Ground Shark Coffee Interview With Nick Lowary

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DD:
Let’s start from the beginning.

Who are you?

I want to give readers your background story.


NICK:
Man, that’s a hell of a question. Long story short, I grew up in the Midwestern United States to divorced and vastly different parents.

I came out to Colorado to follow a dream to play lacrosse in college. After taking home a championship ring, I walked off the lacrosse field and onto the BJJ mats.

At the MMA gym, I met my business partner and started working on my first business - Ground Shark Coffee.

Since then I’ve dove headfirst into the entrepreneurial world and am doing my damnedest to be totally unemployable.

March 29 was my last day salaried - hopefully ever - and as of the time of this writing I have enough money saved up to last until September 18th.

DD:
I trained in martial arts; a mix of judo, aikido, jiu jitsu and arnis for almost 10 years.

So let’s talk about that first. 

How did you get into martial arts? How long have you done it? 

Have you always trained in jiu jitsu or have you trained in other styles? 


NICK:
I started jiu-jitsu just over three years ago. Before that, it was lacrosse. 

I walked onto the mats because I was 20 years old and had never been in a fight before. 

I figured every man should get violent at some point in their life, and no better way to do it than MMA. 

I was training for my first Muay Thai fight earlier this year and got concussed, so that changed my path a bit. I was hoping to take my first MMA fight by the end of 2019, but that will probably be sometime in 2020 or even later.

DD:
Martial arts was a big part of my personal development (and one of the reasons I want to train again). 

Everyone starts because they want to learn how to fight.

But it’s also done wonders for my confidence and my ability to push through whenever life gets hard. 

What have martial arts meant for you?


NICK:
Man, exactly that. It changed my entire outlook. 

I don’t care anymore if someone thinks I’m weird, soft, or whatever. 

Like... what the hell are you gonna do about it? Take one look at my ears man, you sure you wanna talk shit?

It’s given me a kind of easy confidence that can’t be replicated anywhere else. I’m sure you know the feeling. 

I’ve been around jacked dudes like twice my size, and after a couple minutes you can tell they start to pick up that their size just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a great feeling and I can’t recommend training enough.

DD:
I never got into competing or tournaments. 

What made you go in that direction?

What has that experience taught you and how has it translated to your role as an entrepreneur?

NICK:
I’m a competitor, man. Through and through. 

I’ve never experienced so much joy as the day we won that championship. 

I’m that way with everything. Business, sports, martial arts...I can’t halfass things and I hate to lose. 

I’ve always even played high-pressure positions. 

I was a goalie back in my lacrosse days. And for the readers who don’t know...the highest tier goalies only put up around a 60% save percentage.

You’re MVP-caliber if you stop only three of ever five shots you face. Every other goalie position (soccer, hockey) you’re sitting pretty around the 90% rate.

There’s a ton of pressure to perform there and you can’t ever half-ass it.
And on top of that, you have to have a short term memory problem. You
gotta be able to forget the last shot and focus on the next one.

That mentality helped me a ton when I got into fighting. I thrive in high-pressure scenarios and need a high degree of chaos to really feel alive. BJJ crystallized that feeling and then business took it to the next level and made it real.

DD:
Let’s switch gears. 

I’ve had it in my mind for a while that if I ever get into e-commerce, it’ll be with coffee. 

It’s a consumable product and perfect as a continuity offer. 

Before we talk about the business aspect, I want to talk about coffee itself. 

What did you actually know about coffee before starting this business? 

Did you know about coffee beans and farming and all that?


NOTE: Here's a video where Nick explains how Ground Shark Coffee is made.

NICK:
Hahaha. Frankly, I didn’t know shit. 

I’ve drunk Folger’s most of my life (and still do, on occasion). 

My business partner is a culinary mastermind. He knows his way around food better than anyone. 

We got lunch one day last May and the idea for a coffee shop came out in a brainstorming session. 

We didn’t even give it credence until a couple days later. Figured it would be fun and new, so we went all-in. 

Now, we are both super passionate about it and love it. It’s definitely one of those “passion comes later” moments. 

You could say that my history of coffee came from my dad telling me that I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee until I was old enough to drink it black. I never drank it much until about halfway through college. 

At the time, I was dating a girl who used to be a barista. She got me turned on to coffee. 

Then, I dated a girl who lived out in Portland for a couple months during our relationship. She got really into good coffee while she was out there and turned me on to it even more. So there’s a bit of history there but nothing crazy.

DD:
Coffee is one of those niches that beginners will say is “saturated.”

So I love this tweet you posted. 

Can you talk a little more about the market opportunity when it comes to coffee? 

Did you consider other products or were you interested in coffee from Day One?


NICK:
Like I said, it was part of a brainstorming session. So many ideas came and went but somehow coffee stuck. 

As far as I’m concerned, a saturated market is a proven market. 

You find a little round hole in the market that hasn’t been filled and put your round peg in. 

My plan is to take our chosen niche - Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu - over and then expand from there into MMA, then into athletics as a whole, then into the greater zeitgeist. 

It’s a long, arduous process that has a lot of trial and error involved. But there’s great businesses all over the place that serve as proof-of-concepts so I know it can be done. Just gotta figure it out.

DD:
You recently quit your day job to go all-in on your company, Ground Shark Coffee. 

What kind of work did you do? 

Why did you decide to quit? Why now?

And what was going through your mind when you left?


NICK:
Another loaded question. We need to take this one all the way back to high school.

Not to toot my own horn here, but I realized very quickly that A. The school system wasn’t for me and B. I was very good at the school system.

I could show up for tests - in AP classes, mind you - having no idea that there was a test that day, and still get one of the top grades in the class. I showed up to the ACT hungover and got a 34 on it.

I knew then I was smart (got tested with an IQ above 140) so I got into our engineering classes. I enjoyed those because they presented a different kind of challenge, so I decided to go into Structural Engineering in college. 

After a couple semesters I realized that crunching numbers all day was not what I wanted to do. I liked all of my Construction Management professors, and since it was also in the Civil Engineering department, I could make the switch without having to take a bunch of new classes and extend my time spent in school. 

So I made the switch. After even just a semester there I started getting foreboding that I really didn’t enjoy it, but I did always like the chaos. So I finished out my degree, thinking “If I can manage a construction site, I can manage anything.”

And actually, that holds true. My first job out of college - the one I just quit - taught me massive amounts about personnel management, project management, negotiation, dealing with the public, and so much more.

But I knew that I couldn’t stomach being told what to do. It never sat right with me. After just a week at the company I decided that it wasnt gonna work for me.

So I decided to quit now - just over a year later - because another opportunity came across my desk. 

I’m starting up soon working integrally with a startup CBD company. I’ll be making almost purely commission, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes there that could really catapult my career into the stratosphere if I do it right. 

Staying at my job - even though it would be much less risky - would have kept me away from taking on this opportunity, which I see as a ready-made way to double down on my company.

DD:
Let’s go a little deeper because this part is important. 

I got laid off from my last job before I decided to go all-in with online business. 

I could’ve found another office job or even some other kind of “steady” work, but I didn’t. 

I felt like I’d reached the point of no return. 

A lot of people end up in the same situation, but they chicken out. 

So I want you to expand on that. 


How confident are you in your ability to succeed with Ground Shark? 

I’m sure you have some doubts in your head, so how do you deal with that? 

Even the most confident person knows that there’s that 0.1% chance failure. 


NICK:
I am 100% confident that I will make it work. I am not 100% confident that Ground Shark will work. Does that make sense? 

I know that at the absolute worst I’ll be able to call up some of my business owner friends and get a job. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I’ll stay in this entrepreneurial sphere. 

But whether Ground Shark makes it? I can’t say. 

I can say that I’m doing everything I can to increase the odds that it does. I’m focusing on the day-to-day process and doing the things that I know will get us more sales in the long run. 

We are steadily growing and getter more and more put-together and clarifying our brand bit by bit. As long as we keep doing that, eventually we’ll get there.

DD:
What did you know about e-commerce before starting this company?

Is this your first online business? 


NICK:
Just like coffee, I knew next to nothing. 

I had a dropshipping store that I only made one sale off of. I only made that as a trial run to figure everything out and test a bit before I went in on GSC. I got bored of it and closed up shop. I think it was open for like two weeks.

DD:
With coffee, you’re shipping food. 

What kind of challenges does that create? 

And have you been to actual coffee plantations? 

I’m trying to understand how involved you are in the process from planting crops all the way to delivery. 


NICK:
Actually, we’re shipping an ingredient. So we don’t have to deal with the FDA or health department or anything of that nature. 

Now, if we were to make and ship cold brew, we would. 

Another example is cookies. If you ship cookie dough, you don’t need to deal with the FDA. If you ship cookies, you do. 

It’s an interesting little loophole that’s given us a clear line of sight.

I actually haven’t been to a coffee plantation yet, but I’m going to try to hit one while I’m in Colombia in late May. 

We currently aren’t super involved in the entire process but I’m trying to make steps in that direction and get more and more involved as time goes on.

I would like to go totally Carnegie with this and own a plantation, an import company, a couple different coffee brands, and a distribution company.

But that’s a long way off.

DD:
What have been the biggest challenges to-date? 

How big is your team? 

NICK: 
Our team is my partner and I. 

Our biggest challenges have been...man, I don’t even know where to start. 
It’s felt like an uphill battle from the start, but it’s been incredibly fulfilling. 

I think our biggest challenge has been capital. We are bootstrapping the whole thing and don’t have any loans or investors. We don’t have any debt. Which is incredibly freeing, but also stressful because our pockets are so shallow.

That’s why I decided to take the jump to unemployment. We needed either more time or more money. 

I have a ton of time now before the CBD company work starts to take off, then, hopefully by the end of this year, I’ll have a lot more money coming in than I did at my old job. If things go as planned, I’ll be able to maintain my standard of living and start dumping cash into GSC.

It’s a virtuous cycle, but it’s a huge hurdle and threatens to be our biggest challenge yet.

DD:
I love the idea of branding the coffee as a coffee for fighters. 

What made you decide to go with that concept?


NICK:
We decided on that concept because we’re a part of that market. 

I’ve been training for three years and my partner’s been training for thirteen. We can go to BJJ tournaments, set up a stand, sell a ton of coffee, and then hop in and compete. 

It’s a huge boost for our marketing when guys who were buying our coffee earlier in the day notice that I’m competing. And not only competing, but winning. People love that we aren’t just saying we train.

There’s no better way to understand a market than to be that market. When we branch out, I want to bring in people from whatever target market we have.

But, I always have to keep in mind that you ask a fisherman how to fish, not a fish. I have to regularly try to distance myself from the market and be more objective. Having a trusted group of advisory friends definitely helps with that.

DD:
Last question:

What’s next for you and Ground Shark Coffee? 

Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years?


NICK: 
In five years, the business will be almost 6 years old.

By that point, I want to be an easy 7-figures in revenue and be a couple steps closer to a full-blown empire. Whether I’m directly involved or if I’ve sold most of it by that point, I can’t say.

But I can say that in 5 years I want to be growing at an unprecedented rate and getting our coffee in as many pots as we possibly can.

Thanks for having me on, Dennis. It’s been a pleasure.