Easy Coconut Access for Everyone with The Coco Jack’s Dave Goodman
December 1, 2014
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re so excited to have with us today Dave Goodman. He’s the founder and owner of Coco Jack and coco-jack.com. You can find him and his products at www.coco-jack.com. Welcome to Green is Good, Dave. DAVE GOODMAN: Thank you so much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s always great to have a native New Yorker on the show with me. Dave, we’re here today in Los Angeles at the LA version of the Green Festival. Before we get talking about the Green Festival and before we get talking about Coco Jack, I want you to talk about Dave Goodman and the story and the journey from New York to an eco-preneur and founder of the Coco Jack. DAVE GOODMAN: That’s a great question. Thank you. It’s great to be here for me, too. I was born and raised in New York City. I was born on a cold, windy day in January. I went to prep school and I became a class musician when I was 14 years old. I don’t look like it anymore, but I went to Juilliard and Curtis as a musician. I quickly wasn’t satisfied with the options for me there, and so I decided to start my own orchestra as an orchestra conductor. I was sort of a prodigy orchestra conductor in my teens, and built an orchestra in New York City. We traveled throughout the Northeast, and it was very fun. It was like building your own company. I put everything together, I produced it, I did all the back office work, as well as the conducting, which was a lot of fun, but I was very passionate about it and I burnt out pretty hard. When I was 24, I got my driver’s license because I’m a New Yorker and you don’t even think to ever leave New York, and I got on the road and made it out to California. I decided to start working on my health because I just wasn’t well. I spent a good amount of time working on my health and studying politics and studying economics and studying raw foods. Eventually, I spent a year getting my pilot’s license in Colorado. When I got back to New York, I wasn’t in good shape. I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t feeling good, I was overweight like I am right now, but I was overweight, and I was going to the gym every day and it wasn’t working. A buddy of mine, who is probably 21 to 22 years old, literally just died of a heart attack. I was mortified. I said, “Gosh, I’m at this stage of my health. I’m 24 years old.” This is what happens. You start going down and down and down and down until the grave. I said, “I’m not ready for that.” When I got back to New York, a buddy of mine, they were going to take out part of his colon. He was in his 60s, and I saw him after two years. He looked great. He lost 20 pounds, his skin was glowing, they weren’t taking out his colon. I said, “Man, what are you doing? You look great.” He says, “Well, I’m drinking this green juice.” I said, “Well, I don’t know what that is, but give me some because I feel like crap.” I started drinking the green juice. I went right into a cleansing reaction immediately. I spent two weeks in bed sweating and shivering and shaking like I’m in detox. I probably lost 20 or 30 pounds of body weight in a couple weeks. My skin changed, my mind changed. All my friends said, “Dave, you look like a different person.” It became this sort of transformation for me that I just became hooked on. I got big into raw foods. I met these raw foodists back in the ’90s. I said, “You guys are insane, but that’s really interesting,” and that was all I thought about it. And then once I started drinking this green juice, I remember I had a chicken from Fairway, a rotisserie chicken in my refrigerator. I bought it and said, “I’ve never eaten these things. These are delicious.” Next, I started drinking the green juice, and I had about half the chicken left. The next day, I ate the rest of the chicken. I said, “This is disgusting. I have no desire for this chicken at all.” Then I said, “Oh, I see how you can become a raw foodist. The way I feel now, I see how you can do that.” I started getting more into it and drinking more green juice and detoxing and doing cleanses and colonics and the whole nine yards about getting healthy. I lost 100 pounds of body weight. My skin was glowing and I felt younger than when I was 16 years old, and I was hooked. The story goes on and on, but for our purposes, part of the raw food diet is young Thai coconuts. I would go all winter eating nothing but coconuts and oranges one time. I would come back with nine or 10 coconuts in my bag and with a cleaver or a knife, I’d say a little prayer and start working on the coconuts with the knife. I said there’s got to be a better way than this. I was a musician, and a lot of my friends are musicians, and it’s not worth risking your finger or your hand over a coconut. Eventually, like most people, I stopped buying them. I stopped drinking them. I tried the stuff in the box, and it wasn’t right. The fresh thing, you can’t replace it. So, I had this idea in my head, it was the Coco Jack. It was a very primitive Coco Jack in my head, probably in like 2005 to 2006. I just said, “Huh, that’s what I should invent.” I didn’t have time. I was still dealing with my health, so I just put it on the shelf and I figured someone’s going to come up with this at some point because it needs to happen. For years, I’d walk into Whole Foods and say, “Someone must have done it by now,” and they didn’t. In 2012, I saw my partner in New York City because I was traveling so much and staying in these motels, and the chemicals in the sprays in motels, because I was so sensitive from all the cleansing, I couldn’t stay in the hotels anymore. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The VOCs were killing you. DAVE GOODMAN: Horrible. I would wake up, if I could sleep at all. I’d have the cover over my head so I couldn’t breathe, be covered in pimples, and I wouldn’t sleep well. I went out to sleep in my car half the time. It wasn’t comfortable, so eventually I said, “Well, shoot, if I’m going to sleep in my car, I might as well be comfortable,” so I bought a van and I threw a bed in the back of the van, and I was never happier in my life. I drove and I said, “Wow, I can sleep wherever I want.” It was a blast. That’s when I realized I don’t need my apartment anymore, so I sold my apartment in 2012 and I bought four RVs, two Airstreams and two vans. One of the Airstreams is also a van. It’s a beautiful Sprinter van. One of them is in Texas, one of them right now is in a Brooklyn parking lot, and two of them are out here. I’m living in one, and the other one is our cargo van. We’re using it for expos and stuff like that. Now I can live full-time on the road. So, I sold my apartment and I had some money. I was driving down on my way to LA, and I stopped through Austin for, literally, an afternoon, and two-and-a-half years later I’m still there. I fell in love with Austin. It just sucked me in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Very green city. DAVE GOODMAN: Absolutely. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a vegan food truck or something like that. That’s the non-green version of that, but it’s an old expression. It’s a very green city. The green belt runs through the middle of it. Whole Foods began there. It’s an amazing oasis and I love it badly. So, I was there. I said, “I’ve got all this money from my apartment. I’m living very cheap, and I want a new project. I’m ready for what’s next.” So, I found a blacksmith. I had a friend of mine drop drawings for me back in New York of the Coco Jack as I envisioned it in my head. I brought it to a local blacksmith. I said, “Make me one of these. First, sign this nondisclosure agreement and all that, but make one of these for me.” So, we made one. It didn’t work. I said, “What if we did this? What if we did that?” He and I probably went through about 20 different versions of the Coco Jack. They had really big teeth on them. On our website, we’ve got some videos in the About Us section with all the early prototypes. They were scary. They looked like medieval torture devices. They had big teeth on them. They were just made from junk metal on his floor from the blacksmith forge, and they kind of worked, they kind of didn’t work, and I couldn’t figure out why. I would ask these engineers, “Why isn’t this working?” They would look at me and they said, “I don’t know. It’s a coconut. There’s no science on coconuts. No one knows how they open.” So, I just kept experimenting and sticking with it. We got smaller teeth, changed the size of the teeth, made tiny teeth, got rid of the teeth, and eventually, the Coco Jack formed. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many prototypes? DAVE GOODMAN: About 100. Looking back at them, you’d say, “Dave, you must have been an idiot. How could you not have thought of that?” But you don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20. I cut myself on them because of these big, sharp teeth. We went through 100 prototypes. With that guy, I went through about 30, and then I got the hang of it, and I got into it with real metal shops to do a stainless steel version because our versions were made out of just scrap metal. The stainless steel version got online early in January of 2013, and I started doing market testing. I started bringing it around to people and saying, “Would you buy this?” You make sure it’s viable. I thought we’re going to sell millions of these, but actually, I didn’t. I thought I’d invented the tool for 20,000 to 50,000 raw foodists in the Bay Area, in Venice Beach. But then when I started shopping around, the people said, “No, Dave, you don’t understand. Your market is everybody, Thai restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants, Filipino. People love coconuts. Paleo people eat these coconuts. Crossfit people, mixed martial artists eat these coconuts, tiki bars, bartenders, everybody eats these coconuts. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, it’s gone beyond the U.S. DAVE GOODMAN: Oh yeah. We’ve sold in over 20 countries and all 50 states, including Alaska. We’ve sold multiple Coco Jacks. I don’t know where they get their coconuts out there, but they buy the Coco Jack, so I’m not going to ask any questions. We’ve sold in Switzerland. Same thing, you’d think coconuts in Switzerland, who knew? And Sweden, Denmark, all over the place. Of course, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, everywhere. These coconuts are huge. I’ve realized I’m onto something here. It’s not just the raw food scene. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, this was about a year ago? DAVE GOODMAN: This was just about a year-and-a-half ago; early 2013. I shopped around and said, “Would you buy this?” They said, “Yes.” Well, what would you want to pay for it? I needed to find manufacturers. I was looking in the USA for manufacturers, and I figured out about what I had to charge for it, so I went about looking for someone who could make it for less than that, ideally, a quarter of that, so you could do a nice retail markup. It was very hard. I talked to 300 manufacturers in the U.S., and two of them could kind of make the price. It was good enough for a 1X markup on our website, but it wasn’t enough for retail. We launched anyway with that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How long ago did you launch? DAVE GOODMAN: December 1, 2013. That was our first sale. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so delighted to have with us today Dave Goodman. He’s the founder of Coco Jack. You can find his great products at www.coco-jack.com Talk a little bit about the last nine months. How have the sales gone? DAVE GOODMAN: Do you want numbers? JOHN SHEGERIAN: How much does it cost online? DAVE GOODMAN: Sure. We’ve been as aggressively as possible bringing our prices down. Right now, these two tools, which are the Coco Jack and the Coco Mallet, these two are $36.95 on the website right now. Then we have a Coco Scoop that comes in a burlap sack called the Coco Pack. That’s our most popular item. That’s $49.95. We have also some extra tools. We have glass straws we sell. We partnered with Simply Straws to sell glass straws. We have a little mat to put it on. We have a tool for making noodles, and we have also the “Coconut, the other white meat” t-shirt, which is very popular. JOHN SHEGERIAN: All made in America? DAVE GOODMAN: Right now it is, yeah. We’re starting to bring over imports because they couldn’t make them cheap enough or fast enough. I drove around the country visiting all my shops in person because I wanted to meet the people and say, “What’s going on here? Is this going to work?” and sell the idea to them. The numbers were very hard. What America is manufacturing, first of all, it’s not dead. I would write shops, and I wouldn’t hear back from them for months. They’d say, “We don’t have time for you. We are so busy, we don’t have time.” I got that probably from over 100 shops that wouldn’t even return my calls. It’s not dead at all. What they’re making, though, is big, big stuff where you have one of them. I would see big fracking drills and things like that or bombs. I’d go walk in one factory and I would say, “Is that a bomb?” And they would say, “I can’t tell you.” But don’t worry. If people ask what the Coco Jack is, we’ll tell them we can’t tell them what it is either so it’s fair. But they make very, very expensive but very, very small volume things here. In Asia, they make the little tchotchkes. We sort of found our niches. I was very relieved because one of the shops I talked to in St. Louis, this guy was growing 50% a year. He said, “We’re looking for more work,” but he said he can’t hire guys fast enough. So, that was really encouraging to hear that U.S. manufacturing is alive and well. I read the papers and heard all the stories about everything closing and closing. Well, whoever’s open, they are roaring. My guy in Texas, same thing. He’s bringing a lot of business. Mexico is coming across the border a lot because all the gangs have made it impossible to work in Mexico, so a lot of the work is coming here, too. When I looked overseas, I didn’t feel badly about it. We work with a couple of partners who source for us. You hear horror stories about making stuff overseas, the parts are junk, there’s slave labor. I wrote to them and said, “Look, I cannot have anything like this going on for my product. You have to guarantee me.” They said, “No, no, we’ve been doing this for years. We check every manufacturer ourselves, make sure the working conditions are sanitary and safe. We’ve double-checked the materials to make sure they’re not giving you lead junk in your tools. If the quality is not what you expected, we’ll pay for the tools. You don’t own them.” I said, “Wow, that’s a guarantee that I can live with.” We’re not going to go overseas and make some junk product. There are junks shops overseas, and there are fantastic overseas. The parts we’ve gotten from our overseas manufacturers are unbelievable. They’re beautiful. We’ve tested them rigorously to make sure they hold up, and they’re really good. It was a difficult process for us to go through because I want to go up to your shop, drive to my guy’s shop in Texas, and say, “Hey, where’s my order?” I’m not going to fly over to wherever, Shenzhen, and do that. So, it was an issue, but I’m very happy with the way things have turned out. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Dave, we’re broadcasting and taping this show at the LA Green Festival. Is this the first time you’ve ever exhibited at a Green Festival? DAVE GOODMAN: No, we did the one in New York, I think it was March, and it was a zoo. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk about your experience there and here. How’s it going? DAVE GOODMAN: First of all, the people who run it are awesome. That’s number one. Christian has been our contact here, and she’s just been dynamite. They’ve made it really easy for us. Bringing in the coconuts, it’s a lot of logistical stuff, all the hand washing stations and this kind of thing. It can be a nightmare. We’ve had a few where it’s been really a nightmare, and it’s been great working with the people here. It’s been awesome. The other vendors, we’ve met a lot of people where there was a natural synergy with us anyway, like Vitamix, of course, is a natural partner. We’d love to connect with them and do more things with them. We met the people that make this wonderful turmeric water and others. It’s just a natural niche for us. The vegans, that’s where I came from. I was a raw food vegan, and so the vegan yoga people, this was our world. This is why I invented the tools. The bartenders came later. The Crossfit people came later. This is where our heart is as a company, and this is where our core market is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It gives you the right kind of visibility with B2C and also B2B. DAVE GOODMAN: Correct. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re going to eventually take it into stores, I take it. DAVE GOODMAN: Definitely. Whole Foods found us after two months, and they said, “We want to take you national” after two months. I said, “Wow, I’m honored, but we can’t make them fast enough.” This is what I was saying. We couldn’t make them fast enough here. We couldn’t make them cheap enough and we couldn’t make them fast enough. I said, “Give us a few months. We’re just born here. We’re not going to go to college.” So, we’ve been working as hard as we can, and now we’re in all the Whole Foods in this region, the Southern California region. They all use Coco Jack in their kitchens. When people come and say, “Can I have a coconut?” they’ll use the Coco Jack to open them. There are co-ops in San Diego and Texas, Erewhon Market, a wonderful health food store in Los Angeles, all had safety issues opening coconuts. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, they use it in the back kitchen part. Are they going to be selling it eventually? DAVE GOODMAN: Hopefully very soon. Now we know we can make $200,000 a month, which means we can keep up with the demand. But I knew the demand was going to be huge, so I didn’t want to go blasting out there when we could only make $500 a month, and then we’re backordered for half a year. I wanted to be ahead of the curve with our manufacturing, and now we’re right there and open for business to really blow it out there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s your dream? What’s the vision here, Dave? DAVE GOODMAN: There’s so much. One thing I’ll say for Coco Jack, we’ve had some wonderful partners. Tom’s, the wonderful shoe company that does One for One, they found us at the Yoga Journal Expo we did, and we did a little happy hour there at their amazing office in Marina del Rey. One of the things I learned in the process of this was every raw foodist, every vegan, everybody who loves coconuts, who drinks coconut water, is going to have a coconut. That’s the obvious vision. What I’ve discovered over the course of this was a buddy of mine who works at Sage and Café Gratitude, the vegan places in LA, he said he wanted to invent something like this for years because he was traveling in Africa and Asia and India, and he saw all these women and children who were starving because all they could eat was coconuts, but they were missing their hands. They were missing their fingers and they were missing their arms. They’re starving. All they can eat are the free coconuts that fall out of the tree. All they have is a big machete, so your 6-year-old kid opening coconuts, the law of statistics is going to tell you that it’s not going to end well every single time. He said there’s a huge, I don’t know if you call it an epidemic, maybe it is an epidemic. I don’t know enough, but it’s a huge problem. It already works in the green coconuts, but we’re going to adapt it so it specifically works for the green coconuts. We’re going to partner with Tom’s, who has this network all over the developing world, so they can bring Coco Jacks out to people where it’s not just a vanity thing, but it’s actually keeping people from getting literally maimed. That was really exciting. Like I say, I thought my market was 20,000 to 50,000 raw foodists in Venice Beach. I thought that was it. As I got into it, it’s sorority girls, it’s mixed martial arts wrestlers and killers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but the guy who first brought coconut water to America, I’m forgetting his name right now, a wonderful guy, he was on the Green is Good radio show five years ago or so, and when he came on the show, he educated us that day and our listeners that coconut water back then was on such a trajectory that it was the fastest growing non-alcoholic drink in the world. I believe it. That was when he was the only one on the shelf. Now, with everything you see on the shelves, I believe. So, you went from being what you thought was a niche market, really the world is your market. DAVE GOODMAN: It’s really true. There’s coconut water sold in gas stations. I live all over the country. You can go to Idaho or you can go to Oklahoma, you go in the gas station, and there’s a bottle of coconut water right there. It’s all there. They’re going in the direction of mixing like coffee. Actually, we put espresso in our coconuts, and it’s pretty darn good if you’re into that. We just bought some macha powder from one of the other vendors here, mixed the macha in the coconut, delicious. Spirulina, wheatgrass, smoothies of course. There’s so much to do with a coconut, it’s not even funny. Zyco is one of the big ones. The woman who founded them, we sat down and had a talk maybe six or eight months ago. She’s fantastic. I said, “You set up this whole market for us,” because people are familiar now with coconut water, but most of them never had a fresh coconut. I’m not going to diss the competition, but you can’t beat fresh. You get the meat, it’s fresh, and it’s not expensive. You’re probably not going to go and carry them around and buy half a dozen coconuts in your backpack because they’re heavy. You probably get the boxed stuff for that, but a lot of people like fresh-squeezed orange juice. They want to have fresh-squeezed orange juice like they want to have fresh coconuts. The market is really huge, and we’re just excited to be out there. Then, yes, the charity wing and the philanthropic wing, that’s incredibly exciting to me to partner with people who have the reach. We don’t have the reach in those countries, but Tom’s does and some other NGOs do as well. To partner with them, to be able to give Coco Jacks to people who genuinely need them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: To save these kids’ hands and fingers. What a bottom line. It’s not only a great business you’re creating here in the United States and jobs here and also a great product that makes people healthier, but there’s a huge give back on human rights for the kids around the world. DAVE GOODMAN: It’s really exciting. I had no idea going into it, and it’s just moving that that’s in the works, something that’s so simple. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re lucky to be introduced by the Green Festival folks, so talk a little bit about, for our listeners out there that are thinking just as consumers to come to the Green Festivals, share what you’re seeing out there on the floor and what you saw in New York. DAVE GOODMAN: It’s a smorgasbord here. If you’re into healthy living, there’s a lot of food here, too. I was going to have breakfast before I came over here this morning; I didn’t. I said there isn’t going to be enough here for me to snack on. I’ll be very full by the time it’s lunchtime, and I am. I think a lot of it is the staple people who created the industry, I forget the woman’s name with the Berkeley kale chips. She makes the kale chips here. I bought them when they first opened like 10 years ago. I said these are the best kale chips I’ve ever had. She’s amazing. She told me this is her favorite festival. She doesn’t do a lot of the expos anymore; she always does Green. The people who really built the industry, they’re here, but also there’s a lot of new companies and things to try and things to taste, and it’s cutting edge. There’s people here you haven’t heard of. I just had this macha powder. I wish I had the company’s name in front of me, but it was delicious. I bought two packs. I think it’s a really fun place to get to know the community, to meet people. There’s lectures going on, there’s all kind of information, there’s products. If you’re a natural living person, this is like your something I can’t say on the radio, but it’s a feeding frenzy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you, Dave. For our listeners out there, to buy Dave’s great product and to enjoy the safety of it and both the quality of the products that it creates, please go to www.coco-jack.com. Dave Goodman, the founder of coco-jack.com and the Coco Jack, you’re going to be able find it in Whole Foods and other stores around the United States and around the world eventually. We thank Dave for his time today. Thank you, Dave, for making the world a better place. You are truly living proof that green is good. DAVE GOODMAN: John, thank you.