My name is Andrew Coplon and for the past 17 years I’ve sold cotton candy.
More accurately, I’ve managed a foodservice business that runs concessions operations at sports and entertainment venues all over the country. Through this job I spent thousands of hours understanding what goes into maximizing a customers’ experience and even more hours staffing for the events at hand. At the end of many of these long days, I would find myself sitting on my couch sipping a nice, cold beer.
After a few too many of those cold beers, my wife and I began thinking, “How can we take our experience…in customer experience…and provide some sort of a value to the craft beer community?” We had watched the number of craft breweries in the United States increase from 1,500 in 2007 to 5,600 by 2017. No longer could breweries strictly rely on a quality product to be successful— they now had to make sure the customer experience presented inside their tasting room was as enjoyable as their beer. The answer, for us, was Secret Hopper.
Secret Hopper would be a mystery shopping company for craft beer businesses. We would send undercover beer drinkers into breweries to collect feedback on their experience. Sounds like the perfect job, right! Except that instead of being the ones doing the research, we now had the task of building a company. Despite all my experience running a business, the day-to-day challenges of running a startup were new territory for me. For starts, I had never formed an LLC before. I had never entered an unknown market. I had also never been able to buy beer as a company expense. This was all so strange, yet so satisfying.
Somehow after filing a late night trademark and getting a suggestion to visit SCORE—a local business mentoring organization— at the ODU Innovation Center, I was suddenly connected to a community of like-minded, entrepreneurial spirits. I had spent the past 17 years becoming an expert in a market I knew, loved, and felt comfortable with. With Secret Hopper, I would be a lone entrant providing a new service in a growing craft beer market, often unsure of my next move.
I have been lucky enough to be connected to a community of people who are, have, or plan to make a similar leap. These are people who have taught me the importance of taking a risk, the importance of asking questions, and the importance of believing. A startup is a baby. A startup is your morning, afternoon, and night. A startup is soaking in as much knowledge as you can from books, podcasts, and those around you—all with the idea, and hope, that one sentence on your website can dramatically increase your business. It is a complete learning experience.
Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, says, “If we’re not having fun in the beer business, we’re not doing our job right.” Jim’s right. But more importantly, if you’re not having fun at your job, you’re not doing the right job right. Selling cotton candy taught me the value in loving what you do. A startup is just my way of fermenting that sugar and seeing what happens next.
P.S. We just announced Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick, MD as the first brewery to receive the Secret Hopper Excellence in Customer Experience Award. If you’re ever in the area, definitely check them out!
Written for StartWheel.org by:
Andrew Coplon, CEO and Founder of Secret Hopper
StartWheel’s mission is to centralize and mobilize efforts that foster the growth of entrepreneurism in our regional innovation economy. We aim to support and cultivate an entrepreneurial network in HRVA where talent, resources, information and leadership come together.