From humble beginnings in a garage, co-founders Pernell Cezar and Rod Johnson have steered their business to become one of Iowa’s rapidly expanding companies.
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As AFROTECH previously told you, the pair created coffee and tea brand BLK & Bold in 2018. Their goal was to be industry disruptors, driven by a mission to introduce both high-quality coffee and an exceptional customer experience — filling a perceived gap in the market.
“Accessibility to premium coffee and quality products go hand in hand, but it is important to normalize that experience in coffee,” Cezar told AFROTECH. “When we talk about both, it’s easy to let go of the vision of the conscious consumer, especially in something as high commodity as coffee — the second highest consumer beverage in America — but this does not have to be the case. When you allow that high volume of purchasing experience, not only do you have better quality of consumption, but a way more intentional impact that even highlights to consumers how their choices matter.”
Cezar and Johnson kept their intention from the very beginning, even during the early stages of the company. Both founders operated from different locations: Cezar taking the ropes from his garage, while Johnson worked from a couch in Sacramento, CA.
Johnson believes this season was imperative to their development as entrepreneurs.
“In the early initial stages, Pernell and I were in separate locations,” Johnson explained. “Pernell took charge of initiating operations from his garage, which involved setting up the table top roaster and cutting holes in the paneling for the smoke to emit. Meanwhile, I, from my couch in Sacramento, was overseeing all things digital from managing our website, social media experience and even to responding to customer service emails.”
“This was our first endeavor together that we felt would gain a little traction and it was a lot of experimentation,” he continued. “Our early stage process and experience really allowed us to unpack where we were as entrepreneurs but can mostly be compared to building the boat while you learn to steer it.”
Tunnel vision has led BLK & Bold to achieve several feats, including becoming the fastest growing company in Iowa for the third year in a row, per the Inc. 5000 list. Their success is also tied to factors including a quality line of products which include caramel and sweet cold brew, “Smoove Operator” blend, and tea flavors in chai, matcha, and lemon ginger, among others.
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“Coffee has allowed us to fuel this company, to not only be the fastest growing company in our state over the past three years, but to have placed No. 4 out of all food and beverage companies and No. 61 overall of all private companies on this year’s Inc. 5000 list,” Cezar explained.
Supporting The Youth
What’s of greater significance is that they’ve infused a higher mission into their company which is pledging to contribute 5% of its revenue to nonprofits dedicated to youth empowerment.
Cezar added, “Through this we have been able to achieve a level of employment impact, but also economic impact back to communities, particularly in how we support youth. Selling coffee has ranked us competitively in different aspects and through this product we have been able to go back to the community impact that we personally value above all else, which again is what our strategy stems from.”
BLK & Bold has established several partnerships to embolden their efforts, including the National Basketball Association (NBA). The league matched the company’s 5% pledge for each sale of their “Warm Up” coffee flavor. Additionally, the company worked closely with Canteen for the release of their first barista book “Recipes for Impact,” which led to 100% of proceeds being allocated back to 14 pledge partners in the U.S. who are supporting the youth.
“It’s the validation of the consumers, fans and partnerships that help us continue to prioritize socially-conscious consumption and consumerism that makes a difference through our social impact model,” Johnson said.
Although BLK & Bold is establishing an industry benchmark as both a business and a socially responsible venture, it’s important to recognize that they encounter challenges, which is an inescapable occurrence in the world of entrepreneurship.
The founders state their biggest obstacle remains securing funding.
“There are fundamental challenges that come along with being a Black founder looking to raise,” Cezar expressed. “The most glaring of them all is that only 1% of Black founders receive venture capital funding, while as a consumer goods brand and also a manufacturer, the dollars allocated to our sectors are even less funded compared to the tech sector.”
In spite of the prevailing conditions in venture capital, the founders remain steadfast in their commitment to what they can influence through their vision and network.
“Being a conscious consumer means seeing through the challenges. If you want to be a social entrepreneur: be authentic,” Johnson said. “As a Black business owner, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to discover their passion and purpose, cultivate a supportive network, continuously educate yourself, and, above all, remain dedicated in your commitment to the mission, ensuring that their values drive every decision and action they take on their entrepreneurial journey.”