Marco Labs Episode 2: Nick Monica of Gnarwhal Coffee Co. is building community through coffee

Community meets really, really good coffee.

Our second ever episode of Marco Labs is live! In this episode, we’re talking with Nick Monica, founder of Gnarwhal Coffee Co. Gnarwhal aims to make everyone a morning person through delicious, organic coffee—and more than just a coffee company, Gnarwhal is building a community. In this episode, Nick talks about how surfing and driving along California’s coast inspired one of the coolest coffee companies in the game. Plus, how he got his Gnarwhal tattoo.

Gnarwhal Coffee being poured into a percolator

Key takeaways

  • Inspiration can come from anywhere. You wouldn’t initially associate coffee with adventure athletes, but when you talk to Nick and learn about his story, it begins to make a lot of sense.
  • Natural and organic are in. So is simplicity — that’s what you get with Gnarwhal. A brand that combines the simplicity of a few key flavors with damn good coffee.
  • It’s not the Gnarwhal company, it’s the Gnarwhal community. We’re proud to be part of this community and what it stands for!

Rather read than watch? 

We’ve included a transcript of this episode below.



I'm Suman the CEO and co-founder of Marco. Marco is an experiences company that connects amazing hosts who could be a brand, a person, a creator, who have experiences with companies and teams. And today we're joined by Nick, who's the founder of Gnarwhal Coffee. Drinking some of that coffee right now, Nick.

We want to hear a little bit about you, man. We want to hear about your story. What is Gnarwhal Coffee, like why, why pursue that and create this company. But I guess like, just to start us off, we'd love to hear a little bit about yourself, kind of when you started Gnarwhal and just the basics.


Yeah, well, hello everyone. And hello, Suman. Thanks for having us on. I'm super stoked to be here. I have had a blast with Marco thus far, and I got to say, I've told you this before, but I started out as a bit of a skeptic and I've been thoroughly impressed by the level of quality you guys are able to maintain.

You know, virtually, I think it's pretty impressive, so kudos to you and super to be a part of it. I'm Nick, Nick Monica. I was born in Simi Valley. I kind of grew up in the valley of Los Angeles and then went to school in San Diego, University of San Diego. After that I had like a pretty boring job in logistics.

I did like a leadership program, but what was really cool about it is I had a chance, an opportunity to travel. You know, all of my housing was paid for, all of that. So I got to live in like six different places throughout the course of my first year out of school, across the world. 

So I started out my career in China and Shanghai, which was unreal. So I spent like three months in Shanghai, some time in Hong Kong. And then came back and it was basically Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, like a short stint in San Francisco. And then back to LA. 


From Minneapolis. That's quite the culture shock difference. It's funny. Our content guy, who's helping with the podcast, has spent two years in Shanghai. So he's laughing.


It's an epic city. It's an incredible city. And it was an incredible experience because before that, too, like I had already had the travel bug in college.

My fiance and I, well, at the time, she's my girlfriend, but we had just done all kinds of really cool trips and either with her family or just us two or with my family. So, fortunate to have grown up in a family that likes to travel a lot. So it felt really right that like the first year out of school, I had that opportunity.

But the most profound part of that is the people I was meeting throughout this year. And, there was a unique part of it where I got to drive in between. They allowed you to drive because you were living in these places for an extended period of time.

So you have like this kind of road trip element to the whole year. And really like that year is what I attribute to the formulation of Gnarwhal. So I had thought of the name and I had used the branding for photography. Yeah, it was like a total joke.

I had an Instagram account. And it was literally a total joke. It was just like me posting like random, you know, I love photo and video and I wanted to be a photojournalist in school, so I studied environmental science and that was the route where I thought I wanted to get.

But basically, to be honest with you, I got blinded by the money, if you will. I saw this money and opportunity and I felt like the right thing to do after school was to go, you know, get the job, get the career and the whole thing. So yeah, anyways, I had been doing these photos as kind of a joke and then had this Instagram and then basically on a road trip, from LA to Big Sur for camping one summer.

And I had thought of that little name Narwhal with a G. So it's like gnarly. And then it started, like that was literally how it happened. We were like normal kind of gnarly. 


That's the most California statement that I've heard, but it's true. 


Yeah. It's the most California thing you could possibly come up with.

And then I just really didn't want to be another kid from LA that started a clothing brand with limited merch drops. 

Actually, that's something we discuss a lot. But yeah, so there, that is like the kind of brain barf of it. So then this year, I traveled, I was alone for most of the year. Right? Like I'm like living in all these places, isolated, but it was the best thing for my creativity and best thing for just me personally, to kind of get out of my comfort zone.

I'm very much like a people person. I love to talk. I'm very social. So being alone, I wasn't living with any roommates and also, I didn't really know anybody in the cities that I was in, it really, really helped me because I basically was just like soul searching and building this brand.

And, that's where the groundwork was laid. And then after that it was, you know, it's just taking the leap. Yeah. 

Suman: Well, what's funny, for the viewer. It's funny. We met in person and we kind of hit it off, but it was you and you were talking about your team, but your buddies, Zach, and then Dakota, who's now your fiance.

So congrats for that. But it's funny. We're both extroverted. And so there's like five people, also Allie and Philly's and me, and you're just chatting because we're just like, oh, this guy, this story is epic. You got to show people the narwhal tattoo, by the way, what's 


And it's real, you know, I think it still blows people's minds with that and normal actually does exist. So I got this tattoo on a trip to Bali and it's like a dancing skeleton. I just liked the artwork and kind of a homage to social distortion, like that kind of weird punk rock side of me. And the tattoo artist was this really, really dope Russian tattoo artist, female. She was amazing. And she had been practicing in Bali for quite some time. And I was telling her about Gnarwhal.

Cause that Bali trip was after that year of work, kind of like in-between the launch of Gnarhwal and finishing that year of traveling. And so I was telling her about it, blah, blah, blah, long story short. She was like, you need to meet my friend in Los Angeles. She's an illustrator and she's really, really talented.

I think she could take the logo that you're thinking about and professionalize it and kind of put a real good artistic touch on it. So I followed through on that, hit her up. She ended up being the artists that did all of our, Alina.


Yeah, I was going to say that third times. I thought my name was my, my full name was crazy. Yeah. 


Alina Sherbet yeah, she's super dope. So she did all of my guard logos, and then it turns out her husband is a pretty well-known tattoo artist in LA. So I said, if we made it a year, I'd get the Gnarwhal tattoo by him.

So the full circle of it was like, I met the person that did my logo in Bali, and then her husband back in LA did my tattoo. Yeah. So that's kind of the story on the tattoo.


That’s epic. I think that we're all going to have to get the Marco team to get tattoos. If we get to a series, when we get to a series A.

But yeah, I mean, look, I'd love to talk a little bit about who's in the crew, right? Who's the team? I met Zach, and Dakota is part of the crew as well. 


Yeah, that's it, wow. There's a lot actually here now that I say that's it. But, so I met Zach through mutual friends. Just basically the same thing as you and I, we hit it off right away. We were talking, he has a small marketing agency, at the time, they're really good at what they do.

They do email and SMS, but at that time they were also doing Facebook ads, you know, running different social media ads. And then also, some light website redevelopment or like rebranding and restructuring to kind of optimize. And we were in desperate need of that because pre pandemic, we were very heavily leveraged in the office side of the business. So, Zach basically, I met him at this dinner and then he came on like a vendor of ours. He was more or less redesigning our website. He worked with me on cost because up to this point we have been self-funded the entire journey.

And at that point it was just me. So  he really, like you could tell, he was down for the cost. He understood where we were at, the potential of where we were going. And that meant a lot to me, because up to that point, I had been in a partnership, two people, I mean no slack on them. Like they're great people, but they didn't really understand the e-commerce side of the business and the opportunity on e-commerce coffee. And then also, they had their own business that they're very interested in. And so it was like a multitude of factors where Zach was the exact opposite.

He totally understood my direction, my branding, and then also the opportunity that we have. So since then, basically he has taken digital marketing completely off my plate. I don't really have to worry about it and really analytics too. Like he does a lot of analytics for us. Let's serve things like the lifetime value of our customers that we weren't tracking very accurately, if at all.

All of that said, I'm really optimistic. Beyond that, just like a good friend, kind of like, I've noticed with the Marco team, a lot of you guys hang out on the weekends and stuff and do stuff together. And I think that that's another important element.

Zach is very much like me now. He has the same interest as me. We snowboard together, you know, we serve together like whatever outdoor activity we can do. And it creates a really cohesive mashing. And at the same time too, he's able to still be, you know, very present and working full-time with his agency.

So yeah, it's been like, that's been a blessing, and really cool. There's like weird synchronicity of how we met and then Dakota,, soon to be wife, like we're two weeks away from getting married, which is pretty cool and amazing. Yeah. So, Dakota is kind of just, well, so some background, we're going to be doing some fundraising right now.

We just sent out the version, one of our decks, to some friends and family and you know, trusted people that we want to bring on as ex-strategic partners. And so now that’s circulating. The role that we want to push to code into right now, she's really just doing pretty much everything finance.

So she's a CPA, an accountant.And so she keeps our books cleans clean, but then also like helps us with taxes, quarterly taxes, making sure that, you know, our accounting softwares are up to date and, optimize for what we're doing, kind of make this transition and start to formalize, the structure of Gnarwhal, we're going to actually push her into more of an operations role.

So she's extremely meticulous and very organized. And so I want her to be COO of the whole operation and kind of take some of the processes and things that are really tribal knowledge right now, and kind of live in my head and formalize them, put them on a paper and be able to help us train some of the people that are helping us out right now.

You know, part-time on fulfillment and what. 


Yeah. It's like, Nick, what do you look for, well, she's gotta have a CPA, she's got to know finance. You've got to be able to run the ops and then, and then I got to like her too. Yeah, 


Exactly. Yeah. That's basically it. So background on that, because we’ve been dating actually for a really long time, seven years.

So like we were like a first love sort of situation that just really worked and. Never looked back. So, she knows Gnarwhal better than anyone else. So when you think about things like she's very creative and she got like so much more than, than just finance. But when I was thinking about like, what is a good role, it just didn't feel right to just put like finance on her, because like, she has seen every step of the journey from like pre-launch to where we're at today from such an intimate level that it really makes more sense for her, to have her, her hands around the operation because she can translate some of the things that are in my head and you as like a founder and someone running the show, like you can understand, there are a lot of things that are sometimes difficult to take from your brain and, you know, turn into a process without help.

I mean, they're just like, frankly, like for example something like an unboxing experience is super important for e-commerce brand. I haven't really paid attention to it much, and I have all these really cool ideas, but it's just because we're keeping our heads above water for so many weeks, we're just trying to like, get everything done that I haven't actually just gone out and committed to, you know, some of the vendors that have already set up things for us. It's like someone to see that through and kind of take those ideas and formalize it. 

And then other than that, like the only other people, like on the team that I would say really like are, so we do like contract manufacturing basically so, that we can get like our USDA organic certification, so I'll work on a recipe and then I'll partner up with a manufacturer and then that's kind of like how the operation goes. So, yeah. I have personal relationships with the people that are brewing our cold brew and our roasting our coffee, like friends, you know, like I texted them every week. So, yeah, that's basically like the full Gnarwhal. 


So the talk about contract manufacturers in coffee, let's talk about coffee. So I'm actually drinking coffee right now. I'm drinking Gnarwhal coffee.


So this is the light. This is the light roast, a tropical fruit citrus. Our light roast is for the specialty coffee lovers and those who prefer a little extra jumpstart to them. This roast yields, a bold sweet cup is clean tasting and modern city. 


What is so like, tell us about like, what kind of coffee do you offer? You got the beans, full beans, this library. It's like, what else do you guys bring?

Nick: Yeah, so all of our coffee is proven. So it all comes from one co-op in the Northern region of Peru, kind of, almost on the border of, and we literally just offer a light, medium and dark roast and that's kind of our brand differentiator.

We don't put a fancy name on it. And then like we put some of the more nuanced tasting notes, and then we put that description that you just read on each of the rows where, Hey, this is super simple for you to understand if you're a specialty coffee lover, you'd like it a little brighter fruit here. 

And then you go on the opposite side of the spectrum, like darker subscriptions. Like if you like cream and sugar in your coffee, or you want it to taste like, you know, you're camping and it's got a little bit of, you know, so at the bottom of your cup, like this is for you. And so that's kind of like stripping that nuance off of the specialty coffee and still offering that highest grade USDA, organic, all of that.

The things we should be consuming in a good cup of coffee, but then taking off the things that are difficult to understand and just making it very presentable and palatable for the consumer, both in taste and in like emotionally, how you experience it. 


It tastes pretty good, man. It tastes pretty good. And what's the so, but you guys make a mean cool brew as well. 


Right? So the cold brew is probably our biggest, like yeah. Okay. Like from a brand perspective, that's definitely our biggest. And then also from the perspective of a growth opportunity, it's also our most important product right now.

We have two flavors that are going to be coming out this summer that are super exciting, but the cold brew itself, like at the core of it, the black cold brew that is on the market right now is called the architect. And that is a low acidic, super, super smooth tasting, lighter roasted coffee. So it's got the same amount of caffeine that you'd come to expect and like those super cold bitter cold brews, but the taste is going to be more similar to an iced coffee.

And the reason we did that is because I felt like most consumers like wanted it to taste like an iced coffee, a lot more drinkable and approachable, again, same kind of, you know, theme here. Is it just easier to drink? Easier to understand. And so now, you know, with that, we're working, taking that same black coffee, and then adding things like different sugar alternatives and milk alternatives and making some very innovative recipes.

And when you talk about the growth opportunity of Gnarwhal, it's going to be in that. Another reason is because like, when it comes to the retail world, we don't offer coffee beans. 


Do you see, I was going to say, can you spill the beans about your 10 flavors?

But I said it anyways, it was pretty bad. 


Well, I'm not really worried about it. Yeah, imitation is the best form of flattery. So if, uh, if JAXA Soviet, but the first place, is going to be like towards the end of July, it's called the Baja. And it's going to be a cold brew latte. So we basically mix it with cold brew.

And it's pretty unbelievable, we've been kind of testing it at a market. Yeah, it's super good. It's nitro. But instead of rice milk, we use oat milk and instead of processed sugar, we use pure maple syrup and the whole serving is less than 50 calories in less than five grams of sugar. 


So that's what, and you guys already offer that at at the market, right?


Yeah. And a lot of that too has been helpful for R&D purposes. So the thing with the crux of that right now is getting it to be shelf stable at ambient temperature, which means it won't spoil when it's just sitting in like, not in a refrigerator so that we can ship it in the mail.

And we don't have to worry about any like product liability. So that's been like the difficult part of that because it's either like 10,000 unit minimums or really expensive equipment. So, we've been kind of playing that game, the third flavor that's going to be coming out, probably closer to the end of summer.

But in retail stores first is a coconut mocha. 


Oh that sounds epic.


Yeah. Named after pipeline. My opinion is that it's the Mecca of surfing and yeah, so that one's going to be coconut water, cold brew with rocket cat. 


I can't wait. So you mentioned surfing. We talk about ourselves as a community-driven and experiences platform, and I think that I'm pretty sure you guys talked about coffee and I'd love to hear a little bit about how you build like this community of coffee lovers, but also outdoor adventurers. You know, you got a whole bunch of people that love Gnarwhal and, you know, you talked about snowboarding, you talked about surfing, right? Like how does that fit in with kind of like the coffee story?


Yeah. So the co in Gnarwhal Coffee Co actually stands for community. So that's how we're registered as an LLC. So the community's definitely at the center of what we're doing. So when it comes to things like action sports or outdoor sports, however you want to call it, that's just something that I personally like, and has been really important in my life journey.

I grew up and basically from the time that I could run, it was like every sport, every season. Nonstop. Like I never like fully, just anytime, you know, football season is over basketball season's over, baseball season starts, running track at the same time, you know, trying soccer, you know, go as like you start to get to that point where it's like, I'm not going pro in any of those things.

Which for me was like my sophomore year of college. I started to get really obsessed with, you know, outdoor sports things that I could take with me a bit longer. Kind of, you're competing more with yourself. 


By the way, that's like my mom would like chess and like all the nerdiest stuff ever.

It's like, I've been doing sports and I'm like, yeah, man, mom, come on.


Yeah. I mean, my family is like the most competitive family you will ever meet. Like, I just had my bachelor party last weekend and we were staying at this house that had like a volleyball court, a pool table, ping pong, like little mini basketball, you know, the arcade basketball game and like legit me and my two brother-in-laws and my brother, it was like all we did was play sports for like three days.

And like, it sounds like a healthy bachelor party. I mean, there's definitely drinking involved as well, but it was serious because my friends are just chilling by the pool and occasionally like jumping in, but then like, we're just dripping sweat and literally so happy.

So that's like my influences growing up was, it was nonstop. So anyways, when it came to like the community of Gnarwhal. Action sports are really important to me, incorporating outdoor sports is really important to me because to be honest with you, I just wanted to mix what I love to do with what I'm doing for work.

So I knew if we position ourselves in that place, then like, if I have to go shoot content. I have to go surf. You know, I have to go on a trip up to big Sur or I have to go fly to Hawaii, you know, we're not quite there yet on the Hawaii trips, but we're getting close.


Um, well, did you get to invite me for the Hawaii trip?


Yeah, we'll figure out. I got plenty of time. Yeah. So then Dakota's brother actually has helped us a lot on the marketing side of the business. So he was still in school when I was at university of San Diego, and he had this marketing class for social media.

And at that point we had like 2000 followers, barely making any noise on social media and stuff. And so I just I'm like, hey, if you have a project, like letting me know you did so. Why don't you reach out to like, as many medium-size surfers, snowboarders, action, sports, you know, representatives, icons, like whoever we can, like feasibly.

Or people that are the top creme of the creme I was going after, you know, people that are solid pros, really well-respected, but not going to be like to charge me an arm. And we just started getting actual feedback and they were really stoked on like the branding and that's when it started to occur to me that Gnarwhal was a viable brand.

And, so we signed, well, we didn't really sign, I say sign, but we didn't really sign anyone because I don't really believe in contracts at this stage since I'm not going to be able to pay anyone a significant amount of money yet. But we brought on Brett Barley as our first rep and he's a very well-respected professional surfer out in North Carolina.

And then it just kind of like snowballed after that. Like once we kind of have his stamp of approval, he's just like a great human being and very well-respected in surf. Then it started to make the conversation, the intro conversation a bit easier. People were a bit more familiar with who we were and then from there it kind of like snowballed.

And now I've kind of taken back a little bit and like we're doing this fundraising. So, I want to make sure I'm a lot more deliberate and slower to make decisions on who we add to the team next. But we have a team of eight people now, all pros across skating, snow, even just like cultural, like ambassadors up in Seattle, this guy, Phil Lewis, who helped me put together a little like podcasts thing, live stream that we do on the Gnarwhal Instagram that kind of talks about like stewardship and the outdoors and inclusion in the outdoors. Yeah. So he's kind of like a cultural, creative, you know,  it's a huge part of the brand. It's literally like three pages in our pitch deck are about like artists.

Yeah. There's like three full sides of a 15 deck slide that are about like this specific thing, because, with a budget, which we've has been very small to this point. But with a budget, you know, the plan is to start to put together more in-depth films and then start pushing those as a means of PR and growing the brand in a different way than just like traditional social media. So, yeah, he's very important to us.


Dude. I love it. I love it. I love it. It's similar to fuel and time with you guys. You obviously know those guys, which it's like coffee and outdoors. You know, you don't necessarily have to think of those immediately, but they make sense. And with that, I want to jump into a lightning round.

And so the first question, these are kind of silly questions, but I think they're going to hit home. We're getting down to the nitty gritty here. Right? So you say, make everyone a morning person with normal, right? Uh, what do you have against night owls? Right? 


Nothing, it’s just not me. That’s it, it’s not who I am. Like, you can ask any of my closest friends, it's like 10 o'clock comes around and I'm like, I'm starting to like, slow down.


Okay. Nine hours, espresso martinis. A yes or no. 




Right. That's good. That's good. What's the worst coffee you've ever had?


Oh, I know. Okay. So you did think about that, but we were in the south of China, but Dakota and I, we were traveling in this really like the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life is this province. And basically, I made the mistake of not getting tea and I ordered a coffee and it was like the worst cup of coffee I've ever had in my life.

It was the most beautiful place ever, the worst coffee. We got it, like this being the only food and beverage stand in this whole national park. And you got a coffee there, like idiot, like how do you balance like insanely good.


You messed up, man. How do you drink coffee? Light roast guy?


Sometimes I put cream in it. Sometimes I do like maple syrup and cream. Sometimes I do just black. Sometimes I like to make literal, like sludge. I'm just like a shit ton of coffee with a little bit of water. Yeah. Lately I've been doing a pour over in the morning and then cold brew in the afternoon.


Do gnarwhals drink coffee? 


I don't think they do, but I think they would, if they saw my coffee.


Yeah. And last one, what's your drink of choice outside of coffee?


Oh, good question. I'm a margarita guy. Like I kinda order like a negroni, but I've been doing more of like a mezcal, which we had. Hey man. Like I like tequila is kind of my jam. 


Dude. That is my downfall, tequila, in a good way. Well, so look, we're gonna end this. It's a Friday afternoon. We're going to go get a margarita tonight, I think is what we're going to do, but thank you so much for hopping on Marco labs, second episode coming in hot everyone. Thank you.

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