Brandeis International Business School

001: Three brothers and a blender

The story of Super Coffee with Jim DeCicco

Jim DeCicco graduated Colgate University in 2015 and just a few months later, teamed up with his two younger brothers to create the world’s first Super Coffee. Since then, Jim and his brothers have grown Kitu Life Inc tremendously, raising $18 million in venture capital and getting an opportunity to pitch on ABC’s "Shark Tank" (where they received an offer but ultimately turned it down).

Kitu Life now has 20 full-time employees, and Jim’s role with the company has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. Now CEO, he has transitioned from working in the company to working on the company: from making deliveries, stocking shelves and sending invoices to leading a team of people who can do all of those things even better.

From the Dorm Room

Jim DiCicco was captain of the football team at Colgate University. In fact, all three DeCicco brothers were college athletes, leveraging their athletic ability and dedication to get excellent liberal arts educations.

Like many college freshmen, Jim didn’t know what he wanted to be when he first arrived on campus, and the idea of becoming a beverage entrepreneur certainly hadn’t crossed his mind. So he decided to be a philosophy major and writing minor, figuring those would provide transferable skills for almost any major or occupation.

But being a member of the football team, where he was pushed to compete and endure adversity in trying times, was actually what best prepared him for entrepreneurship.

“Really, the only way you learn and grow is by doing hard things —  hard, uncomfortable things.”

Jim’s youngest brother Jordan played basketball at Philadelphia University, where he had to wake up at 5 a.m. for practice. He was falling asleep in class, he was tired, but the school store only offered Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

Like his brother, Jordan had no intention of becoming a beverage entrepreneur. But after he started making a protein-rich coffee drink for himself every morning, his teammates, classmates and coaches wanted some too. So when Jordan was heading into his sophomore year, he called Jim and told him about the Super Coffee idea. Jordan knew that if he went back to school, the business was never going to work, so he dropped out of school to pursue the business full-time — and Jim, three months out of college, joined him.

To the Boardroom

Rather than launching with a minimum viable product or creating a well-thought-out business plan, the DeCiccos “just made a product in Jordan's blender.” It was the same beverage that Jordan made for himself. They brought the Super Coffee into the local Whole Foods and showed them that the product was unique — and they placed an order for eight cases as part of Whole Foods' local program.

After they had their first client, they needed a place to produce the drink in a way that could be legally sold on shelves. They made a deal with the people who ran the Domino Sugar Factory in Baltimore, where they had a bottling line that stopped at 8 p.m. So they made the coffee overnight and then made deliveries to colleges and local grocery stores from D.C. to Baltimore by themselves. The DeCicco brothers did that for about 18 months, and with those sales and traction, they were able to raise the money necessary to start scaling.

Jim relates his post-college entrepreneurial adventure to a favorite Mike Tyson quote: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."

“I think 99 percent of college students have every misconception of what the workplace is going to be, just because you have in your head what you think it's going to be,” Jim says. “Whether you want to work in finance on Wall Street or in real estate or in science, whatever, you have this idea of what you think it's going to be like. And then, as soon as you start, it's totally different, or everything changes.”

The moral of the story: Don't wait. Don't wait until you're qualified. Don't wait until you're ready. Just get going, because the real world is going to validate your idea — or it's going to validate your concerns.


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