How Business School Helped Two MBAs Follow Their Cold-Brew Coffee Bliss
When Matt Bachmann decided to get his MBA three years ago, he didn’t imagine it would lead to a startup fueled by his favorite beverage. “I was committed to using the time as a break from the corporate world, and I knew I wanted to explore entrepreneurship,” says Bachmann. “But I had no idea what the final outcome would be.”
Having such an open mind turned out to be a big win for Bachmann, who credits his time at Columbia Business School with not only inspiring his startup idea – New York City-based cold brew coffee company Wandering Bear – but also playing an integral role in its success.
Not many people think of business school as a precursor to entering the food and beverage industry, but what Bachmann and his cofounder Ben Gordon experienced at Columbia illustrates an increasingly common scenario – MBAs learning about entrepreneurship and following their passions to find startup success.
In fact, according to Bachmann, the business “never would’ve happened” without Columbia – and here’s why:
“What strikes me about our startup journey is the serendipity of it all,” says Bachmann, who met Gordon in class at Columbia, where they bonded over a mutual passion for cold brew coffee. The serendipity part? The two actually attended the same college eight years prior and had many of the same friends. If it hadn’t been for business school, they might never have met – and Wandering Bear would never have happened.
Their shared interest was also serendipitous. Cold brew, a style of iced coffee made without heat, could only be found in a handful of cafes at the time. In order to enjoy cold brew at home, you had to make it yourself – a fact that Bachmann and Gordon spent a lot of time discussing. “It ultimately led to our problem statement – how do you make a high quality café style iced coffee product readily available to consumers at home and at work?”
Where the business begins.
After countless conversations about favorite formulations and the relatively few cold brew offerings on the market (at the time), the duo realized they might have a business on their hands. “We realized there was a huge underserved consumer base out there,” says Bachmann. “Keurig and its competitors had been meeting the demand for greater convenience in hot coffee, but the same thing wasn’t happening on the cold brew side.”
According to Bachmann, the supportive environment of business school was exactly what they needed to take Wandering Bear to the next level. At Columbia, the team was able to take advantage of critical research and entrepreneurial expertise. Concepts from class became relevant in the startup they were simultaneously building. “Our MBA experience from end-to-end was launching this business,” Bachmann recalls. “It’s hard to say where one thing ended and the other began.”
The student loan question.
Like most MBAs, Bachmann took on student loans to help pay for school – a fact that would deter some people from taking a risk on a startup. “It’s tough to tell someone who’s considering an MBA that it’s okay to take two years out of the workforce and incur six figures worth of debt – especially if their goal is to start or join a startup.” Bachmann stresses that it’s a question that needs to be assessed on an individual basis, but notes that in his situation, “There were too many intangible opportunities to list – I wouldn’t be doing this had I not taken the time to pursue an MBA.”
One of those opportunities materialized when Bachmann refinanced his student loans with SoFi this year and joined the SoFi Entrepreneur Program, which allowed him to put his loans on hold for six months as well as benefit from a deep network of entrepreneurial support. “The fact that SoFi spends its days minimizing risk by evaluating borrowers’ earning potential makes refinancing with them feel like a vote of confidence,” he says, adding that, as a successful startup itself, SoFi is a brand that he and Wandering Bear are happy to be associated with.
And the feeling is mutual. This month, SoFi is pleased to offer Wandering Bear cold brew coffee as a welcome gift for new student loan refinance members. Given the recent surge in popularity, it’s a safe bet that some have already become cold brew converts. For the rest of the world, Wandering Bear is on a mission to spread the word – and the convenience – of its signature drink.