Kevin Mullan never thought his firetruck-turned-beer-dispensary could be anything more than a fun way to make extra cash. Mullan, a 39-year-old consultant, wanted the business "to keep up with my kids' private school tuition costs," he says. That was its purpose. But it turned into much more.
Mullan had the idea to turn a firetruck into a mobile beer tap after seeing friends take on a similar project. He realized there was no company in his home state of Ohio that could distribute local beer at events.
So in 2019, he took out $15,000 worth of loans from his local credit union, bought a $5,000 firetruck off Facebook Marketplace, and retrofitted it accordingly. He named the business Tapped 419 after an Ohio area code.
Just as the business started building up momentum, though, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the events the firetruck had so depended on were canceled. The new requests that started coming in changed the purpose of the firetruck for Mullan altogether. People started asking if the truck could make appearances at events and fundraisers for people in need of support during the pandemic — local health-care workers, for example.
Mullan realized Tapped 419 could be used not just as a fun way to make money but as a way of "giving back to the community," he says, and adds, "I'm still planning on paying for my kids to go to college off this damn thing, but along the way I realized that there's way more good that we can do."
Here's how Mullan's business went from a hustle to a mission.
Momentum for the truck built quickly after Mullan debuted it. Mullan had planned on doing 10 to 15 events per year, and "to clear somewhere between $5,000-$10,000, which means I'm grossing $15,000 per year," he says.
In the latter half of 2019, when the truck was ready to go, he'd already booked 12 events. By 2020, he'd booked another 35. When the pandemic hit, "not a single one of those events that was on the calendar [before the pandemic] happened the way it was scheduled to happen," he says. "Only 4 of those 35 events even happened at all."
In April 2020, as Mullan's plans for Tapped 419 began to come into question, he got a call from a friend who was organizing an event where they'd serve health-care workers ice cream sundaes. "You want to come in and let's do root beer floats?" Mullan's friend suggested.
At the event, Mullan saw "nurses and doctors that are fighting on the frontline to save lives — they're watching people die and they came out and they smiled and they laughed and they said thank you to me," he says. "That's when I realized there's something here that's way more important than profit."
Mullan brought the truck to 12 events to benefit the community in 2020. "We were able to serve health-care workers, we were able to serve teachers, we were able to serve neighborhoods," he says.
Tapped 419 lost money in the process — $5,000 in 2020 — and though he still believes he can be profitable in the future, "that's not the most important piece anymore," he says. "When my head hits the pillow, I'm no longer measuring the business based on the bank account, I'm measuring the business based on what we've been able to do in the community and the dollars we've been able to help people raise."
Tapped 419 will continue to be a part of fundraisers. As local economies open up in the Midwest and East Coast and Mullan can start participating in the events he'd planned on from the get-go, he hopes even those will include some way of giving back.
If someone books the truck for their private party, for example, Mullan says he might ask if they'd be open to moving the truck halfway through their booking to a community that could profit from having it around for a couple of hours. That way both he and the people who booked the truck can participate in paying it forward.
Mullan suggests aspiring side hustlers ask themselves, "What is the unmet need in your community that you can launch a passion project around?"
Ultimately, "the more you can align your profit with your passion," he says, "the less you care about your paycheck."
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