It’s 3:37 a.m. on the night before a final, and despite the empty coffee cups littering the desk, your eyelids are losing their battle with gravity. Suddenly … thump, your head hits the notebook, and you wake up bleary-eyed and screwed in the morning.
For students and others who want a drink with a high-powered caffeine kick, BAWLS Guarana, a high-caffeine soft drink created by Hoby Buppert ’95, offers an alternative to coffee.
“I have always been a big fan of caffeine, but the smell of coffee makes me sick,” said Buppert, who came up with the idea for BAWLS when he was traveling in Europe over winter break during his senior year in Cornell’s School of Hotel Management. “I noticed in Europe that they had a lot of high-caffeine energy drinks. I thought they tasted terrible but that the idea was really interesting.”
When he got back to Cornell, Buppert asked his advisor, Christopher Muller, if he could do a business plan for his idea as an independent study. Muller said yes, and Buppert set to work.
“When the entrepreneurial bug catches someone, you can tell,” said Muller, who taught at Cornell for 16 years and is now an associate professor for the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “It becomes an all-encompassing flame, a fire that kind of consumes them. I could tell Hoby had that. He was going to do this project. The seriousness of his desire, to other people, might have looked a little bit pie-in-the-sky, but having been entrepreneurial [myself] in the past I recognized the look.”
BAWLS got its name one night at Rulloff’s during Buppert’s senior year.
“There are drinks like Red Bull, Flying Tiger that use aggressive animal symbols, so I was trying to think of a different, strong name to use,” said Buppert. “One of my friends said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Balls?’ as more of a joke, but I liked it, so I changed the spelling and trademarked it.”
BAWLS’ caffeine kick comes from guarana, a berry that grows naturally in the Amazon. One 10-ounce bottle of BAWLS contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup to a cup and a half of coffee. It tastes like a “citrus-y cream soda” according to Buppert, and each cobalt-blue bottle costs between $1 and $1.50.
When he was growing up in Baltimore, Md., his parents called him “Hobarama,” the name he eventually gave to his company, because he was always starting businesses.
BAWLS wasn’t Buppert’s first business venture. From a lawn-cutting business to importing small items like puka shell necklaces and decorated wooden boxes from the Philippines at age 13, Buppert was always an entrepreneur.
When the time came to apply for college, Buppert knew that he wanted to go to Cornell’s hotel school, and it was the only place to which he applied.
He continued his lifelong interest in business at Cornell, where his favorite class was on entrepreneurship, taught by David BenDaniel, the Berens Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Johnson Graduate School of Management.
“He was a very personable young man,” BenDaniel said, “hard-charging and proactive. It is no surprise to me that he has been successful.”
While he was a student at Cornell, Buppert played polo, belonged to Alpha Delta Phi and participated in hotel school activities — “when I wasn’t at Rulloff’s,” he said with a laugh.
In fact, Buppert met his wife Christina, also a graduate of the hotel school in ’95, at Rulloff’s. She is now Hobarama’s vice president.
“He was a very social, very energetic young man with an easy smile and lots of friends,” Muller said. “When Hoby walked in — he must’ve been about 19 or 20 — I could just tell that something was going to happen to him. He had that entrepreneurial drive.”
During October of 1995, the fall after he graduated with a degree in finance from the hotel school, Buppert decided to pursue his BAWLS business plan.
Buppert got a loan to begin, and he called his former advisor Muller for advice. At times he ran into resistance because of his young age, but he also feels that it helped him succeed.
“It helps in that you’re willing to try things in a new way,” Buppert said. “You haven’t been trained yet about what’s right or wrong. It also helps because you have perseverance; you’re not as easily discouraged.”
Today, BAWLS distributes in 32 states and is available online. The company will be introducing its first new product, Guaranexx, a sugar-free version, this spring.
Archived article by Katy Bishop