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.