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Entrepreneurs Change the Game: A Snapshot of Boba Guys Iteration

A business' approach to change says a lot about its management.

Change is inevitable—and in our case, an intentional and integral part of our iterative business model. Last week, we made three significant changes to our business. First, we rolled out a new formula that we tested over a six-week period. Second, we introduced a handcrafted almond jelly that we serve as an alternative to tapioca pearls. And most importantly, we introduced a partnership with Five Mountains Tea, our new tea supplier.

Change introduces risk and the possibility of alienating your customers. The big question is, how does one know when to make a change?

We had always said that our milk tea drink could be improved. The pop-up model serves as a proof-of-concept, so we want to use this time to test our new flavors and combinations. If and when we decide to expand distribution or secure a physical location, we would already have a shortlist of flavors we’d take along for the ride.

The idea to change our traditional milk tea formula came out of three discussions: First, what do people say about us, second, what do we think is the Holy Grail of milk tea, and third, what taste and experience is quintessentially “Boba Guys”?

We tend toward the fresher, smooth side of the taste profile. This is a polarizing position since many bubble tea connoisseurs prefer the traditional taste, which is much sweeter than our formula.

To stay true to our ideals, we continued pursuing a smoother taste. Our product can be improved, and that was enough reason for us to pursue a reformulation. We’d love to tell you we had some great analytical insight through a focus group or segmentation study, but we are a tiny startup. Sometimes, you have to trust your gut.

The one parameter was that our signature taste needed to align with the values of the brand: high quality, accessible, and transparent. We wanted these values to be quintessentially Boba Guys.

We want our customers to say, ‘Wow, this is a quality drink (fresh tasting) that I can have over and over again (not too sweet), and I know what I’m putting into my body (no mystery powders or overly manufactured ingredients).’ That sentence above drove our product strategy—which is as formal as we get.

We tried to keep everything as precise as possible so our reformulation involved a lot of measuring cups and taste testing.

The almond jelly came out of our purist mentality. Striving toward transparency, we wanted to be able to claim that we handcrafted an entire drink, including the jelly or tapioca. It also introduced people to other ways to enjoy a “chewable drink.”

Here is how we taste tested our almond jelly. We tried various formulas with a wide spectrum of ingredients. Although we tried various homemade jellies for two weeks straight, we never grew tired of it!

Our partnership with Five Mountains Tea may be our biggest accomplishment to date. When we first introduced our boba milk tea, we were ecstatic about our ingredients: handmade syrup, milk from a local organic dairy farm, Straus, and hand-prepped tapioca pearls.

However, we could never talk about the tea the same way we talked about our other ingredients. We are now even more confident that our drink is the highest quality around, all without changing the price of our product. We will go into this aspect of our business in more detail later, since we learned a ton about the tea trade and our own business model during the experience.

Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to make changes to their business. However, in our opinion, it is critical that your customers see the changes coming. All three of the changes we were telegraphed months ago, including our reformulation, which was done very publicly. We may fall flat on our face one day when a change doesn’t pan out, but we feel that the risk is worth it as long as you set expectations with a clear road map.

The Boba Guys share their adventures in food enterprise every Monday.

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