Nick Lowary

Coffee roaster & BJJ practitioner

URL: groundsharkcoffee.com

I’m a 25 year old who grew up in midwestern, upper middle class America, but was never satisfied with the middle class apathy. Entrepreneurship ran in my blood so I acted on that and started up Ground Shark Coffee when I was 23 years old. I’m best at keeping a team together and working efficiently, but have really had to learn over the past 2 years how to do all that work myself as well.

Business Summary

Business model: Coffee Roaster and Wholesaler

No. of employees: 3

Location independence: Mostly. We have to roast 1x a week, I don’t *have* to be there, but I should.

How much time spent working: 50-60 hours/week

Revenue:  5-10k/month

Based on passion: Yes. We are grooming Ground Shark Coffee to be the next Red Bull because of our passion for sports – specifically combat sports and extreme sports.

Background:

  • Passion
  • Location-independent entrepreneur

Related Topics:

  • Coffee
  • Combat Sports
  • Extreme Sports

Growing a coffee company to 10k/mth
by applying BJJ principles

Tell us a little about yourself and what you’re working on right now?

Right now, I’m working on a serious cash flow problem. The thing with packaged consumer goods is that you really need a crazy amount of volume. If I sold you a website, I could charge $1000 and keep most of that money. If I sell you $1,000 worth of coffee (which a massive amount), I only get to keep maybe $200 of that – assuming that’s a wholesale order. So we need customers – a ton of them – and we need them to love our coffee so much they never stop ordering it. Wholesale moves quantity and helps get our costs down, but retail makes us money.

Right now, the crux of the problem we’re faced with (and, honestly, everyone in the industry is) is how to profit off of a customer’s first order. If we can at least break even on that, we’ll be golden. But that’s a tall order for a millenia-old industry.

What’s your back story and how you got into this space?​

I grew up in St. Louis, MO. Came out to CO to go to school at CU Boulder. Played lacrosse the first few years I was there and won a national championship. Winning that ‘Ship really showed me what it feels like to win – and just how much sacrifice it takes to get there. I’ve taken that mentality and applied it to my BJJ career and now into my business. Over the past 2 years, we’ve had crazy ups and downs – and I’ve had to learn a ton about a lot of different things – but at the end of the day, all I know is that the harder you work, the more you sacrifice, and the more you’re willing to risk, the more likely you are to win. So we’ll keep treading on.

Where do you see yourself and the business in the next 5-10 years?

I want a 7+ figure exit by the time I’m 30. Coffee businesses – as with any other consumer good – hit an inflection point somewhere in the 2nd-4th years and skyrocket in value – assuming you’re doing a good job. So I’m aiming for that point, trying everything we can to hit it, and once we do, I’ll be looking to sell.

What makes your business unique or different from the rest?​

You ever walk into a cafe and immediately feel like they have a stick up their ass? Or look at a craft coffee roaster’s website and feel like you don’t know enough about coffee to even know where to start?

I hate that too. So we’re trying to bridge that gap. We want to bring the quality of high-end, specialty coffee roasters, but we refuse to follow their attitude. Keep your middle finger up instead of your pinky, if that makes sense.

What were some of the greatest challenges you struggled with? And how did you overcome it? ​

Right now, we’re in the middle of the biggest one we’ve faced yet. Before that though, there’s been problems every step of the way. What I’ve really learned with problem solving is to never ask people for advice who have never done it. It’s easy to ask your girl or your buddies, but if they’ve never run a business they’ll have no idea what to do.

Trust yourself. The only way to build confidence is to make your own decisions and pivot when they’re wrong.

What made this an easy source of revenue for you? What motivated you ​

I gravitated towards coffee because I love the feeling of a good cafe. I’ve always wanted to own a physical place that a neighborhood congregates at.

Easy? No. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

How many hours do you spend per day working on your business? How did you make your day more productive? ​

Most of my day. On a productive day, I’m working from 730AM to 9PM, with an hour or two off here and there. My minimum working hours per day is around 4. No matter what day of the year, if possible, I’m getting my morning hours in. Their my golden time and most of my good, productive work happens between 8AM and noon.

Which part of your business do wish to automate or have already done so?

Finances. Holy fuck do I hate doing finances.

What would your advice be for someone who’s just starting out?

Just fucking start. When someone asks me if they should start a business, I immediately tell them no. If they go off and do it anyway, I know they’re one of us. The best thing you can do is to find how you can be as productive as possible. If that means tracking screen time, do it. If that means staying in on Friday nights or waking up early on Monday mornings, do it.

When starting out, sacrifice everything you can to the god of productivity. As time goes on, you can loosen up the rules and eventually be more location and time independent. But you have to grind at the beginning. If you don’t teach yourself what it takes to really work hard, you won’t have those habits and skills to fall back on in the hard times.

What were some of the mistakes you made? If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

The biggest mistakes I’ve made have all been bad financial investments. If I could go back in time, there’d be a few things I wouldn’t buy or I’d wait a while longer before buying. But that’s how we learn. I’m blessed to have some deep pockets from my old day job and from some help from mom and pops. If I hadn’t, we would have gone under somewhere in year one.

But now that I’ve learned those lessons and am more financially responsible, we’re cruising upward and are on track to more than double last year’s total revenue.

What is your biggest takeaway from starting the business?​

If entrepreneurship is in your blood, you have no choice but to do it. I was miserable at my old job, even though I was making more money than the average American household at the age of 22. I hated everything about it. Just felt like a cog in a machine.

That being said though, a physical product brand is the hardest damn thing I’ve ever done. And that’s coming from someone who won a championship and now fights and climbs mountains in my spare time. I’m so glad I took the leap, but I’d caution anyone who wanted to do it as well.

All of the above being said, if you’re gonna do it anyway, there’s a few things I’d recommend getting after right off the rip:

Resources & Mentions:

Things we have talked about above, or recommended by interviewee.

  • Make some rich friends. This is, without a doubt, the best thing I ever did for the company. I’ve got friends who are financial planners that have been a huge help to fixing our financial problems. I’ve got friends who have been through the process of building a company before and they’re really helped me keep my head on straight and pointed me in the right direction whenever I’ve started getting off track.
  • Learn everything you can. Keep your bookshelf full and read. Listen to podcasts. Study your competitors and your market. I regularly buy products from brands from different industries so that I can see their marketing strategies and bring those into the coffee industry. The sex industry is actually a gold mine for these kinds of things.
  • Don’t ever lose your passions. I’ve always been the kind to find my balance in extremes, but I definitely still need my balance. I make sure to always find time to hit the gym and to go climb. If I don’t keep up on my physical health, my mental productivity tanks. I need that time off working out or I’m not the man my team needs me to be.

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