Inspired by Learn by Doing, Recent OCOB Graduate Helps Launch Disruptive Coffee Company

Sahil Gupta with Quokka Brew
The author with his product.

By Sahil Gupta 

I remember touring Cal Poly and the Orfalea College of Business in February of 2016. After spending a full day on campus, I knew Cal Poly was the right fit for me, primarily because the “Learn by Doing” philosophy is underscored across all fields of study. 

My impression was that this mindset would be invaluable to not only my undergraduate education, but also in my preparation for the workforce and industry. After four years of personal, academic, and professional growth, “Learn by Doing” for me means applying the fundamental concepts of business to an entrepreneurial spirit, as well as developing a growth mindset to pursue opportunities. 

That being said, I only truly was able to understand the power and influence of my education during my last year at Cal Poly. That’s when two close friends of mine from UC Berkeley, Ofek Arush and George Passantino (co-founders), shared with me a business and product they were developing: a fully caffeinated coffee without the common negative side effects of caffeine, i.e. the jitters, anxiousness, and the crash. 

As someone who’s sensitive to caffeine and experiences the jitters, drinking a morning or afternoon cup of coffee was never on my daily agenda. However, after trying their first coffee formulation, which they spent five months perfecting, and hearing their origin story, I knew Quokka Brew jitter-less coffee could become something great in the beverage industry. 

Shortly after the summer, I returned to Cal Poly to complete my final year as a Business Administration student. When I set foot on campus, I made it one of my goals to help make Quokka Brew as ubiquitous as possible in the SLO community. 

The next seven months could be described as nothing short of a memorable learning experience. Carrying around a small blue cooler with coffee to sample, I began setting up a table on Dexter Lawn four days a week for five hours at a time, handing out samples. At the same time, I placed flyers and stickers in high traffic areas around campus in an effort to continue to spread brand awareness. 

I’ve learned that with the start and progression of every business, there’s no set blueprint for success. Instead, it’s often a non-linear journey, requiring resilience to execute new ideas. Inevitably some will fail and some will succeed. But the more encompassing and fulfilling reality is that I’m learning tremendously by doing and giving it my best shot, every step of the way.

Moving into the winter quarter of 2020, the co-founders and I established our second campus ambassador program at Cal Poly, with UC Berkeley being the first. Alongside a team of 18 unique and talented Cal Poly students, I was able to increase our presence on campus by marketing Quokka Brew in various professional and cultural on-campus clubs, as well as helping to sponsor large events such as TEDxSan Luis Obispo, the Women in Business Defining Her Future conference, and SLO Hacks. By the end of winter quarter, right before coronavirus moved Cal Poly to an online curriculum, the team and I were able to sell 2,600 bottles of coffee. 

Throughout my education, many of my business classes taught me that by adding an authentic, personable touch to selling can create long-lasting relationships with your customers. I also learned that focusing on both the little details and the bigger picture can lead to a robust business strategy. The importance of being proactive and open-minded both became evident as well, along with the realization that this approach can create unforeseen opportunities. 

But from this continuing entrepreneurial pursuit, one of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned is that with the start and progression of every business, there’s no set blueprint for success. Instead, it’s often a non-linear journey, requiring strong belief, courage, and resilience to execute new ideas. Inevitably some will fail and some will succeed. But the more encompassing and fulfilling reality is that I’m learning tremendously by doing and giving it my best shot, every step of the way. 

Last month, we launched our new Oat Milk Lattes on Indiegogo (a crowdfunding site) for pre-order. Working closely with food scientists, we’ve developed our lattes to contain fair-trade cold brew coffee, oat milk, our patenting-pending blend of organic amino acids and nootropics, as well as only three grams of sugar and 90 calories. Working on this new campaign alongside the Quokka Brew team, I’ve been continually excited as we’ve managed to raise $53,000 in pre-orders on this product, just within the first three weeks of fundraising. 

I know I wouldn’t have been able to help launch and build this company without the support of the Cal Poly community. I’m also grateful to have graduated from an institution that teaches its students to become effective leaders and conscientious business professionals, instilling us with an education that prepares us—through practical action—to carry the Cal Poly legacy into our careers and professional interests.

Orfalea Alumni Chats | Lisa Hufford

Lisa is the founder and CEO of Simplicity Consulting, which she launched in 2006 after 14 years managing and growing strategic, multi-million-dollar accounts for corporations such as Microsoft and RR Donnelley. Simplicity Consulting has been named to the Inc. 5000 list for five consecutive years as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America.

Lisa has been recognized for various awards—from Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women to Inc.’s Top 10 Female Entrepreneurs. She has also gone on to publish two books with an upcoming third on its way, their titles and topics ranging from her Personal Brand Playbook to Navigating the Talent Shift. We at Cal Poly are lucky to have her as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council and involved in the CIE program.

We also were thrilled to have the chance to sit down with her to kick off our virtual Alumni Chats series, with our host, Miles Loef, OCOB’s Student Ambassador VP of Outreach. Checkout the clip above for highlights from our conversation, or listen to the audio file below for the full, unedited version.

After listening, make sure to checkout Cal Poly Career Connections to connect one-on-one with alumni mentors through a network focused on collaboration and fostering meaningful, impactful conversations around education, career readiness, mentoring, and industry engagement.

Listen to the full conversation with Lisa.

Orfalea College of Business Student Awards 2020

Cal Poly Great Grad for Spring 2020 | Ian Jennings


Orfalea College of Business Academic Excellence | Krista Blazier


Contributions to the Objectives and Public Image of the College | Carly Auerbach


Contributions to the Objectives and Public Image of the University | Epsa Sharma


Service to the Community | Khushbu Patel


Service to the Community | Abigail Landis


Dean’s Award | Sami Von Gober

Orfalea College of Business Solidarity Statement

Dear Orfalea College of Business students, faculty, staff, and alumni,

We wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the heartache, anger, and sorrow that we know many of you, your families, and friends are feeling—and to assure you that we stand alongside you, with the same emotions in our hearts.

As leaders and educators, we strive to create an environment that fosters critical thought, equity, and ethical leadership, reflecting the best values of our society. Guided by these principles, we stand in solidarity of the social activism sweeping this nation.

It is clear that the tragic killing of George Floyd and so many other members of the Black community have been the result of centuries of racial injustice and socioeconomic and racial inequality in our society.

It is up to us to do what we can to change this—in business, in our classrooms, in our communities, in our minds and hearts. We need to acknowledge clearly, loudly, and passionately that these issues exist and will always exist, unless we take measures to stop them. We also need to lend our ears to the most important voices in this conversation, namely members of the Black community and other underrepresented communities of color. Most importantly, we need to ask ourselves how we can help or become active parts of the solution.

Although college campuses are designed to be communities of thought and study, they are also communities of care. Along with the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other members of the Orfalea College of Business community who are near and far, we share feelings of pain for the lives lost to senseless violence. We encourage you to talk to one another, to sit together in silence and process, to speak to a classmate, instructor, or staff member who you have a relationship with, to reach out to campus support services. We must work together to continue asking the hard questions as we work toward a better society.

To our students: we are devoted to starting new conversations, listening intently, and most importantly learning from you. We will be implementing a student committee focused on issues of social justice and how we can do better as educators to create safe spaces both in and outside of the classroom to provide richer learning opportunities around these issues. We will also continue to invest in our Multicultural Business Program to provide much needed space for our underrepresented students to feel comfortable, supported, and empowered.

As a college, we will continue to re-examine our policies and seek to remove institutional barriers for students of color through the lens of social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We will also continue our investment in intentional, ongoing professional development as a leadership team, and for our faculty and staff while partnering with our alumni and industry professionals to learn about best practices around diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplaces, to better prepare our students and create a more inclusive environment at the Orfalea College of Business.

It is vital that we each respond in this moment and beyond it, and that we all do our part in any way we can. Now is the time to engage in these conversations, educate ourselves, and seek justice, so that Black lives can continue to matter.


Al Liddicoat | Interim Dean

Stern Neill | Incoming Associate Dean

Amy Carter | Assistant Dean for Student Success

Taryn Stanko | Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Associate Professor of Management


Orfalea College Student Services

Counseling Services

Cross Cultural Centers

Office of Diversity & Inclusion

Why Teaching Black Lives Matter Matters

How To Support The Struggle Against Police Brutality

Further Anti-Racism Resources

Antiracist Reading List

White Privilege Toolkit

Ally Resource Guide

If You’re Planning To Take Part in Protests, Know Your Rights

NAACP San Luis Obispo

Race Matters SLO