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Caffeinated Creativity: How Super Coffee Disrupted the Beverage Industry

How Super Coffee Disrupted the Beverage Industry

Maybe you’ve seen them lining the shelves of your local grocery store—or perhaps you’ve already tried the ready-made keto coffee drink for yourself—either way, there are grounds to be excited for the third-largest pick-me-up-potion on the market today. Super Coffee is perking up the industry, emerging as a fresh yet formidable contender against long-established java juggernauts like Starbucks and Dunkin’.

The idea for the enhanced coffee concoction first percolated in an East Falls dorm room back in 2015, inspired by a feeling any first-year student could relate to: Student-athlete and business major Jordan DeCicco was tired.

Early morning basketball practices for the point guard and extensive study sessions took a toll on him. Searching for a healthy way to stay alert and focused throughout his long days, Jordan was disheartened by what was available. Sugar-laden, nutritionally-dense options dominated the caffeinated beverage market.

That’s when Jordan took matters into his own hands, and his blender.

In his dorm room, with the help of his older brothers, Jimmy and Jake, he blended protein with coffee and incorporated healthy fats from coconut oil.

“At the time, it didn’t taste too great, but it provided me with energy and was a healthier choice,” recalls Jordan. “That’s how it all began.”

Despite the initial taste imperfections, the brew fueled Jordan and motivated him to provide a health-conscious alternative to existing products. How many people, he wondered, were searching for the same thing?

Jordan found himself on a quest to perfect his recipe. He enlisted his basketball teammates as willing—but brutally honest—taste testers.

“They told me it didn’t taste good, and I realized that it had to taste fantastic and be good for you; it couldn’t just be healthy,” laughs Jordan. “I was okay with failing. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes it was a little hard, but it helped me make the product better.”

Jordan then sought valuable guidance from professors and made the most of the resources available at the Blackstone Launchpad on campus. He forged beneficial partnerships with local food scientists, including the Rutgers Food Innovation Lab, which then served as an external partner for the University. These collaborations played an instrumental role in crafting the early formulations of Super Coffee. Although the recipes have undergone significant evolution and improvement since then, this cooperative journey taught Jordan invaluable lessons in formulating and adhering to stringent food safety requirements.

Jordan left school after his first year to focus on the business, and by 2016 Super Coffee had found its footing and launched as a full-bodied brand. The company boasted a trio of employees, none other than the DeCicco brothers. Jimmy, the eldest of the siblings, took charge of branding efforts, assuming the role of chief brand officer. Jake, the middle brother, oversaw all sales endeavors as the chief revenue officer. Jordan, the youngest of the three, held the titles of founder and chief operating officer, spearheading the operational aspects of the business.

A year later, in 2017, the company picked up its first non-relative employee.

It was a good thing that they did, too—as it would turn out, the brothers and Super Coffee would need all the help they could get in the years to come, as they could never anticipate the surprises and successes that awaited them.

It’s difficult to discern what’s more embedded within the DeCicco DNA—entrepreneurship, competitiveness, or coffee—but it’s clear all three come naturally to the brothers.

Hailing from Kingston, New York, the sibling squad was raised by sports-loving parents who imparted values that transcended athletic prowess and monetary achievements. Kindness, compassion, and humility took precedence, allowing the brothers the freedom to express themselves fully.

“For three boys who grew up close in age and highly competitive, we had much to learn along the way,” Jordan admits. “We weren’t born entrepreneurs, but the way we were raised allowed us to become entrepreneurs.”

During the early stages of Super Coffee, the brothers dabbled in every aspect of the company, resulting in a lack of structure and organization. The clash of opinions often led to moments of chaos as they navigated the steep learning curve inherent in running a business.

“As executives, we had to treat each other like executives to benefit our consumers and people,” says Jordan. “It took a couple of years to figure that out.”

In 2019, the brothers stepped out onto a national stage, landing an appearance on the hit ABC show “Shark Tank.”

Super Coffee’s pitch for their product was compelling, a tantalizing promise of a healthier, low-calorie alternative to traditional coffee offerings enriched with nourishing ingredients such as protein, MCT oil, and antioxidants. Their product range encompassed ready-to-drink bottles, creamers, and grounds, featuring robust and captivating flavors like vanilla, mocha, and hazelnut, catering to individuals seeking a convenient and nutritious option for their active lifestyles.

Although the panel of investors did not strike a deal, they were impressed with Super Coffee and the creator-siblings.

“You’re enormously disciplined, and you have high energy,” businesswoman and shark Barbara Corcoran told the brothers. “It’s obvious how you feel about your product.”

“You’ve got a great name that’s eye-catching and will make people interested,” entrepreneur Mark Cuban added.

Reflecting on the experience, Jordan thinks of it as nothing short of unbelievable.

“Not striking a deal was a combination of the sharks not loving the concept of the product as much as we thought they would, and then us asking for a higher enterprise valuation on the business that they thought would be acceptable for their investment,” explains Jordan. “I think we could’ve gotten the deal done if we lowered the enterprise valuation they were asking for, but it turned out to be the best thing ever.”

Despite not earning an investment, Jordan credits the substantial viewership of 8 million for the pivotal growth that Super Coffee experienced in the aftermath of the episode.

“Shark Tank gave us the publicity we wanted and needed at the time to grow the brand,” he says. “It was a pivotal turning point in our trajectory.”

The brand’s success continued through 2019 as Super Coffee expanded from a team of four employees to 85, and the DeCicco brothers gained recognition for their business prowess by being featured in Forbes’s coveted “30 Under 30” list.

By 2023, the business had grown even further, employing over 100 full- and part-time staff members. The company experienced a remarkable surge of 106% during the same year, achieving $55 million in revenue. This impressive growth attracted the attention of over a thousand investors, including celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and Jordan’s childhood idol, Aaron Rodgers, resulting in Super Coffee garnering a valuation of $400 million.

But Super Coffee isn’t stopping there.

According to Jordan, the key to their prosperity lies in their staunch commitment to prioritizing their customers and employees.

People first, always,” Jordan emphasizes. “It’s all about the people.”

While the customer’s needs are paramount, so too are the needs of the company’s internal team. Jordan is quick to add that, as a leader, it is crucial to take care of your employees’ safety, security, and comfort to help them succeed in their roles, but it is equally as important to support them outside of their professional responsibilities.

“If you’re a leader or an entrepreneur, just realize that, yes, you started the company, but you will not be the reason the company is successful,” says Jordan. “It will be the culmination of people that you have on your team.”

In line with the unconventional approach that propelled them to success, the DeCicco brothers and Super Coffee continue challenging and disrupting the status quo.

“Being disruptive means taking risks and being at the forefront of developing new concepts and products, and not being afraid to launch them,” says Jordan. “Ultimately, you have to try new things. It’s going to be hard, you’re going to learn new lessons, but that’s the cost that you pay for living on the frontier and creating new things.”

Many of his lessons on disruption and business Jordan attributes to his time as a Ram, where he acquired mentorship from professors and built a supportive network of peers.

“When you get together with students and actually are challenged to create concepts or theses and actually do the work to prep getting ready for a business, and then researching businesses that actually were successful and how they became successful was very valuable and eye-opening,” he says. “Because I was creating my business at the same time…I think [this] propelled me to actually start the company.”

In spring 2023, Jordan returned to East Falls with alumnus Mike Louden Jr., the vice president of divisional sales for Kitu Life Super Brands, to offer advice for aspiring Jefferson entrepreneurs.

“Right now, while you’re in school, the time is to ideate,” he said. “Find a problem you want to work on that’s important to you. The four years here, and the four years after school, are the best years to try something. Enjoy the time you’re here—it’s going to fly by. So, leverage your network, leverage the time that you have, put the work in, and learn as much as you can.”