Tapioca and Error: How the Boba Guys Failed Their Way to a Winning Recipe

The Boba Guys use trial-and-error to find their winning recipe and learn the upside of failure.

Conventional wisdom holds that failure is a sign of weakness, but we've found the more you embrace the possibility of missteps, the more courageous you become. While everyone fears failure, breakthroughs depend on flirting with disaster: Paradoxically, failure is key to success—no risk, no reward, right? We’d like to show you a case of how we’ve failed (so far) and what we learned from the experience.

That grotesque image above was our very first attempt at preparing boba, the pearl tapioca so essential to our boba tea project. Our only knowledge of creating boba was gleaned from YouTube video tutorials and mom-friendly how-to sites. They seemed to agree on one way to cook boba, and so we followed their approach. We were able to get the boba to taste ok, but not great. We knew what great tasted like and we were far from it.

We began to evaluate all the variables that go into a cup of boba tea. We designed test cases for each brand of boba we came across and logged the results into a massive spreadsheet. Night after night, we’d meet after work to make trial batches of boba to test and taste, experimenting with cooking at different temperatures. We ran boiling and cooling tests down to 60-second increments, to no avail. Why did it turn out so terribly?

It took us a month and a half (and one incident where all-day boba tasting left our tongues so numb and heads so dizzy that we almost swore it off altogether) to learn the answer: We had failed to question our assumptions.

We’d assumed that the boba we’d purchased was fit for our uses, but not all boba are created equal. And neither were the next five brands of boba, or the five after that.

 Eventually we honed in on the right one. It was consistent in taste and texture after cooking and it took on the properties of whatever flavors we chose to infuse it in. We’d finally created a product we could be proud of, but it took a lot of failure to get there.

Once our recipe was finished, we were able to concentrate more on Boba Guys from a brand standpoint. That’s where we’ll pick on Wednesday—see you then!

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