Like many businesses, BottleFreaks began with a dream. But this one was literal.
Joel Hoffman, Creator of Opportunities, woke up from a nap with the idea of drinking out of an up-cycled glass. He shared this dream with Tyler Herriage, Chief Inspiration Officer, and Alex Michael, Director of Direction, and after some trial and error, settled on an efficient and effective method of cutting all kinds of glass bottles.
The company officially launched on July 4, 2013, and has been growing each month since. After moving into a bigger warehouse in North Austin recently, they’ve been planning for some large-scale moves in May, when Tyler and Alex graduate.
What made you choose Southwestern?
ALEX: I was recruited to play lacrosse here, which initially led me to find out about SU. What really brought me here, though, was the emphasis on the ideal of a holistic liberal arts education - a term that is increasingly misused and becoming somewhat of a cliche at many schools but is truly embodied at Southwestern.
TYLER: I also discovered Southwestern because of sports. However, what ultimately kept me here were the people. As I got to know the Southwestern community I began to realize the opportunities for me here and the great people I would be able to meet along the way.
Did SU play a role in how you’ve created, shaped or grown business?
ALEX: I like to tell people that Southwestern teaches you how to think rather than what to think, and this has permeated our culture at BottleFreaks. We’ve come up with countless ideas and connections to our business and its culture after watching seemingly unrelated movies and documentaries or reading various books. I think this is a testament not only to the types of people we are, but also to how our education has shaped us.
TYLER: SU has absolutely made our start possible. I love the people here and ultimately the people involved in starting this business all met at Southwestern. On top of that, we have been shown nothing but support since we decided to take this step in our lives. As Alex said the faculty support has been incredible and I don’t know if you can get that at many other places.
Has BottleFreaks changed as a result of your experiences as a Southwestern student? Have you as an entrepreneur changed how you do things because of your SU education?
TYLER: Absolutely. It has given me the ability to apply the things I have learned here in an entirely different way. I think our professors and peers have really helped with this as they are constantly pushing us to find ways we can apply the things we have learned to our business. Ultimately this has lead to us building a great team within the southwestern community.
Has anybody in particular influenced your business?
ALEX: A few faculty members have gone above and beyond in doing everything in their power to help us succeed. We met Debika Sihi (assistant professor of business) when Ty and I took her E-marketing course last semester. Not only did we end up learning a ton about E-marketing and marketing in general, but we made a contact that genuinely wants nothing more than to see her students excel. Anyone that has met Dr. Sihi will attest to this. She’s introduced us to some awesome ideas and people. Another faculty member who’s helped us out is Andy Ross (assistant professor of business). We are doing an independent study with him, and his experience and advice has been huge for us. It’s essentially having a free consultant that is more invested in our success and more experienced than anyone we could pay for. Some of his ideas and feedback have formed the basis for our near-term and long-term plans. Their continuous support has been something we truly cherish because without them this would not have been possible.
In addition to the professors, all of our dads have been a huge influence. We are fortunate in that our fathers have all been successful entrepreneurs, so we have very valuable mentors that we sometimes forget to listen to.
TYLER: I’ll have to second Alex here, our families have played a huge role in our business. Their continuous support has been something we truly cherish because without them this would not have been possible.
How do you balance the student/entrepreneur life?
ALEX: Balancing the student/entrepreneur life has been easier because we’re at a school that supports what we’re doing. With so many classes and activities that both directly and indirectly relate to our business, the ‘balancing’ is at times effortless. When it does get difficult, though, we just compartmentalize. We devote specific times to just school and others to just business, which makes life a lot easier.
TYLER: Balancing our school/entrepreneur life has been a blast of a challenge. I think it has definitely pushed us to learn a lot about not only our company but ourselves as well. We are learning that we are capable of so much more than we had previously thought. As full time students balancing everything from a fraternity life to jobs and sports schedules we have gotten very creative in finding new ways to get things done.
What advice would you give to a student who might want to pursue an idea for a business?
ALEX: Go for it. Make sure you think carefully about your concept and idea, but if you have faith in your idea then absolutely pursue it. There are a number of advantages to being a student entrepreneur - more opportunities and resources available, an organic support system, etc. - but in the biggest is that you are adding another dimension to your education that can’t be taught any other way than through experience.
TYLER: Take the leap of faith. I have learned an incredible amount here at Southwestern, and I have learned a lot since we started this business. These two things coupled together have really provided for one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. So while it may seem like a lot to balance, I think you’ll find it easier to manage than you think, and it will never really feel like work when you are passionate about what you are pursuing.