After graduating from college in 2005, Brad Fassbender, Partner and Head of Business Operations for Guadalupe Roastery, took a finance position before realizing it wasn’t the right fit. “I just wasn’t finding myself in that space,” he said. Instead of looking for a new job, Fassbender moved to Central America and joined a mission in Honduras. While there, he gained an even greater appreciation for his life, but also made a key observation.
“The poverty in parts of that country just wrenched at my heart,” he said. “It made me feel so grateful, but at the same time, I wasn’t happy with what I saw. Why were these people so poor when we’re all paying $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks? Many of these farmers were only making a few bucks a day picking beans. I thought, ‘If I could buy direct from them, I could put more money in their pockets’. I also realized that I didn’t have to be in Honduras to help them. I could do it by simplifying the supply chain and managing it from home.”
Fueled by equality, a merciful outlook and driven by a passion to help indigenous farmers receive fair compensation for their highly sought after crops, Fassbender, made a “small” purchase of 2,000 pounds of coffee directly from a local farmer. He moved back to Wisconsin and began putting the pieces together to form a company and develop a means to effectively distribute his newly acquired product.
“A friend of mine, who’d recently sold a house and made some money from it, saw what I was doing and decided to invest in the business as a silent partner,” Fassbender said. “With his investment, we bought 12,000 pounds. From 2008 through 2015, I tested new ideas and made a couple more trips to Honduras and Nicaragua. At one point, I thought about forming a co-op and thought I needed to live there. However, after exploring that idea, it became apparent that, for what I wanted to accomplish, I had to be in the United States. The model revolves around the lean startup. It’s about keeping overhead down while simplifying the supply chain and riding the wave of ecommerce.”
During this time, Fassbender took a position in healthcare to pay the bills and to save money for his new venture. That job brought him and his wife to Collier County where he expanded his network and eventually moved his operations to the Florida Culinary Accelerator at Immokalee. His silent partner, Tom Pinter, started helping with operations and logistics. Together, they put Guadalupe Roastery in a position that attracted more capital.
“My brother went to Ave Maria University with some of the partners with BlackStripe Ventures, a venture capital firm,” Fassbender said. “We were introduced, which gave us a chance to show them our operations. They saw our value system, which is based on Christian principles, and how we take care of each other. That was attractive to the main investor. As part of the vetting process, they met Tom, but also had a chance to tour our space at the culinary accelerator. That’s really where they had their ‘Ah Ha’ moment. The facility is squeaky clean and very impressive. That’s really what closed the deal for us.”
On March 9th, 2019, BlackStripe Ventures acquired a majority share of Guadalupe Roastery. The infusion of capital was used to purchase 42,000 pounds of coffee and to make marketing and distribution improvements.
“My wife and I used to do all the social media marketing,” Fassbender said. “Suddenly we had interns and a very specific marketing strategy. I took a step back on day-to-day operations to instead focus on higher level stuff. We’re still not cash-flowing to where I can pay myself, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Looking ahead, Fassbender and his team hope to one day have their coffee available in retail establishments such as Fresh market, Whole Foods and Oak Farms. They ultimately want to put upward pressure on Starbucks and have even discussed the idea of taking the company public. When it comes to location, Fassbender was very quick to point their intention to stay put. “We feel very at home in Collier. We may have regional offices in other states, but our headquarters will remain here.”
What advice does Fassbender have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “If the idea is in you and it doesn’t leave, that idea needs to be developed,” he said. “Talk with a lot of people and get feedback. Even criticism is a form of evaluation that gives you an opportunity to refine your idea. Also, when you’re ready to market your idea, use a professional and make sure they have good references. I’ve wasted money on people that made promises but couldn’t deliver. Don’t make the same mistake.”