When Cal Poly alumni Marcus Tjajadi and Edwin Cheung noticed the abundance of waste in the boba industry, they decided to make a difference in the form of a reusable boba bottle: BobaWare.
“In the general cohort of people that drink boba, environmentalism is supposed to be very important,” Managing Director Tjajadi said. “But when you go to [boba shops], it’s so normative, that process of using single-use plastic.”
According to Tjajadi, the change needs to start in-store, broadcasting and creating a new experience for everybody.
The team is currently calling for financial backers for production funding and acting as a soft launch based on listening.
“[We are looking at what the] general public perception is over the product and then pivot from there, if we need to change up the product and see where we can improve,” Tjajadi said.
The startup has come with its challenges. All members of the team are working full-time and remotely at their individual day jobs. Balancing this and working virtually has proved difficult, Tjajadi said.
The startup began on one November night in 2019, when Tjajadi and Cheung were on a call discussing the matter.
Along the way, Tjajadi and Cheung recruited friends and Cal Poly graduates Raymond Deng and Ashley Chen to join their team.
Technical director Deng said BobaGlass is function-driven, as seen through Shake N’ Sip, Keep it Chill and No Boba Left Behind. Starting from the double-wall insulation that keeps drinks cooler longer to its built-in straw, portability and parabolic design that funnels boba towards the bottom center, the team believes BobaGlass stands out from its competitors.
The reception from boba shops has been positive overall, but the next step has been a struggle, said Deng.
“Trying to dive deeper and seeing practical implementation, that’s been a little more difficult for us,” he said.
Boba is a personal experience for its founders, like Deng. His first encounter with the drink was from a restaurant his mother worked at, and over the years boba evolved to be more of a social hangout with friends.
Deng’s involvement in Cal Poly’s Formula SAE Team, centered around designing and building race cars, was formative for his engineering skills. Deng would incorporate the blueprints and groundwork from that experience into the engineering of BobaGlass.
“[I was given] 2D designs that I had put that into 3D,” Deng said. “Then I had to figure out how we are going to test, [make and prototype] this.”
Deng and the team went through many prototypes, starting with the basic functionality and then adding in the visual appeal. Being a Cal Poly graduate helped Deng in applying the learn-by-doing approach, he said.
All four team members come from faith backgrounds, which they wanted to implement into their three key values, to serve, to deliver and to connect.
“We don’t want to really use it as a method of our own personal gain, but we want it as a product that serves the public,” Tjajadi said.
From the nightlife to study atmospheres of the boba scene, Tjajadi wants BobaWare to transcend all these “microcultures” and provide a unifying element.
As for a legacy, the team hopes to impart a commitment to change.
“What we’re trying to challenge is the status quo of something that is already ‘working,’ but could be better,” Tjajadi said. “[We are looking to] implement positive change to a long-standing issue.”