Wheelys, a now 5-year-old startup in Stockholm, is living proof that opening your own café is quite feasible. Wheelys launched its first café in 2014 and since then has rolled out close to 600 similar cafés in 65 different countries. (For the record, Starbucks, which started its first international coffee shop in 1996, has 24,000 stores in 70 countries.) But Wheelys is getting there: “We’re growing with three units per day now but have really just begun to explore our huge potential for growth,” company founder and CEO Maria De La Croix said already in 2016. (One small hurdle today if you're thinking about becoming a bike barista: Order early, the company works at capacity and the bikes sell out every year)

The idea is simple. Inspired by industry disrupters such as Uber or Airbnb, Wheelys wanted to make it easy for young people to start their own café … without a storefront. Technically, it’s more of a bike company, which also happens to involve the sale of caffeinated drinks.
The café bikes are inexpensive to run, environmentally friendly, and of course mobile, to allow the café owner to move to where the customers are. It’s part of company lore that the founder’s first bike, much to the chagrin of the stationary competition mentioned earlier in this article, was set up outside one of their coffee houses in Stockholm. Need we say that she ended up selling more coffee than it did?


Tailor made coffee on wheels
The bikes have evolved since the first model, and while the basic original bike at $3000 offered a low-cost way to own your own mobile coffee shop, the latest version allows owners to add crêpes, juices, ice cream and more to the menu. The Wheelys 5 Open Source model is a bit more expensive than previous versions, but at $7,000 it's still so much cheaper than owning a conventional café and won't lock you into any long-term contracts, leases or physical locations, so you're free to set up when and where you can. The carts are cleverly designed with plenty of moving parts and hidden compartments, and the Open Source name is all about allowing the owners to equip their carts as they please.

Life as a mobile café owner is made smoother by the newest version café bikes, which include an electric motor, solar power, a sign, a gas stove, an espresso brewer, an air purifier, LED lighting, a roof, a speaker for tunes, WiFi, running water, a sink, smart displays and more. The stove can run on biogas, the coffee grounds are intended to be recycled into soil cubes, and the company asks that only 100 percent fair trade and organic coffee be sold, and that at least 60 percent of the pastries and other food sold from the bikes is organic. Your ongoing cost will be a franchise fee of roughly $200 per month, which includes branding, discounted supplies, support, advertising, workshops and a host of other benefits.

Wheelys participated in the Y Combinator program in Silicon Valley in early 2016 and raised over $2.5 million from such investors as Paul Buchheit (Gmail), Justin Waldron of the gaming company Zynga and others. A later investment round through the online crowd funding at Fundedbyme raised almost an additional $1 million inside of 24 hours, which the company reportedly did not fully accept. Wheelys only has a couple handfuls of people at offices in Stockholm, China and the U.S. The recipe for success is sometimes simple: Create a product that’s innovative, that breaks the rules and changes things, builds a consistent revenue stream and keeps overhead low. As for the café cart owners, the mobility of their stores enables them to go to where the customers are. How can you beat that? Starbucks, watch out.
For more info, see www.wheelyscafe.com

(Original text from Nordstjernan 18, 2016)