking with Debbie Wei Mullin, co-founder, not co-founder. I’m going to do this one more time. It’s your time. I know. I know. It’s one of those days. All right. We’ve been talking with Debbie Wei Mullin Founder and CEO of Copper Cow Coffee. And Debbie, where can people learn more about you?
Debbie Wei Mullin 44:18
Definitely on our website at coppercowcoffee.com. But starting in October, you’ll be able to find this in every Whole Foods in the country, which will be very exciting. Oh, my goodness. And then every Sprouts, and then we’re also in a bunch of other retail grocery stores. But those are the two that will be you can you can find us anywhere in the country.
Diana Fryc 44:37
Oh my gosh, I love it. Debbie, thank you so much for your time today and for all that you’re doing for CPG and for other women entrepreneurs really enjoyed our time today. Thank you so much for having me. All right. Talk to you all soon.
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