Even over the phone, Alex French ’11 exudes energy, rattling off the athletic adventures his team undertook during a training excursion in Oregon. It’s no stretch to imagine him as one of the founders of Bizzy Coffee, a product intended to provide convenient and healthy energy.
“Since I was 10, I’ve always wanted to be a business owner,” French said. “My whole life, I’ve had a business or side project and have been making money on my own. Whether they were successes or failed, they taught me something.”
Bizzy Coffee, since being officially launched in June this year, has gained momentum: In addition to being sold through Amazon, Bizzy is carried in 250 stores across the country. The company also received an honorable mention in Minnesota Business’ Most Likely to Succeed in the beverage and food category; ranked No. 1 on Amazon in the cold brew coffee category; and was featured on Buzzfeed’s “29 Clever Ways to Up Your Coffee Game.”
With French’s aspirations of becoming a business owner, it’s no surprise that he enrolled at St. Thomas with the intention of being an entrepreneurship major. He partnered that with a finance major and easily found corporate jobs after graduation.
All the while he experimented with business ideas and, in 2013, the original seed for Bizzy Coffee was planted. He and longtime friend and fellow founder Andrew Healy were training for a World’s Toughest Mudder event, which pits participants against an obstacle course over 24 hours. On top of his full-time job, French said he needed an energy boost.
“I needed something that was a plant-based energy source, low sugar, high caffeine,” he said. “Cold brew concentrate fits that, except it’s not convenient. It has all the health attributes I wanted, but was a pain to make.”
He decided to simplify that creation process by making a product others could buy. French felt confident he had discovered a market with a need: Aimed not at “coffee snobs,” but “energy seekers,” Bizzy Coffee’s brand is built around being healthy, convenient and energizing.
“The biggest learning lesson is that you need to be solving a problem,” French said. “It’s got to be a pain point. … I have a serious problem, and I’ll take whatever I need to solve it.”
In September 2015, French and Healy took a gamble and left their full-time jobs to devote themselves to Bizzy.
“It was a huge risk, personally and financially,” French said. “Getting to be No. 1 on Amazon solidified my mind that we can do this. Regardless of the external factors, my team and I can make this work, and we’re unrelenting.”
They tested their product in March 2016, moved to a shot form and formally launched in 2017.
Bizzy now has eight full-time employees and is carried in Kowalski’s and other natural and wellness stores. One of French’s goals is to eventually be carried by all natural and wellness stores – about 1,500 – across the country.
“Thousands of customers love our product,” French said. “It’s an intimate thing and these people trust me enough to put it in their bodies.”
London Business Semester
While reflecting on how his business education at St. Thomas helped him along his path, French said one of his most influential experiences at St. Thomas was the London Business Semester. The semester keeps undergraduates on track to graduate while focusing on globalization and exploring sites such as the Bank of England, the Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London.
“That was probably one of the most pivotal moments in my life,” French said. “It opened up my horizon as to what else is out there.”
French also said he enjoyed having a mentor in Richard “Rex” Rexeisen, professor and chair in the Marketing Department, who has led the London Business Semester seven times.
“The London Business Semester is a quintessential St. Thomas moment,” Rexeisen said. “We talk about faculty involvement and engaging students as a one-on-one business, but this is an environment that focuses all attention on that.”
Rexeisen praised French as being a student who reached out to him for discussion while they were in London and leveraged the resources he had available to him. He added that he is proud of what French has done and the individual he has become.
“I always tell students that go on the London Business Semester they’re getting double-dipped purple,” Rexeisen said. “What I mean by that is that they already belong to St. Thomas and belong to a community that has values and aspirations. … Within that community, there are subcommunities that can be powerful in your life. The London Business Semester, in my experience, has been one of those deep double-dippings.
“These students stay connected throughout their entire lives. For that, they are privileged and responsible for what they do with their lives,” he added. “We’re celebrating Alex as a community member – his successes and failures are our own.”