From Side Hustle to Explosive Growth: How AdRoll Nitro-Fueled Volcanica Coffee

For many people, coffee is a purely utilitarian drink. Their morning cup of joe provides a jolt of caffeine to kickstart the day. For coffee connoisseurs, the beverage opens the door to flavors as complex as any wine. And, lucky for everyone, the burnt, bitter roasts and stale supermarket blends of yesterday have given way to a world of options for java lovers.

Maurice Contreras, Founder/President at Volcanica Coffee.
Maurice Contreras Founder/President
of Volcanica Coffee

Coffee is in my blood. My parents and I are from Costa Rica, and over the years, we took many trips to visit family and friends there. During our travels, we realized that Costa Rican coffee was much more flavorful than the stuff we were drinking in the United States. It turns out that the best-tasting coffee grows in volcanic regions above 3,000 feet—something that Costa Rican beans share with some of the best beans in the world, including those from Jamaica and Hawaii. Volcanic soil, cooler temperatures, and moisture from the clouds nourish coffee bushes, creating the most flavorful beans.

Sharing Our Love of Volcanic Coffee

Four bags of Volcanica Coffee.
Volcanica Coffee sells freshly-roasted coffee from around the world to people in the United States.

My family wanted to share our passion for these beans with others, so we decided to build a business selling coffee beans grown in these regions. The Volcanica Coffee Company was born in 2004. We sell freshly roasted beans from around the world to coffee lovers in the continental United States. Our single-origin coffees start at $16.99 a pound, and if you buy through our website, your beans are freshly roasted.

The company began as a side hustle for me. I took orders and packed shipments before, after, and in between my regular office hours. Over the years, though we built up a sizable clientele, we outsourced to keep up with demand, and later we brought everything in-house to better control quality. At the beginning of 2018, I walked away from a comfortable corporate gig at AT&T and took over Volcanica on a full-time basis.

We Knew Coffee, Not Digital Marketing

I am no stranger to entrepreneurship. When I was TracFone's director of national marketing, I helped grow the company from a startup into the country's leading provider of prepaid mobile services and the fifth-largest wireless carrier. From there, I went to AT&T and worked my way up in their marketing and sales divisions. While I knew traditional print, TV, and radio advertising from my corporate experience, I didn't fully understand some aspects of the online world.

During the early days of Volcanica, I decided to educate myself in online marketing and approached it like going to grad school. I took a few online courses and started implementing the strategies I learned. I did my best to build our website and start driving traffic to it. I taught myself search engine optimization (SEO), Google AdWords, HTML, and the ins and outs of paid advertising.

I taught myself enough to have some success growing the company, and that was encouraging. But as we grew and I committed to the business full time, I realized I had reached my limits. I had gotten just good enough to be dangerous. Though I could invest more time and energy into building my expertise, I could also screw it up.

In the end, I decided I had too much on my plate to handle all our marketing, and there wasn’t enough time to learn it all. I decided to seek out expert advice and began looking at potential partners.

Handing Over the Keys

I was eager to get started and immediately partnered with a couple of agencies. But old habits die hard, and I continued to research and learn everything I could about online marketing. One day I came across an article about retargeting. It explained how to use cookies to serve ads to visitors who have left a site without converting and listed three companies that offered such a service. AdRoll was one of those companies, and stood out to me as the best choice. Just like that, I decided to give them a shot.

AdRoll stepped in right away. Unlike agencies, they don't just manage ad spends and placement; they can also create your creative. They recommended the type of ads we needed to attract a specific customer demographic and helped us tweak it until it worked.

A coffee mug full of coffee being held in a woman's hands.
AdRoll helped grow Volcanica Coffee from a part-time family pursuit to a mature online business.

Our first successful campaign was a “Eureka!” moment for me. Soon after that, I basically stopped using Google AdWords because that platform was yielding negative returns; we were spending more acquiring customers than we were earning. Instead, I shifted all my ad budget to AdRoll.

I handed AdRoll the keys and let them drive our retargeting campaigns. They were good for our business and incremental sales, so I kept increasing our spend. I shifted my focus to production and growing our wholesale and Amazon business, and left AdRoll on autopilot for about three years.

In May 2020, AdRoll reached out and said we were hand-selected to participate in their Growth Stories program, which gave us access to 1:1 consultation sessions, new capabilities within their Growth Marketing Platform, and free thought leadership opportunities to increase our brand’s visibility. I was honored to have been chosen and was excited about getting more out of our partnership with AdRoll.

Using Machine Learning to Segment Audiences

AdRoll uses machine learning to analyze its conversions. It creates top 20% lists of visitors exhibiting a specific behavior, including abandoning an item in their shopping cart when leaving the site. You can then target these high intent audiences within existing campaigns to compare performance between different audience groups, or you can exclude them to minimize overlap between targeting. It's an excellent way to tweak who sees your message and better allocate your advertising spend.

Targeting high intent audiences led us to explore some of AdRoll's other features, like seasonal ads for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. At one point, I was talking with Stephanie Cook, our AdRoll account manager, and she pointed out our tremendous success retargeting these high intent audiences. Then she asked: Why weren't we running any campaigns targeting mid and low intent visitors? These are the people who visit our homepage or check out specific products, and they represent two more untapped customer segments.

Again, this was all about new levels of stratifying data and targeting customers based on those different profiles, a strategy that hadn’t even been on our radar before.

In July 2019, we had 102 AdRoll-attributed conversions and $22,440 in total revenue. A year later, in July 2020, we had 181 conversions and $43,027 in total revenue. Our overall year-over-year numbers are a 191% increase in total revenues, a 177% increase in attributed conversions, and a 33% increase in site engagement. Our audience is converting higher in the funnel, and we are reaching customers at mid intent, before they move to high intent.

We couldn't have hit these numbers without the targeting capabilities of the AdRoll Growth Marketing Platform.

A bag of Volcanica Coffee shown from all sides to see the full branding.
Through the AdRoll Growth Stories program, Volcanica Coffee gained access to 1:1 consultation sessions, new product offerings, and free thought leadership opportunities.

Analyzing Data Made Easy

Managing our digital marketing campaigns is easy within the AdRoll dashboard. With a few clicks, I can see how all our ads are performing. AdRoll also generates weekly reports and emails them to me.

Every Monday morning, I sit down and look at the past week. Typically, everything is running smoothly but every once in a while, I identify something that needs a change and can do so immediately. I could never have tweaked our Google AdWords campaigns so quickly or even understood how they were performing, since interpreting the data had become so complex. Being a small business owner, optimizing for time is key and having data that’s easily digestible so you can make on-the-fly changes is critical.

I’d outgrown my professional knowledge, and I really didn't know how to make the most of my Google AdWords campaigns anymore. AdRoll’s Growth Marketing Platform is simpler and easy to understand, and they also provide valuable feedback on ways we can use the information generated by the platform.

Our relationship with AdRoll is a two-way street. They've taken the time to learn how we do business at Volcanica, and they have taught me so much about digital marketing. A few weeks ago, we rolled out our first comprehensive data campaign, targeting customers who have shown a high intent to buy premium coffees like our legendary Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. It was very successful, and I plan on running a similar campaign targeting repeat buyers of our inexpensive coffees.

AdRoll has also helped us harness the power of databases and email marketing. I tried using these tools in my corporate life yet never really explored them fully, and my experience with email at Volcanica was limited to generic bulk email blasts that targeted everybody.

Thanks to AdRoll's stratified data, we can now refine our email campaigns and tailor our ads to specific customer segments. It's exciting stuff, and I now have an internal team member who's dedicated to building our future email campaigns.

Dark brown coffee beans. Three small coffee cups.
AdRoll contributed to Volcanica Coffee's 191% increase in total revenues, year over year.

Growing and Doing Good

Volcanica has experienced steady growth since I took it on full-time at the beginning of 2018. I expect the company to continue on this upward trajectory for the next three years, and I am eager to explore new growth marketing venues and to revisit channels that have underperformed in the past.

One of these areas is social media. I tried running some social media campaigns on my own, yet I didn't have the data or the skill to make our Facebooks ads profitable. I recently launched a Facebook campaign with AdRoll, and I'm confident that it will be successful in driving more customers to our site.

Volcanica is my family's passion project. We built this business on sharing our love of coffee with our customers. We also pay farmers fairly and, wherever possible, source our beans from organic growers and eco-friendly plantations. We reinvest in the communities that supply us by donating one percent of our website revenues to charity: water, an organization with a mission to help bring clean, safe drinking water to every person on the planet, including communities where we source our coffee.

AdRoll has helped us grow Volcanica from a part-time family pursuit to a mature online business. We don't all have the good fortune of living near a third-wave roaster or an upscale coffee shop, but now we don’t have to. I am proud to bring freshly roasted beans from around the world to Americans across the country.

Two arms bumping elbows in triumph and cheer.