This week’s feature interview is with Jenna Martinez ‘19, the creator of Açaísy, an açaí bowl delivery business that brought the first trendy smoothie bowls to Ithaca.
How were you able to turn your idea for Açaísy into a business model within the untapped market within the Ithaca area?
My brother also went to Cornell, and actually had a startup. So I had this idea because I’m from Miami and I was working there over the summer, and I had never tried Açaí before, and then I tried it, and I thought it was interesting because I never realized it wasn’t sold anywhere in Ithaca. I thought that this could be cool, so I researched where else had it, or if there are other cafe’s that could potentially have it, and then I came to the conclusion that it was nowhere in Ithaca at the time. I think my biggest concern was Jamba Juice, but that doesn’t even exist here, so eventually, I did different types of analyses, like a PNO analysis and a SWOT analysis. Then I took my savings, hired a delivery driver, and bought the essentials, which was just a refrigerator and a freezer. I just did it without much else because I knew I didn’t really have the funds to do a large scale thing, and I wasn’t even really going for that, but I just knew that if I didn’t throw myself into it, I wouldn’t pursue it.
Considering that you create the Açaí bowls yourself, how do you manage to sustain output during busy school weeks, and do you plan to continue to keep your team small in the future?
So, that was actually the biggest problem because of the fact that I kind of just jumped into it because I wanted to get it going and wanted to see what it was like to start my own business. I did it off of $7,000 of savings, which is honestly nothing considering I paid the driver a little more than $300 a week...it all went really fast. So, I would be in Mann sometimes doing work, and the driver would text me saying we ran out of bowls, especially on hot days at the beginning of the year, and I would think, “ what do you mean we ran out, like I have class in an hour, I have this work to do!” It was really frustrating. I would have to rush home and make more, and eventually, it just started conflicting with my school work, and in the middle of class he would text me saying we just ran out and we need to restock, and I couldn’t really do that. So, I just started making more the night before, but then sometimes it would go to waste. It would kind of depend on the day. I guess I couldn’t really gauge how many I was going to sell in a day, because sometimes I would get double what I would normally get. So, that was really hard, and I guess there were a lot of flaws because of how small it was, but I couldn’t really get around them because of how limited my funds were, and in the future, I’m not entirely sure if I am going to continue it because there are other competitors now, and I thought the reason my product was special was because there was no one else when I started. But now there are these companies that can actually sustain and produce more than I can, and I don’t know if it is really worth it, but I did get good experience for four to five months.
What strategies did you use to develop and market your brand within the Cornell community and the greater Ithaca community when you started out?
So, when I started, it was honestly the stupidest thing that I’ve done, because I just started essentially handing quarter cards out to people, and I realized that I hated when people did that to me. I’d always think, I’m not gonna look at it, I’m not gonna pay attention it, I don’t care if it’s a cool idea, it just bothers me that they’re throwing it in my face. So I thought, why shouldn’t I use social media, like Instagram, Facebook, etc.? Of course, that’s the only way I would be able to market to people in this age group. So, I started a Facebook and an Instagram - I grew the Instagram’s following by 300% in one week, and it was cool because my brother had friends who went there, so I had them follow it. I had my friends and some people from IC follow it, but it was harder to connect them to it because it was more of a Cornell-based thing. Eventually, I just had people promote it, and I’d post different pictures and Boomerangs of it. It was around the time of October break that it started getting much bigger. I went home and bought stuff and had photoshoots of it at home. I started noticing what kind of pictures people liked and what they wanted to see, and I noticed that when I brought it around campus and like put it in front of different backdrops on campus that were particular to Cornell people seemed to really like that.
What, if anything, have you learned since you started your business that you wish you knew at the beginning?
I learned a lot. Honestly, in terms of what I could apply to business going forward, I would definitely not open something if I do not have sufficient funds, because it is upsetting, as that was all of my savings from my whole life. My parents told me, “you can do this, but we are not going to help you unless you find a different way to get the money.” I thought it would eventually grow and grow to a point where I was making enough profit that I could sustain it, but I ended up just breaking even, which isn't horrible, but I felt like I was doing too much work for what I was getting out of it. I think going forward, I would apply what I learned in terms of working hard. I had a class at 9 AM, so I would wake up at 6 AM, wait an hour for everything to defrost, then it would take me maybe an hour and a half to put everything on top. I gained skills that I learned from waking up every day and saying, “ I need to do this, I worked hard to do this,” and following through with my world. Also, I learned more analytical skills in terms of learning to read trends and understand who my audience is, which I think is really useful too.
Where do you see Açaísy going into the future following the potential re-launch in the fall?
Honestly, I don’t really know. I would definitely want to expand it a lot and be able to offer more toppings. I wanted to do that when I first opened, but it was hard because I wasn't at home, and was unable to personalize everything. So I definitely would want to be able to make everything more personalized if I do re-open. I think that will make the brand more personal because then you'd be getting exactly what you want instead of a more basic thing. I would do something where it caters to each individual rather than selling a single product.