Brewing real good coffee since 2016
Sleepy Owl Coffee is as much about coffee as it is about passion and drive. If it wasn’t for three young and restless souls in love with caffeine, we wouldn’t be here to tell this story.
This goes way back. Imagine kids discussing business plans in a playground full of 10-year-olds. Ashwajeet and Ajai met in boarding school and hit it off instantly. A major chunk of their conversations since childhood were surrounding starting their own business someday.
Going to Law School
Times changed but not Ashwajeet. He met Arman at law school, a passionate law student who wanted to be, well, a lawyer! By then the bug of entrepreneurship was planted in Ashwajeet’s head and with a little push here and a little pull there, he was able to convince Arman to join him on his endeavours.
A year before the (humble) launch
College was over and everyone went their own way. Until—Ashwajeet quit his first job within three months to couchsurf with Arman, who was working in Mumbai. The deal was, if the duo came up with a business idea, Arman would quit his job.
At the same point in another time zone, Ajai graduated from college and started working as an investment banker in New York (the Big Apple dream). There, he was discovering coffee from a new perspective, understanding how different it can be from just the instant option.
The idea is planted
Once their mutual love and passion for real coffee was realised, Arman’s resignation letter was next on agenda. It was, enthusiastically, co-written with the help of Ashwajeet. It was around this time that Ajai too made up his mind to leave his highly reputed job in New York, and return to India. Once they had assembled, it was time to get down to work!
Ever wondered where the name Sleepy Owl came about? Ashwajeet says that if it wasn’t for Arman’s strict deadline and initial name suggestion ‘Red Cherry Coffee’ (which he absolutely hated) he wouldn’t have had the epiphany which led to the brand’s oxymoronic name.
Another fun fact: Ashwajeet was sitting in a Mumbai local, travelling from Andheri to Churchgate, when the idea had hit him. And here is where he came up with the name Sleepy Owl.
All the ‘First’s
Initially, the founders contacted farmers who sent in their samples. All the brewing experiments took place in the boys’ kitchen, which became the hub of all happenings.
It was during this time that they decided to take their first work trip to Karnataka to recce coffee plantations. The foundation was laid when they cracked a deal with a plantation owner in Chikmagalur.
Cold Brew on Tap becomes a thing
After coming onboard with their final plans and having left their dreamy first jobs, the three moved in together in Delhi. It was here that they launched their first product, the Brew Box. The plan was to “go deep and not wide” and hence, they decided to solely target Delhi.
Budget constraints & branding
Being a startup financed and managed by three young men, funds did play a huge role in decisions. This was why the first-ever branding of Sleepy Owl was done on a small budget by a freelancer.
Fun fact: Ashwajeet met the freelancer on an online community. He paid him a few dollars to build the brand’s digital identity.
Tastings and Events
Since budgets were carefully allotted to perfecting their coffee, there was no budget for organising tastings. Our founders took it upon themselves to be at every event in the city possible to promote their brand, conduct public tastings, and be on their feet whenever required.
First Taste of Retail
Sleepy Owl might now be available across thousands of retail stores but it was in 2017 that they realised they could be bigger. They made entry into retail stores, and although the numbers were very few, it was a start. There was no bigger joy than seeing us on the shelves!
This is no secret that we love a good feedback. This was the reason why we sampled it in stores ourselves before we ever got anyone else to do it.
Hiring and new office space
Our A-Team soon realised that three people might not be enough to run operations by themselves. This could only mean two things for us--one, we needed to get more people onboard and second, we needed to find a proper office space.
It was time to move all the action from their little apartment and this was exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Sleepy Owl rented their first office in Shahpur Jat and this is where our first batch of employees came in. The office was small but it was a huge start for us.
Demand increases, and not just in Delhi!
As word of mouth spread, demand for Sleepy Owl started pouring in from in and around Delhi. While expansion was not on cards so soon, the time for it had come already.
It all comes down to scale
To reach our new goals we needed funding. It was our first time discussing scaling and investors and all these big business words. Suddenly it was more than just coffee. We were intimidated but determined. Once we decided on raising money, we got the renowned Singapore based venture capital firm DSG Consumer Partners to back the company. Then we were off to the races.
Sleepy Owl Decides To Go Pan-India
With one roadblock out of the way, we were back to focusing on what we truly love--getting real coffee to consumers. We started drawing up our plans for reaching households across the country.
Brew Packs are Born
The thing about shipping our only product, the Brew Boxes, across India was that it would cause a lot of logistical problems. Some of the key issues we realised early on were the shelf life and volumetric weight. We had to come up with something which was true to our identity of delivering real and convenient coffee and still easily deliverable.
That is how we innovated and came up with the Brew Packs. It made the same signature Sleepy Owl, and all you had to do was add water (how easy, right?).
Well, to make this simple for you we had to build an industrial machine from scratch to produce these custom packs.
Then came the Brew Bags
Building things from scratch does have its own charm, and we were truly fascinated with the process when we came up with our Brew Packs.
Once we had a taste of it, we wanted more. So we started working with our manufacturer to build a modified version of our Brew Packs for our hot coffee. We ended up naming it Hot Brew Bags, remaining true to our goal of easy, simple and convenient coffee.
We wanted to see ourselves more on the shelves as much as we wanted to see ourselves become the nation's staple coffee choice. According to our research, everything that existed on the shelf was basically a mix of lots of milk, little coffee flavour (never real coffee), and plenty of sugar (aka calories). To make things worse, they had more stabilizers and preservatives than one can keep up with.
We decided to change things and make a cold brew that was the exact opposite of what was available. Our aim was simple—the drink should be made with real coffee and would have little milk and just a dash of sugar.
Once we had the perfect drink ready we were confident of launching it in retail stores.
An identity revamp
Amidst all this excitement of launching India's first ready to drink cold brew in a bottle, we had a huge thought playing in our minds. This would be a product that could reach the masses and take over retail stores. It would also put us in direct competition with Goliath's of the trade. The need to update the brand’s identity to match its changing character came on top of our priority list.
Now that we had the resources and understanding to build a brand image, we were ready for the ultimate revamp! Through this journey of carving a renewed brand identity, came our new logo. It was followed by the much-anticipated launch of our ready to drink Brew Bottles.
India’s first massive cold-brewery
There is nothing subtle about our Cold Brewery. We needed to be able to cater to the growing demands and accommodate those which we expected to come in eventually (always keeping our hopes high), and this is where the Brewery came in.
Our Cold Brewery churns out 5000 litres of cold brew in one go, and was specially designed for us!
Getting out of our comfort zone
Coffee is our first love and will always remain so, but every drink needs its cup, and every cup needs its coaster. That was the line of thought when we launched our collection of merchandise. While it seemed like a huge experiment, our military-inspired enamel mugs soon became a huge hit.
We took this as a sign to keep on experimenting and coming up with new ideas.
Flavours, flavours & flavours
2020 started off with one intention—discovering niche flavours, and that is what was delivered. From French Vanilla to Hazelnut, to the limited Edition Pumpkin Spiced Latte, we were having a lot of fun playing around with flavours and coming up with tastes that would cater to each possible palate.
Then came Covid
Just when we thought everything was going smoothly, we were hit by a train called Expect The Unexpected. Sleepy Owl had a good start in 2020, from launching new flavours and planning niche merchandise, to working on interesting collaborations. However, it all came to a screeching halt. What seemed like a two-week lockdown turned into an almost year-long learning of ‘how to work from home,’ ‘how to conduct tastings on Zoom calls,’ and a lot of other ‘how’s.’
Our Shiny New Toy
Despite everything in the past year, we were able to open a new factory in Delhi. These things do get us excited even after all these years! Half of our team moved out of our Shahpur Jat office (did we mention that we had moved to a newer, bigger space within Shahpur Jat itself?) and started working from the spacious new factory. However, this was only until the second wave and lockdown sat us back at home (again).
The Filter Coffee Project
We built a product out in the open. This one was a big jump for us. We updated our Sleepy Owl Community on each and every step we planned and they had a say in the direction we eventually took. This was all so new to us that it kept us hooked even after the launch! Once our Filter Coffee Brew Bags were out in the market, we moved on to bolder things.
We Went To The Basics (& Some Not So Basics)
Some coffee brands start with ground coffee, we came to it eventually after 5 years. While we wanted to offer 100% Arabica coffee with the ease and convenience of something that can be made instantly, we did not forget the ones who liked to brew their own cup from scratch. So within a few months of our last launch, we welcomed the country to our freshly roasted Ground Coffee with the promise of real good coffee in every sip.
While Our Ground Coffee enjoyed the attention we added a few more things to our portfolio, like our chic Frother, new flavours in both Hot and Cold Brews, and a very interesting collaboration with Greater Than Gin.
A Year Of Hits
2021 was different. We did everything that had initially scared us and we nailed it. If we hadn’t taken these steps we wouldn’t have known what it meant to believe in our own instinct. After a successful year, we planned for a bigger one ahead.
Did Someone Say Instant?
We did something. We started the year with a literal bang! We introduced our 100% Arabica Premium Instant Coffee and despite the nerve-wracking few weeks leading up to the launch, the instant success made it all worth it.
This Calls For Some Change
As a little reward for ourselves, we decided it was time to move into a new office. It had been under construction for a while but the growing team couldn’t contain their excitement and in February 2022 we moved into a space that was going to set a precedent of how things were going to be for Sleepy Owl this year- bigger, bolder, and brighter!
We Love A Summer Launch
Summers are a gift and in return, we pay it forward to our community with a well thought out and heartfelt gift of our own. This year it was the Cold Coffee cans! We knew that the sultry heat had people reaching for anything cold and refreshing. To improve their experience and give them something ultimate and premium, we launched our thicker, bolder, and creamier Cold Coffee which was nothing like what you would’ve had before.
The Year So Far
At 6 years, we look and feel both young and experienced at the same time. There’s so much we have achieved and yet so much left to do. With our Cold Coffee cans finally on the market after months of research and development, we took a breather.
We’re recouping and aligning ourselves for a wonderful seventh year that lies ahead of us.