The Definitive Guide to Business

How 2 college students hustled and bluffed to build a multimillion-dollar snack business

goPuff founders Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola
Source: goPuff
goPuff founders Rafael Ilishayev and Yakir Gola

The delivery start-up goPuff promises snacks, libations and other convenience products at your door within 30 minutes to satisfy any mid-afternoon or late-night cravings.

Founded in 2013, the company now operates in 24 U.S. cities and employs nearly 60 people full-time. For over a year, its revenue has increased 25 percent month-over-month, and it recently closed an $8.25 million Series A funding round from Anthos Capital.

Much of this success can be credited to its founders Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, who started goPuff when they were just juniors at Drexel University.

"In the beginning, it was definitely hard, because, you know, who's going to trust these 20-year-olds?" Gola, now 24, tells CNBC Make It.

They certainly trusted and believed in themselves. They invested $60,000 they had made selling and delivering a family friend's old office furniture. Gola even dropped out of school to commit himself to the endeavor full-time.

But to get their idea off the ground, they needed to convince local distributors who sold snacks like M&Ms and Snickers to convenience stores around Philadelphia to buy into their vision.

Distributors had order minimums and wanted payments up front but, early on, Gola and Ilishayev needed small orders. Since they had invested all their money into developing the app, they had to bargain.

They negotiated for 30-day credit terms, despite the fact that they had no credit history. They also embellished the size of their customer base which in reality didn't quite exist yet.

"It's fake it until you make it," Gola says. "We made it seem like we were going to be the next Amazon."

They promised local distributors that the exposure would benefit their brands. They told them that their venture represented the future of convenience shopping, on the not-so-unreasonable grounds that goPuff understands millennials in a way that outdated corner stores do not. And their enthusiasm was contagious.

"We are our own customers," Gola says. After all, he came up with the idea for a convenience product delivery service when he, as the only one with a car, grew tired of being asked to take his college roommates, like Ilishayev, on late-night corner store runs.

The company's platform also reflects their understanding of millennials, Gola says. They focus on connecting directly to the customer with humorous product descriptions, original merchandise and daily video content. They care about more than just reliable service. "People are following us because they love what we're doing," he says.

GoPuff now makes thousands of deliveries a day. In Philadelphia, where the company first launched, it is currently the largest provider of both ice cream and beer of any distributor, he says.

As they have convinced others to buy into their vision and expanded their customer base, Gola believes their youth has been an advantage.

"There's never a better time to start a business," he says. "What's the worst that can happen? You fail when you're young?"

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