The story behind a Minnesota entrepreneur's coffee-brewing straw

Joey Jones, inventor of the JoGo
Joey Jones, chief executive officer and co-founder of JoGo poses with his invention.
Chris Farrell | MPR News

A two-year motorcycle trip from St. Paul to Argentina. Taking youngsters and adults on camping trips. Experiments run out of a college dorm. A Kickstarter campaign. Intrigued?

Those are some of the key elements behind the creation of the JoGo straw. Think French press in a straw. MPR’s senior economics contributor Chris Farrell recently sat down with entrepreneur Joey Jones, chief executive officer and co-founder of JoGo. He joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about what he learned.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Think about this-- a two-year motorcycle trip from Saint Paul to Argentina, taking youngsters and adults on camping trips, experiments run out of a college dorm, a Kickstarter campaign. Are you intrigued by that? These are some of the key elements behind the creation of the JoGo straw. You might want to think this is like a French press in a straw.

MPR's Senior Economics Contributor Chris Farrell recently sat down with entrepreneur Joey Jones, the chief executive officer and co-founder of JoGo. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS FARRELL: Hey, good to be here, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: All right, it is said that entrepreneurs solve problems, right? So what is the problem that the JoGo straw is designed to solve?

CHRIS FARRELL: OK, so Joey and Nick Yehle-- they were two young outdoor educators. And they took kids and adults on canoe and backpacking trips up in Canada, Minnesota, places out west.

Now, Cathy, you'll not be surprised that they often felt the need for a quick cup of good coffee. But anyone who's been on a canoeing/backpacking trip knows that that's easier said than done. So they were on this trip to Ontario with a group of 8-year-olds and 12-year-olds. And they couldn't seem to get enough coffee.

JOEY JONES: And we had pulled over for lunch. And we just caught a fresh walleye, and we're cooking the walleye up. And we were like, man, I really want some coffee right now, but we need to get back on the water quickly.

And we were actually doing cowboy coffee at the time, which is when you have a pot of water. You put the coffee grounds in, and you pretty much just let it sink to the bottom and then scoop it out. So you kind of get some grounds in your mouth and stuff like that.

CATHY WURZER: Yuck. I hate when that happens, by the way.


CHRIS FARRELL: So do I, yes.

CATHY WURZER: That is a problem. So with no coffee shop close by, I understand what they're trying to do here. But I don't get the motorcycle trip, how that fit into this.

CHRIS FARRELL: OK, so this is the inspiration part of the entrepreneurial journey. So after graduating from high school in Saint Paul, Joey worked at various jobs, like restaurants. And he saved his money. And in 2014, he took off on his motorcycle and traveled 28,000 miles in two years. And while in Argentina, he couldn't get enough of a local loose leaf tea.

JOEY JONES: I fell in love with Yerba Mate, which is kind of a coarse loose leaf tea that has sort of a type of caffeine in it called mateína. And you drink it through a straw with holes in the bottom called a bombilla. And so it's a stainless steel straw with these holes in the bottom, filters out that loose leaf tea.

CHRIS FARRELL: So he wondered, could this Argentinian straw be modified for coffee? And they did their research. And they didn't find anything comparable on the market for coffee.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Hmm, all right, I'm getting the picture now. So did they run the experiments out of the college dorm room? Is that how that came in?

CHRIS FARRELL: Right. So they were both in college, and they worked on creating prototypes in their spare time. I mean, this is a story. It's a kind of an exciting story. They've heard about people in college doing things like that. And Joey found himself spending a lot of time at the Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul.

JOEY JONES: I remember I just started going to Ace Hardware and buying whatever materials I could, pieces of mesh and duct tape and-- [LAUGHS] I think they started to know me by name over at the Ace Hardware on Grand. [LAUGHS]

And yeah, I just slowly but surely started prototyping, just completely bootstrapping everything. Yeah, probably wasn't very healthy drinking hot duct tape in hot liquid, but, yeah, we started just making little bits of progress day-by-day.

CHRIS FARRELL: And eventually they came up with a prototype that was ready for manufacturing.

CATHY WURZER: OK, now I'm really getting the picture.


CATHY WURZER: OK, so a Kickstarter campaign obviously was started. But before you talk about that, beyond the duct tape, what did the final JoGo straw product look like?

CHRIS FARRELL: Yes, luckily it is beyond the duct tape, so.


CHRIS FARRELL: So, Cathy, as you said earlier, imagine a metal straw and a French press. Now, it's a regular-size stainless steel straw.

JOEY JONES: That has a BPA-free silicone tip on the end that actually extends past the straw itself, so you can pinch it closed and it gives a little bit of heat control. And down at the bottom we have a removable micron metal mesh filter that's patent pending.

So all you need to do is put your coffee grounds right in your mug with hot water. And you put the straw in. And when you pull from the straw, it filters out all of those coffee grounds in your mug, leaving a rich, French press-style coffee, but with that ease of instant.





CATHY WURZER: Yeah, I got it. Thank you very much. OK, so how'd the Kickstarter campaign do?

CHRIS FARRELL: Well, the plan was to raise $10,000 in 30 days. And they were nervous.

JOEY JONES: And so we hit the launch button, and it just took off. And in under an hour, we actually raised over $10,000. And I think in that first day we raised over $40,000. And then, by the end of the 30 days, we had raised nearly $400,000 from backers in over 80 countries around the world, which was quite the trip.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, I should say.


CATHY WURZER: Wow. Now, where's the product available?

CHRIS FARRELL: So it's on their website, Amazon, Walmart, a couple of other retail outlets. And Joey's now running the business out of Mexico City. He says it's still a bootstrap operation. And he's had several setbacks which, like every entrepreneur I've ever met, Cathy, he says, those are learning experiences.

But I do want to highlight one aspect of his story. Most people don't realize how willing successful entrepreneurs are to share what they've learned over the years.

JOEY JONES: The entrepreneurial community I've found to be very supportive. When I first started getting going, I kind of imagined it would be a little bit cutthroat or something like that. But no, it's a very supportive community, and there's a lot of resources. And people want to help other people out because I think everybody who's been a successful entrepreneur knows they received a lot of help. And so it's fun to be able to give that back to other people.

CHRIS FARRELL: So put it this way, Cathy. Investing time to get to know the entrepreneurial community may well be the best investment a new business owner can make.

CATHY WURZER: Wow, what a great story. Thanks for bringing it to us, Chris.

CHRIS FARRELL: Thanks a lot, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: The JoGo straw. Chris Farrell is MPR's Senior Economics Contributor.

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