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Feb. 20, 2021

EP09: How to Launch a Business While Deployed in The Military

EP09: How to Launch a Business While Deployed in The Military

On the new episode of “The David Johnson Show,” a national voice that talks about points of interest within the post 9/11 military and veteran culture, David speaks with Gabriel Uliburri and David Martin, aka Gabe and David, the founders of RAH, Real American Heroes Coffee Company.

Real American Heroes (RAH) Coffee Company launched in December 2018, and has grown since and partnered with the largest coffee roaster in Arizona to offer seven delicious coffee blends, using only premium beans found all over the world.

“Our goal is to share our military experiences, discipline, and drive to create a respectable brand that provides our customers with great tasting coffee blends, apparel, and the honor of being part of an amazing culture and a brand that recognizes the Everyday hero,” remarked Gabriel.

Their friend Todd Martin handles the financial side of the business, Gabe runs marketing and social media, and David is in charge of operations. Their skill sets came together when they were serving as U.S. Air Force Reservists in Phoenix, Arizona. They were deployed to Kuwait in early 2018. During that year, the three of them manned weapon systems as combat convoy gunners while defending off IED’s, small arms fire, and Vehicle Borne IED’s. They saved the lives of lost hikers in the forest as Search & Rescue members, drove in the President’s motorcade, responded to worldwide humanitarian disasters, fought raging house fires, responded to downed military aircraft, and volunteered at homeless shelters on Christmas in Korea and in Japan.

In their military service downtime, they would often discuss their entrepreneurial dreams over cups of coffee. Coffee was their story time and time to reflect on important things, that’s when RAH Coffee Co. was born.

David says “We wanted to create a brand around our passion for coffee and find a way to highlight these real American heroes and the service they do daily, the actions they did to save another, or months they spent in a war zone away from their families.”

Watch the Video interview version of this video podcast.

Transcript
Speaker 1:

So I really had the idea for the brand. Um , interesting. Mostly just because when my kid was little, I would always buy him Superman or Batman shirts, stuff like that. And then I would notice grown men wearing the same shirts. And to me in my head, I'm thinking, you know, I understand things are trendy or whatever, but it's like why don't grown people wear real heroes instead of, you know , these fictional heroes. So that's really where the idea came from. And I told the guys about it once we already had the idea for selling coffee, I was like, let's name it real American heroes. And we'll sell, we'll tell the stories of real American heroes. We'll sell products with real American heroes on. Interesting. And that's really how it all came about.

Speaker 2:

We are the David Johnson show bringing the veteran community stories and perspectives . So you can design the life that you deserve. [inaudible]

Speaker 3:

Back to the David Johnson, shell , Phoenix, Arizona. We are joined today by Gabe and David, the founders of raw real American heroes coffee. Thanks for coming on the show, guys. Thank you for having us . This is a great story for me to hear because, and I know a little bit about it, but I can't wait to get in because number one, I love entrepreneurship. I'm a big fan of it. Number two, I love the military. Number two. I love anybody starting a business whilst they're in the military. That's a , that can't be easy. So that's going to be awesome. Absolutely. So just take me back. I mean, let's start with the question. I'm sure you guys get all the time you were in the military and decided to start a business. Walk me down that path. Well, yeah, we were actually deployed overseas. We're in , uh , Kuwait and then , uh, me and Dave have known each other for a long time. So we've kind of had that relationship before we deployed. And then as soon as we got there, we kind of just started thinking about what we should be doing. So we're in Kuwait and we had a lot of time to just think about stuff and we , we didn't know if we want to do a peril . We didn't know if we wanted to do coffee. So it was kind of a , you know, just an idea of just writing stuff down and brainstorming and coffee. Coffee was one of the ones when we started brainstorming, that was on the list. So we would see that

Speaker 1:

Always meet up for coffee. We would have family send us coffee, know we'd always open up a bag of coffee and just like, it would take us back home. We were like, sure, meeting up in this makeshift coffee joint. And we decided, Hey, why don't we do a coffee business? You know, we all love coffee. And you know, we have a great idea for a brand for this coffee. So we went with it as soon as we got back home, we just started running. And,

Speaker 3:

And what year was that? Ish? 2018, January, 2018. We deployed very recent. Yep . So you say you had the great brand for the coffee. Did you have this brand first or was, did you have a brand and you didn't know how to apply it, or did he say the coffee first and you applied the brand?

Speaker 1:

So I really had the idea for the brand. Um , interesting. Mostly just because , uh , when my kid was little, I would always buy him Superman or Batman shirts, stuff like that. And then I would notice grown men wearing the same shirts. And to me in my head thinking, you know, I understand things are trendy or whatever, but it's like why don't groan . People were real heroes instead of, you know, these fictional heroes. So that's really where the idea came from. And I told the guys about it once we already had the idea for selling coffee, I was like, let's name a real American heroes. And we'll sell, we'll tell the stories of real American heroes. We'll sell products with real American heroes on. Interesting. And that's really how it all came about.

Speaker 4:

So I like to ask, so the product call it the coffee, if you will. It was born from the brand and the story. Yep . Wow. So now that I get that you had the brand, then you went through all the apparel coffee. What was the decision maker on coffee? I think just , uh , like , uh , like Dave was saying, just getting coffee from back home and just kind of just that smell. Like we would love to meet up for just coffee and then I work as a firefighter, civilian and in the military. So that's one thing we do is we kind of just get around the table and we tell, we just talk about, you know, what's going on in our day over cups of coffee and , uh, yeah, we didn't know anything about coffees . We're just not this much about coffee. Yes, exactly. So it's just the whole process of what it takes to get a bean into the cup is pretty, pretty amazing. But, and then us being able to put our brand on it, it just made it that much more better. So I want to hear about that being into the cup. Cause that's important. I'm just curious from a general curiosity standpoint, but how much work was, so when you were in Kuwait, did you, and you finalize it , did you immediately start work or was it like when , you know, we'll get back home and then we'll start on?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So we started doing our research while we were deployed, you know, whenever we had an opportunity to , um, and then we had found a few roasters here in Phoenix. We all live here in Phoenix. So we went out and we called those roasters and we started tasting coffees with them and figuring out the business part with them and deciding who we're going to use to roast our coffee and after many, many tastings and um, different companies that we work with, we found this one company and they have just been spectacular for us. They've been a wealth of knowledge. They have coffee from all of the world shipped into yeah ,

Speaker 4:

Delicious. They're here local and they get coffee from anywhere. So have they been a , uh , I don't want to say without them, you couldn't have done it, but they have been pivotal in this process. Absolutely pivotal, especially transitioning from military to business. There's a lot of similarities, but that, that has kind of made that connection for us because not only did they help us with , um, coffee and fresh coffee, but also kind of just guidance and what it's like to create a business and interesting. Yep . I was gonna say, did you have any business experience prior to starting this other than owning a crisp or a ice cream truck that failed miserably? Because people ice cream drivers actually pretty territorial. So they didn't last very long. Some of your greatest lessons are learning your greatest. Exactly. But at least that was applying myself and I was kind of researching what it was to. Yeah . And then we started a little bit of a wholesale business like me and Dave would buy stuff off auctions and resell it. And so we've always kind of been in that mindset. We, that we've wanted to start a business and just do something.

Speaker 3:

So did you know all the aspects of that ? I mean, you never know, but did you know when you got into yet the product, the packaging, this distribution, the cost, the pricing, the financials, is that, was that kind of a learning experience? Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Yes. That's been a learning experience. Wow. And we actually wrote the business plan originally for a coffee shop. We never thought were going to be e-commerce or so it was kind of, it's just been building onto this idea and now we're , uh , we're mainly e-commerce, but we're in two coffee shops. Oh wow. And so a lot of people just back our idea, and then with the whole social media, with the Instagram and everything, that's the support from military. Um, other brands has been awesome. Dave glad. No.

Speaker 1:

Uh , fortunately for us , uh, we were both logistics when we joined air force . So , uh, Gabes crossed over to the fire department, but I've stayed in logistics and I've learned a lot about the law, just expenses from, you know, transportation and shipping and receiving and inventory, all that good stuff, you know? So it really helped me. Wow. And do our part of the job

Speaker 3:

Now you're still in the reserves and you're still in the reserves. And so is this outside of your reserves? Is this quote unquote a full-time job for you then? No, it's not a full-time job.

Speaker 1:

Yeah . Uh we're we're working on making it a full-time job for all of us. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

It's a , I feel like it's a full-time job for me because I do a lot of the social media and the kind of the branding and working with the people. And it's, I always ask for guidance from these guys. I'm like, Hey, what about this? It's throughout this idea. And that's the beauty of being an entrepreneur is we can apply any idea. So it's just, it's really neat to , uh, to actually just be meeting these people on Instagram that have these amazing stories because we're, we're, user-driven so like people send us their stories and it's just, it's amazing. You're just like, wow.

Speaker 3:

Tell me about that. Cause I saw you on, on Instagram mil less than dare I say, 30 days ago. And I've seen the content, what's the mindset behind your Instagram strategy and social strategy and how does it tie back into the brand?

Speaker 4:

So , um, we were, our original plan is we wanted to interview people. We knew, but it's like, it's kinda hard to get people that are on the same schedule list . So we just want to interview like a firefighter, but he's got, he's got this going on or something like that. So I'm like, why don't I reach out to an Instagram community and just kind of just talk to these people that are, that are already doing these amazing things that are already sharing their story . So I'm like, Hey, do you mind if we feature you, do you mind if we do this? And then the replay

Speaker 1:

On heroes, we , we want to feature every hero out there really. I mean, eventually , uh, you know, we want to get everyone teachers, doctors, lawyers, and we want to tell the story of all heroes and because we're all military, we know a lot of military people and we get a lot of these military stories, which is great. We want to tell the stories of everyone.

Speaker 3:

That's awesome. That is really cool. I , I fully see the brand now and how it , how it plays in. I get it . Were you nervous at all about competing with , uh , the black rifles of the world and you know, this space? I don't know if I don't know too much about it, so I don't know . Is it crowded? Is it not crowded? What

Speaker 4:

Was your mindset on that going in? I wouldn't say

Speaker 1:

We were nervous about it at all. Um, the coffee business is a $225 billion industry. So, you know ,

Speaker 4:

It's continually increasing, right ? So it's like small batch coffee roasters, or it was kind of like, what we're doing is actually taking off right now. So we got into an , at a good time.

Speaker 3:

Wow. Talk to me a little bit behind the scenes of the business, like bean to cup B , you know, start, where did the beans come from? Where, who, how does that all work?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So like I was telling you , uh, we source everything from one of the largest roasters here in Arizona. Uh , they get the beans from all over the world, Uganda. Um ,

Speaker 4:

Uh , yeah, you've gone to central America, Mexico.

Speaker 3:

Gotcha. Wow. And then you have different flavors and uh, what was the term strings ?

Speaker 4:

Yeah. So is that the right term? Yeah , my knowledge on coffee roasts roasts . So that's another thing we had to learn too, is a lot of people think when they were like, they want , we want a dark roast. That's actually , um, you know, that's, it's light roast actually has the more caffeine in it. So really? Yeah. So just learning a little long thing, right . it . Okay .

Speaker 1:

No one seems to think that dark one does just because it's dark and makes it stronger. It has a stronger flavor profile maybe, but it has less caffeine.

Speaker 3:

Wow. What's been the, I have three questions in mind. Let me start with one of , let's try that. Three of you in the business firefighter reserve , what did you do? Anything on the outside? The reserves? What's your Amazon. Oh, cool. Well, we'll just fix their yarn . It's exactly. So that kind of goes into my question. Is there a skill set that each one of you kind of, or a lane you stay in, in the business that you're responsible for?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. Uh , I'm the operations guy. Um, that's my bread and butter games.

Speaker 4:

I did marketing. Yeah. I just, I love taking pictures. I love looking at pictures and just kind of researching and just , uh, whatever I, and I love military history and stuff like that. So that's where a lot of this idea came from as far as sharing these stories though.

Speaker 3:

Does, does operations have to do with, you know, the supply and the demand where you're getting it , how much and all that kind of stuff.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Taking care of the inventory , um, you know, what , what we need next,

Speaker 3:

Do you have to house a lot of inventory in this business? Yes.

Speaker 1:

And you should do. Yeah. So it seems like it's always growing

Speaker 3:

Th th is there a shelf life? I mean, I'm sure it's

Speaker 1:

For our coffee. Yeah. We have a, it's like a 90 day. They're all nitrogen sealed. So I mean, really, it could go past that, but it'll start to slowly lose the flavor profile after about 90 days. And

Speaker 3:

Then most of it's still online. E-commerce

Speaker 1:

All e-commerce business, our age coffee company.com.

Speaker 3:

All right . Can we.com? How's the brand been playing into everything? The feedback you've been getting in the past year? I mean, I found it was awesome. I'm sure .

Speaker 4:

Yeah. We've grown a lot in this past year and it's just, just from completely where we started was just , uh , I remember I was looking at logos on fiber and it was , we're just getting these logos back and I'm like, this is kind of cool. We'll use this one. And then we , uh, met our designer and her name's Janet, and she's just completely, she saw her vision from the get-go and she's built this up with the whole new branding, everything that we have right now here at local. Yup . And then she's helping us launch a couple of campaigns as far as trying to get this subscription-based thing going on. So I would have never saw us here in a year, but wow. Just working as hard as we do. And it kind of , it's all coming natural and it's just coming from different directions. Like you were saying, we're on these social media, Instagram profiles that are, people just want to help us out.

Speaker 3:

So from an idea, downrange in Kuwait to a product branding launched today, that's a big deal.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. That's a pretty big deal. And you know, like it really just kind of been organically growing and we're learning everything, you know? And it's been a , it's been a fun ride so far.

Speaker 3:

What'd you say you got bit by the, I'm sure you have in the past, but by the entrepreneurial bug now.

Speaker 4:

Oh yeah, yeah, totally . Yeah. It made my wife stay home more with the kids and so we can focus more on things and she's actually starting some things herself. So it's nice to kind of see her like throw some ideas and stuff. And when she has some good ideas for, you know, fitness apparel and stuff like that, it's related to what we're doing because we want to relate to the military and firefighters and police officers. So that's going to , she's putting in a lot of input. I'm like, Oh, okay, thank you.

Speaker 3:

What advice would you give anybody in the military that , uh, either wants to start a business currently where they're in or when they get out ,

Speaker 1:

Uh , start , uh, really just, it's kinda like that field of dream saying if you build it, they will come. And that's kind of what we've noticed. People have started approaching us or finding us, calling us. They're like, Hey, how can we help you? Or, Hey, we provide this service. You know, if it's something that you want to , you know, you guys could use, we don't even know who most of these people are, their approaches and it's been really cool defined it . You know, it's literally the same thing. We started this business and people are coming to us, you know?

Speaker 3:

Wow. How's the sales online work. Is it still get an order to just get populated and just ship it out to get yourself? Yup . That's awesome. What is your role ? What is your third partner say about everything?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So Todd is our , a finance guy. Um, he , he's enjoying this ride as well. Uh, you know, he's also a veteran and reservist. Um , so everything that we do, you know, we always just look for heroes and it tells the story of all the heroes and, you know, it's something we all relate to. So

Speaker 3:

I think it does. Does it help to have the , that , that , that passion of the brand behind it ? I mean, it was just regular coffee, I mean, Oh yeah. The passions , the Brown, like I said, he had the Brown before.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. And it just , um, like for instance, our, our , our blend jet fuel, I remember I was in Langley air force base in early 2019. And I was just looking at these F 20 twos taken off. And then I live out kind of over by Luke . So you see these, these, you know, at 35 cruising by, and it's like, man, I was like, these are awesome jets. I was like, why don't we name , uh , something called jet fuel. So we like kind of the process of, once you get an idea, we'll go talk to a roaster and be like, Hey, I want some that's really dark. Some that kind of represents a jet fuel and we'll do a bunch of coffee tastings. And I'm like, Oh, that's it. That's the one that's, that's our jet fuel right there. So

Speaker 3:

All the bags and everything at their location and that they fulfill, did they fulfill it there? Or you have to buy it in bulk and house it, or they fulfill it on the order.

Speaker 1:

Yup . And then we just, you know , tag it with our label and

Speaker 3:

Gotcha. Well, that's awesome, man. Sort of the next one to two years look like, Oh man,

Speaker 4:

Let's see where , yeah. It's just,

Speaker 1:

We're finding with some new ideas. We're thinking about getting a food truck and, you know , going out and doing all these events and, you know, making the food truck real cool, real American hero style.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely . At other kinds of food too, or just keep a coffee, coffee. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Maybe some, you know , pastries or whatever, but coffee is the main goal there.

Speaker 4:

Maybe some ice cream,

Speaker 3:

Same thing again, throw it back in . And then you're just constantly trying to get more stories of real American heroes . Yeah .

Speaker 4:

And then feature that we're just getting hit up with people every day , which is being a user driven platform on our Instagram. It's , it's nice because it's, you're making relationship with these people. And I kind of try to feature the people that are the same. Like we get Navy lieutenants that are going to school to be doctors. And it's just, it's just amazing. It's, we're happy to share these people's stories. So wow. I bet they like it too. Yeah, absolutely. And it's just like, you're spreading the word of people

Speaker 3:

Doing, you know, real American heroes and

Speaker 4:

What they're doing. I've noticed a lot of them start deal . Yep . And they start commenting on each other. So it's starting to kind of, you know, it's just starting this positive conversation between people that we , that we're , you know, that our heroes that we're showing on our Instagram profile . So

Speaker 3:

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome since you launched

Speaker 4:

Just getting the name out there. Yeah . It's been kind of a slow process, but from where we started not knowing anything to where we are now , um, it's just, it's been amazing. It's just, just getting those people out to kind of , it's been neat. So yeah. And like we're self

Speaker 1:

Funding, everything. So, you know, we're not a large budget, you know, we can't just, you know , spend money on marketing or whatever. And so I really just get our name out there and, you know, telling people who are

Speaker 3:

We thought about taking outside capital or trying to expand it.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Anything we're open for anything. So we got certainly anything, but, you know, we ain't gonna move smart . Right, right, right, right, right ,

Speaker 3:

Right , right. Awesome. Well, look, man, I'm your biggest fan? Like I said, so you guys on Instagram. So the branding that attracted me, I look forward to tasting the coffee. Thank you so much. Best of luck and success in all your ventures. Thank you so much. Thank

Speaker 4:

You. Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.