Move over, Starbucks!
BrewBike is a coffee business for students, by students. The Garage sat down with Lucas Philips, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer, to learn how to “fuel the hustle.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What inspired BrewBike?
There were a few things that we needed [BrewBike] to do. We needed to be on campus. We wanted it to be student-run. We needed [BrewBike] to provide really convenient, quality coffee. And in order to do those things, we couldn’t have a storefront. We eventually stumbled upon this cold brew bicycle idea from Matt Matros, who’s the founder of Limitless Coffee & Tea. He was here giving a family dinner chat my freshman spring, and that’s when we met him. He gave us the idea to pursue the cold brew bike.
What differentiates BrewBike from other coffee shops?
What’s really different about it is that students run it. As a company, we really care about that experience that students are getting with BrewBike. We also think the experience students are getting within BrewBike is compelling for our customers outside of BrewBike. They realize that it’s an experiential learning opportunity for members of their community. We are employing 50 to 60 Northwestern students. They’re getting a really hands-on business learning opportunity.
Also, we try to have a better product. It’s more specialty. It’s more local. We brew everything in small batches. There’s nothing corporate about BrewBike.
How has BrewBike evolved?
We started with the bike. We raised $10,000 on Indiegogo, and another $10,000 from The Garage’s Wildfire [Pre-Accelerator] Program, and we maxed out a few credit cards. So, with maybe $30,000 dollars in capital, we launched this bike with a commercial kitchen that we built out in the basement of my fraternity house. The bike was totally failing…it was really hard to get customers to change their habits. We thought we were going to go out of business.
We pushed to get an opportunity to open up a retail space in Annenberg Hall. The dean was amenable, so within two or three weeks, we had built a very scrappy, low-cost coffee kiosk. By the end of that quarter, we were slightly profitable, so we were able to stay open. In the spring of my sophomore year, we had the bike, the shop, and keg subscriptions. We sell kegs of our coffee to fraternities and sororities. With those three lines of business, we were able to continue to grow.
What can we expect from BrewBike in the future?
Better hours. We are going to start outsourcing food to Compass Group, so they’re going to start handling food in the library so we can focus more on differentiated drink offerings.
[People can also expect] more bikes and more campuses. We’ve hired a bunch of students at [The University of Texas at] Austin…in the next two months, we’ll probably be there. We have a full-time BrewBike employee who’s launching the campus there.
How has The Garage helped BrewBike?
The Garage has helped us with cash when we need cash…people, when we need people. Mentorship. I’m really well coached by people in The Garage.
The residency system is kind of an accountability system, where you only continue to get residency if you continue to work on your business. You’re around all these other people who are growing their businesses, so it pushes me to grow mine.
Who is an entrepreneur you look up to, and why?
Matt Matros is someone who I look up to. He’s our chief advisor. He’s been there for us since Day One. He was the one who gave us the bike idea. He’ll always make time for us when we need it.
Megan Lebowitz is a freshman majoring in journalism. She is a reporter for Northwestern News Network and loves storytelling in all forms. She is from Cleveland, Ohio.