Kill the Cup

May 7, 2013
by Drew Beal

It’s a rainy Monday morning at UCSD – the first rainy weekday I can remember in more than a month.  And I should know.  The Kill The Cup campaign has been under way since April 1st, and our team has been trekking all over campus each day, making it fun to be green.  You see, Kill The Cup is a social venture aimed at reducing the number of disposable cups used at campus coffee shops.  We reward coffee drinkers who bring their own cup by entering them into daily, weekly, and grand prize contests to win cash or an iPad.  We also visit campus coffee shops and buy re-users free coffee – sometimes it’s scheduled, other times it’s spontaneous!

The idea for Kill The Cup was formed in Lab to Market, an entrepreneurial workshop series that defines the MBA experience at Rady.  Students form teams, develop business ideas, and test prototypes in the market.  We’re constantly pressed to advance our ideas – or be forced to kill the project and start anew.  We’re privileged to present our businesses to a panel of esteemed local entrepreneurs every week – a “Shark Tank” atmosphere featuring Founders, CEOs, and C-level executives.  It’s exhilarating. 

Our original hypothesis was that people are willing to change their behavior as it relates to disposable coffee cups – if properly incentivized.  The standard “10 cent” discount for bringing your own cup wasn’t moving the needle.  People needed more.  People deserved more.  That’s where we come in:  re-users that buy coffee at UCSD can upload a photo of their reusable coffee to KillTheCup.com as entry into daily ($10), weekly ($50), and grand prize (iPad) raffles.

We’re seeing growth each week – both in the size of our online community, and in the proportion of people who bring their own cup (coffee shops have been providing us with sales data).  In just one month, we’ve been able to grow our weekly reach on Facebook to nearly 6,500 people. And compelling trends are starting to materialize in the sales data:  during the winter quarter, 12% of coffees sold were in a reusable cup; during spring quarter weeks 3 and 4, 17.3% of coffees sold were in a reusable cup. 

Our rapid growth has provided myriad opportunities to apply lessons learned from the MBA course curriculum.  The project is a combination of entrepreneurial marketing, consumer behavior, new venture finance, operations, and organizational strategy.  We’ve developed a model that promotes and encourages environmental behavior in a way that is fun and engaging.

The success we’ve exhibited in such a short amount of time makes us eager to try it again – with more time, more resources, more planning.  We’re developing a program to work with universities and provide opportunities for undergrads to gain business experience, all while fostering a community of environmental awareness.  Regardless of Kill The Cup continuing after graduation, the project has proved to be quite the Lab to Market experience.

Drew Beal, Co-Founder and CEO of KillTheCup.com, is a Full-time MBA at the Rady School of Management.  Born and raised in Toms River, NJ, Drew is seeking to launch an impactful career in sustainability upon graduation this June.  When he’s not killing cups, you can find him blogging about sports and start-ups at drewbeal.com.