From Basement Beginnings to Business Brilliance: The Nitro Bar’s Story

The path to entrepreneurial success is paved with challenges and triumphs, often born from humble beginnings. Today, I’ll highlight such a story. Audrey Finocchiaro and Sam Lancaster are the founders of The Nitro Bar, a cold brew coffee business in Rhode Island.

They started their business in 2016 in Audrey’s parents’ basement, and with long hours, trial and error, and strategic partnerships, the brand generated over $4.5 million in sales in 2023. And keeps growing.


How did they do it? Let’s pick apart their story and see what we can learn. I’ll also throw some questions at you, so you can reflect on how these lessons impact your own entrepreneurial journey. So grab a cup of coffee (cold brew, maybe?), put on your thinking cap, and be prepared to be wowed. 


Lesson 1: Be Tenacious 

First and foremost, tenacity wins the game. Audrey and Sam faced daunting hurdles at the beginning of their business, including financial strain and uncertainty about their venture's viability. In a recent article in Entrepreneur magazine, they revealed they spent an entire summer taking their coffee cart to any in-person affair that would have them, from farmers markets to sheep-shearing events (Yep. I had no idea such a thing existed, either). The summer yielded few results and Audrey and Sam almost threw in the towel. 

But they didn’t give up. They stayed determined - even when it was uncomfortable. Even when they felt defeated. No doubt, even when they thought they had made a mistake by starting the business in the first place. They continued on through the discomfort, putting in 80-hour work weeks and working through the weekends. This unyielding determination undoubtedly resulted in success.


As you navigate your own entrepreneurial journey, embrace obstacles with resilience and persistence, no matter the odds. Remember that setbacks are inevitable, but the ability to persevere amid challenges is the key to success. It’s not only about action, either. It’s about what’s in your mind. When you’re feeling pain and discomfort, be willing to recognize that fear is simply a part of the journey. And carry on anyway.

Now think about your business. What feels uncomfortable to you? How can you push forward with the vision for your business even in the discomfort?


Lesson 2: Know Your Customers 

Audrey and Sam probably weren’t successful that first summer in part because they didn’t yet know their customers. They were showing up to any event that would have them, which means they may have been in places where people weren’t even thinking about drinking coffee (i.e., the sheep-shearing event). Or maybe they went to events where there just weren’t a lot of coffee drinkers in the first place. 


My guess is that Audrey and Sam were falling trap to the idea that their customers were everywhere, so they should be everywhere too. On first glance, it seems like a reasonable conclusion. Coffee drinkers are everywhere! But the right coffee drinkers aren’t everywhere. To be successful, they had to find the right coffee drinkers. And they had to find them during times when they were most likely to want a cup of cold brew.


The Nitro Bar started to take off when Audrey and Sam pulled their cart onto the campus of Brown University. For the first time, the cart sold out - in 30 minutes, no less - and that's when they knew they had a successful idea. College students! Yes, college students drink coffee, lots of it, and could drink it all day long, especially if they need to stay awake to study. Audrey and Sam finally found the right customers at the right time. 

Not long after, The Nitro Bar landed on TikTok and things really took off. A social media platform used by many college-aged young adults, Audrey and Sam created content that was funny, fresh, and authentic. This, in turn, resonated with their audience and turned them into raving fans. The result? Even more growth. 


So, if you’re struggling to grow and can’t figure out what’s wrong, take a look at your ideal customer profile. Are you not only clear about who you want to serve, but where to find them? If not, what can you do to reach them, and reach them at the right time?


Lesson 3: Form Strategic Partnerships 

Don’t try to run your business in a vacuum. You need support for the journey. You need strategic partnerships. In The Nitro Bar’s case, Audrey and Sam met with an investor Audrey already knew, and she helped them see that their business was hugely scalable. So scalable, in fact, that the investor gave them a $100,000 loan to fuel expansion. 


Today, The Nitro Bar has grown from a small cart on the campus of Brown University to three brick-and-mortar locations and 50 employees. They also have 50 other businesses throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts that keep their cold brew on tap. These strategic partnerships, not only with investors but also with other businesses, have been key to The Nitro Bar’s success. 


As a small business owner, it’s also important for you to take advantage of strategic partnerships with professionals who can ensure you have the right business foundations in place. This not only ensures your business is protected from risk and loss, but also gives you the freedom to focus on growth with the peace of mind knowing a trusted partner has your back.


With unique training as a LIFTed Business Advisor, I am the trusted partner your business owner needs. I’m trained to help you get your foundational business systems in place - which are your Legal, Insurance, Financial and Tax systems (thus, the acronym “LIFT”) - and I will also be there for you every step of the way. You’ll have someone to turn to before you take any action that could potentially derail your business, and I can help you see what those actions may be, even if you can’t. 


So before you sign any contract, purchase any insurance policy, bring on a partner, or seek outside investment, reach out to me so I can help you make an informed and empowered decision that supports the health of your business. 


Here are my final questions for you. Who are your most trusted strategic partners? What partners do you need to have on your team in order to set your business up for success?


We’re By Your Side for the Journey

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, I am committed to guiding you through every stage of your entrepreneurial journey, allowing you to focus on what really matters—growth and success. Together, we’ll build an unshakable foundation so your business thrives. Schedule a complimentary consultation to find out how to get your foundations in place so your business is more attractive to investors, strategic partners, and your customers. Who knows, you may be the next Nitro Bar!

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This article is a service of Sky Unlimited Legal Advisory PC, Personal Family Lawyer® .  We're not your traditional law firm, we stand apart from the rest by helping you make informed and empowered decisions on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of an emergency. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services, including a New Business Planning Session or an Existing Business Review Session, which includes a review of all the legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. You can begin by calling our office at (650) 761-0992 today or book online to schedule a Business Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $950 session at no charge.

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