Branding And Matcha On A Whole Other Level
My name is Matthew Morton, I’m 27 years old and I’m from Los Angeles, California. I’ve lived in New York and LA for the past 8 years. I’m the founder and CEO of Cha Cha Matcha, which is a food and beverage (CPG) company specializing in matcha, green tea and other functional beverages.
My family has been in food and beverage now for 4 generations. That’s definitely been an inspiration for me. Walking with my dad in his restaurants and hotels was always something I enjoyed. Being young and seeing all of these big operations as I grew up was really special. It’s always been a dream of mine to have a hotel or restaurant. Food and beverage was one of the many things I was interested in growing up. I’ve also always been passionate about art, film, music and literature.
When I graduated from college I was planning to go to University of Southern California (USC) starting in the spring, but I had also been accepted to NYU starting in the fall. I decided to check New York out for a few months, and the second day I was there I knew I wanted to stay. I ended up staying in New York for all 4 years of college and studied Business Management with a minor in Art History.
There were a few entrepreneurship classes that were helpful for me, and there was a presentation and public speaking course I really enjoyed. I learned how to build presentations and then present them in front of a group of people. The presentations would be filmed so that you could critique yourself and become a better presenter. Other than that, a part of me wishes I went to school for architecture and design.
I remember reading about a case study on Starbucks that I thought was really interesting. Most, if not all, millennials, live in a post Starbucks era. Before Starbucks, there weren’t really any coffee shops. It was all Folger’s, and there was pretty much only over roasted dark coffee. There was no coffee from exotic places like Ethiopia, Sumatra, Latin America, or South America and I hadn’t known that before. I found that really interesting because it seemed to me like there were always these coffee shops.
They call coffee shops your third home: your house, your work and your coffee shop are the three places you go most. Howard Schultz was the first to recognize the opportunity when he went to Milan and saw some baristas performing at espresso bars and he decided to bring that to America. The concept has evolved over time as you can see with operators like Stumptown, Blue Bottle and La Colombe.
Before I started Cha Cha I felt like most coffee shops I’d go to just didn’t provide me with the experience I wanted. I wanted to go to a place where the service is great, the options are simple and it’s a cool place to hang with my friends. It just didn’t exist then, so that’s what we wanted to create - a really fun place that you’d want to hang out and get served a great product. The Australians do that really well. The baristas are always smiling, the service is great and it's a fun and light atmosphere.
While I was at NYU I was probably drinking 10 Red Bulls a day, taking a bunch of Adderall, smoking cigarettes, going out late and waking up early. My energy levels were always out of sync. No mental clarity and no balance. My friend, and now partner, Conrad Sandelman was on a trip in Japan and brought back this green stuff (matcha) that supposedly helps you lose weight, increase energy and focus. I took it, went to the gym, and listened to a podcast. I had an incredible workout and remembered everything from the podcast. It was insane. I continued having matcha for the next 30 days and it completely changed the way I felt. matcha gave me energy, focus, and calmness all at the same time. I fell in love with it.
I wanted to create a canned matcha product, but I felt like there was no awareness around it. There was no community around the product and there was a stigma around tea vs. coffee. Somehow coffee had become this cool trendy thing, but just tea wasn’t. We wanted to change that stigma by building a fun community around a product that promotes mindfulness, mental clarity, focus and wellness.
That’s when the idea to open up a store came about. We thought that if we opened up a store it could be a hub where we could get data from customers, get people excited about the product and then create products that we would scale and sell throughout the world.
Instead of going on a summer vacation after graduating, we decided to fly to Japan to explore matcha. We went to all the different matcha farms and probably tried over 100 different kinds of matcha. We found this one farm that has been making matcha for 400 years.
I recently moved back to LA having opened two stores: one in West Hollywood and one in Venice. The owner of the farm is actually a living national treasure. The first harvest of our farm goes to the emperor of Japan. We didn’t even know that until two years after we met him. We built a blend that would suit the American palate.
What I’ve realized through this process is that sometimes being an expert on things can actually hinder you. We talked to a lot of experts in tea and coffee and not even they could make a product with mass appeal. It’s important to just have a can do attitude and simplify things. Sometimes you need to just trust your gut and go for it. We were 23 years old, just out of school and had no experience in construction or branding. We just went with our guts and did it. It took a long time and we made a lot of mistakes. We failed small, we edited and then we amplified.
We wanted our concept to be really special and different. We wanted it to be fun and transport you to a tropical place kind of like Corona does with beer. We wanted you to associate our matcha with paradise. Most coffee shops have dark colors like brown, we chose green and pink. One of my favorite restaurants growing up was the Fountain Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I loved the vibe and the design of the banana plant so that was definitely an inspiration.
We literally googled how to build a business plan and started from there. That was really helpful. We were working on the business plan, looking for a space and focused on branding.
We wanted to pay super specific attention to detail for everything. We wanted everything branded. The cup ended up being a really big thing. At the time, we didn’t even realize the social effect it would have on Instagram, but we knew we wanted our cup to be iconic. I noticed that when people hold a Starbucks cup, their hand covers the logo. I wanted to create a cup that was green and pink and could be seen from a mile away. Starbucks had a dark green straw, so we chose a bright pink. I wanted everything to be iconic. The napkins, the sugar sticks and everything had to be branded and extremely detail oriented.
Cha Cha Matcha was the first of a bunch of names we came up with. It was catchy, it rhymes and it’s not too serious. Cha Cha Matcha just sounded cool and we actually got lucky because cha means tea in Japanese.
Finding the physical space for the store was critical. We were confident in our product, branding and marketing, but we knew the space and design would really be key to building awareness. We looked at Red Bull as a great example. They’re absolutely genius when it comes to marketing. They sponsor all these extreme athletes that do extreme activities and events, which is literally exactly what the drink does. We wanted to create a drink and an environment that was a social pick me up with good energy. We wanted the space and our branding to look exactly how the product is intended to make you feel.
A really important facet of the store was that it needed to have a 2:3 width to depth ratio. The average space in New York City is 12 feet wide. We went to every single coffee shop in New York and worked at a different one every day. We would pretend we were still at school in NYU and ask them questions as though it was a school project. We’d ask about how they were doing, what point of sale (POS) they’re using and just learn about the nuances of every business. The most important metric we were looking at was transactions per hour. That’s the name of the game for coffee shops. You need to max out on transactions. Eventually, we had a whole map of different areas in the city with information on the performance of different vendors in those areas. That’s how we picked Soho for our first location. We looked at around 50 or 60 spaces until we found the right one. That took about 6 months.
Building the space out was harder than expected. As we started construction it became apparent that the floor was structurally unsound. We had to demo the entire floor and rebuild it. We thought we were going to get delayed 9 months, but worked with the city to get a variance by learning all of these different permitting processes, which were way over our heads. Originally, we wanted to be open in February 2016, but we ended up getting delayed until June 3rd.
The timing for our opening ended up being really great. It was Summer and our iced drinks were a hit. The indoor outdoor atmosphere was working really well and it was an overnight hit. It far surpassed any of our expectations. We thought if we were able to do 25 customers our first day we’d be excited. We ended up doing 450.
We were packed right when we opened our doors. At the time we had already had about 3,000 followers on the Cha Cha Matcha instagram. I had been posting pictures of the product and our mood board several months in advance. I had my friends posting about it and sharing it on their channels and that’s what really springboarded the whole thing. The cafe ended up being super Instagrammable as well and people just kept posting it naturally after we launched. To this day we are yet to spend money on paid ads.
Weakness can be your greatest strength. If you have something fresh and new to bring into an industry you can beat other big players in that space. It doesn’t matter how long someone else has been in your industry.
I’d also say there are no shortcuts to success. You have to roll up your sleeves, make the best use of your time and surrender the outcome. My partner has really helped me adopt that mentality. Try to put yourself in the best position to succeed, and the outcome will be what it will be.
I still believe we’re really in the golden years for the wellness boom in food and beverage. Over the next 5 years, people will continue to care more and more about where the things they consume are from and what they are made of. I believe matcha is poised to explode as part of that.
I’d attribute our success to hard work, design, branding, service, social media, a good amount of luck and a really great sustainable product. I worked in our first store every day all day.
We’re unique across a wide range of categories. First, we know exactly who we are. I think most of our competitors are trying to let the tail wag the dog. We decided who we are and what was important to us from the very beginning and I think it’s really important for brands to do that.
We wanted to have a voice and stand for something and I think that can be seen in our brand. We’re fun, we have the best matcha, the best atmosphere and the best service.
I think the innovation and ideation in our actual drinks also makes us different. We’ve paired matcha with functional ingredients in a completely new way. We have matcha and turmeric, matcha and CBD, match and collagen etc. No one was doing that at the time, and a lot of people have copied us since then.
I’m really proud of the team that we’ve built. It’s our people that make this happen. We’re at about 100 employees now and it’s all of them that makes Cha Cha special. The turnover for our store teams is something like 10 times less than our competitors. We have an amazing group of young people who are so excited to come to work every day and are excited about our company. That took about a year and a half to make happen. All of our people care about the product, care about the service, care about the brand and represent it as their own.
Finding the right people has been the hardest challenge. You can only bootstrap things for so long. At a certain point in order to grow you have to build a team and develop a culture of people who are passionate about the brand. It’s difficult to hand things off and we’re still working on that. Leading a team has been a challenge, and I’ve overcome that by just being persistent and sticking with it.
I feel amazing. I’ve never felt better than I feel today. I think it’s so important to be goal driven, but I’ve learned to really just enjoy the journey. That’s what I’m focused on right now - today. For a long time I used to always think about the future and what comes next. I was always worried. I’m focused on being present and making sure I’m doing what I love every day. I want to look back and remember this as some of the best times in my life. Ultimately, I want to bring matcha to as many people as I can and fulfill our mission of serving health and happiness on a large scale.
We used a company called Pointer Creative to design and build our website.
Square – platform for our café sales
Namely - HR
Shopify Plus – platform for our e-commerce sales that connects with our 3PL
NetSuite – accounting platform
Shipbob – 3PL platform that connects with our e-commerce site and also allows us to ship to our cafes and CPG customers
Xtrachef – AP automation
Google Drive / Google conferencing
Celigo – allows us to connect different platforms together for 1-data source
WheniWork – platform used to track our scheduling
I look for privacy and confidentiality from all software providers. I want to make sure my data is secure and they are a trustworthy partner. That is far and away the most important. The 2nd most important is that they automate as many tasks as possible and reduce the number of human-hours needed so that our teams can focus on more important tasks.
Automation. Automation is key to help scale businesses. If I could create anything, the software would be automating mundane tasks to allow our team to focus on value-added items to help grow the business.
Notebook for all thoughts, to-dos, meeting notes, etc.
Books: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is the best book I’ve read. It teaches you to be the observer of your own mind in order to be intensely focused and conscious in the present moment.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu. This book is about understanding yourself and your enemy.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. This book is all about the strength of the underdogs.
Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. This is a Harvard Business School book about Steve Jobs and leadership. It’s all about managing your energy, sleep, exercise, work, focus etc.
Podcasts: How I Built This with Guy Raz. It walks you through every founder story and is one of the most helpful things I’ve listened to.
Resources: My number one resource is LinkedIn. It is the best resource in the world for building a team and connecting with people. Everyone is interested in connecting on LinkedIn.
I think the classes that I took that were really beneficial to me were public speaking, entrepreneurship and negotiation. I’ve found all of those to be very helpful in running my business.
For business I’m just constantly asking questions. Whether it’s from advisors or the 50 different sales candidates applying for jobs, I’m always using my time as an opportunity to learn.
Personally, I’m reading, meditating and exercising. I really like reading fiction so I try to read one book for entertainment and another for self-improvement at all times. I try to meditate 5-10 minutes in the mornings and at night. I try not to have my phone near me during meetings, and I try to spend at least 20-30 minutes in the middle of the day without my phone. Phones are a constant source of worry and distraction that take you out of the present moment.
If you’re just results driven you’re never going to be happy because you’re always going to be chasing something. Love what you do and love the journey. Goals are important, but journey is even more important. Be in the present moment.