Lesson from the Den: Wait until you absolutely need the money before asking someone else for it

Watch Station Cold Brew Coffee Co.'s pitch above.

Make the right choices with your startup

Cold coffee is a $69 million-dollar market in Canada, and it’s only growing. Steve Ballantyne, Mitchell Stern and Mike Roy of Station Cold Brew Coffee Co. think they have a unique take on the trend.

In Season 12, Ballantyne, Stern and Roy came into the Den looking for $250,000 for 20 per cent of their business. The Station team was pre-revenue, but were on track for a million-dollar sales year. The trio had found an exciting new niche for their product: cold brew coffee on tap, in offices.

“It doubles your volume, doubles your margins, and it’s incredibly powerful,” Ballantyne told the Dragons during the pitch. “Because the end user isn’t paying for the product, [so] they crush it.”

They had also gotten into private label brewing, making cold brew for Balzac's coffee chain, of which Arlene Dickinson is a part-owner.

Defend your business, but keep your cool

Your business is your baby. It makes sense that you want to defend it fiercely, but that’s not always the best move.

Initially, Joe Mimran wasn’t sold on the cold coffee concept. He questioned the product’s room for growth, asking “How is it being accepted by the Canadian consumer? At the end of the day, as great as it is, I still would prefer a hot coffee over a cold coffee.”

Ballantyne had an answer ready, and managed to respond without getting defensive by pointing out that cold coffee was already a massive success in Canada, and that the goal wasn’t to replace hot coffee.

“When you're in a startup, you do everything from investor meetings to frontline event staffing,” explains Ballantyne. “We've heard this question several times before so we were ready for it.”

Use debt as a last resort

Station Cold Brew Coffee took on a loan from BDC to help scale up their business, but Ballantyne recommends entrepreneurs avoid looking for loans for as long as possible.

“Debt is a tricky one,” he says. “No one likes to be in debt. For us, we hustled and self-funded the business for over two years before going to a bank for money.” He adds it's important to make sure every dollar counts when you’re starting up. “Wait until you absolutely need the money before asking someone else for it.”

Find a partner who shares your values

In the end, the company was given two offers that were almost identical in terms of numbers — one from Arlene, the other from a consortium of Joe, Manjit Minhas and Michele Romanow — but offered very different partnership opportunities in terms of the skill sets that were being brought to the table. The Station team decided to go with Arlene — having already worked with Balzac’s made them feel confident that she had a business vision they could work with.

“We felt that Arlene had similar values as we do when it came to beverage,” says Ballantyne. “We only work with partners who have the same values, otherwise the relationship may run into trouble down the road.”

Since being on the show, Station Cold Brew Coffee says it has experienced massive success, launching new flavours, expanding their facility, creating a co-branded vodka cooler with a craft distillery, and experimenting with adding kombucha and iced tea to their taps. Ballantyne has started consulting with other cold brew coffee companies around the world, and they’re looking to expand their business southwards.

“Expansion into the good 'ol USA is inevitable,” he says.