Brenden Martin

Co-founder and COO, Joe Coffee

From:   Seattle, USA
Course:   UI UX Design
Before Springboard:   Barista and Product Manager
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My mentor was great because I could get immediate feedback on concepts and iterations, and that was really helpful to make sure I was doing the right things.

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Meet Brenden Martin, a graduate of Springboard’s UI/UX Design Career Track (whose startup is now valued at over $25 million)

When Brenden Martin, a former barista and product manager, enrolled in Springboard’s UI/UX Design Career Track in 2016, he had a singular focus: to help his newly-launched coffee business, Joe Coffee, go mobile.

Joe Coffee helps mom-and-pop coffee shops compete with national chains like Starbucks. Coffee shops sign up to the platform, install the app on their tablet or other devices, and start receiving orders from customers in their local area. The app recommends nearby coffee shops to customers based on their smartphone’s current location. Coffee drinkers can earn rewards for their purchases, thereby incentivizing them to buy again from Joe Coffee’s network of indie coffee shops.

While trying to launch the business in 2014, Martin realized he needed to learn about UX design in order to launch a commercially viable mobile app that would provide a seamless experience for baristas and coffee drinkers. After learning how to code at an in-person bootcamp, Brenden enrolled in Springboard’s UI/UX Career Track so he could learn how to prototype his idea. For his capstone project, he built the first iteration of the Joe Coffee app specifically designed for mobile orders.

His capstone project virtually mirrors the Joe Coffee mobile app in use today, and a big reason why Brenden and his team have raised $3.5 million in seed funding to date—with a total evaluation of $25 million.

“The most value I saw in UX design was it’s one thing to have an idea and daydream about it and draw it out,” Brenden says. “It’s so much more valuable to go through the UX process where you actually do the research, and competitive analysis, and use data to inform your design.”

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Providing small businesses with the tools to compete

With over 1,000 coffee shops signed up to Joe Coffee across the United States, Brenden says he’s grateful for the opportunity to help small businesses survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe Coffee takes a 9% commission on every beverage sold, compared to the 10-35% commissions restaurants typically pay on mainstream mobile ordering apps like Grubhub or Postmates.

The business also aggregates transaction data to provide coffee drinkers with personalized offers through email, SMS, and push notifications—for which the average coffee shop owner has neither the time nor the resources. Data insights help business owners determine things like best selling items or which items are typically ordered together, a crucial marketing function given that most coffee shops survive on customer loyalty.

“Our job is to level the playing field with the national chains and be that tech and marketing hub so that you, as a business owner, can concentrate on making great coffee and creating amazing relationships with your customers,” Brenden says.

Studying UX design helped Brenden refine his business idea into a commercially viable product. The initial MVP for Joe Coffee was a web application that could only be accessed on a computer. While studying at Springboard, he designed an interface specifically for tablets so that baristas could use the app on a device that fits seamlessly into their workspace.

On the merchant side, he wanted to create an easy way for baristas to accept orders and update customers on order status without interrupting their workflow. On the consumer side, it was important to enable two-way communication between the customer and the seller. Simplifying onboarding for coffee shop owners was another important step, which meant enabling new businesses to sign up automatically using their existing Google Business profile.

“We found that it’s all about low barriers to entry,” Brenden says. “Coffee shop owners are so busy; it needs to be magic—where they click a few buttons and they’re signed up. We’re working on implementing those ideas I came up with while studying at Springboard.”

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Launching a business while studying at Springboard

While growing up in Seattle, Brenden and his brother, Nick—one of Joe Coffee’s co-founders—nurtured ambitions of helping small businesses take on big corporations. Their father built and sold custom sheds, before losing market share to a manufacturer called Tuff Shed, which went national after partnering with Lowes and Home Depot.

“Being a small business selling sheds out of our backyard to put food on our table, and seeing what it’s like for a family member to be pushed out by a big corporation motivated us to [say things like] ‘We’re going to take on Starbucks, we’re going to take on as big a corporation as we possibly can,” Brenden says.

While most students enroll at Springboard with the goal of switching careers and entering the tech industry, Brenden had different motivations.

“I had the entire vision of what I wanted to do with the business already, so I slammed through the classes,” he continues. “My mentor was great because I could get immediate feedback on concepts and iterations, and that was really helpful to make sure I was doing the right things.”

Entrepreneurs often have grandiose visions of a product that’s going to change the world, but what’s more important is solving a customer pain point by doing just one or two things exceptionally well.

Brenden says his mentor taught him to think through the lens of utility and technical feasibility, which resulted in a vastly improved end product with a low barrier to entry for coffee shop owners, and a seamless ordering experience for customers.

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Looking to the future of the coffee business

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Coffee was growing at an approximate rate of 30-40% in sales month over month. Since March, that growth has accelerated to 300%, and the business is now cash-flow positive.

As a startup founder, Brenden says it pays to understand coding and UX design—not just for the purposes of launching a successful product, but hiring the right people.

“Now when I’m interviewing UX designers and engineers, I can walk the talk,” he says. “It filled in these big weakness areas for me where I was able to scale the business and find the right people who can do a far better job than I can.”

Here at Springboard, not only do we pride ourselves on our students’ successes, but we genuinely believe that their dreams are what make up the foundation of our mission. Our alumni dream big—and they make big moves in stride. So we’re shining a light onto some of our favorite alumni stories: their journeys tell stories of accomplishment, grit, and determination against all kinds of odds.

Find more inspiring Springboard student success stories here.

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