The young entrepreneur who cofounded the award-winning Coffunity app talks about growing up around coffee, launching a business while still in college, and why coffee is a rewarding career path.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo courtesy of the SCA. All other photos courtesy of Andrea B. Pacas
Though she’s currently still a senior in college, Andrea B. Pacas has already had a professional experience different from most college students. The 23-year-old is the cofounder of Coffunity, an app in which users can rate the coffees they taste and share their reviews with people around the world. (Read more about Coffunity in the October + November 2018 issue of Barista Magazine.)
Coffunity, which Andrea runs as CEO with Chief Product Officer/Cofounder Federico Bolanos and Chief Technology Officer/Partner Adrian Gomez, debuted earlier this year and found quick success, winning two Best New Product awards at the Global Specialty Coffee Expo, including Best in Show. Coffunity is an extension of Andrea’s lifelong passion for coffee, which started while spending time on her family’s El Salvador coffee farms as a child. We talked to Andrea, who is based in San Salvador, about her coffee background, the journey of creating Coffunity, and much more.
Chris Ryan: What are your earliest memories of coffee? What was your relationship with coffee before you started working in it?
Andrea B. Pacas: My grandparents have several coffee farms, including Santa Petrona and San Jose in the Santa Ana department of El Salvador. I remember going to their farms during cherry-picking season and watching people pouring the baskets of freshly picked cherries to clean out leaves, sticks, and other stuff to weigh them. I used to go to the mill during December and January when I had school vacations all through my childhood and early teen years. I would go for an entire week or so—I’d see the big trucks coming to deliver the cherries into the pools, the entire depulping and fermenting process, and I’d help out moving around the coffee for it to dry on the patios (back then I only remember seeing fully washed and natural processes). But those activities would last for a short time before I’d go back to playing with my cousins.
CR: What did you study in school? Did you think you’d be working in coffee?
ABP: I studied marketing … actually, I still am in the process of finishing up my bachelor’s degree this winter. When it came to choosing a career, I told myself I wanted my work to benefit people who might not have had the same opportunities as me. I really wanted to work in an industry where the processes involved all kinds of people, and where there were deficiencies where opportunities could be created. Since coffee was always a big part of my life, I always had a great passion for it and was inclined to end up working with it. Coffunity was my first official job apart from a couple of internships, such as being a graphic designer for a small shoe startup in Mexico and leading volunteer programs.
CR: What’s gratifying and/or challenging to you about working in coffee?
ABP: I love being able to see coffee in its entirety. I grew up running around farms, have worked in mills under the sun, have learned the beauty of roasting, cupping, and brewing, and have gone to some of nicest specialty-coffee shops in the U.S. But more than that, I absolutely love the people involved in each and every one of those steps. They transmit their passion just like a football fan transmits theirs. When I started learning more and more about it, I thought I was stepping into Narnia, only the closet door I entered through was a cup of coffee. That is also why I have joined the International Women’s Coffee Alliance chapter in El Salvador, to keep close to what made me love the industry in the first place and see how else I can help.
The challenging part is to see how the industry is so unbalanced. We’d like all actors in the process from seed to cup to get the highest benefits, but achieving that balance is hard and needs the commitment of so many people!
CR: Can you describe how the journey has been with Coffunity? How has the experience been for you to introduce the app to the coffee community and watch it succeed?
ABP: It has certainly not been the easiest ride! I had the idea while I was still studying in Mexico, and had to really take advantage of a couple of trips back home to plan stuff out, meet up with partners, and achieve the first angel investment. In the meantime, I worked half-time in my dorm on building the database. I came back to El Salvador before finishing my last year of university to keep building the business next to Federico Bolanos and Adrian Gomez. We also launched an app in 2017 called “Coffee Label Contest” where we asked people to send us as many pictures of coffee bags as possible to build a database, and the winner would get a brewing kit. Almost 17,000 labels were uploaded, but then we saw it was going to be VERY difficult to get all the data we needed from the bags, and the pictures were mostly bad quality.
After that, we kept working on growing the database (now around 170,000 coffees), and launching the app on iOS to take it to the 2018 Global Specialty Coffee Expo. When we got the Best New Product of the Year awards for Tech and Best of Show, I was shocked and finally understood how much we could contribute to the coffee industry through Coffunity, confirmed by the SCA. Now, we’ve launched the Android version and are looking for a seed round of investment. It is terrifying and exciting all at once, but it has been my greatest joy and every morning’s motivation for the last two years.
CR: What do you enjoy doing outside of the coffee world?
ABP: I am 23 years old, which is considered young, but I have the spirit of an older workaholic lady. I wish I had an interesting hobby or could say I enjoy reading a lot, but the truth is it’s too hard for me to have so much silence, and I prefer watching all kinds of TV series. I enjoy spending time with my family, hanging out with friends, listening to the entire music genre spectrum from Andrea Bocelli to reggaetón, and getting lost in cities I’ve never been to before to find their “true essence.”