In 2017 we were able to detect a problem in a industry that we are very passionate about for what it represents for the socioeconomic history of Puerto Rico. Our hypothesis was that through a digital platform it could make sense to solve the problem of the poor access we have to coffee from Puerto Rico. Thanks to our communitywe can say that three years later we continue to impact the industry and we have become more than a Product Market Fit.
Cuela was born out of nostalgia felt by three friends who distanced from Puerto Rico in 2017 just after Hurricane María. Carlitos and I went to Madrid to continue graduate studies and Gustavo went to work as an accountant in Washington D.C. Anyone who has lived outside of Puerto Rico for a long period of time is very likely think every day in what they can do to return to the island and contribute to the development of Puerto Rico. That restlessness was what made us come back home and do something about it. One thinks even in the most utopian solutions and that is not bad. This helps you to visualize what you want for yourself, your loved ones and for your country and that is why we returned to Puerto Rico with just a Business Model Canvas to develop an idea.
How does Cuela begin?
The idea came while in the Strategic Entrepreneurship class in the city of Madrid, the professor was discussing about innovation in traditional industries such as beer, wine, public transportation, among others. When I arrived in Madrid, I had been in the Coffee Industry for about 6 months and I had the plan to do something with this product that I am so passionate about. When I listen to the professor, all of the sudden the idea came to my mind and I told Carlitos who was right next to me, "Pssss...how about we create a platform to expose the premium & specialty coffee brands from Puerto Rico?" Carlitos stared at me kind of lost, but he was a little sleepy and stressed with the thesis on Medicinal Cannabis that we had to present to graduate. Since I was no longer motivated with Cannabis, I went back to the apartment and made the Business Model Canvas that you see above. Motivation grew to level 100! I presented it to Carlitos again and he said "Let's do it!". Upon returning to Puerto Rico, I found Gustavo quite frustrated with his professional life. He was very eager to be an entrepreneur and he asked me "What is the first thing that comes to your mind?" I answered, an online Coffee Market Place. He looked at me quite strange, but his desire to be his own boss was more than working for someone else.
In 2019, we create the network of coffee growers. This process was pretty intense but it came with a lot of gratification. Every weekend for an entire year we visited the coffee growers who have collaborated with Cuela. The idea was to get to know them and engage in very conversations that would allow us to understand them well and for them to get to know us as well. When we explained our project, some were somewhat confused and others said yes since day one. The reality is that it was something cool because it was a moment in which we projected our purpose in the coffee industry. We want to challenge the status quo of commercial coffee consumption by exposing premium and specialty coffee from Puerto Rico by creating and highlighting the stories of our producers. This process of visiting the farms made us realize that Cuela makes so much sense in the Industry.
In 2020 the COVID 19 came to our daily routines. This filled us with a lot of fear but we canalize it in order to move forward. We were already live with the platform since January 21, 2020 but it was not until the lockdown in March that the real deal arrived. We started from my home room with five coffee growers that kept working through lock down and little by little more were opening there businesses. We started to gain traction in the market quickly thanks to the conditions generated by the pandemic. Being able to appreciate that the business model did make sense, we began to apply to business accelerators such as Parallel 18, Grupo Guayacán and Rising Entrepreneurs Program. They provided us with training, mentoring, and grants that helped us to invest in the business. Also during the P18 program, we launched the Café Sorpresa Subscription, that validated completely our value proposition, linking the small coffee growers with the coffee lover of Puerto Rico and the world. Café Sorpresa have had a great acceptance in the market. We are a community of almost 1,000 subscribers that every month contribute to the economy of the mountains of Puerto Rico.
This year we are aiming for more and we have many surprises that we will tell you about very soon. We are super excited for you to find out. It has already been three years of a lot of sacrifices, few hours of sleep, platform down, change of staff, visits to farms, content, educational trips, presentations, cupping so that our coffee can be known worldwide. All of this has been tough but we always end up with a smile in our faces and gratification for enjoying the process.
Today we celebrate with you because you are definitely an essential part of Cuela's development. Today we celebrate that thanks to your support we can work with over 23 coffee growers and roasters who also support hundreds of families that live from the coffee economy in the mountains of Puerto Rico.
Thank you, thank you and thank you!