Forward with NACCE

Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders through Experiential Learning with Nick Bayer, Founder and CEO of Saxbys

February 15, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders through Experiential Learning with Nick Bayer, Founder and CEO of Saxbys
Show Notes Transcript

Happy National Entrepreneurship Week! To celebrate, Dr. Corbin's talking with Nick Bayer, founder and CEO of Saxbys, a Philadelphia-based coffee company that serves as an experiential learning platform. In this episode, Bayer shares his story of inspiration and growth and how his experience as a first-generation college student led him to create a company that empowers the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs through experiential learning. Hear about his journey as an entrepreneur, his desire to blur the line between his personal and professional pursuits, the importance of impacting other people's lives and the value that comes from doing so repeatedly.

Ready to move forward with NACCE? Learn more about the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship.

Follow NACCE on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Watch this episode on YouTube!

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. We're very excited to be on the cusp of celebrating National Entrepreneurship Week. So we've been talking with people around the country, some even around the world about their journeys and their experiences. And I'm very excited to have a special guest in our studio today, Nick Bayer, who is the, the founder and CEO of Saxby.

He's here to share his story of inspiration and growth, running a coffee that is actually an experiential learning platform. And on that note, I will have our guest introduce himself. Tell us a little bit about you, and maybe give us, an insight into your journey as an entrepreneur.

Nick: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me, Rebecca. As you mentioned, my name is Nick Bayer. I am the founder and CEO of Saxby's, a Philadelphia based education company that's actually disguised as a coffee company. you know, we're, we're on a mission to make life better by empowering the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs through experiential learning.

So taking a, a huge step back my, my sort of path to entrepreneurship. I'm a first-generation college student, back when we didn't even really know that that was actually a thing. But obviously today that that's a really, really big thing. You know, my, my parents started a family a little earlier than they were hoping and expecting to, cut short their ability to be able to get their education.

And so they took pretty much whatever jobs they could get to be able to put food on the table. And you blink and 30 years of a career goes by really, really quickly. And so growing up in their house, my parents were really, really focused on me getting my education, you know, because my education would, not only open up doors for me to get a good job, but more importantly to do something that I really love to do.

You know, I think that everyone deserves the right to do something that they're really, really passionate about, because it's funny, when we're passionate about something, we're willing to work hard and learn a lot, and then we we're usually pretty good at those things. And so I went to college. I wasn't sure what it, what it was that I wanted to do.

It took a bunch of different internships and a lot of different industries in a whole bunch of different cities. I was, I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole. and as I was graduating at 22, I got some great life experience, some recommendations I should say from, from coaches and teachers in my life who had helped get me to that place in my life.

And I just remember them with such pride telling me that they went into teaching for that exact reason, right, they knew I was months away from getting my diploma. My life was gonna forever change as a, as a result of that. And they're like, Nick, I, I went into teaching to be able to do just that for people like you.

And I remember thinking to myself like, I, I had started to really love business when I was in school cause I took a lot of internships in business. I love the competitive nature that business forces you to be in. And I think that like, when we're challenged and we're forced to bring our A game every.

You know, our best work is done in those situations, but I really wanted to have the professional satisfaction that my coaches and my teachers had about impacting other people's lives. You know, like I truly am, and I don't think this is unique to me, I think all of us as human beings are at our absolute best when we're doing things for other people.

You know, you can accumulate material wealth in things and it, you know, a new car, a new house, a new watch, a new whatever is awesome in the moment and becomes a little bit less awesome over time. But if you go out of your way to impact the trajectory of someone's life and do that over and over and over again, that kind of value appreciates. 

And so when I was 22 coming outta school, I didn't know much. but I knew that I wanted to sort of blur the line between my professional and my personal pursuits, meaning I didn't wanna just go get a job and try to accumulate money. I wanted whatever professional pursuit I was going to have to be as measurable and impacting other people's lives as it was from a financial perspective.

And so I didn't have the idea right away. I went into consulting right outta school and I had a really good job and I learned alot, but I, like, every day they passed, I kept yearning for more. You know, like I loved my time as a big brother in Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and doing all kinds of philanthropy and community work.

And I started to love that more than I was loving the work that I was doing, you know, and the accolades, or getting a promotion meant so little to me, but watching my little brother succeed in life and me get to spend time with him and like a small impact in that, success was really intoxicating for me.

And so I eventually realized that in order for me to be able to blur the line between my professional and personal pursuits, I needed to create something. I needed to create a business that would allow me to pursue that.

Becky: That is great. And it, it really ties into, you know, create the things that you wish existed and also create the culture, that you wanna see. I mean, there were a lot of things that you hit on that I think are really important. And I was sharing with you a little bit earlier, you know, my passion for community colleges.

I, actually worked, spent about six years working for Rowan College at Burlington County as a director of the foundation and vice president there. I was on the hiring committee of the current president, Dr. Mike Cioce, who also is a first-generation college student that really shares your passion.

So I can see like right off the bat how you guys, um got along and it's interesting to me that while you are producing coffee, I am a huge coffee lover. So I love the product. I think it's very cool. But you're, you're really leaning into that experience. So I wanna talk a bit about community college because you're in an ecosystem in Philadelphia where you have wonderful network of universities and also the Community College of Philadelphia, which is a NACCE member, which is also a site of another one of your operations.

Tell us a little bit about how you see community colleges in the higher ed ecosystem. Like what kind of a role do they play? How does that work? Cuz we're gonna talk about your business model in a little bit.

Nick: Yeah, I mean, look, I, I've had a, a long passion for community colleges. Both my grandma as well as my mom, both, have community college degrees, and those were not just huge points of pride for both of them to, to be able to, to get their community college degree, but also made an impact on their careers as well.

And so I think there's a lot of reasons why I think community colleges add a lot of value, but, but first and foremost, I think that, you know, it's, it's quite obvious that it's been studied for a really, really long time. People that pursue and attain their education will more likely than not be able to get the jobs that they want and make more money over their career.

You know, college graduates typically make upwards of a million dollars more in their career than people who don't get their degree. And so I think community colleges are huge, huge entry point to that. The second is community colleges provide a very high-quality level of education at a much more affordable price point.

And that's good. Not only because of the affordability, but I remember, I mean, it's a distant memory at this point. I remember what it was like to be 18, 19 years old, first getting outta high school. I thought I wanted to be the American James Bond, and then I thought I was gonna be a lawyer, and then I was gonna be this, I was gonna be all these different things.

You know, being able to go and get a really quality, really affordable education to start to figure out what it is that not only you want to do, but what you're, what you're interested in and passionate about. I think community colleges provided an amazing value, for, for those students as well. And then I think from a community college degree, you can absolutely leap that into your career, or you can leap that into a four year school where you're much farther along, with much less money out of your pocket as well, with a better focus on what it is that you wanna study.

Becky: Yeah, I, I love what you said. It really connects back to your point about, you know, when you find that career and that passion, it doesn't feel like work. And that's been my experience working for NACCE and when I worked for the college jump out of bed in the morning and you just are just filled with all these ideas and things that you wanna accomplish.

And I think the challenge for CEOs like yourself and association leaders, like, me and college leaders is really trying to help all students find that place. And in the United States, we know we have about 7 million, community college students. You know, their average age is 28, so they're not kids, they're not 18, 19-year-old, which in some respects, like you mentioned, your, grandma and your, your, you know, other people in your family. Sometimes when you have a little bit more life experience, you come at these things in a different way. 

So I want you to tell the audience that may not be familiar a little bit about Saxby. Everybody you know, knows that there's lots of coffee options and, and I can assure everybody your coffee is amazing, but we're more interested in even the model, because as I understand it, you work with students, but you don't just hire student workers. It's, it's a kind of an interesting twist that I, I would love for other people maybe to learn from you and, and incorporate. So welcome us into the world of, of how you, you do business.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. So, so what you're referring to Rebecca is what we call the Saxby’s Experiential Learning Platform. And you know, so that, that was born out of the, the great fortune that I've had over the last decade or so to be an adjunct professor, entrepreneur in residence, executive in residence at all kinds of different college and universities, two-year schools like Community College of Philadelphia, Drexel Temple, Cornell University.

Unlike when I was in school, almost nobody, no, no institution was teaching entrepreneurship. Flash forward to today, everyone is teaching entrepreneurship and they're really looking for experiential learning. How can we prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, to take the classroom, like the theory of the classroom and put it to practice in a real setting?

In a live setting, and it just so happens, you know, I've been in the cafe or the hospitality, food and beverage business for a long time. And as I started to get my feet a little bit wetter in the higher ed space, I realized that every single moving part that happens in any business, big or small, private, public, non-profit, for-profit, every moving part that happens in any business happens in a busy coffee. You've gotta build a mission statement of core values. You have to hire people, train, develop, empower people. You have a supply chain, you have marketing, you have community relations, and you have a financial statement.

You have to understand, it just so happens that young people are really interested in cafe businesses, right? They're gathering places, they're places for everybody. So I wanted to put those two things together, right? These are businesses that are open and inviting and desirable to everyone, yet also a perfect vehicle to be able to teach business at a time where higher ed is really looking to teach experientially.

And so about seven years ago, we partnered with John Fry, the president of Drexel University, who, Mike Cioce, who you mentioned is also friends with John, and Mike and I are longtime friends and partners in, in business as well now. But, we opened our first ever cafe that was designed by undergraduate Drexel students and has been exclusively operated by Drexel students every minute of every day for seven plus years.

The students get full semester of credit, they get wages, and they have the, the full autonomy and responsibility for their business' profit and loss statement. So this is a business that is, it's so bustling and so demanding that the averages employees about 40 to 60 undergraduate students. So as a student CEO you're managing a part, you know, a business with 40 plus employees reporting to you, a global supply chain and responsible for a, for a profit and law statement that ranges anywhere between half a million to a million dollars plus in revenue.

So these are tremendous challenges. But the beauty of it as well is that you know, you could be studying fine arts to business engineering to nursing these skills, what we call the power skills, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, cultural agility, resilience, things you can't learn in the classroom, but you absolutely need to have agnostic of what career you are into, this is the perfect vehicle to be able to, to develop those skills, and so we're grateful to have 25 plus partners, you know, the, the Penn States of the world and the University of Pittsburgh's of the world, the Community College of Philadelphia and, and Rowan College of Burlington County are two of our partners as well.

So we're in all sort of corners of the higher ed space right now, and we're seeing tremendous impact and outcome from the student leaders who are going through this experience.

Becky: That's amazing. I, I think really the power of understanding, a P and L and cash flow, I mean, that gives people, that ability to really be upwardly mobile and, and no matter what, if they end up working for a nonprofit or anything. You have to have those skills. it also reminds me of remember reading the book many years ago, Onward by Howard Schultz, and I'm sure you've read that too.

And it seems like to me, listening to you, you're kind of building on sort of that foundational element of how that other coffee company was started was really trying to replicate an experience. But you've taken extended to the next level by saying it's not just the experience, it's, it's so much more than that. And, and you're building kind of this army of everyday entrepreneurs. 

So I'd love for you to tell us, where do you see your company going in the next three to five years? If you, if you look at, maybe you could tell us first what your footprint is, cuz you've mentioned, Philadelphia. Are you beyond the tri-state area? Is that your goal to grow? Or, or, or what are you, what are you thinking?

Nick: Yeah. You know, I mean we have, we have really transformed our business in the last two years. You know, experiential learning was a part and really honestly a small part of what we did as a company before the pandemic set in. and as the pandemic set in, like most organizations, we went into survival mode, you know, and sitting in a conference room with whiteboards around and the executive team around saying, how do we not only survive, but how do we differentiate?

The answer was right under our nose. You know, we are, our mission statement is to make life better. Our mission statement's never been, make the world's best coffee, cuz the reality is that's subject. I already think that we make the best coffee, but it's a subjective standard. Our mission has always been to make life better.

How do we leverage our business and our brand to improve and impact people's lives? You're not gonna do it purely on the taste of product, but what if you can turn your business into an entrepreneurial vehicle to create and support the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs? And that's precisely what we're doing.

So we've been transforming our business over the last two years, to the point, Rebecca, and look, I'm an entrepreneur, right? So entrepreneurs are, are dreamers. Cuz you, you can't accomplish what you can't dream. I believe that in the next three to five years, Saxby’s can and will be synonymous with experiential learning.

I believe that when I'm doing your follow up podcast in three or five years, you're gonna introduce us as Saxby’s, the experiential learning company, because that's really what, not only where our passion lies, I think that's what the world needs. I'm not sure the world needs more coffee companies or food and beverage companies, but it certainly needs businesses that measurably impact the lives of other human beings and in our higher ed world is great, right? You can't teach in the classroom better than RCPC does, or Georgetown, or Penn State or all these great places. 

But in this rapidly evolving world where especially people have just gone through a pandemic and they were separated from other people for, for two plus years, the skills necessary of emotional intelligence and resilience cannot be taught in the classroom, but are needed more now and in the future than they've ever been. We're in the business of providing that holistic experience. We're building off of not, not destroying or building, you know, in opposition to, but we're building on the amazing things that are learned in the classroom.

We're taking that theory and allowing the leaders of tomorrow to put it, to practice, to become great in whatever industry that they actually go.

Becky: That is incredible. And I, I agree with you about experiential learning and, and part of the mission or the mission of NACCE and I, I really admire the crispness and clarity of your mission. It's very bold. You can remember it. Everyone who works there probably remembers it. 

The mission of NACCE is to engage our members in entrepreneurial thinking and innovative action. And so where we operate is sort of, I guess you would say at the grass tops. So if we do our job correctly, we get to this, the chancellors, the presidents, the faculty, and have this army of 10,000 people that are impacting the 7 million students because that's where I think. What you do really fits so nicely with, with what the mission of NACCE is, which is really to support colleges.

Some are far along on the journey, like many that you mentioned, including RCBC and Community College of Philadelphia and Penn, and all these other wonderful places, but there are also these colleges in very rural places and in places that maybe aren't as, as fully immersed in this model. And that's why I'm so excited, not only to share your story on this podcast, but we're gonna actually have a live event, on February 14th with students. So we're gonna get to see the actual location and hear their stories and, and talk about this.

So, I wanna thank you so much, Nick, for sharing your story. Our timewise goes by so fast with people like you that have such great things to share. The last thing I might ask you is, if, if somebody is listening and, and this resonates with them, what few tips might you offer them, in terms of getting started, on their journey?

If they're, if they're a young person who's never operated a business before, or maybe there's somebody in a job that has that itch to create something. So, leave us with a couple of, of, kind of tips for, for moving forward.

Nick: I don't wanna set standards too high about how impactful these tips will be, but there, there, there's two things that I, that I would, I would share. The, the first is I encourage everyone to be very honest with their, with their heart and soul. You know, so I should say their, their mind and soul connection.

You know, like there's a lot of things that are taught, told to us, like you should go into technology, you should go into this because these are the jobs of the future. And we often try to convince our, our soul that that's what we're really interested in. I, I encourage people to be very honest with themselves. Like where, where are both their mind and their soul, what makes them race together? not what other people tell you is right for you, but what really makes you happy and excited? 

And, and the second thing is, is their experience is so important, right? I think that there is this, like, there's this pressure to figure things out early in our career or to just be able to, you know, to know what the world needs or what we want without experience. You know, like go out there and get experience like you think you're interested in, in f and b. Go work in the f and b industry. You think you're interested in, technology. Go work in a technology business. Cause guess what? The companies that are existing today are really good at what they do. We work, we operate in such a competitive environment.

Companies are really, really good. If you think you've had the best ideas since sliced bread, go work for a company that you think will be your competitor. You'll see sort of the inner workings of that organization, because we all have a lot of time in our lives, you know, and so don't rush things. I know that I did that a lot as my, my, you know, as a young entrepreneur, but be honest with sort of your mind soul connection and go and get experience before feeling the pressure to have to jump and, and create something or go do something.

Becky: It's almost, what you're saying is customer discovery, but discover for your own career and, and also thinking what kind of an environment do you like to work in, you know, food and beverage is fast paced, it's relationship based, it's problem solving, and that's a whole different environment than working in a library or working in, in a different kind of environment.

So I think those are great tips for us. I know, through our conversation that we're gonna have, again, during national entrepreneurship, we were, we're gonna have even more, more to share. So I just wanna thank you for the work that you do, the way you're making the world a better place for so many people and I can't wait to meet you.

So, so thank you so much, Nick, and, and we just appreciate, everybody tuning in to our podcast, from around the world. Make sure that you, share this on your, your platform with others.

Nick: Thanks so much, Rebecca, and I'll see you at RCBC.