MBA alum brews up unique coffee business
After retired Navy engineer Derek Hicks ’21 MBA sold his company that he built from the ground up (or more accurately, in his garage)—a business that won global industry awards—he immediately started thinking about what’s next.
“Being an engineer, I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone so I could grow,” he said of his desire to do something out-of-the-box and profitable.
Hicks, who dubbed himself the “interrupted student” while in Charleston Southern University’s MBA program, took courses off and on in the middle of building his business. He enjoyed the flexibility of the program and ultimately graduated in 2021 with his master’s degree.
That same year, he launched a new business that definitely fell outside of his comfort zone. “For six months, I thought about what I wanted to do next.”
Hicks chose what he thought was most scalable: coffee. But not just any coffee. Delicious coffee delivered quickly—from a shipping container.
Using his business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit, and new degree, Hicks created Hustleduck Coffee.
A four-minute drive and straight shot from CSU sits a modular unit in a parking lot. The refurbished shipping container catches the eye of drivers and boasts a simplified menu with competitive pricing. Kim Blaton, chief marketing officer for Hustleduck, said that “people take notice” and are very curious about the unit on Highway 78.
“They’ll drive through just to see what it is,” Blaton said of the easy means of attracting new customers.
The idea of a coffee business intrigued Hicks in many ways because of its scalability and the opportunity to direct the trajectory of its growth. “I always believed that we should be vertically integrated absolutely as much as possible [in my business],” Hicks shared. “For one, you control the supply, you control the pricing, you can set at what stage you want the price to appear at.”
When sizing up the competition, he looked at Charleston market top dogs like Starbucks, Biggby, and Dunkin. “Everyone else were outliers,” said Hicks. “We did a lot of target pricing to be the cost leader [in this market].”
One day, Hicks plans to scale to the point where Hustleduck becomes a coffee importer, including handling their own manufacturing. “We won’t have to worry about being put on a wait list anywhere,” he added.
Hustleduck offers a simplified menu: cold brew, cold foam, sweet cream cold brew, a signature latte (with many signature flavors to choose from), as well as a frozen drink option boasting about 10 unique flavors. A handful of foods and treats are available, too. The menu has just enough to help the consumer make a quick decision. Hick’s intent, of course, was coffee in a hustle.
Hustleduck is drive-thru service only. No dine in. “The way we’re making it is way faster than other coffee shops,” Hicks explained. “That’s where the word hustle came into play.”
When thinking of the name for his new business, Hicks put a lot of thought into other companies that use animals as their mascot or who use animal clips in advertising. He thought about how memorable those are—and eventually settled on a duck. The company’s name, Hustleduck, was born.
With their proximity to campus, Hicks is hoping to build upon the Hustleduck and CSU relationship over the years. Hustleduck has been on campus for events and offers deals to students on occasion.
In addition to the location on Highway 78, Hustleduck offers a mobile truck—perfect for parties, appreciation days, grand openings, or Sweet 16 events at CSU.
What’s next for the CSU alumnus? According to Hicks, “expansion.” He has identified more location possibilities, such as Carnes Crossroads, for pop up coffee service for consumers.
To learn more about Hustleduck’s menu, location, hours, or job opportunities, check out hustleduck.com.