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Turning a Hobby Into a Business, The Wandering Bear Coffee Story

College is one of the best times to start a company for several reasons – you have more free time and minimal commitments outside of school (like family and work), lots of free and cheap resources at your disposal as a student, and little financial risk since your living costs are relatively low.

When Matt Bachmann and Ben Gordon met at Columbia Business School, they were aware of these advantages and knew that they wanted to start a business, but had no idea what to build. As their friendship grew over the next 6 months, they realized they both shared an interesting passion – really more of an obsession. Making their own cold brew coffee at home.

Over the next year and a half, while still in school, they developed what would become Wandering Bear Cold Brew Coffee, launching a first of its kind boxed coffee in the process (think Franzia for coffee).

Since then, the cold brew coffee market has exploded over the last few years, with sales reaching $738 million dollars in 2017 alone, popularized by major chains like Starbucks.

In this episode we breakdown how they came up with their minimum viable product (first consistently good tasting batch of coffee), and what they did to test various go to market strategies for their business.

We uncover how they identified an opportunity to rapidly generate revenue for their business, and the steps that they took to end up in over 1,000 stores across the United States, landing major partnerships like Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, Target, and more.

Show Notes

  • 1:25 Wandering Bear is now in over 1,000 locations, 9 states, selling via Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, Target, and online
  • 2:09 Vadim tastes the coffee on the air!
  • 2:33 How Matt and Ben decided to start a coffee company having no experience in this field
  • 3:38 Matt discusses Ben's entrepreneurial experience before starting this business
  • 4:15 Meeting in grad school, and becoming fast friends
  • 5:19 How Matt and Ben both brought cold brew into class, sparking an idea
  • 6:00 How to think about co-founders, and how complimentary skills aren't always the most important part for a successful partnership
  • 7:00 How Matt and Ben developed trust over the years
  • 8:15 Thinking about dividing responsibilities and delegating
  • 11:20 Coming up with the idea for bagged/boxed coffee to keep it fresh
  • 12:00 Testing the market to figure out the ideal distribution channel
  • 12:25 Interviewing restaurants, and ruling them out as a go to market strategy
  • 13:00 Realizing that offices were not being addressed by the market, and were willing to buy coffee in bulk
  • 13:54 Making the first production run, and first sale one week later
  • 16:55 Reaching out to everyone they knew to build the initial sales pipeline
  • 17:21 Focusing on product first, before hitting the streets
  • 18:29 Thinking about the quickest path to having something they could legally sell and serve
  • 19:00 How to get something to market quickly to test against real customers
  • 19:45 How it took 3 months, from idea to sellable product
  • 20:20 Figuring out the sales cycle and product pricing
  • 21:31 The advantage of being able to move quickly as a small team
  • 22:55 How what happens in the market is often different than what you plan
  • 23:10 Breaking down how they actually closed their deals
  • 24:14 Why you should always communicate structure to how the sales process will go to help make a buying decision
  • 24:30 The value of being the expert as a sales person
  • 25:22 Understanding who is the decision maker and buyer
  • 26:00 Vadim and Sergei break out into song again :)
  • 27:07 Matt explains why every 6 moths it feels like he's running a different business
  • 28:30 How the team didn't pay themselves while building the business in college
  • 29:14 Focusing on getting a wholesale account before going full time
  • 30:13 95% of food and beverage products are sold through wholesale channels
  • 30:33 Taking on a minimal salary of $25,000 after going full time
  • 31:29 Growing to 12 employees and focusing on growth across various channels
  • 32:41 The value of bringing on new talent and domain experts to help them grow
  • 34:20 "If you're having enough fun and getting enough positive feedback, keep doing it - don't stop"
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