Delhi-based Sleepy Owl is a cold-brew coffee company that is catering to the rise in demand for nuanced, specially brewed, gourmet coffee in the Indian market.
At a glance:
Startup: Sleepy Owl
Based out of: Delhi
Founders: Ajai Thandi, Ashwajeet Singh and Arman Sood
Year it was founded: 2016
Sector: Food and Beverages
There is nothing like a hot cuppa in the morning to get your brain cells charged and ready to tackle the day ahead. It was a brew that friends Ajai Thandi, Ashwajeet Singh and Arman Sood simply loved and it was this love for coffee that got them to start Sleepy Owl, a cold-brew coffee company.
Ajai’s tryst with coffee began whilst he was still an investment banker at JP Morgan in New York. It was what kept him going through long days, arduous nights and weekends on the job. So it came as an easy decision to jump ship when his childhood friend, Ashwajeet, proposed the idea of starting a cold-brew coffee company in India. Ashwajeet soon roped in his friend, Arman, and the trio started up Sleepy Owl.
“Our vision for Sleepy Owl is to rethink the in-home coffee experience. We want consumers to have the best quality coffee conveniently, and consume it as it's best,” says Ajai.
Sourcing of the beans
The beans are sourced from Chikmagalur, Karnataka. These beans are roasted in small batches and then brewed slowly in cold water over 24 hours, to ensure that the flavour is extracted out of the beans and the bitterness is left out. As opposed to hot brewing, the coffee here is steeped for over 20 hours to produce a flavour that is nutty, low in acid and offering a different beverage experience.
The result is coffee that's naturally smooth. Sleepy Owl’s signature chocolatey and nutty flavour comes from single-origin Arabica beans. “We use 100 percent Grade-A Plantation beans. The coffee is made strictly on demand. Roasted, ground and brewed fresh and delivered every single day,” says Ajai.
The first product in the market is a 1.5 litre and a 600ml box that is a super smooth black coffee. The product is sold at various modern trade outlets and online channels at a price point of Rs 300-600.
The team recently launched Brew Packs online, which is a ‘Brew-It-yourself Cold Brew Coffee’ available across the country. Ajai explains that it is a convenient and hassle-free way to brew a delicious cup of coffee without having the need to dabble in complex brewing equipment. It retails at Rs 500 for five brew packs, which can make up to 15 cups of coffee.
Challenges, and working around it
The initial challenge was getting into the retail stores. The team decided to leverage the power of e-commerce and social media to launch the brand online. Since customer experience and satisfaction is key, the team is constantly in touch with customers to learn from them and improve the experience.
“This enables us to give customers a product they truly want. Gradually, with the popularity of the products, customers started demanding it at stores, which reached out to list our product on their own. That was the best thing to happen to us in the first year of business. It taught us to be patient and always put customers first,” says Ajai.
Understanding that brewing great coffee is complicated and tedious, the trio realised that it was important to innovate and come up with a convenient way to help people consume high quality coffee on a daily basis.
To do this, the team had to get past the obstacle of roasting, grinding and brewing fresh coffee every morning. So they brewed and tasted and refined and brewed again—till they achieved the perfect cold brew coffee, and combined it with a convenient bag-in-a-box packaging, shipping the first box on June 16, 2016.
“We source the best quality beans from Chikmagalur, Karnataka, medium-roast them to extract all the chocolatey, nutty flavours, cold-brewed each batch for 18-24 hours which gives it a naturally sweet, smooth, non-acidic flavour,” says Ajai.
Ashwajeet is the in-house master brewer and the one who came up with the signature Sleepy Owl Cold Brew. Ashwajeet also came up with the name Sleepy Owl, an oxymoron that has clearly stuck with thousands of consumers who have tried their creation.
Funding and scale
“We started the business from Ashwajeet’s kitchen in Dwarka, New Delhi. As we scaled, we moved to a proper facility in South Delhi,” says Ajai. The team recently raised $500,000 seed funding from DSG Consumer Partners.
Deepak I Shahdadpuri, Managing Director, DSGCP, says they have partnered with the Sleepy Owl team to build the foundations of what they hope to be a leading coffee brand.
“We are entering the market with cold brew coffee, with the pioneering Sleepy Owl Cold Brew Box and, more recently, the Cold Brew Packs. The scope for the segment is immense and we see this as being a long-term partnership to bring the perfect brew to the Indian consumer,” says Deepak.
Recently, tennis player Rohan Bopanna launched Rohan Bopanna’s Master Blend at Bengaluru’s The Flying Squirrel. Currently, Rohan Bopanna’s Master Blend will be available at the online store, and in stores, and is priced at Rs 449 for 250gm.
According to Ajai, what sets Sleepy Owl apart is their employee training, which begins with the basic introduction to coffee and the product, and then a lot of emphasis on customer interaction, understanding feedback and dealing with customer grievances.
“The team is passionate, maybe even obsessed, about coffee: the provenance, the beans, the roast, the flavor profile, the brew and every other aspect of what makes the perfect coffee. When I first tasted the product six months ago I was blown away. It was as good as the best cold brews I have tasted in San Francisco, London and Singapore. A truly world-class product made with the best Indian beans,” says Deepak of DSGCP.
He believes that India will follow the track of developed markets, which has seen an explosion in cold brew as an alternative to the traditional hot brewing.
The market and future
“We expect the overall coffee market in India to show double-digit consumption growth and cold brew to grow faster than the overall market. We also see a large opportunity in the overall ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage space, which offers challenger brands to quickly own the segment given the lack of competition,” says Deepak.
The market for gourmet coffee is fast growing in India, and is believed to have a compounded annual growth rate of 20 percent. Also, today, with different kinds of coffee stores opening up in India, there is growing population of people looking for alternatives to the traditionally brewed coffee.
Sleepy Owl claims to have catered to more than 15,000 customers online via their website and also through offline retail across 30 modern trade outlets like Foodhall, Modern Bazaar and Le Marche in Delhi.
Ajai adds that the startup will focus on product development and increasing manufacturing capabilities to expand its product portfolio and grow nationally to gain a share of the rapidly growing Indian retail coffee market, estimated to cross $5 billion by 2020. “Concurrently, we will continue to streamline operations and expand production to ensure that we deliver on our promise of excellent user experience to our customers,” concludes Ajai.