In the first 90 minutes after Ground Control Coffee’s April website launch, the business made $200 in sales.
That was no fluke. Niels Bulskov, the company’s founder and a George Mason University senior, said he spent six months building a market for his startup through Facebook and Instagram.
“We have 50 customers who routinely interact with the business,” Bulskov said.
Add another 1,500 Instagram followers, and Bulskov, a marketing major, has built what he called “a decent little community” that spends about $200 a week on his freshly roasted coffee beans.
So impressive is Bulskov’s business model, developed in the Innovation Lab in George Mason’s School of Business, he received a $10,000 EagleBank Entrepreneurship Scholarship. The scholarship is part of EagleBank’s multimillion-dollar strategic partnership with Mason that includes an array of educational programs and the naming rights to EagleBank Arena.
“It’s reassuring to see someone else believe in what you’ve done,” Bulskov said.
Ground Control Coffee is unique because it delivers coffee beans to customers within four days of ordering. Bulskov, a passionate coffee drinker who began indulging at age 13, said he contracts with a roaster in his hometown of Gold Beach, Ore., who roasts as orders come in. Larger companies sometimes roast only twice a month, Bulskov said, which means customers can wait weeks for fulfillment. That affects freshness and flavor.
“When you roast them, they crack,” Bulskov said of coffee beans. “In cracking, the oils that have all the flavors and smells and aromas start evaporating. There’s a time of about four days when that’s good. It’s called degassing. Some roasters do that and then ship. We ship with time to degas in the mail, so you get beans when their flavor is optimal.”
“He’s a great young entrepreneur,” said David J. Miller, executive director of Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “He is engaged across several areas, and that’s something you see in successful entrepreneurs. They’re getting information from different places on different topics.”
Bulskov, president of Mason’s chapter of the American Marketing Association and a baritone player in the Green Machine pep band, is working with Miller to grow his business and ensure quick order fulfillment as business increases. He also finds time to assist fellow students in the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship work through their business plans.
Bulskov is paying it forward in that way, as he received such advice from John Hill, who graduated in June after founding Easy FBO, a startup that streamlines fueling orders at airports.
“You see the way he interacts with people and how he talks, not just about his ideas but anyone’s,” Hill said. “He has a passion for all of it.”
“It’s problem-solving,” Bulskov said. “That’s the best thing about innovation at Mason—the community around it.”