Emma Chamberlain is one of the modern internet’s biggest celebrities. (If you don’t know who she is, ask literally anyone born after 1990.) The social media personality and podcaster has over 12 million subscribers on YouTube and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential People On The Internet. Stories with the hashtag #EmmaChamberlain have been viewed more than 4 billion times on TikTok. She has become an annual fixture at the Met Gala.
She’s also the owner of a coffee business. At the end of 2019, she started Chamberlain Coffee, a heretofore mail-order situation trading mostly in blends, flavored coffees, and cold brew bags that is now attempting to break into traditional coffee retail spaces.
And she kind of regrets the whole thing.
In a sprawling, baffling nigh-three-hour video with Colin and Samir, a pair of YouTubers whose channel “about creators, for creators” (it’s all very meta) has over a million subscribers, Chamberlain admits that starting a coffee brand isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Of course, this isn’t your typical bootstrap coffee startup story. Chamberlain Coffee has raised millions in venture capital, with separate announcements of $7 million each in both 2022 and 2023. Not exactly a kid with a home roaster, a Scott Rao book, and a dream.
You’d be forgiven for not slogging your way through this Ben-Hurian saga of a podcast just to hear someone boohoo about how hard running a coffee company is with only $14 million in capital, so feel free to skip ahead to around the 1:55 mark (that’s one hour and fifty-five minutes, incredibly) to cut to the chase. We’ve pulled some of the juicier comments below.
On the parts of the business that she likes:
“I love building a business. I love being involved. I love the conversations with retailers, and big board meetings discussing strategy, and how we should improve this product or discontinue this product—I enjoy that piece of it the most. I have developed a passion for that through doing this. It’s very much a part of my day to day life and it probably takes up 40% of my working time. Podcast is another 40%. And then the rest I spend on photo shoots.”
On the brand’s current profitability:
“It’s something I’m genuinely passionate about building, and who knows, there are ways I’m going to be able to make money from it at some point, but I don’t know if that’s going to be a lot. It might not. And by the way it could all go under tomorrow. Running a business…it’s pretty cutthroat out there.”
On the $14M venture capital funded coffee brand’s position fighting for shelf space against “legacy brands”:
“Chamberlain Coffee is more indie.”
On the difficulty of owning a coffee brand:
“This is like my preview to what marriage is going to feel like. Wow it felt good when we committed to each other and now it’s a few years in and it’s like, wow that feels different. Wow this is different… Have I regretted it before? Yes. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s crying… it’s like, it feels like a marriage.”
Turns out, even with a multi-million dollar #Creator head start, running a coffee brand is really difficult. Still, the company has nonetheless recently managed to expanded their presence at Walmart with a new line of ready-to-drink oat milk lattes.
Will Chamberlain Coffee continue on to higher heights of success in the coffee game? Or will they instead go the way of many, many other venture capital-backed companies in and out of the coffee space, capriciously blowing through millions of dollars of VC funny money before disappearing off the face of the earth? Either way, we can look forward to watching it all play out within the self-contained Ouroboros hellscape of YouTube.