This past month in June, Highlight was honored to work with multiple LGBTQIA+ brands to provide pro bono insights in support of Pride Month. We hope in providing this access to consumer feedback and data, we can help enable continued growth + success with these amazing brands. We truly believe in the importance of equal access to data across the board. The LGBTQIA+ owned brands Highlight has worked with include Love Good Fats, Attn: Grace, Explorer Cold Brew and more!
One of our Highlight team members was recently able to chat with Cason Crane, the founder of Explorer Cold Brew. Cason is building an innovative DTC coffee brand with a great story behind it. He himself is an avid explorer, traveling to over 100 countries. He was the first openly LGBT person to climb Mount Everest and the fifth youngest overall to climb Everest and the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each continent). He did all of this to raise money for LGBT suicide prevention and now he is on his next big adventure!
As a new founder, he chatted about the origins of his business, what it was like to start during a pandemic, and how he believes insights can help small businesses like his! Read on and we promise you’ll probably fan-girl as much as we did with this unique story.
Meet Cason! 🏔
Where did your love for coffee arise?
Cason: I've always had a very deep appreciation for coffee. It's one of those things that has an incredible cultural and social resonance almost everywhere in the world. It is grown in over 50 countries around the world but even more importantly, it's a part of so many traditions, both informal and formal. I've always had an appreciation for it but never been an avid consumer of it, until the pandemic hit. I just started drinking it more and more because it was one of those few things I could do in my day that really felt like a treat to me. As many young people are, I'm also almost exclusively a cold coffee drinker- meaning I only drink like cold brew or iced lattes all year round. I was drinking a ton of it during the pandemic and I was like, geez, this is awesome but I really wish there was a way for me to get this super high quality coffee, and make it however I want to, including being able to choose my caffeine level. To me that was important because I'm a little bit more caffeine sensitive and cold brew has a ton of caffeine. It just felt like I'm making it in all these different ways but it's so one size fits all. So to solve that, we made this incredible cold brew concentrate. Explorer Cold Brew is a one to four ratio concentrate, so it has the same intensity of an espresso shot and it comes in four caffeine levels so that you can have your cold brew or whatever coffee beverage you're creating, at any time of day. Whether it's in the evenings when you want to have a decaf (if that's more your speed) or whatever it is, we have all the caffeine levels.
How was starting a business during the pandemic?
Cason: I feel so lucky and appreciative. The pandemic was so tragic for so many people and I just feel really lucky that I was able to escape a lot of that. And I mean, that said, I think it was a challenging time for everyone no matter what. For me, I tried to make the most of it and channel it as sort of an opportunity. I was very lucky to not have anyone who got really sick with COVID in my life and to channel that energy into starting this business. It was not what I expected to be doing. My background is in consulting and I was still doing that immediately prior to starting Explorer Cold Brew. I was a consultant for three and a half years at Bain and prior to that I was at Princeton for four years. I've also been an endurance athlete and mountaineer during that time. I love going and trying new things, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, going off the beaten track, and all that. So the pandemic really was a shift and put a lot of things in perspective.
“I think for us, exploring doesn't just mean climbing mountains. The way I define exploring is pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. We find with a lot of our customers, a lot of them are not mountaineers but they like to try something new, they like to experiment, they like to learn a new skill or take on a challenge. That's a quality that we feel is really special and integral to our brand".
How was your experience working with Highlight? Was it something you had thought about before, testing your product in this way?
Cason: We feel really confident as a brand, we have 1000’s of customers who are great and we have very positive feedback already, based on reviews based and internal feedback surveys that we send out after purchases. So, we feel really confident in the quality of our product and the taste. What I immediately sensed was a great opportunity with Highlight was to get next level feedback and reactions to things, basically our overall brand and the experience we're offering. We're getting more fine tuned in how people react to us and what sort of attributes they see as valuable. We have a lot of attributes, some of which we communicate well and some of which we don't communicate as well. We wanted to know what is resonating with people, what are we communicating well or not, and also, what do people care about versus not. So for me, Highlight was an amazing way to get really thoughtful commentary beyond, “Oh, this tastes amazing”, or, you know, thankfully not for our product, like, “Oh, this tastes gross.” This process was somewhere between full on 45 minute customer interviews and a huge step up from the five question post purchase survey we send. Getting closer to those sort of really key, strategic questions that allow us to both craft our next steps and craft our interview strategy.
Broadly, I believe any consumer brand should be focused on how their product is resonating and not resonating with its customers. Ultimately, I made this product for myself, but also I made this product to hopefully make people's lives better. To do that, you need to ask them if you're actually adding value and in what ways. So that's what we're trying to assess with Highlight and I feel like we've gotten great and very helpful responses so far.
What do you plan to use the data and the insights that you’ve gained with Highlight for?
Cason: We've only been in the market for about six or seven months and it just helps to do many things. One, it's one data point that we use in addition to our internal surveys and in addition to our reviews. We read all of our reviews because it does give a good window into how people are using it and what they're comparing to. So when we see in our reviews that someone hasn’t been to Starbucks in a month now because of Explorer, we find that this isn't replacing their drip coffee but this is replacing their 10 minute drive each way to Starbucks. Sometimes we have to read between the lines and to do that we want to get another data point.
The questions we're asking are helping us confirm or refine our understanding of the value we're adding to our customers. Less so in the context of scrapping our product or changing our recipe and more about how do we position it? What can we tell our customers on our website and in our packaging? What can we and should we tell them to communicate the right message? Because ultimately, to be honest, you need to tell people the value in order for people to discover the value. You can't just let them figure it out on their own, that's too high a bar and people have too much on their minds.
We found in our reviews, a lot of people write about sustainability and there's so many different ways you can frame sustainability. Some people look at the glass and they don't know if they can even recycle it and it may feel wasteful. What people also don't realize is this is the alternative of being plastic. Only like 9% of all plastic is actually recycled and so much just goes into the oceans- communicating things like that. People, I think, feel comfortable throwing away plastic, when glass in many ways is actually better and can be recycled. In all, we need to sync up our answers and get really tight on the impact we're having on the environment and how we're reducing that impact, etc. We're asking related things about this and what attributes of this product and experience people are caring most about. That's the sort of really helpful insights that confirm or deny things that we should be emphasizing everywhere or on our website.
What would you say to other beginning small brands who are looking to delve deeper into insights about your experience?
Cason: Collecting insights is one of the most beautiful and compelling aspects of running an e-commerce, especially a DTC business. There's a lot of ways that people can do it themselves. I bootstrapped this business for a year and so I had to get scrappy about how I collected those insights, but I think especially as you grow utilizing Highlight is a great way to add an additional data point to this sort of arsenal of consumer sentiment data that you should be collecting. Because it's not just surveys, right? Highlight was able to lay out in a very clear and easy manner the critical steps to getting good, usable data. It's the sort of thing that I have tried to do in my own way from the very beginning. If I were to do it all over again, I would definitely use Highlight at the very beginning to test the product and continue in the stage we're at now where we have really good early signs of traction in refining our branding, product messaging, etc. Even beyond, as we think about how we fine tune our online experience or fine tune our online digital marketing experience, and the sort of specific branding or messaging that we offer, I could see it being really useful then as well.
Check out Explorer Cold Brew!
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