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Building a Nationally-Distributed Brand with No Industry Experience with Rod Johnson, Co-founder of BLK & Bold

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We’ve seen it time and time again — entrepreneurs build a business driven by an existing passion for a product or service. They then leverage that knowledge of an industry’s pain points to find new and exciting ways to innovate within it. But we’ve also heard stories of the exact opposite. The entrepreneurs with absolutely no industry experience that fight tooth and nail to break into a market they know nothing about.

The cofounders of Blk & Bold fall into that latter camp, building an online coffee company with zero knowledge of coffee roasting, no experience making a D2C website, and a nearly nonexistent interest in specialty coffee.

They dove into their industry blind, but they saw a market gap ripe with opportunity – an opportunity that could not only drive business value but create meaningful social impact.

“We knew we wanted to do good,” Rod Johnson says. “We didn’t want to just build a business to line our pockets and go sit on a beach and drinking drinks with umbrellas. We want to do something else. We want to make sure that we can have profound impact. We just didn’t know profound would manifest into working with Ben and Jerry’s and Congresswoman and Corey Bush. That was definitely not on my vision board. And I just want to continue to avail myself to be a servant making black and bold a servant to those opportunities.”

Johnson is the Co-founder of BLK & Bold. Before founding the company, he admits to preferring tea over coffee, but when his friend — and now co-founder — came to him with an idea for a new kind of coffee company, Rod knew it was a vision he couldn’t ignore.

So how did Rod and his co-founder break into the 102 billion dollar US coffee market with no knowledge of the industry? How did they make Blk & Bold stand out among competitors? And how have they turned their own experiences growing up into a social good mission that’s impacting the nation? Find out all that and more on today’s episode of The Journey.

Main Takeaways:

  • Create Synergy with other Do-Good Brands: Serving the community and giving back through your business can result in unforeseen benefits, including the opportunity to work with other great brands that care. There is a lot of synergy behind building a community around doing good, and when you partner with others, your reach is expanded exponentially.
  • Natural Curiosity Can Compensate for Know-How: Even if you’re not an expert in a field that you’re interested in starting a business in, you can still do it! Interest and curiosity will take you down all of the right rabbit holes to fill in your knowledge and become a subject matter expert in your industry. Plus, experimentation will allow you to learn by doing, and maybe even find a way of doing something that no one else in the industry has thought of because they have blinders on.
  • Unseen Value of Long-standing Co-founder Relationships: The depth that comes from having a long-standing relationship with your co-founder can really come into play and shine when times are tough. A deeper personal understanding as to how the other person deals with unforeseen circumstances or hiccups can lead to better advice, powerful encouragement, and quicker solutions.

Key Quotes:

“We landed on contributing a percentage of our proceeds to impact a very vulnerable demographic: youth in need. We decided that we will pour into organizations that are keenly focused on supporting our youth across America.” 

“You don’t know if it’s going to work. Imposter syndrome is real. You definitely have that little nagging voice that tells you that you shouldn’t be doing this, or you’re not good enough. Having a goal and being persistent about pursuing that goal is what I would attribute to our ascension.”

“The biggest win up until most recently was being awarded national distribution via Target stores. Now, regardless of where you are, you’re able to access specialty coffee. That was part of the ethos in us building the business is that we want anyone to be able to have an upgrade to their daily ritual. Despite the proximity that they had to a specialty coffee shop.”

“We knew we wanted to do good. We didn’t want to just build a business to line our pockets and go sit on a beach drinking drinks with umbrellas. We want to do something else. We want to make sure that we can have a profound impact. We didn’t know profound things would manifest into…working with Ben and Jerry’s and Congresswoman. That was definitely not on my vision board, and I just want to continue to avail myself to be a servant making BLK & Bold a servant to those opportunities.”

Bio: 

Jarrhod ‘Rod’ Johnson knows that with proper guidance and accessibility to resources those at risk can overcome obstacles regardless of the size. Given his decade-long professional career as an academic and healthcare non-profit fundraiser, he has seen the impact generosity and philanthropy can have on vulnerable communities. From working behind the scenes as strategist to a frontline fundraiser, Rod has been fortunate to help raise millions of dollars for academic scholarships and healthcare research. Now his focus has shifted on his own entrepreneurial endeavors to have more command over which communities he can help support. 

Coupled with a personal passion for coffees & teas, Rod leverages those skills to build BLK & Bold SpecialtyBeverages into a vehicle of domestic social impact and a model for other businesses interested in prioritizing purpose and profit. 

Additionally, as a native of Gary, Indiana, he is dedicated to showing youth growing up in similar circumstances as his own that the sky’s the limit. When Rod isn’t brewing a cup of green tea or medium roast coffee, he’s rapping alongside his favoritehip-hop artists, enjoying the company of his two dogs and raising his daughter, who made her arrival July 2020.

This season of the Journey is produced by Mission.org and brought to you by UPS. To learn how UPS can help your small business, go to UPS.com/pivot.

Episode 101