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Can a Coffee Shop on a Bike Conquer Starbucks?

A Stockholm-based startup's fast and furious expansion


Starbucks has seemingly invaded every busy street corner in America — at least in more affluent areas — but a coffee shop startup from Stockholm wants to challenge the java giant's dominance.

Is this an overfunded start-up or an ambitious plan to solve America's small business problem?

Wheelys is a mobile, organic coffee shop on a bike, and it's attracting major attention from investors: Since launching in 2014, the company has sold more than 500 units in 65 countries, and it just raised more than $800,000 via what TechCrunch calls "a vastly overfunded equity crowdfunding campaign" on Swedish site FundedByMe.

Each Wheelys unit includes everything an ambitious cyclist needs to run a coffee shop on wheels, including a tablet that serves as a register, running water, a stove, a sound system, wifi, and of course, an espresso machine. It's also eco-friendly, powered with the help of built-in solar panels and a windmill.

Wheelys compares its concept to Airbnb and Uber, as a newcomer intent on disrupting a major industry; it points out that opening a brick-and-mortar cafe can cost half a million dollars, but startup costs for a coffee shop on wheels are a relatively paltry $5,000, plus a monthly subscription fee of around $200. The mobile nature of the business also means that Wheelys owners aren't subject to paying rent, and the entire operation can be run by just one person.

The startup certainly has an impressive pedigree: It's been part of Y Combinator, the prestigious startup accelerator that helped fund Dropbox and Airbnb, and its investors include the founders of Scribd and Zynga.

The company says it has a waiting list of over 100 people who are waiting to buy the next Wheelys cafes (it now has its own assembly plant in China), and to further profits, it plans to open its own coffee roastery in Rwanda later this year to supply its fleet of mobile cafes.

Watch Wheelys sales pitch to potential investors, below:

Wheelys Cafe - World's Fastest Growing Cafe Chain [FundedByMe]

Wheelys Raises $830K to Bring Coffee-Bikes to the World [TechCrunch]

• All Coffee Coverage [E]