On Sunday, Britton O'Daly was in rural British Columbia for a wedding when he learned that investment bank Goldman Sachs was ending the free cold brew perk it previously offered in its New York City headquarters. A friend had sent him news and cracked a joke: "How funny would it be if Cometeer handed out samples outside of Goldman?"
O'Daly, the special projects manager for the Gloucester, Massachusetts-headquartered coffee startup Cometeer, thought it was a funny proposition--but also a great idea. So, about 16 hours later, the team set up a table replete with Oatly oat milk, cups, straws, and hundreds of Cometeer coffee capsules right outside of Goldman Sachs's building. They even custom-printed a sign advertising their samples: "Free coffee for Goldman analysts!"
At first, employees seemed wary. "A few people started coming, but lots of people looked at us weirdly, like it was a trap," O'Daly says. Some people understandably feared they might be walking into a Nathan Fielder-style prank or partaking in an activity that would anger their higher-ups--but gradually, Goldman employees embraced the coffee startup's offering.
Between about 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Cometeer estimates it served about 100 people freshly made cold brew--even after security guards forced workers to move their operation across the street. O'Daly considers the guerrilla pop-up a success, but he says the only way the team was able to accomplish what it did was because it operated quickly. "It was one of those situations where you really had less than 24 hours to make it work, or else it wasn't going to make much sense," O'Daly says. "You have to be a doer."
It's a sentiment that no doubt resonates with entrepreneurs. However, doing--well, anything--in person has been more or less verboten for two and a half years. But that's starting to change. Business owners have realized that experiential marketing can help them better connect with their customers and get their products out into the world, especially in saturated markets. Many have even found that in-person marketing tactics can considerably increase sales.
For the Cometeer team, the pop-up was a welcome return to grassroots marketing that also delivered ample media attention--ahem.
But again, capitalizing on such a moment is not for the faint of heart. In a car ride from Vancouver to Seattle, O'Daly designed the pop-up sign on his phone. While he was on a red eye flight from Seattle back home to New York, Christina Lazzaro, head of brand and communications, ordered 15 cartons of Oatly oat milk, which a "very nice" delivery person secured by going to two different grocery stores. O'Daly's flight landed around 6 a.m., giving him just enough time to stop home, grab a Cometeer shirt and unload his suitcase, and then go to the office to get a table, tablecloth, cups, and as many Cometeer capsules as possible (luckily, a friend offered to drive). They also had to pick up a cooler that they had let another startup borrow for an event the previous week. And then they had to pop over to Duane Reade to pick up ice.
Because the NYC office was running low on capsules, O'Daly asked the team if they could bring any extras they had on hand. Lazzaro, for one, brought all the capsules she had in her own freezer. "It was a whole pageant of tasks we had to do," O'Daly says. "Every man, woman, and child of Cometeer was mobilizing to donate what they had."
While Cometeer brand promises a faster, easier cup of coffee, ready in less than a minute, the nature of the product did pose a challenge for the last-minute set-up: Cometeer's capsules contain frozen disks of coffee. To brew them, all a person has to do is pour hot water over them (for a hot coffee), or melt them and pour them over a cup of cold water or milk (for cold brew). Because the capsules need to be stored in the freezer, customers typically place them in the fridge overnight to make their morning cold brew--but when you're planning an impromptu coffee pop-up the night before, on a Sunday no less, defrosting doesn't really come into the equation.
So, Lazzaro packed thermoses of hot water that they could use to defrost the capsules, making them ready to pour, so that they could prepare a fresh cup of coffee--to the shock of Goldman analysts--"before the light turned green," Lazzaro says.
O'Daly initially tried to promote the brand by shouting out to Goldman Sachs employees specifically. However, the team eventually opened up their stand to anyone around who wanted a cold brew--which helped them to gain the trust of the initially targeted Goldman analysts. O'Daly even thinks that the gimmick earned Cometeer some new customers: Instead of business cards, the team handed visitors extra Cometeer capsules that they could brew at home or share with colleagues.
"These are customers for whom every single second matters when they're on their way to work--the idea just clicked," O'Daly says. "This definitely won't be the last time you see some guerrilla Cometeer samples on the streets."