I love talking to coffee people so it was exciting when Mike from Java Plus (http://javaplusonline.com/) reached out to me and offered to share some of his wisdom. I actually have a list of interview questions for situations like this, so I was prepared to pick his brain.
We started with some of the normal back-story questions. We learned that Mike started the company to supplement his seasonal day job. They got a mobile unit and started selling coffee at fairs and flea markets, all along driving the online business. This seems to be a common model.
People get into coffee because they love it and then they grind their way into the market. They did it all with no help from partners. They built it from scratch.
This posed a question to us. Is there a way to start without all the grinding? We couldn't agree. I don’t really think there is a way unless you get some sort of angel investor who is committed for 5 years with almost no return. If I got one of those, I would be sure to ride my unicorn to work every day.
Another one of the interesting notes from our conversation is that Mike said they learned early that they were not going to be able to make it on coffee alone. So they added tea and blended drinks. I think there is a bit of wisdom here. One is that we have to adjust our pricing to match our model. If my model is to sell 400 cups of coffee a day, I need to have it efficient and inexpensive. But if I want to focus on hand brewing everything, I will need to price it proportionally to the extra time it will take. So if you have to sell 400 cups at $2, and I will be taking twice the amount of time. Then, I need to sell 200 cups for $4. I have always thought about supplementing the coffee aspect of the business with other craft beverages, be it tea, beer or wine.
The last point I want to make on this post from our conversation is that you have to keep it unique. Mike said they had an old ambulance they painted and used as their storage truck. It was very unique and stood out at the farmer’s markets. People liked it and looked for it. That walks a fine line between differentiation and gimmick. Sometimes gimmicks work, but they rarely last. The real question I have to ask myself is, how will I set my self apart? How will people recognize me as different from everyone else?
It was very nice to talk Mike and his wife about their business and we learned quite a bit. So if there is anyone else that would like to chat and impart their wisdom upon me, please do so!