Q&A with Drew Beal, CEO (Chief Environmental Optimist) of Kill the Cup

March 4, 2014
by Kristine Page

Q. Your startup, Kill the Cup, is all about getting people to make responsible choices in regards to the environment. How did you come up with the idea behind the business?

A. Well, it all started with my personal pet peeve for disposable coffee cups. I used to work in an office, and everyday my coworkers would do the same thing: wake up, go to work, and get coffee - and every day in a paper cup! But what incentives were in place to encourage change? Coffee shops typically offer ten-cent discounts for customers who bring reusable cups, but that isn’t enough to change people’s behavior. Another tactic, environmental messaging, often falls on deaf ears. In order to encourage real change, we had to make it fun to go green! And that’s where I got the idea for Kill the Cup.

Together with my Lab to Market team, we created a game (shout-out to lucky number Team 13!). We encouraged the campus community at UC San Diego to bring their own cup when they got coffee, and told them to upload photos of themselves (selfies!) with their cups to our website, killthecup.com. Each photo served as entry into weekly and grand prize raffles.We had sales data from six coffee shops on campus, thank to our partners at UC San Diego Housing & Dining. During the course of the eight-week pilot program, we saw an increase every week in the percentage of people that brought their own cup!

Q. Was there a turning point in your company, a moment where you knew that there was some serious potential or positive momentum?

A. After graduating in June 2013, Mike Taylor (FT ‘13 classmate) and I decided to pursue Kill the Cup fulltime. We co-founded a nonprofit organization, Social Ventures for Sustainability, to oversee the implementation of Kill the Cup as a waste-reduction program for university and corporate campuses. We devoted our summer to developing the business plan and applying to accelerator programs.

The moment of validation came when Kill the Cup was accepted into the Points of Light Civic Accelerator, the first startup accelerator program focused on “civic ventures” – enterprises that inspire, equip and mobilize people to create positive change. Social Ventures for Sustainability was one of 15 teams selected from a nationwide applicant pool of 240+ startups. The 12-week boot camp featured mentoring, education, peer support and networking valued at $15,000. We had the opportunity to present at a Demo Day at Stanford University, and the audience voted Kill the Cup as “Best Pitch” and “Potential for Greatest Impact.” Several of our Rady classmates attended the event and we had a blast!

Q. What role did Rady play in your startup?

A. The atmosphere and the curriculum at Rady were instrumental in getting Kill the Cup off the ground. I first started playing around with the idea of solving the cup problem in Steven Gal’s Entrepreneurial Marketing course. Other electives helped round out my idea, too. Wendy Lui’s Consumer Behavior exposed me to the concept of social influence and Nora Williams’ Social Media Marketing gave me the opportunity to run a crowdfunding campaign for a local nonprofit. And of course, Lab to Market was where Kill the Cup really took off.

Q. What’s your favorite beverage to put in your cup?

A. My go-to coffee is Starbucks’ Pike Place Roast. I’m a big fan of independent roasters, too -- but I can always count on Starbucks for a solid internet connection. Plus, I get free re-fills with my Gold card. (They suckered me in with gamification!)

Q. What inspires you to keep innovating?

A. It’s fun! The idea that you can create something in the world, that your ideas can make a difference, is extremely motivating.

Q. What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs?

A. Put yourself out there! I think one of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs can make -- and this is something that I’m guilty of, too -- is trying to make the perfect “something.” One of the best ingredients for any new idea is feedback. Start talking to potential customers about your concept, build a prototype, get started. The responses you get will be invaluable.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had done differently when you first started Kill the Cup?

A. Nothing comes to mind, but that’s not to say we did everything right. The key is being able to learn from your mistakes, iterating on your design, and testing your new idea. I couldn’t be happier with where Kill the Cup is today, and much of our progress is thanks to making a few stumbles along the way.

Q. What does Never Stop mean to you?

A. So many things! Never stop ideating, never stop networking, never stop getting involved. Entrepreneurship can be addictive. I already get excited thinking about my next startup.

Kristine Page is a digital strategist at the Rady School of Management. When she’s not tweeting, sharing photos on Instagram or writing Rady stories, you can find her sipping iced coffee and  expounding on the merits of the latest Facebook changes to anyone who will listen.