Better for you coffee

Michael Sharon and Kal Freese are co-founders of Taika, a new-wave beverage company that’s creating better coffee drinks that are better for you. Their goal with Taika products is to fuel creativity and reinvent the experience of drinking coffee. They met four years ago after long careers in other industries, and Taika was born shortly thereafter.

"During COVID, when everybody was really sitting at home...people started caring a lot more about what they put into their bodies."

Michael Sharon, Taika Co-founder

Transcription

[00:00:00] Michael: Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. 

[00:00:12] Joe: Thank you for joining the Building While Flying podcast. My name is Joe Quattrone, and I’m your host for this week and today we have very special guests with us.

We’ve got Michael and Kal from Taika, which is. Really setting a whole new standard for the beverage market. Really getting into the newest wave of how to really, create a better and different and distinct energy for yourself that’s an alternative to your traditional coffees.

I’ll let them explain much more about it, but Michael and Kal say hi to the.

[00:00:42] Michael: Hey guys, how you doing? My name’s Michael. Really excited to be here. Thanks for having us. 

[00:00:46] Kal: Hey, everyone. I’m Cal excited to be. . 

[00:00:49] Joe: Awesome. And so you guys have an interesting story. I was reading up a little bit about you, but Michael, why don’t you go ahead and lead off a little bit and just give us a little bit of the backstory.

We’ll go deeper into your career in a little bit, but I want to hear a little bit about how you and Cal met and what some of those synergies were like early on that made you want to go into business with one another. 

[00:01:09] Michael: So yeah, I, I’m Michael, co-founder of Taika. And just a couple things.

Taika means magic in finish, and our goal is to fuel creativity. So just. Keep that top of mind and we’ll rewind and tell you a little bit about the story of how we met. So, I, my background is not really traditional for beverage. Maybe. I spent most of my career working in technology. My most recent job was working at Facebook for about eight years.

I started as the first mobile product, hire Facebook, and then ran the pages group towards the end of it. There were two things I left Facebook in mid 2016, and there were really two things that brought me to the kind of mecal and the journey that we’re on now. Number one, I stopped putting sugar in my tea and coffee around about, I don’t know, 2008 and instantly realized that the deli coffee that I was drinking in New York was basically undrinkable sludge.

Without sugar and cream. And then number two, about 10 years ago I discovered, third wave coffees, like blue bottled and stump town, all these kinds of things. And so that’s what I was drinking with zero sugar. So you could really taste the quality of them. And about 10 years ago I realized that I was drinking way too much coffee.

I was working super stressful. Job on Facebook was doing like 18 hour days drinking. Ate cups of coffee in a day and just tweaking out and realized it was way too much caffeine. And so I discovered that there were amino acids, adaptogens, functional mushrooms, things that people have been consuming for thousands of years that were very synergistically with caffeine but weren’t in coffee.

So at that stage, I put together my own stack and went down from eight coffees a day to one coffee a. Wow. And was super happy. And then I left Facebook mid 2016, travel on for a bit. Was really excited about the idea of of making products that change people’s lives by changing what they put into their bodies.

And that’s when I bumped into Kal at a coffee shop with a mutual friend. Nice. Okay. 

[00:03:06] Kal: Yeah, so my background is a little bit different. I grew up in Finland, always being super into food and beverage. My mom is a nutrition scientist and my dad is a former admin who’s always been very into food.

So kinda grew up with a big interest in food. Got my first job. Cooking at a two Michelin star restaurant. One, I was 14, thought that’s what I wanted to do, and then ended up spending a year in New Zealand when I was 15, and that’s where I fell in love with coffee and realized that, something that I thought was just this brown, bitter drink can have.

Similar flavor, spectrum, depth as wine and many other things. And that just really fascinated me. So then all throughout high school, started working at different coffee shops and roasteries and eventually started doing some like bar competitions and ended up doing pretty well. I won to finish national championships a couple times.

There was a thing for basic competitions and eventually placed ninth in the. And at that point I was running a small cafe in Helsinki and then got tired of doing that, wanted to figure out a way to turn coffee into a more scalable product company. So ended up moving to San Francisco. Started my previous company called Southern Coffee, where we made instant coffee.

That tastes really good. Went through white Combinator without us, like one of their only food, or one of the first at least food investments. And then ended up moving on from there 2018 and realized that as a bracelet, I obviously love coffee, but not how it made me feel anymore, and so wanted to essentially design the ideal version of coffee.

One that gives me all the best things from caffeine, the kind of focus, the energy, the clarity, the creativity. Without any of the side effects of jitteriness or anxiety that I started experiencing. And so I started working on a couple ideas, and then I’m with Michael just about four years ago. 

[00:05:00] Joe: Wow, that’s awesome.

And so ninth best barista in the world. That’s quite the feat. But I feel like most listeners only really understand baristas through the lens of what’s right in front of them, like Starbucks. So. I love the juxtaposition of Taika standing for magic. It sounds like what you guys are doing is really trying to reinvent the experience a little bit and playing around with all of the available ingredients that can really give you exactly what you’re looking for, but not all the baggage that comes along with it.

Is that a good enough kind of distillation, if you will, for what you guys are trying to.

[00:05:34] Michael: Yeah. That, that, that’s a pretty great summary of what we’re trying to do. The way we have always talked about it is that we see Taika as, as we’re a destination focused company. And so when you think about coffee and you think about products like that, most companies are urgent focused.

So most of the coffees, most of the differentiator is gonna be about like, where they’re farmed, how they’re roasted, like these kinds of things in 90. Percent of people will not be able to tell the difference between a coffee from one area of the world and another part of the world. And for us, what’s most important is the destination.

How you feel after you, you drink the coffee and how you feel after you drink the drink or the beverage Is sort of really related to a lot of the quality of the ingredients that you put inside there and how you combine things in novel and unexpected ways.

And that’s why our, our goal and our mission as a company is really all about feeling creativity. Because creativity and creative energy is what we need as humans to survive. Like we’re just really creative monkeys using our creativity to, to have this conversation right now over zoom, to put together TikTok dancers to put together presentations.

Kinda everything that you need to do requires some creativity and some creative energy. And Cal and the team perfectly formulated the beverages that we have to really of feel that creative. Um, Kel, do you wanna talk a little bit about some of the ingredients that we have that really kinda like help break through?

[00:06:55] Kal: Yeah, for sure. So, caffeine is by far the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world in form of tea and coffee mostly. Yet none of us really have any idea how much of it we’re consuming on a daily basis. And if you think of any other drugs, not knowing the dosage you’re consuming. Totally unacceptable.

Right? And caffeine works really well in, reducing tiredness and increasing energy for us. But it’s not in coffee for humans. It’s actually a pesticide that prevent, protects the coffee plan and tea and some other plants from insects. And at some point we just figure figured out that if you.

Take these beans and you get them out of the coffee cherry and then you do some processing to them and then you roast them and then you grind them and you brew it, and then you drink the liquid. It makes you less tired, which is crazy and it’s really cool. At the same time, year is 2022 and no one’s really thought about.

How would this look like if we designed it from the ground up? Basically from the first principles we keep consuming coffee and has what our caffeine it has. Whereas we took the approach of like, how would it look like if we made the ideal drink for fueling your best work, for fueling your creativity?

Not necessarily. Just, doing what energy needs to do, which is giving you the most energy, a ton of caffeine, which may be great if you wanna, do a workout or you have to stay up for four more hours on a drive. There’s a time and place for that, but that’s actually not ideal for. You know what we all do, and probably most listeners do here on a daily basis, which is how do we use our brain most effectively to solve various kinds of problems?

And that’s what we set out to do. So designing this ideal drink for that type of creative work, which, formulation is basically combination of caffeine, the right amount of caffeine, most coffee, most energy drinks actually have too much caffeine causes, like creates too much stimulation, which is not ideal.

And so we have the right amount of caffeine. Paired with some things like healthy need from green tea, which is this really cool M asset that has really strong scientific evidence showing that it works really synergistically with caffeine, so it actually makes caffeine work better for you, gives you more energy, more focus, and it also mitigates some, a lot of the side effects, like the crashing and so on.

Sure. Other things we use as. It’s like India ging, that reduces anxiety, that coffee, caffeine may cause some people and some of the functional mushrooms, like clients Main that is, has some really interesting data showing that it might trigger new neuro growth in the brain. And just generally what we feel is gives you more clarity

other part of it is also having drinks that have zero added sugar. So that’s a big thing. So if you have. Energy drink, we have a, a hundred kilos from sugar that’s gonna help you give you some more energy.

But once you have blood sugar, plummets, then you’re gonna feel even more tired, so, Right. We use natural tweeters to do that and just have products that are less 

[00:09:53] Joe: sweetened. Gotcha. Now you started off by saying that, Caffeine is probably the most widely consumed psychoactive drug on the planet.

And I know this for a fact, my wife recently gave up drinking coffee. She’s gone to like exclusively green tea as a source of caffeine. And it’s been an interesting journey but. That leads me to believe that like it’s a psychoactive drug active drug. So a lot of people out there are essentially addicted to this thing, right?

They’re addicted to caffeine and when even in the face of doctors, telling them that there’s things going wrong with their body. In her case it was high blood pressure, but I’m sure people get told all the time that they Symptoms going on in their body, and they’re unwilling to recognize what it is that they’re putting into their body.

They’ll fix everything around the caffeine, but they won’t fix the caffeine problem because they’re addicted to it. And they try to tell themselves that’s not the issue. And we’ve seen that between me and my wife over the years. Wanting to give up caffeine, not wanting to give up caffeine.

Do you feel like that’s something that we as a society need to address? Should caffeine be as readily available and as widely consumed and not regulated practically at all? Do you think there’s gonna be a, a day of reckoning for caffeine down the road? What are your perspectives on that as a team?

[00:11:09] Kal: That’s an interesting question. I think many people would benefit from being more cognizant of their caffeine consumption. For example, how it affects sleep. For most people, caffeine’s half life is typically about six hours, which means that quarter life is 12 hours, which means that if you have a cup of coffee at noon, 25% of that caffeine is still gonna be in your bloodstream at midnight.

This interesting, pretty robust evidence showing that it is pretty detrimental to your sleep even if you are able to fall asleep. That means having caffeine near system still reduces the sleep quality you’re getting. So it’s something that personally I’ve become a lot more about. So I really only have coffee in the morning and then maybe a little bit of ging around noon and try to not have any after 2:00 PM Many people also.

Slower metabolizer of caffeine, so should pay even more attention to it. And I think the main thing just is that people, most people that I know aren’t necessarily aware of how much caffeine they’re consuming And there’s big differences in, in what’s the form you consume in and what do you consume it with.

So what I feel at least personally is that combining caffeine with this functional ingredient stack that we’ve created, and there are plenty out there really. Reduces those negative effects in terms of sleep, in terms of just how it makes you feel in the moment. And so, it’s a tricky question.

Caffeine is a great molecules and there’s time and place for it. Yet it’s also not the answer for everything and Right. And there are. Number of other, ingredients and molecules that can be helpful. 

[00:12:48] Michael: And just to add to that I think, there’s actually a lot of health benefits that come with caffeine as well.

And so I think it is a psychoactive drug. It is a substance that, people enjoy and. May get, somewhat addicted to in certain reasons. Uh, But a hundred percent agree with what Kel was saying in that. Like it’s how you consume it and when you consume it. And there’s, many, many health benefits to drinking caffeine.

Some of them are, It’s sort of like the number one source of antioxidants for most Americans, which is getting Fri fresh coffee. She’s drinking a lot of that. Uh, There’s also a lot of robust studies that, coffee drinkers are less likely to die from some, like the leading causes of death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidneys, disease, all of that kind of thing.

And so I think that there’s significant benefits with caffeine itself as a molecule. I think the approach that we have taken. And the specific kind of like white space that we wanna help people get towards and explore is about caffeine as a way to feel creativity and as a way to feel creativity.

It’s, you want the right amount of caffeine combined with, the right additional kinda like functional benefits that gets your brain into, into the right state and doesn’t make you feel anxious or jittery or has like a ton of sugar and cream. Known to be not great for you.

[00:14:02] Kal: Yeah, I think what I would, you know, at their, to my goals point, so coffee, especially black coffee, has seems to have numbers, health benefits, and I think one thing we need to do is decouple caffeine from, the beverage itself. It seems that decaffeinated coffee, also has those similar health benefits.

It’s a big source of antioxidants for Americans and basically drinking coffee up to a point, seems to, if I remember correctly, just basically reduce all cause mortality. And. It seems that it’s more about the beverage itself and everything else that is there rather than just the caffeine.

There are, a ton of other psychoactive components in the coffee, and I’m claimed to be an expert in all of them or the effects. And so I think for someone like your wife, I think, talking about the, quote unquote addiction, I think big part of it is the ritual around it too, and just the fact of having a hot beverage.

And what that unlocks, the social connections around it, how it can signal, know, your values to the rest of the world. I actually think that there’s this coffee drinker’s needs that maps to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where on the bottom level is sort of a, Physiological effects of it.

We is mostly caffeine, then followed by ritual and then sort a social connections around coffee and then, the brand of coffee you use and then finally a flavor and all the nuances there. 

[00:15:17] Joe: Yeah, I’ve noticed that a ton as well, like the, there’s almost like a placebo effect, right? If you grab a hot beverage in the afternoon and consume it.

You almost get the same jolt of energy cuz you think you’re consuming coffee or you’re drinking something that’s coffee like. And that’s exactly where I was going next with the line of questioning was like, how much does like environment matter when it comes to this type of stuff? Cuz for me, I didn’t even start drinking coffee until I was 30 years old and moved to New York.

And then I just started consuming it cuz it was all over the place. And that seemed like. everybody was doing . . And then eventually I just got hooked on the feeling of it. Not necessarily the stimulation from the caffeine, it was more winter time. You’re walking through Manhattan, you want to have a hot beverage on your hands, or you want to get into your office space and have a hot beverage.

So it seems like such a big part of the culture of drinking caffeine is that you’re just it’s everywhere. , it’s ubiquitous for the lifestyle. 

[00:16:13] Kal: Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s a huge part. And I actually just got back from India from a friend’s wedding. And what was really fun see there is having all these small stalls all around the city serving masala cha sort of small cups of milked tea with some spices.

And I really enjoyed that because it’s much less caffeine so you can have it later in the day. I prefer that I could have it more frequently in small doses, whereas especially in the US I feel like most trip coffee size is like 12 ounces. A huge, Yeah. Then ended up having, 150 milligrams caffeine, which is too much for me personally.

And so I think what I love to see is just having more options there. Now it’s kind of binary. There’s like D decaf and this, regular caffeine or regular coffee, and maybe in the future we’re gonna see. Something, more half calf type options that are branded better than half calf as a, as an option.

But then at the same time, I think that’s actually something we explored in the early days, which I have a patent for controlling the amount of naturally recurring caffeine and coffee. But what we learned is that few people actually cared about that. Most people just went for the high caffeine option, which is how we landed on this idea of.

Let’s not make the point about the caffeine. We’ll just add all these other functional ingredients to, essentially just create the perfected version of coffee. 

[00:17:28] Joe: Right. And Michael, do you think like Hollywood and different industries in the creative arts, glamorizes, caffeine consumption or coffee consumption?

Cuz one of the things that I think when I think about your brand and if it’s going to be successful at scale, is. Usually people associate hard work with consuming high volumes of caffeine and burning the midnight oil. And all these kind of like cliches or tropes that the Hollywood industry have kinda led you to believe that you can’t have the success unless you have the grind.

And the grind literally means grinding of a coffee beans and consuming a ton of them. Do you think we’re moving past that as a society, do you think the content that we consume is gonna. You know, A different type of message. I mean, I’m, I am starting to see a lot of health and wellness content out there as well, but I don’t know if it’s overcome the tropes that Hollywood has put in front of us for half a century.

[00:18:20] Michael: Yeah, that that’s a great question. And I really love your perspective on that too. I think the peace dividends of the Covid era are what we’re seeing now in the amplification of trends that were sort of maybe at a lower level and wouldn’t have emerged. But during Covid, when everybody was really sitting at home and confronted with the reality of we as a species, Fighting, collectively an enemy.

People started caring a lot more about what they put into their bodies. People, there’s a resurgence in interest around. Not just the, not just the health aspects of what you put into your bodies, but also the wellness aspects of like how you treat your mind. And this is across the board, you know, at the beginning of of the pandemic, you had some of the large tech companies kinda like just told everybody, Oh yeah let’s everybody stay home.

And then every. Companies sort of started to follow suit. And then, you know, now it’s just changed the world completely. And I didn’t even understand the impact of this at the beginning. I was just like, Oh yeah, this is temporary. Everybody’s gonna be going back to the office at some stage. And now I think the path has been open, the door’s been opened.

And so the macro trends that we started seeing early on pre pandemic that we were really reacting to when we’re creating. Creativity fueling concoctions, like these are the things that was just, were amplified and extended like right after covid.

And so people care deeply about what they put into their bodies right now there is like more of a trend to pay for premium products. There was a, a study that came. And the other day there was just talking about the things that consumers prefer and the language that has changed around consumption behaviors.

And so things like products that have, like clean all natural, like products that have no artificial ingredients have really high propensity. And these are the kinds of products and the kinds of categories that are seeing a lift post covid. I think, people are beyond the I just want this thing as a commodity.

And so I think coffee and caffeine as a commodity is. It’s sort glorified in the deli sense where you go into like a random deli Americans and slaps a cup of Joe in front of you and then you just drink that’s sort of like undifferentiated coffee. And for what we’re doing, like we’re sort of moving into a different category.

And so this new category that we’re pioneering is creative. And when you think of creative energy as a category it’s not exactly just coffee. It’s not exactly just tea, but it’s, it’s energy is the number one thing that people want to get from their beverages and from food.

37% of consumers say that they want to get energy. And with our, our beverages we have a range of different beverages. So we have the black coffee, we have our lattes, we have our ma latte, and then we have our new one that’s just come out now, which our sparkling yoba latte and all of these different beverages.

The goal of having all these different things is to give people different options to have them consume at different times of the day. And so, In terms of like where we will break through into getting into the cultural zeitgeist? I think it’s, right now we’re at a very early stage with all of these things, and I do think that the.

Kind of message of feeling creativity and kind of thinking about your creative energy as a human is starting to resonate. And we’re picking up on the macro trends that people are already excited about. And, if anybody would like to feature Taika in their movie or TV show we are very much open to entertain any offers that come our.

[00:22:05] Joe: I love the name Creative Energy. If you guys want to label your own category, I think that’s also pretty fun in terms of like entrepreneurship. Like pick your spots and figure out how to carve out a unique path. But what it sounds like to me is you’re leaving the door open for some interesting science to kind of evolve into your, your line of drinks.

Would you guys ever consider getting into. Cannabis at all, or, I mean, obviously creative energy is something that, is pretty subjective. Could mind altering substances like cannabis, thc, Delta eight, Delta nine? Could that be part of your future or no? You are you alcohol free, you’re gonna be sober for forever.

Like you, you wanna provide a different lane for people. Cause sober curious is also like a massive trend culturally as well. 

[00:22:48] Kal: Yeah, we’re. Certainly interested in exploring all kinds of different, avenues and ingredients we could be using. I think. At least today, cannabis and cbd, various derived products are, haven’t been our focus.

I mean, there are other brands that are doing that and are maybe more inclined for that, and it’s also not necessarily something that we’re personally quite as interested in as some of these other. Set of directions. Sure. 

[00:23:14] Michael: Gotcha. Yeah, so, you know, I think what we see ourselves building is a platform for creative energy, and you’re totally right.

We will look at any kind of ingredients that are out there and then evaluate them. I think in terms of the way we build and the way we think about things our philosophy internally is all about stealth health. And what stealth health means is like a, it has to be absolutely delicious, and B, it has to be.

Like actually secretly healthy for you. Like you turn around the back and this thing has to be healthy for you. And so from that perspective, I don’t think we will ever get into an alcohol lion with the, the Taika brand itself. I think you, you hit on a really interesting point with the Seur trend, so cures huge, huge trend.

And one of the exciting things that we’re seeing is that our new drink the spark. Uh, Yoba Monte that we created in collaboration with our friends over at Fwb. We call it the mata verse. The new mata verse is actually the kind of thing that is a perfect drink. At a party, at like an evening function.

And so this is one of the areas that we’re going to explore. We’ve had it at a number of festivals and happy hours and things like that. And so that’s more along the lines of where we’re going. It’s like we do want to kind, build on creative energy. And where do you find creative energy, wherever you have gatherings of humans.

And then how do you feel those gatherings of. Do you need the right kind of beverage? 

[00:24:37] Joe: Yeah, and I think the sparkling is interesting as well because carbonation is something that, people can’t really put a pin on it, They can’t put a finger on it. But that’s one of those one of those ingredients or one of those techniques that are used in beverages that kind of keep us coming.

To quench our thirsts. So I think it’s really interesting that you’re taking it in that direction and you’re even thinking about it as an inspired beverage for socialization and fellowship with other humans and stuff like that. But in terms of ma versus there, any other subtext to that? Is there any any web three kind of avenues you’re exploring to, to try to build loyalty or build up a following?

Are you guys interested in NFTs what’s going on with. Your web three activity in your brain right now,

[00:25:20] Kal: Yeah, so we, we started working on this about a year ago, and where we’re coming from is that we’re different as a beverage company compared to many others where we do all of our own r and d. So I’m, I’m a food scientist and we have an internal team that’s been working on all the formulations and because of that, we.

Move very quickly and create, delicious products quickly in house. And for a while we wanted to find a great community or brand to, collaborate with. And essentially when we started, since day one, our mantra has been like for friends, by friends. So we started making these products for our friends.

First version of our can had our huge phone number on the front, which was our phone number. So people could text us and text us feedback, you know, text to it or more. And through that channel we basically got great signal for the product innovation that we were working on. So we launched with a black coffee, and then people went in milk and then they went on something keto friendly.

So we made a macadamia latte day, and then we had a lot of requests for maa. So we made a maa and. We certainly arrived to those conclusions much, much faster because of the direct line of communication we had with the community. And so now with this multiverse thing, we wanted to take it to the next level and really involve the community in a more even deeper way in the process.

So we’re friends with some of the founders leadership friends with benefits. So this kind of culture focused now is pretty prominent. And that went three space. And we just started chatting like, Hey, how would it look like if Fwb had its own drink? What would you want it to be? Cause one of the things that we wanted to also get from this was to just get new ideas, new input on that might lead us to making something that we would’ve never thought of ourselves.

They came back to us with this idea of Making Club Monte but make it Web three and for those of you who aren’t necessarily super into the hacker or Berlin Ra Scene Club Monte, this kind of culty Yurba Monte soda based in Germany, that’s has like a strong resonance in like spray of club scene and some like hacker scenes and it’s hard to get in the US It’s also super sweet and has a ton of sugar and.

In our opinion, just could use a bit of a refresh. And so that’s what we set out to do, was to make a super delicious creative energy drink based on ibama. It’s unsweetened and has some of the adapts that we use in the coffees. Nice. And in terms of the process, we recruited a hundred people from the Fwb community.

Sent them some samples we had made in the. Set up a series of Zoom phase things. So we had four zoom sessions, had like tons of people in each of one of them and just got a ton of feedback from, people. And then essentially launched this sort of a data phase actually as an nft. So we dropped 400 NFTs that sold down in less than 24 hours.

And those NFT holders could read that took in for a case of 12 count that came with two versions with red pill and blue pill. So it was two different formulations of the drink. And then the NFT holders actually voted publicly on the blockchain on snapshot, which one of those versions, red pill or blue pill, they preferred.

And then we, made that the official version, the official drink of after o b, which just launched about three weeks. 

[00:28:36] Joe: That’s so cool. Yes. It’s so refreshing. I’m, And Michael, I know your career has been, is supremely impacted by your time at Facebook, As is mine. I wasn’t at Facebook, but early in my career I launched Audi, the brand on social media.

That’s where my experience with Germany comes in. I don’t really know much about the German club scene, but I was often in my hotel room watching burn dust brought at 1:00 AM. But I think it’s so cool that And you guys are breaking into one of the hardest industries historically to break into the beverage spaces CPG beverage space.

But how much do you guys think that it’s a timing thing, like everything has become democratized now with social media and now going into web three? Being able to control your own destiny by creating feed back loops, by creating your own discord servers and stuff like that. What a time to be alive. Do you guys think that this is gonna be, utilizing these technologies, is gonna help you break through? 

[00:29:27] Michael: Great question. I mean, I think it’s not about the technology for us. We see ourselves as a community led brand. And so what that means is we build the brand to attract the community, and then the community helps to inform the brand.

And so for us, from the technology perspective, we will use whatever’s available to communicate with the community and to go where the community is. And so for example, with our collaboration with Fwb and I’m, I’m not sure how like crypto savvy your listeners are but Fwb is a Dow, which stands for distributed autonomous organization.

So they created their own. Token, their own cryptocurrency called Fwb, and you would buy 75 of those and then join the organization. And then that gives you the right to vote and control the destiny of all of these different kinds of things. And so when you, we think about the technology that we’ve used along the way, and I’ve spent a lot of time at Facebook building tools that are used by billions of people.

And you have to do things that are. You have to do things that people can do if you want actual consumers to use them. And we, we run a beverage company theoretically, anybody that would like to drink can drink one of our products. And so we do have to have, mass appeal at a certain point.

And when we started off, we started with lowest common denominated. It was SMS phone number on the front of the can, Anybody can text us. And that was, amazing for allowing people to easily communicate with the brand. And the way the experience is built. We’ve created an experience using our own, of like custom technology and it’s very different to the way everybody else does sms.

 It’s a real human kind of communicating and talking to you feels more personal, more, more personable. And now when it came time to collaborate with Fwb we didn’t want to do what we saw a lot of other people doing in the space, which were admittedly cringe things, which were like, you know, put a picture of your can.

On an NFT and try to sell that for I don’t know, 20 E or something like that. Like that just doesn’t make sense for most people. And so when we’re working with Fwb, the whole point of using these technologies, of using Zoom and Discord and, and Snapshot and all these different kinds of things is to be able to easily coordinate and work with.

Large groups of people. And so Fwb is a 7,000 person organization like distributed across the whole world. We were able to collaborate with them and create a physical product that a lot of them got to weigh in on, and we opened up the development of that physical product to anybody that wanted to purchase one of the 400 NFTs that we had available, and they could actually have a.

In the final kind of like development of the formulation, which has never been done before. And so for us, it was an interesting exercise. It was not a cash grab. We only sold 400 NFTs. And the goal is to really bring together this community that is interested in what we’re doing that is interested in the next level of fueling creativity and creative energy.

And it’s an amazing community, right? We have a lot of benefits that you get as being an NFT holder. And the other super exciting thing that I see, I actually poked open seat today, which is a platform where you can trade NFTs. Yep. And I looked at the NFTs, the price of our NFT has gone up.

We’ve told people explicitly not to care about the price, cuz we don’t care about the price. We don’t care if the price goes. It’s simply like a way to get access to the membership, but the fact that the price has gone up means that people find it more valuable. But for me, the most exciting thing with the NFT in particular is that there’s like almost nobody is selling it.

There’s almost zero of I think 0.1% available for sale. And so that is a really strong endorsement of the fact that we are talking about the early stages of building together a community and building together like a movement really that wants to take back the beverages that exist in the fridges that are out there.

People don’t want to be drinking the. Coke and Pepsi is like shoving into all of the different places they want something. And so that’s the choice that we’re giving 

[00:33:32] Joe: that’s fantastic. Gentlemen. Where if people want to get involved in your community, how would you instruct them to do so?

Like where, what platforms do you want? Are you focusing on and prioritizing? For people to join up? Our audience is solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, people that own businesses. They’re typical. Looking for an edge. They’re trying to figure out how to invest and make money. And you asked the question of how how knowledgeable they are about the NFT space because, we do a lot with Gary.

I mean, I helped Gary out with the the all-in challenge post covid. The friends version one helped him get our audience in on that understand NFTs how to set up wallets. So they’re pretty well versed. How can people get involved with your company? 

[00:34:13] Michael: Awesome. So a couple of ways. Number one, you can purchase NFT if you like.

And then you get access to our private telegram group. Number two, you can follow us an Instagram and yeah. Number three, you can sign up for the mailing list@taika.co. And also feel free. Reach out to cal or myself. We meet a bunch of people through, through LinkedIn or Twitter dms or anything like.

Always happy to chat to new entrepreneurs and, see if we can help. 

[00:34:42] Joe: Do you guys do any kind of like corporate If somebody wanted to order a bunch of the product for their corporate events or for their refrigerators at their offices would you be willing to do like small batch like distribution and stuff like.

I know I’m probably gonna be on your list now that I found a drink that my wife likes. I’m probably gonna order a consistent subscription box from you guys, but is that something that you guys are interested in, people reaching out to you on? 

[00:35:06] Michael: Totally. Yeah. So the funny thing is, when we started off Taika at the beginning of our journey we were ab.

You know, My background is at Facebook. I built a whole lot of the AB testing frameworks and we spent the first year and a half AB testing our products and shipping it out to offices. And so our first customers, and some of our favorite customers are all of our friends that work at different startups in the Bay Area.

And so, yeah, we have, office programs, people reach out to us. We have discounts. If you ha if you’re at an office and wanna get access to Taika to supercharge your creativity, happy to get you guys on the. 

[00:35:38] Joe: That’s awesome. Kudos to you guys. This is an awesome product.

I love the name, I love what you guys are doing. And you’ve got a customer in me. I’ll definitely start singing your praises to the mountaintops and trying to get other people involved with you guys. 

[00:35:49] Michael: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for having us.

Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

A new-wave beverage company

Michael Sharon and Kal Freese are co-founders of Taika, a new-wave beverage company that’s creating better coffee drinks that are better for you. Their goal with Taika products is to fuel creativity and reinvent the experience of drinking coffee. They met four years ago after long careers in other industries, and Taika was born shortly thereafter. 

In their conversation with Joe Quattrone, Michael and Kal share their stories of how they got connected and started building Taika together. Michael and Kal emphasize the importance of their community in building the brand, and how vital the feedback loop has been to Taika’s development. They also discuss the immense opportunities that exist with coffee and the beverage space, and how Taika can make an impact by fueling creativity around the world.

In-flight topics:

  • How Taika was born (1:10 – 5:00)
  • What it means to be a “destination” company (5:35 – 6:50)
  • Innovating through ingredients (7:00 – 9:55)
  • Caffeine as a commodity (11:10 – 20:40)
  • Pioneering a new category (20:45 – 21:57)
  • Sourcing R&D through customers
  • Integrating Web3 and NFTs into the brand
Connect with Taika:

Taika website: ​​https://taika.co/ 

Taika Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/taika/ 

Michael on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelsharon/ 

Kal on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kalfreese/ 

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA