How Tyler Ornstein reinvented coffee with an acid-free blend, it became an eight-figure business
Imagine if a doctor said you could never drink coffee again.
No one wants their daily cup of coffee banned, especially if you’re one of those people who can’t conceive of going through the day without at least one cup. Most of us might have a hard time at first and then move on, but for a teenager, this became a driving force that would push him to overthrow the coffee world.
When Tyler Ornstein was 14, his father was diagnosed with diverticulitis and a doctor told him he could never drink coffee again. The idea was intimidating and gestational. If he couldn’t drink coffee because it was too acidic, where did that leave him? A scientist at heart, Ornstein’s father worked to create an acid-free drink that everyone could enjoy.
It took two years of research and development. Finally, Tyler’s father and team have come up with a unique roasting process that removes acid from coffee without sacrificing flavor.
The world’s first organic acid-free coffee is officially born.
Although Ornstein was young, he had an unwavering faith in his father’s product and knew he could help people improve their lives.
So with just a backpack and a bike, he set off to introduce Tyler’s cafes to the world. Here, Tyler tells us how his journey began – and how he grew his business from selling door-to-door coffee to distributing his product to every store.
Mike Swigunski: Tyler, how did your journey into the business world begin?
Tyler Ornstein: I was involved with Cub Scouts when I was younger. Every year they collected popcorn and I participated. I remember that one year I was trying to sell popcorn and kept getting more nays than yeses. I was frustrated and felt like I was hitting a wall.
Then at one point that blister went off and I was like, ‘Ok Tyler, if we keep banging our heads against the wall, she’s going to start bleeding soon, so why are we doing this? Why don’t we change our language and see what results we can achieve? The worst we can get is more no.
This slight change changed everything. Just by changing the language, I quickly started making sales. I became the best salesman in my troop and won the grand prize – a red Huffy bike.
It wasn’t really a motorcycle issue but more of a trophy for all my hard work and ingenuity. Funny because I probably made a lot more sales than the bike cost. But it was this bike that I used later to go door to door. He peddled my silver coffee packages, so that’s really what laid the foundation for the business. I was very tenacious about it all.
Swigunski: It must have been an intense process figuring out how to create your product.
Ornstein: Yes, we have done a lot of research and development. Basically, we figured out that as long as we didn’t bloom the tannins and lipids in the roasting process, the coffee would give a neutral PH. It took a lot of trial and error, but ultimately we came up with our proprietary Z-roast process.
Our bodies generally operate on an alkalinity scale of 7.2 to 7.3. We want to stay alkaline. The higher the alkalinity, the better our chances of fighting free radicals and being healthy. Coffee is inherently acidic, but we’ve found a way to remove the acid from it to make it more health-friendly. We have found our advantage.
Swigunski: So you knew you had a great product. How did you then launch this product in the world?
Ornstein: At first, I would go out after school on my bike and knock on doors to give out free samples. I would always ask people for their name and number, and I would follow up with them. Most people would say, âYeah kid, that was great coffee. Thanks for calling â, and that would be the end of it. They then proceeded to hang up the phone.
A lady changed everything. I called her to follow up and she said, ‘Yeah, I tried the coffee and it was really good. Where can I get it? I told her she could get it from me, and she asked me how much it was. I didn’t know what to say, so I told him it was $ 1. I was 14 and didn’t know how to do business. But this interaction gave me insight that people would be willing to pay money for what I had to sell.
Go forward two years, and we were still in the early days of the business, but we were starting to gain traction. We decided to go online. Then I went to my local grocery chain, and they gave me a start in the retail grocery store. They told me I needed an insurance policy and a Universal Product Code (UPC). This was just the start of the long list of things just to get in the door, let alone be on the shelves. These are all things I had no idea because nobody teaches you these things in school. Every obstacle I encountered I had to learn, understand and overcome. It was a test by fire.
Swigunski: Most teens would have given up in the face of so many obstacles. What made you move forward?
Ornstein: I am fortunate to have grown up with influential people in my life who have taught me incredible lessons. For example, my grandfather once decided he wanted to take me skiing. I was eight years old and had no idea what that involved. When we got to the top of the mountain and got off the elevator, he pulled a roll of duct tape out of his ski jacket and proceeded to duct tape my thighs together – then duct tape to my chest. .
It sounds crazy, but the idea was that you didn’t want to look down when skiing as it causes your weight to be imbalanced and you may fall. Plus, you want your legs to be in line with your skis. In short, I became a very competent skier because he didn’t allow me to fail.
Swigunski: So what made Tyler’s Coffees a success, other than her determination and tenacity?
Ornstein: We were just innovative. I like to be on the verge of madness, failure and success. I’m not the type to sit in a nine-to-five booth. Plus, you need great people. And they are hard to find. But when you do, you can work wonders.
We only care about the quality. We buy coffee from a single source in Chiapas and certified organic by the USDA. We use Swiss water in our decaffeinated, and yes, it’s the most expensive process, but it’s the best, and we’ll never do anything less. Even our bagging system is state-of-the-art and designed to improve freshness.
Some time ago I had the opportunity to bring in venture capital and take capital. I thought about it long and hard. I thought, ‘Do I want to sell? Am I just looking for the money or am I looking to change the industry as a whole? It was difficult because there was a lot of money on the table. But I knew they were going to come in and cut corners to try to make even the smallest drop of profit. I think Tyler’s Coffees has been so successful because we don’t. We started with the philosophy of making the healthiest, purest coffee, and we haven’t strayed from that.
We also strive to give back and support our local community. From the start, we decided to work with a non-profit organization, 5031-C, which employs people with disabilities. They do all of our growth for us and they do a fantastic job. Now every bag of Tyler’s Coffees goes through their hands. We feel honored and honored to support their cause and help people who might not otherwise be able to hold a job.
Swigunski: Where do you and your business see yourself in the future?
Ornstein: I think we have an unlimited advantage. Right now, we are hyper-growing. We’ve seen an average of 30% annual growth, and this year we’re probably going to see an 80% to 90% increase. It was just a lucrative year. With any business that grows and climbs, it often happens that it has the potential to go into the mass market, and I think we’re right on the precipice.
As for me personally, I like helping young entrepreneurs and supporting people who want to be successful. The other day, on my way to the store to pick up a few things, I ran into a Girl Scout selling cookies outside. I looked at her and saw myself selling popcorn for the Cubs when I was ten. I asked her if she had a lot of sales and she said no. I gave him some tips that I think has helped me become a top salesperson. I explained to her how to change her pitch to start a dialogue with her clients, and she seemed to like it. I hope this will inspire her to do amazing things.
What struck me was his tenacity. She could have said to her parents, âI don’t want to do this. It’s stupid ‘. But no, she took the initiative, and she stood out out there in the cold trying to sell something so that she could value herself. We need more of this. That’s how I learned, and that’s the philosophy I want to spread around the world – with the best coffee you can buy.