Fall 2013 /Startups/

Beans, Brains, Bros!

With their booming Joyride Coffee business, Noah Belanich '11 and his two brothers make the case for entrepreneurship in the liberal arts.

Noah Belanich ’11 and his two older brothers are a behind-the-beans force fueling New York City’s tech scene. The coffee, the caffeine, the morning kick for a slew of startups—it comes from the liberal-arts-trained trio, and who knows how many “aha” moments they’ve helped ignite.

Their own ignition as entrepreneurs came during the summer after Noah’s junior year at Pomona, when the brothers started Joyride Coffee from a food truck. Buzz built over social media as they served up beloved brews from high-end roasters such as Stumptown. Add to that lots of good press, and business boomed. So much that while Noah went back to finish his senior year at Pomona, the older brothers expanded into a new niche, providing their fancy-brew coffee service to (mostly) tech firms such as Twitter’s Gotham office.

joyride1Noah returned to the firm as a cofounder after graduation—his brothers only had a few coffee-service customers at that point—and two years later, Joyride Coffee has carved out a profitable new market providing top-notch roasts in the workplace. The relatively inexpensive perk of fancy coffee yields big appreciation from workers—that’s Noah’s pitch. And it’s working. Joyride was turning a profit by the end of their first year and, now, with 175 clients (coming from well beyond their original tech niche), the Belanich bros are the ones who need the caffeine.

“For a while there, we were so busy that we didn’t have time to hire people,” says Noah.

All three brothers have elite degrees. Adam delved into fine arts at Dartmouth, while Dave majored in political science for his B.A. at Middlebury and master’s at Yale. At Pomona, Noah earned the interdisciplinary philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) degree.

Noah says a liberal arts education is good preparation for entrepreneurship because the broad-based curriculum helps prepare you for the wide range of challenges you’ll deal with running a business: “It’s just the ability to think about problems from various approaches.” Now that he’s finally hiring, Noah, to no surprise, looks favorably upon his fellow liberal arts grads, and he recently brought on board two Sagehens: Anders Crabo ’12, a chemistry major, and Gracie Bialecki ’12, an English major. Says Noah: “It’s more about the way you think than what you know coming into the job.”

As an entrepreneur, Noah has tapped into his liberal arts ingenuity countless times. Case in point: recently big brother Dave took notice of a café that was dispensing ice coffee from a keg-like device. He came to Noah: “Do you think you could design something like that that we could put in offices?” Noah loved the idea, and through extensive experimentation, trial and error, he came up with an adapted refrigerated beer keg that could dispense cold coffee on tap. The ice-coffee keg was a big hit in the Big Apple this summer. “Everybody loves talking about how they have a Cold Brew Kegerator in the office,” says Noah. “It almost makes people feel naughty, like they’re drinking beer.”

Next comes a bigger challenge: Expansion to the West Coast. The brothers plan to bring Joyride to San Francisco next summer, knowing the city by the bay is full of tech companies with a taste for good coffee. It’s a move they have mulled for some time. “We want to build it slowly,” he says of the business. “And we want to build it smart.”