Hello Ashley, it’s a pleasure to meet you, we’d love to know :
When was the moment you realised you are passionate about coffee ?
In 8th grade, my friends and I used to go to our local coffee shop before school. We’d sometimes get fun blended drinks, but mostly we went there to hang out. The coffee was just an excuse to be together. I loved the smell, the taste and especially the vibe it created. It wasn’t until years later when I learned more about the history of coffee and its global implications that I understood I wasn’t alone in this feeling. It’s been bringing humans together since the middle ages.
What made you want to start your TBD coffee company?
I was served an ad on Instagram for a bag of coffee and within two minutes I had ordered it. As soon as I hit ‘complete purchase’ I had a lightbulb moment and thought to myself, “Wait, I could do this.” The idea went from seedling, to sprout to full-fledged plant, vining its way around me, all while I was still standing in my kitchen looking at the order confirmation page. I felt inspired, excited and sure. I texted my boyfriend, Zachary Dripps and asked if he wanted to start a coffee company. Maybe he thought I was making a pun about his last name, but he said yes and didn’t ask any immediate followup questions, so that was that…
How do you connect with the community with TBD Coffee Company?
In person markets around LA and on Instagram. I’ve had some of the best conversations with people stopping by to restock on coffee or responding to an Instagram Story. Our labels tend to be conversation starters, so it’s easy for someone to see our Per My Last Email bag and jump into a crazy work story, or tell us about how they bought Therapy in a Bag for their actual therapist. Truly, I came for the business idea but stay for the community and quality conversations.
How did you start making TBD Coffee Co more in tune with sustainability?
Sustainability was never optional. Since our inception, it has been a must. I was in a phase in my personal life where I was becoming more and more aware of where each dollar was going and I found that it was shockingly difficult to find sustainable brands. I’m talking about clothes, dishwasher pods, lamps, food, you name it. The more I tugged on the thread, the more I realized we, as a society, need to place more emphasis on sustainability. So off the bat, our entire business model was centered on sustainably grown and ethically sourced coffee, purchased directly from farmers to ensure oversight and fair trade.
Tell us more about being a member of WORLD COFFEE RESEARCH? What made you stay prudent in terms of ethical standards with your Company?
The WCR is great! They’re a research program that grows, protects and enhances supplies of quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of farmers. We had a mentor in the coffee industry tell us about them right after we launched the brand and we joined immediately.
The research we’re investing in is used to create new coffee varieties and market opportunities for farmers. This is essential when we’re talking about sustainable livelihoods for coffee farmers.
They’re actually the only organization applying advanced agricultural science for coffee on a global scale.
What is that one thing about your work ethic which you think helps you in building a better business ?
Work life balance. It can’t just be the product that’s sustainable – the work itself has to be sustainable too! It’s too easy to get burned out as a small business owner. I don’t work crazy hours or skip meals for meetings and I listen to my body. If I need a break, I take a break. I’m here to play the long game with TBD Coffee Co, not burn out fast.
Has your past work experience helped you in building your Company?
Absolutely. I’m of the ‘bring your whole self to work’ school of thought and I find that whenever I’m tapping into my whole skillset and pulling from a range of dynamic interests, I’m most fulfilled.
My past work experience was actually the perfect storm for starting this company. My parents own a bar in the midwest, so I grew up bartending and helping them run the business. I knew how to take inventory and place an order to restock by the time I was 12.
When I went off to grad school in my early 20s, I kept bartending for a bit, and always loved connecting with customers.
After I graduated, I started a career in advertising, working with a wide roster of Fortune 500s and household names. Every step of the way, I was learning and learning and learning, then one day, I knew I was ready to take it all and bundle it up into my own adventure.
Can you describe a time when you faced an obstacle in your business? And how did you overcome it?
The general learning curve of entering a competitive industry was an obstacle, but I handled it the same way I’ve handled many other obstacles in the past – by tapping into the deep well of intelligence from my fellow humans.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and some lessons can’t be gleaned off a quick google search. Mentors are a must in any industry and I wouldn’t be here today without mine. I reached out to about 10 different people to pick their brains on every aspect of the food and beverage industry, ecommerce and coffee specifically. I set my ego aside and said, “Hey, I don’t know everything. But I want to!”
What has been your biggest learning so far since the starting of TBD Coffee Co?
Patience. I’m the type of person who wants to jump to action as soon as an idea is formed and learning to strike the right balance of moving fast with a pinch of patience has proved challenging.
For instance, we moved quickly on creating our first logo. It was a pretty basic coffee mug with our name in the middle. It didn’t take long for us to want to change it to a little cartoon drawing of Marlee, our dachshund. Had I taken a few more beats, we could’ve avoided the strife of having to update the labels. When I say ‘we’ I mean Zach, my partner in both love and life, including the company. He had to update all the labels. Sorry Zach!
What do you think people love the most about TBD Coffee Co?
I think people love the humor. And Marlee. But she’s funny, so they go hand in hand. We are our customers. We’re not trying to appeal to every single coffee drinker out there, but if you’re someone that chuckles at a coffee titled ‘Gotta Put Pants On Today’, then we have a lot in common and even if we never meet in person, we’re your people, and you’re our people.
Do you think the love that you share with your partner, Zachary Dripps, helps you in building TBD Coffee Company?
Very much so. His artistic style, infinite creativity, can-do attitude and ability to see the world in a completely different way than most people are pillars of our success, both in this company and in our relationship. I’m so grateful that we get to work together and infuse our favorite aspects of pop culture into a product that eventually makes its way into people’s homes. How cool is that! Know that whenever you put a bag of TBD Coffee on your kitchen counter, you’re displaying a bag infused with our love. In a completely above-board, not creepy way.
What are your thoughts on coffee dates?
I’m pro coffee dates for a few reasons. It’s a great way to support your local coffee shops, but also I’m a firm believer we should all spend our time on this tiny little rock we live on doing what we want to be doing. A coffee date is a way to see if you vibe with someone before giving away too much of your precious time and energy. More coffee dates are more chances to meet the right people.
Tell us about Marlee Marie. How would you describe your bond with Marlee?
Well we had a rocky start when she was born 15 years ago. As a puppy, she fit in the palm of my hand and would bite my face a lot. But, like many relationships, the more we got to know each other, and once we got through the biting phase, we fell in love. Marlee is my soul dog. She’s my best friend. My sidekick. And my Director of Consumer Affairs at TBD Coffee Co.
She’s fierce and a little bit mystical, like a chupacabra, and she’s great at responding to customer service emails. Plus, she looks amazing when we set her up at a typewriter in tiny little glasses for photoshoots.
Apart from coffee, what is your go-to beverage?
Teas. I go into the herbal shops in Chinatown and get recommendations from the store owners. I have a whole drawer of different colored herbs and roots, all shapes and sizes. Plus, me, Zach and Marlee just purchased a house and now we’re working on planting a foodscape, including lots of fun herbs and flowers that can be used for tea. We just planted red clover!
How do you keep your mental health in check while dealing with the hurdles and pressures that come in way while working?
Listen, I live in Los Angeles. I do every stereotypical LA thing you’ve heard of from meditating to float tanks. Also, Marlee’s secondary role is emotional support animal.
More than anything, I try to stay tethered to perspective and priorities. My family, my friends and my own self come first. If I’m meeting my bestie for hot yoga and I still have a mountain of work to wrap up, I can either let the stress overwhelm me, or I can remind myself that quality time with Monika is a higher priority to me than any emails I’ll be pushing out to tomorrow.
When you look back to the time of the inception of TBD Coffee Co, would you like to change anything in those moments?
Starting TBD was a blast and I mean a laugh-out-loud, inspiration bubbling over, thrilling, muse-filled blast. I wouldn’t change a thing. There was a month straight where I had trouble sleeping because I was too excited every night. We had so many ideas for the company. It was like I knew there were Christmas presents to unwrap and I wanted to stay up for Santa.
What is the best advice you have ever gotten for building TBD Coffee Co?
Shortly after launching the brand, I flew home to Illinois from California. I was standing in my parents’ kitchen talking about my business plan with my father, who has owned his own business for over 30 years. I was excited, running through every aspect of the company and my short and long-term plans. When I got through my spiel, I ended with an optimistic “there’s no way it can fail!” and my dad said, “It can always fail. You have a great plan and like I always tell you, if you work hard and you’re nice to people, you can do anything, but building a business is a lot of work and don’t forget that anything can happen.”
He was supportive and loving, but also kept it real, and reminded me not to get too far ahead of myself. Ya gotta sow the seeds before you go to harvest.
Any advice you would like to give people who are willing to start their own coffee company ?
Find mentors and do the research. Read, read, read. Learn as much as you can before you invest a dime. And once you learn something, don’t think you *know* it. Coffee is an evolving industry that lives, breathes and changes. Keep your finger on the pulse and listen to your customers. Not another coffee company’s customers. Your customers.
What is your definition of success? Does TBD Coffee Co play a role in your success?
Success to me is feeling the way you want to feel. TBD makes me feel centered, free and dynamic. It allows me to wake up feeling like the world is my playground and go to sleep feeling peaceful, checking my boxes for success.
Your favourite quote ?
When my eyes go bad, I’ll know I’ve seen it all
They’ll be light when my vision fails
— New Found Glory
Interviewee : Ashley Vasquez, TBD Coffee
Interviewer : Sonali Pawar
About Ashley Vasquez
Ashley Vasquez is the owner of a sustainably grown ecommerce coffee company — TBD COFFEE CO.
As the daughter of an immigrant small business owner, it’s imperative to me run a company that has ethics and a vocal belief system at its core. TBD Coffee Co is a member of World Coffee Research, an organization that has a direct positive influence on coffee farmers around the world, and we’re passionate about educating the community on the importance of ethically sourced coffee.
The company started as a hobby, with my boyfriend drawing all the labels and my 10-pound dog, Marlee, as the Director of Consumer Affairs (I bought her little glasses and a new outfit just for the role). It grew into a passion as we realized how fun it was working together. Now it’s a full-blown business that has a piece of my heart and soul.
Not only is TBD a creative outlet, it’s a way for me to connect with the community. We bring our products to local markets where I’ve met folks of all ages and walks of life, who just want to chat about coffee — their first time trying a sip off their dad’s cup, farms they’ve visited in Peru and Bali, the best cups they’ve had…and the worst. Coffee brings people together, and I’m here to amplify that sentiment within the industry. TBD’s coffee has been served to places like Twitter, ABC, and Horizon Media and can now be conveniently purchased through the company’s website.