Founded by sisters and best friends, Jeronica Macey and Be’Anka Ashaolu, Nirvana Soul is a San Jose-based coffee company bringing exciting flavor, bold inspiration, and undeniable joy to Silicon Valley and beyond. Jeronica, CEO, is a coffee industry veteran with nearly 20 years experience managing, leading, and building great teams and companies. Be’Anka, CMO, is an experienced marketing executive with demonstrated success driving teams to create customer experiences that surprise and delight. Together they co-founded Nirvana Soul in the Summer of 2020 with the mission to bring people together using the power of coffee and tea.
How did your company come to be?
NS: Jeronica started working in the coffee industry almost 20 years ago. Early on she recognized that coffee had the power to bring people together from all walks of life. She decided then that she would create her own space that would provide the same sense of comfort and belonging to marginalized people who aren’t always included in the specialty coffee conversation. After moving back home to San Jose after 10 years in Sacramento, Jeronica joined forces with her sister Be’Anka to make her dream come true.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
NS: Nirvana Soul opened six months into the pandemic on September 26, 2020. We’ve evolved into a less regulated environment where we can now have customers indoors. Our team continues to follow the same protocols we’ve followed since day one: masks, gloves, constant sanitation, PPE, etc.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
NS: Our proudest moment was closing escrow on our dream location. The story of that shop began over a year earlier. We got a tip that a beloved local coffee shop was looking to sell after almost 15 years in business. The owners were so kind and motivated to sell, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Six months later, they returned via email and asked if we were still interested. We absolutely were! It took over another six months at least to secure our SBA loan and close on the shop, and another six months after that to open. This was another proud moment: seeing the community go above and beyond to support us at our grand opening, everyone standing in line for up to three hours in the random September heat during a pandemic! There is nothing that can match that feeling.
Our darkest moment was being denied support by three or four different banks in a row. We were racking our brains trying to figure out what we were doing wrong and as a policy, the banks couldn’t disclose why we were being rejected. We’d find a bank, complete the paperwork all over again, and wait it out just to be told that they couldn’t help us. Finally, we came across a lender who in response to our frustration told us what was going on: something screwy with our federal student loans! Once that was resolved, we were able to find a bank that worked with us to secure our SBA loan. This led to another series of mishaps, including more things from our past coming up that we thought were behind us. It was a very weird time.
How is your company changing the landscape?
NS: We always say Nirvana Soul is not taking a piece of the pie, it’s expanding the pie. Specialty coffee has historically been limited by way of representation for people of color, and even women. This makes it very intimidating for the many underrepresented coffee drinkers out there who might not feel comfortable in those spaces. What we’ve done is prioritize comfort and belonging. We’re a bright, welcoming business with friendly baristas who take the time to walk customers through drinks so that they know we’re in this together. Everyone should be able to enjoy quality coffee.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
NS: We’re actually grateful we didn’t know much of anything when we started. The naivety helped us take more risks and create our space without inhibitions. If anything, it might’ve been helpful to know other folks who had started businesses who would be willing to share their stories with us. That’s why we’re so open with our journey now for those who come behind us.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
NS: We can do hard things!
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
NS: We’re inspired by each other, and by our team, but inspiration can be found anywhere. It could be found in a meme on social media or during a podcast episode or while walking our dog. We’ve opened ourselves up to receiving whatever comes our way.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
NS: Success looks like peace with ourselves and within ourselves, without the constant need for validation or confirmation from others. Externally, we aspire to own and run a multi-location business and thriving roastery that will support us and our team. We know we have to manage our finances well to do that and, since we don’t have the excess capital to keep up with our ambitions, fundraising will become a much larger part of our story in the future. What will help us achieve this is doing the internal work through self-care and holding strong to our vision.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
NS: What the pandemic has done is remind us what’s really important. Constant performance and productivity tied to our self-worth and identity has been completely deconstructed, and it’s for the best. We don’t feel the need to prove ourselves in the same ways we used to. Nirvana Soul, including the strong and faithful community that surrounds and supports it, speaks for itself.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
NS: We’re a family-owned business started by siblings. The best part about working with a partner is that someone else is going through the exact same thing that you are. It’s a shared experience in a very lonely world. If you can find someone who is going to care as much as you do about the success of your business, you should absolutely do that. Going it alone seems far more challenging and isolating. Regarding building and leading teams, do not sacrifice culture. We started our business with our mission, vision, and core values set before we even had a single employee. That level of clarity helps us make decisions from hiring to team activities to engagements we participate in and more. The team has to be happy, but you also have to challenge them to be more.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months? NS:
Jeronica is most likely to be in the shop on any given day. Her daily routine is to wake up 2-3 hours earlier than Nirvana Soul opens, she prays, meditates, then gets to the shop by 6am. She’ll prepare the shop for customers and staff, and take a moment to herself in the morning silence with an Americano or black coffee until the doors open at 7am.
Be’Anka still has her day job in tech. Her alarm goes off at 6:15am, then again at 6:30am. She posts to the Nirvana Soul social media pages just about every morning before getting out of bed. By 7am, she’s up and out for a quick bike ride followed by a walk with her dog. By 8:45am, she’s at the dining table/makeshift office space writing her top 3 things to-do alongside all meetings scheduled for the day.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
NS: Staying motivated has been a challenge during the pandemic, but what helps is that we have each other and our roles are clearly defined, meaning we can hold each other accountable. We’re also very motivated by our team who looks up to us to keep them both encouraged and employed. Our customers and followers – and the kids! – also give us that extra boost we need sometimes to keep going.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
NS: We want to be known as authentic, inclusive, and helpful. Nirvana Soul is about inspiration, it’s not about elevating ourselves. We did this in large part to help others see that it’s possible. That big, scary dream they’re dreaming can come true too. If we can make that kind of mark being who we are and from where we’re from, we’ll know we’ve done this thing right.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days? Always: we can do hard things!
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
NS: Mentorship is great, but advocacy is better. For Be’Anka, mentorship has come easiest by way of books, videos, podcasts, etc. The advocates in her professional life continue to support her today, but it pales in comparison to how she advocates for herself. For Jeronica, both mentorship and advocacy has been more elusive. Finding folks that genuinely believe in her and take her ambitions seriously has been a challenge. Jeronica has also had to learn to advocate for herself and ignore those who would discredit her.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
Be’Anka: Two former managers of mine have been especially influential on my career. These two men have given me insight and positioned me for future opportunities. They’ve written letters of recommendation and given references. They have also spoken up when it was hard or contrary to what I wanted to do. Both showed up for me at the grand opening of Nirvana Soul too.
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