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Swimmer misses Rio shot, starts coffee venture

Entrepreneur funds startup with Clinton and Trump themed coffee

Berkeley grad Chuck Katis envisioned he’d be competing in Rio this August.

He spent the past year training, only to fall just short of making the U.S. Olympic swim team at the trials in June.

“I put my heart and soul into swimming,” Katis, 23, told CNNMoney. “How do you deal with that sort of disappointment?”

Katis has been channeling his energy into entrepreneurship since returning to San Francisco after the trials in Omaha, Nebraska.

If he can’t follow in the footsteps of a Michael Phelps, why not go the way of Airbnb founder Brian Chesky instead?

chuck katis trump hillary coffee
If Chuck Katis can’t get a gold medal, he’ll settle for the next Airbnb

Back in 2008 when it was still called Air Bed Breakfast, Airbnb launched an election-inspired marketing campaign to raise brand awareness and cash. The company sold limited-edition boxes of cereal with cartoon caricatures of Obama and McCain. Boxes of Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s cost $39 (5% of the proceeds went to the campaign.)

Katis said he remembered reading about the campaign eight years ago, and now he’s trying his hand at doing something similar.

Taking a page from the book of Chesky, Katis launched Caffeine 2016 about three weeks ago.

About 100 people have purchased 12 oz. bags of coffee, one with artwork inspired by Trump and one for Hillary, for $19.95 each.

Related: How Michael Phelps changed the business of swimming

For every 50 bags sold, Katis is changing up the artwork to keep things fresh. Currently, the Trump bag reads “Dunkin Democrats.” There’s also a Hillary bag called “Billary Blend.”

The Trump bags have been most popular, according to Katis, who wasn’t sure anyone would buy either bag. He hadn’t even lined up a supplier for the coffee when he first launched the website.

Like with Airbnb, 5% of profits from each item sold will be given to each of the campaigns. The rest will be used for Katis’ entrepreneurial pursuits. He’s behind education technology startup ‘Mentagrate’ (“mental aggregate”), a QA marketplace to help students answer questions. He’s also pouring his athletic experience and coding skills into Hack Fitness, a text message service for customized fitness routines.

chuck katis cards instory
Katis said he’s been fascinated by magic tricks since he was a kid. “I was inspired not just to be a performing monkey at parties or swim meets, but to use it for something better.”

Katis has long been entrepreneurial. In 2009, at age 16, he started a non-profit called “Magic of Miracles,” a network of underground magicians that drop by hospitals and homeless shelters to perform magic tricks.

“In that moment, when you can’t figure out the trick, you’re incredibly present,” said Katis. “I’ve done it for investors, business partners, guys on the street in Berkeley.”

Katis even ended up having a fluke encounter with David Blaine as a freshman at Harvard University (Katis transferred to Berkeley after two and a half years.) He and Blaine kept in touch; and five years, Blaine performed at a homeless shelter with “Magic of Miracles.”

While Katis is no longer spending up to 6 hours a day training, he hops in the pool daily if he can.

“Swimming is something I do, but it doesn’t necessarily define me,” he said. “The most inspiring athletes or entrepreneurs, are those who are trying to be bigger than their sport.”