Started Up And Failed, Or Did We?

In the past couple of months a lot of people have asked me: “What’s up with the Coffee Geeks?” and “What happened to the Gründer-Café?”…so let me explain:

Ever since I had read Richard Branson’s biography “Losing my Virginity” I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. A few attempts in 2010 ended when my friend Moritz and I weren’t able to find a developer to co-found with. We just didn’t have the experience and right mindset at the time. We would have had to be much better salesmen of our ideas and be a more inspirational. Thanks to great care and help we found at the CIE, we went a few of the first steps towards business models, research etc. with two of our ideas. But we never followed-up with actually testing MVPs or building a product.

At the time, I realized that I just couldn’t bring a tech-startup to live because I was unable to attract co-founders with tech skills. My roommate Matthias and I had just started our new hobby of roasting and blending coffee in April 2011 and we felt so energetic and motivated, because we were finally able to produce something. To find people to test our coffee and do something that was plain different and would get a lot of attention, we decided we would give away coffee for free straight from our apartment window. This quickly gained momentum and turned into a weekly four hour hang-out in front of our apartment window, where people from all ages and backgrounds came together over a simple product of good, fresh espresso. We started a Facebook Page in June 2011 and dubbed the whole thing Free Espresso Movement. It grew fast, it gained some visibility and most of all it was a ton of fun…and it still is!

From then on, things just self-accelerated. We decided to register the trademark Coffee Geeks, have a website built, register a company, and sell some of our Geek Blends. In order to do so and handle the amounts, we set up a connection with the regional coffee-roaster KFE in Landau, which is a family business that puts its focus on quality and still roasts by hand. They agreed to roast our blends of beans, nice and dark, just like we have always done. We sold some beans online, at the window and via special gift editions for holidays.

Soon after, we had the offer to open up a small coffee shop on campus and run it as “Gründer-Café” for our partner CIE, which I had also started working for as a startup manager in November 2011. The idea for the CIE was to gain more visibility, become even more of a daily place to go for students with startup ideas and provide a meetup spot for the whole network of founders at KIT. Coffee is also known to boost creativity and some even attribute the openings of the first coffee houses in the UK to really accelerating the industrial revolution. Watch the great video “Where do good ideas come from” (Steven Johnson) for a better understanding. Of course, our advantage was that we could try and test our business case of running a Coffee Geeks coffee shop. We open up in April 2012 and things took of quickly. It worked exactly like we had imagined. We spread the word about the quality of our coffee, raised awareness for the CIE and the possibility of starting your own company at KIT and just became the envisioned founder’s hang-out with lots of hustle-and-bustle and many entrepreneurs coming and going every day.

The only thing that we hadn’t envisioned was the immense amount of work we had to put in. Matthias and I were both managing full-time jobs and often worked late into the night just to keep things running. Although, the shop ran well and everybody was happy, the situation wasn’t satisfying, because we had a great vision but lacking time and energy growing the business and progressing was almost impossible. The other element we realized was the business side: coffee is a complex product and the market is highly competitive. Most standardization and automatization would eventually make the concept uncool and impair quality. We definitely didn’t want that! After long and hard discussions we forced ourselves to a decision: go all the way or let it go. Going all the way would have meant to quit our jobs, raise capital from the bank, open up 2 or 3 shops and becoming a professional enterprise. And we just weren’t ready to do that yet, our gut-feeling just didn’t scream “YES!” at the time. So we decided to close up shop and think about what other path we can go with the Coffee Geeks, and I guess we’re still in the process. What would you do? What are your ideas? Selling coffee beans online? Build a social business or non-profit? Tell me what you think.

Of course, looking back, we could have known things better, but we don’t regret a second or a Euro spent on this crazy ride. We learned so much and got to know so many great people that it was all worth it. What remains clear to us: We will still open up our window for Free Espresso Sundays (every first Sunday of the month) and try to make this movement bigger ’cause it’s just too much fun!

See you there next time!

PS: We thank everybody who made the coffee shop possible, and especially our lovely baristas Julia, Sina, Kristina, Flo, and Julia…you are true angels!


2 responses to “Started Up And Failed, Or Did We?

  1. Wer übernimmt die Einrichtung? Könnte man da nicht einfach die Öffnungszeiten anpassen oder mehrere parallele Teams finden? Communitybuilding in KA ist wirklich mangelware (das Gründer-Cafe hat so schnell zugemacht dass Mela noch nicht mal Zeit hatte es zu besuchen für einen entsprechenden Blogbericht, was sie geplant hatte).

    • Hallo Bernd, du hast Recht, das ging wirklich wieder recht schnell. Aber wir waren der Meinung, dass es besser ist eine schnelle, gute ueberlegte Entscheidung zu treffen, als lange zu warten. Das meiste der Cafe-Einrichtung verkaufen wir wieder. Interesse? 🙂 In dem Glaspavillon ist ja seit 4 Jahren das Center fuer Innovation & Entrepreneurship ( ansaessig. Es ist das Gruenderberatunszentrum bei uns auf dem Campus. Das wird jetzt auch durch neue Finanzierung und weitere Mitarbeiter noch wachsen. Wir haben das Gruender-Cafe quasi als add-on fuer das CIE und die Karlsruher Gruenderszene betrieben. Vielleicht wird es eine Loesung geben, dass es ein Nachmittag die Woche das Gruender-Cafe gibt. LG


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