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…you’re going to actually hear how someone took a failing business and I’m going to explain and he’s going to explain how this happened and how he was at the bottom of like where you could be in business like failing business, brick and mortar and how he was able to turn that into a huge success. Also landing a super bowl commercial a few years back.
Now, the company that I’m talking about is called now, Death Wish Coffee. I say “now” because it wasn’t originally called that. He started this business as a coffee shop. He created the brand from the requests of some of his customers. But the business was failing. It was failing pretty badly and he was thinking about even closing shop and he’s going to talk all about that. If I didn’t mention his name his name is Mike Brown and I met him through a mutual friend, Jeff Cohen from Seller Labs. He introduced me to Mike and it’s funny because I knew that… Well, I knew that this company Death Wish Coffee had this big super bowl commercial when I was living in New York.
Now, he’s from New York, still from New York and the funny thing is he was only about two to three miles away from where I used to live. Couldn’t believe it. Didn’t even know this. I mean I knew he was local but didn’t know he was that close. The news was buzzing around this time when they were going to be possibly be on the Super Bowl win a free commercial. They ended up winning, a whole community was just buzzing. Now, I get the chance to actually interview him and we get to talk all about those lessons learned and I’m telling you right now you’re going to learn so much by just listening to his story.
[00:02:08] Scott: I think you’re going to be inspired, I think you’re going to be motivated and I think you’re going to see that there’s so many different twists and turns that happen in business. I want you guys listening right now to also go back and start to think about things that you’ve done in the past with your story and see how you’ve grown through that story. That’s really the big thing that I always take away from anyone that I interview is it’s not all… It’s like you just don’t start something and it’s just always success. There’s failures along the way but there’s learning lessons along the way.
There’s growth along the way. I actually look at that as profit in just a different type of currency. It’s not like currency that you can actually cash in in the bank although you could once you apply them to other parts of your business or a new venture or whatever. But you’re going to hear that everything wasn’t perfect and still not perfect. But he’s grown a very, very large successful company. He’s been on, I believe it was Good Morning America. He’ll let us know that and then from there sales blew up but from there he couldn’t fulfill the orders. Then guess what? Amazon kicked him off, eBay kicked him off. Then he had to go back and figure out how to get back on and he’ll talk all about that stuff but you’ll see there’s growing pains from being successful that you have to learn from, you have to adapt to.
But I think you guys are going to really, really enjoy this interview so I’m going to stop talking now so you can listen to this interview that I did with Mike. You’re going to hear all the ins and the outs. All of the ups and downs and I really just, am curious about a story … So you’re going to hear that casual conversation as always of him and I sitting around having that cup of Death Wish Coffee. So guys, sit back, relax, enjoy this interview with Mike Brown.
[00:03:58] Scott: Well Mike thank you so much for hanging out with us today, how are you doing man?
[00:04:01] Mike: I’m feeling great Scott. Thanks for having me.
[00:04:04] Scott: No, it’s pretty cool that I finally got a chance to talk to you and I know I talked to you a little bit before we got going here but we’re actually neighbors. Like really close. I lived around Boston Lake and you’re from that area so pretty crazy, pretty small world there, right?
[00:04:19] Mike: Absolutely. This town is only about two square miles.
[00:04:25] Scott: Yeah, it’s crazy. And it’s funny whenever I hear someone they are like, “Where are you from?” I’m usually like, “Well, outside of Albany, Upstate New York.” And they are like, “Oh, where about?” And I’m like if you’ve ever been to Lake Saratoga,” “Oh yeah, I’ve been to Saratoga,” and I’m like, “Cool, you know where I am then.” A lot of people are like, you’re like in the city, you’re like in New York. Nothing against the city but there’s a different, it’s a totally different place. The city and then you have Upstate New York.
[00:04:50] Mike: 100% different.
[00:04:52] Scott: Yeah, yeah and we were just talking briefly a little bit too. The school that I graduated and you know exactly where that is and it’s just funny. You grew up there, I grew up there so it’s funny. Let’s go ahead and maybe give people a little bit of a background as far as who Mike is and this company that you created which is a pretty awesome company that I want to definitely dig into. Just maybe give us a little bit of background on you and how you got into the space.
[00:05:18] Mike: Yeah, actually I had an accounting background before I moved into online selling. But I didn’t love it. I worked for the state of New York for a little bit and then from there I took a year off, hang out in coffee shops and thought, hey you know, maybe I can run a coffee shop. I did actually, I did it for about, I still own it now but I ran it to the ground for probably the first four or five years. I wasn’t very good at it. Brick and mortar businesses are tough, it’s a lot of overhead, a lot of expenses. If you’re not watching your expenses you… I guess that’s another story. From there after I wasn’t doing so well, I decided to try my luck with online selling based on a recommendation from one of my customers.
He tried this coffee that I put together that was what I considered the strongest coffee in my shop at the time. He loved it and he’s like, “You got to sell this online.” At that point I needed the extra money and I started reading a lot of books, figuring out how to sell online and if I could even do it. It’s funny, at the time, I had this coffee. I’m like, “Can’t I just make up my own product and sell it online?” It was a weird concept. That’s what I did. I came up with a concept that came up with… I had the product already, I didn’t have any of the packaging or anything but I just sat down and created a website one day.
I think I used Weebly at the time. Looking back on it my employees use the “wayback machine” and take a look at the website and they just laugh at me because it’s awful. But it converted, it converted well actually.
[00:07:08] Scott: That’s funny. At this point though Mike, so you’re like you’re totally going at this thing like, “I’m just going to go ahead and create this coffee. A couple of people on my store,” maybe many people… “They love this blend that you put together.” Was it really a blend of some kind? Were you taking like a few different types of beans and putting together? How did that whole thing come up or were you making it for yourself or were you just experimenting? I’m trying to figure out how you even came up with that idea.
[00:07:30] Mike: Customers kept asking me for my strongest cup of coffee. Every morning they come in and be like, “Hey Mike, give me your strongest stuff. I got a lot of work to do today.” I was like, “All right.” I always pour them like the Espresso roast or I’d pour them another coffee called Jackie Jo which is a lighter blend but it also had decent amount of caffeine. It was like a little bit of conundrum, they were like sometimes the lighter roast had more caffeine but sometimes people were just looking for that strong flavor. So I’m like, well forget it, I’ll just put together a coffee that tastes strong and has a lot of caffeine in it.
[00:08:12] Scott: And they liked it?
[00:08:12] Mike: The loved it. Yeah. I tried. At the time I was living behind my mom’s garage and I was putting this together. I finally got it right because I knew, I took a taste of it and like my jaw was locked up. It was so strong. I was using this little like $5 coffee maker to make this, this sludge came out and it tasted great. It tasted great and I was wired, all day long.
[00:08:40] Scott: You’re in the laboratory, you’re making this stuff. Putting these different ingredients together and then all of a sudden you’re like I think I’m onto something. People tried it, they liked it. They keep giving me this coffee and then you start to think maybe I’m going to maybe sell this stuff online. Maybe that’s the way to do it. It’s going to be scalable, more scalable that if you’re in a brick and mortar, opening up a whole bunch of stores.
[00:09:00] Mike: Yeah. I think I thought that far ahead at the point. My goal was to if I could earn an extra $5,000 I think a month or a year I would be able to pay off some bills that were really starting to pile up at the coffee shop. I had very modest goals at the time. I didn’t even know that I’d be able to sell a bag. It was just kind of like put it out there and pray, I ended up running some Facebook ads to get my first sale. This is back in 2011. Somebody bought a bag and I was like, “Wow, what am I going to do now?” I’m like, I have to set this coffee up. So I went to Staples, I bought label making stuff, learned to make the actual labels and I had some blank coffee bags and I put it together, sent it out and got a good review.
They left me a very positive review. I took that review, I put right up on the website as a testimonial and not long later I sold another bag. It was slow going at first. It was like one bag a week, two bags a week, three bags a week and then finally selling like a bag a day and I’m like, “Well, this is really, I can see the growth.” It’s small, small scale but I can see the growth. I’m like, “Well this has the potential and people are getting excited about it.” I started social media accounts and I finally hired one of my barristers to cover in. I’m like, “Just post on social media all day, interact with our customers, make sure they are happy and send out letters to bloggers and news reporters and anyone you can find online who might possibly want to try the coffee and leave a review to their audience.”
I was trying to find those key influencers at the time that had those big audiences. It worked out. I was kind of a fore influencer marketing…
[00:10:45] Scott: I was going to say, you having this idea I think is brilliant. Were you just like looking at any type of platform out there that was just coffee drinkers, like those types of people or were there other…?
[00:10:58] Mike: I was just looking for almost like the buzz feed type of articles where they found like clever items like cool material. Those type of blogs. New products entering the market that are a little different and that’s where we made our first big step is in that area. Then Good Morning America called us in 2013. This is after we were around for a couple of years and still at the time we were only selling maybe ten bags a day. And they were like, “Oh, we heard about your coffee. We wanted to come up and do a report on you and interview you and check out your shop.” I was like, “Wow. Yeah definitely come up. When do you want to come?” They said, “Well, we’ll be there in four hours.” I was like, “Four hours?” I closed my shop, I kicked everyone out and I cleaned the place, they ended coming up and interviewing me all day and they took coffee back with them. The next morning they opened up Good Morning America, drinking Death Wish Coffee and telling the world like it was a great product.
At the time we were selling on Amazon and eBay. We had two years in and like I said we had very low volume sellers and there’s like overnight our sales went from maybe 10 bags a day to like over 70… Thousands of pounds in one day.
[00:12:29] Scott: What were you thinking at this point? Were you, number one. You get that call from Good Morning America, that’s got to be like mind blowing too. Do you have…
[00:12:39] Mike: It was scary. I almost said no. I almost said, no. I’m not prepared. I recognized the opportunity but there was like there was a little bit of fear there.
[00:12:48] Scott: Sure. I mean you don’t know what to expect. You’re thinking to yourself like okay, I’m kind of like, I’m managing like selling what we have and I can do more. But not like as much as maybe they can give. You have no idea if you’re going to be able to even handle those orders that are going to come through.
[00:13:04] Mike: We couldn’t.
[00:13:06] Scott: Yeah, I want to hear about that but let me go back… So quickly where do the name come from? Did you just all of a sudden just come up with a name or were you kind of going back and forth or where did that come from?
[00:13:17] Mike: I had the logo idea in my head. I wanted it to look like a bag of poison up in a shelf in somebody’s kitchen and I could picture my brand like somebody walking through… I actually saw it happen the other day. We were at, just yesterday. I was at a family reunion. There was a bag of my coffee up on the shelf in the kitchen and this guy walks in who I think it was a friend of the family, I didn’t really know and the Death Wish bag caught his eye. He went over, picked it up, looked it at it, turned it around, he read the warning label on the back and he walks out to his friends, he’s like, “Check out this…” Oh my God, that’s exactly what I was picturing four years ago when I was trying to design this bag.
Just something eye catchy, a little different up on the shelf where people would be like, show their friends and they have laugh or talk about it.
[00:14:08] Scott: That’s awesome. You got to see it firsthand. Like you could hear about it but like you actually got to see it in real time.
[00:14:14] Mike: I actually saw it yesterday. It was pretty wild.
[00:14:15] Scott: That is pretty cool. That is cool.
[00:14:17] Mike: Yeah, the name came from… So I had the idea but I didn’t have a name for it and I didn’t know what to call it but I was actually… This is going to sound silly but when I was making the website I was actually drinking Four Local. You may remember those Four Local alcohol like energy drinks and I had a cup coozy that my girlfriend had given me that had a picture of a mean dog on it and underneath it said, “Death wish.” She had gotten that as a souvenir for me. It was just like, well this thing fits perfectly with this brand and that’s how I got it. I wish it was a better story.
[00:14:58] Scott: That’s great. I mean I just love to see how it come… A lot of people will sit there and they’ll rack their brains for months thinking about like what’s going to be the best name. It all kind of came together for you right from the beginning of what you had envisioned but then all of a sudden the name kind of called out to you. That’s interesting to see how that happens. That’s really cool.
[00:15:16] Mike: I was inspired by it.
[00:15:19] Scott: No. it’s cool. It’s worked well for you and I think it’s definitely got that edge appeal. Like you said, the guy come and going, “Hey, check this stuff out. You got to see this stuff. This stuff will kill you.” I could see a guy saying that to his buddies. That’s exactly what you were going for. That’s cool. Now, Good Morning America, they do the whole spot, you get on the show. Is it instant that the orders start to flood in?
[00:15:47] Mike: Instant. It was instant. It happened like as soon as they went off with live. I think the show goes off at two to three different time zones. We were looking at a few different peaks and we were watching the sales roll in and I was just so excited. At the time I was so broke and I had no money. I see my PayPal account just tickering up, tickering up and I’m like, “Now I can pay this bill, now I can pay this bill, call these creditors and tell them like square away with them.” As this is all happening I’m like, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to fulfill all this.” I’m like, I should… The rational part of it is like I should shut this off.
I won’t say the greedy side that was like I can’t shut it off but I don’t want to kill a good thing and I don’t want to… This could be it.
[00:16:48] Scott: Yeah, and you’re thinking that and I don’t think really greedy. I think it’s more like you don’t want to lose that momentum that’s coming in and then you being on the capitalize on it after the fact and then like let the orders flood in and I’ll figure out how to fill them later.
[00:17:02] Mike: Yeah, exactly.
[00:17:03] Scott: If I have to tell people they got to wait a few weeks then I got to… At least I’ll just communicate with them and just keep them onboard with what’s going on.
[00:17:11] Mike: That’s what we tried to do. We ended up fulfilling all the orders. Some took upwards of 30 days. There was only me and my ex-barrister Meghan working at the time. We were pulling customers out of my coffee shop to come work for me, to fulfill these orders.
[00:17:32] Scott: Where were you manufacturing like all of the bagging and all of that stuff?
[00:17:38] Mike: We were working with third party roasters in the area locally to help us fulfill these orders. The bags we were getting, were just getting them online from a bag company and printing the labels and it was… Thinking back on it, it was so funny because we were doing everything basically wrong, in a slow way. We learned a ton during that time. Afterwards we were able to… Actually right after it’s all over we got kicked off Amazon, we got kicked off from eBay. Everyone I brought down at the time from my coffee shop was working for me now. I’m like, “All right guys, like what are we going to do here. We can keep this thing going but if we are going to do that, we need to make a lot of changes.” Everyone wanted to keep it going.
So I’m like, all right, let’s do this. We sat down with a piece of paper. We figured out how we were going to make this thing scalable for the future and we started working with [inaudible] until we started making relationships with more coffee roasters, we started buying an actual warehouse or renting a warehouse where we could actually work at because at that point we were still based at my coffee shop.
[00:18:54] Scott: Wow. That is crazy. That is crazy. So that plan that you laid out. Let’s talk about that. I think people would be interested into hearing like okay, you’re at this point now, you’re like this is great but we just got kicked off Amazon, we’re kicked off eBay. Why did you get kicked out of those by the way? Curious.
[00:19:11] Mike: Just because we weren’t fulfilling fast enough and people were getting mad when they don’t get their coffee yesterday.
[00:19:20] Scott: Yeah, that makes sense.
[00:19:24] Mike: I wouldn’t blame them. I would complain too.
[00:19:27] Scott: Let’s say it’s part of the game but so then you got reinstated, that shouldn’t have been that big of a deal I’m sure but…
[00:19:34] Mike: We wrote a letter telling them exactly what our plan was going forward and we had a pretty good solid plan.
[00:19:40] Scott: The plan that you pencil in or that you guys mapped out here, what did that look like? You don’t have to give us the nitty, nitty gritty but like…
[00:19:50] Mike: It’s probably going to bore most people but at the time we were so new to selling in the online space. We didn’t have basic system set up. For example, when we were printing out like our whole order, our shipping we didn’t like print in bulk our shipping labels. We print out our PayPal order, we print out a page and then we’d go through the PayPal one at a time, we print out like shipping costage. It was so slow. We started working with Ship Station, we learned about how we could do bulk printing. It’s pretty easy once we figured it out.
[00:20:35] Scott: Really figuring out the more of the logistics and processes and all that stuff is really like if we’re going to do this we are going to be able to work smarter and make this stuff happen.
[00:20:46] Mike: Labels on bags, we had the actual printed Death Wish bags printed so didn’t have to sit there and stick every bag and getting the correct size boxes and… Like silly things but it’s important stuff.
[00:21:04] Scott: Yeah, it’s important stuff but I think people think that you got to have this master plan of like what was the big thing? Yours was just like okay we proved the concept, we did it like in a really like in a down and a dirty way and like nothing fancy and then we figured out, okay, if we are going to scale this thing, we’re going to number one, we’re going to figure out how to make it flow easier and then I’m sure the marketing side of things is going to be like, okay how do we get more awareness. How long did the Good Morning America thing last? Was it a while?
[00:21:35] Mike: For a while. It lasted about… Because right after that it didn’t stop, I was doing an interview it seemed like every hour for the next two days whether it was like on NPR or other blogs, news channels. It lasted for a while. We had like a pretty big wave going and it was wild, thinking back. At the same time I was thinking do I stop doing these? I’m just burying myself deeper, deeper and deeper. No I didn’t. I just kept going. I figured you only live once.
[00:22:15] Scott: Yeah right. You might as well go all in.
[00:22:15] Mike: This might be my five minutes. They are up.
[00:22:18] Scott: Yeah, right, but honestly though, like you going on there and sharing that I’m sure like you said, that is going to spike orders. I’m sure people listening to this podcast are going to know that might not have heard of Death Wish Coffee, are going to look it up and probably buy some. It’s just like it’s going to happen.
I think that’s just kind of like the ripple effect, it’s kind of like one thing got going but then all of these little things that you do, then you share your story and then people… I think the story is the big thing. I always tell people, we talk about, just ecommerce in general but when you can wrap a story in it… How much of your story do you wrap into your brand right now for people that come to you or come to your site for the first time? I kind of know this a little bit, I want you to explain it because I’ve already looked at your website and stuff but…
[00:23:07] Mike: Yeah, well, it’s not like front and center but we do have like, meet the team side, I think we used to be a little bit better at selling the story on previous versions on our website. Now I think it’s less prevalent but it’s definitely there on our blog, in our About Us page, it’s in there about, we have a podcast now that we run.
[00:23:35] Scott: Yeah, I heard about that. I want to hear about that too, I think it was Jeff that was telling me, Jeff Cohen, who actually introduced us to each other but I want to hear that after too before we do jump up, I just want to dig in at that a little bit because some people say, “How do you make a podcast about coffee drinking?”
I love the story because Jeff kind of shared a little bit. I want to hear your story on it, that’s very interesting to do that. You have a story, your story is amazing and I think people would really resonate with that, even in just the people that come to your brand because you’re a guy that was working out of your basement in sense, right?
Then you bought this company and you did it because you wanted, your customers were asking for it and then you gave them what they wanted and then it blossomed into this really cool story, but also, I’ve also noticed that with Death Wish Coffee, it’s more like, it’s almost like your own culture now. Like, you almost have your own brand of people that are loyal, like coffee drinkers that are, they can wear the T-shirts and the hats and they are part of your tribe.
[00:24:44] Mike: It’s this brand, really fits into a lot of people’s identity and I didn’t really know this going in, it wasn’t my plan, I thought it was cool, it made sense to me. I almost built a brand for myself, like something that I could really resonate with and get behind just to keep myself having fun and be motivated but I quickly learned, a lot of people were going crazy.
They loved like skull and crossbones as a logo and what it stood for, not limpy coffee, it’s not your third grade coffee, it’s a workman’s coffee, it’s the, I got to get a ton of stuff done today coffee and yeah. All of a sudden we started building this loyal following and I’m hiring people that resonated with the brand as well.
They were like great brand ambassadors for the company and all of a sudden, we have a Facebook group of, that we don’t run, of just that our customers and our fans, they’ve created themselves and they have this whole community where, they come down, once a day someone comes in from the fan page, or the community page and we will spend some time with them.
These guys have got Death Wish tattoos, they’ve got Death Wish Shirts, they are making their own merchandise, they are buying our merchandise, they collect our mugs, they have some of these guys have a much larger mug collection than I do, it’s because they bought everything and it has, I think to lots of my team, my team really, they go above and beyond for everyone.
They just want to make sure everyone has the best experience when they hit our site and are just, we try to be very personalizing, one on one with all our customers, like if somebody calls up, it doesn’t go across the ocean to a customer service rep, it’s either Christine or Taylor or Sierra or Kate, like right across from my desk, you know what I mean? I hear all the customer calls as they come in and I think that’s really important.
I go on social media all the time and I talk with everyone and see what they like, see what they don’t like, answer the questions and I think it’s just that one on one interaction that really helps build that culture and just listening to our customers and what they say and being open and there for them.
[00:27:16] Scott: I was going to say, I bet you guys learn a ton just from listening to your customers, whether it’s a support call or something that they may want or just their languaging, I think that there is so much value in that and you sitting right across, from your customer reps and stuff and to hear that and then maybe them they actually tell you exactly what was just said, I think that’s so powerful. Even if you have the paws of your audience, of your following like right there.
[00:27:42] Mike: It’s fantastic. We have our own study group, you know what I mean? It’s like if we want to test something out, we can test it out to whoever is calling or whoever we can reach out to in the fan page. It’s like another layer of our quality control. If we send something out that’s our part, I hear about it the day it hits the customer’s’ mailbox.
[00:28:10] Scott: Now, let me ask you this. How’s it been, because you started with the one product. You started with the one flavor, what was next in the pipeline? Did you guys have like, ”Okay, now we are going to do something else, what else could we offer?” Where did that start to come? The other thing is too, and now that I’m thinking about it too, you have a recurring model here, so you must have some type of subscription or you got some type of where people can just keep getting it to the mailbox and that’s a beautiful thing.
[00:28:41] Mike: Yeah, That’s been working great for us, with this subscription platform we got. It has been fantastic but we just had the one brand and actually my whole vision was just to have one brand. One brand and one coffee, keep it simple but one day, I think it’s in late 2014, this guy Blasko gave me a call and he is like, “I’m the manager for Zakk Wylde and he has this brand called Valhalla Java and right now it’s just a concept but we want to find a coffee cocktail and make it for him, are you interested?”
At the time I’m like, “Well, who is this guy Zakk Wylde, sounds like a huge music guy,” but a few guys of my team are like Holy [explicit]. So when I looked him up he had like a huge following, millions of followers and I’m like, “Wow, we’re too small to pass up an opportunity this big.” I’m like, “All right, let’s see what we can put together.” We put together a blend for him and we sell that on our site, and he gets a royalty for that. But he pushes it hard as well, this was kind of like an experiment at the time, I was like, “All right, we are going to send out, we know if we send out an email, we know what a return is, right?”
[00:29:58] Scott: Sure.
[00:30:00] Mike: We are like, “He’s got million of followers, once he sends this out, this should blow up, we should be set for life.” We learned a lesson that day. We had all this coffee ready to go and we finally announced the release and he announces it on his social media and with his mailing list and we hardly sell like a blip in sales, and I was like, “All right, that’s strange, why did that happen?” and I don’t know, I guess, we kind of learned that day that people who follow rock stars are not necessarily going to buy coffee online.
But because we are stubborn and persistent, we stuck with him and it was more of a long-term play and now the sales are like dynamite. We have a great relationship together. Valhalla Java is like third or fourth, best online coffee on Amazon. So it’s a dynamite brand, it tastes good. A lot of people favorite, a lot of people prefer Death Wish Coffee. It’s a little more on the flavorful side and less more on like strong side, has more flavor to it but still very caffeinated.
[00:31:16] Scott: What do you think turned that around for him or for that? Did you guys have a different marketing strategy messaging? I’m just curious.
[00:31:24] Mike: I think I was just persistence, it took a while for his fan base for really like to catch on and now some of his fans are our most loyal customers. It wasn’t like, things will happen overnight, I guess what I’m trying to say. People have to gain trust in switching coffee brands, it’s like switching beer brands or some people switching cigarette brands for some people. It’s one of those things that takes time, they are not going to do it overnight. They will try out but…
[00:31:57] Scott: For anyone that’s listening, who’s like, who the heck is this Zakk Wylde guy? He was actually a guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne. I believe he still is.
[00:32:04] Mike: Yeah, they still tour together.
[00:32:05] Scott: I followed him for years and it’s funny. I can totally see this coffee, your coffee brand being aligned with him for sure, 100%. It’s funny, I would have thought the same, I would’ve been, “Man if you just make the announcement to his list they’ll probably buy it right up,” but like you said, they just weren’t conditioned for that. Now if that was a beer, they might have, that might have been differently because he is definitely like the beer guy, he is hardcore guy but I think like you said, persistence and being able to just keep pushing to his audience and then finally getting some traction, that’s pretty cool. Getting a powerful…
[00:32:47] Mike: It’s not always a numbers game, and I learned a lot of things online. You always think it’s a numbers game but there’s a little more that goes into it sometimes.
[00:32:56] Scott: Sure, yeah, absolutely, but that’s cool. So you’ve been handling that now since, you said 2014?
[00:33:02] Mike: Yeah, 2014, it’s been a lucrative contract for both of us and he’s come out to the warehouse, we got to see him play a show and he gave us one of his guitars so it’s a cool partnership we have.
[00:33:18] Scott: Yeah, that’s really cool, awesome.
[00:33:20] Mike: He pushes the brand well which is the most important thing.
[00:33:22] Scott: That’s key, he is looking at it for the long haul as well. They are not just going to be like, “I will do it this one time.” It’s like they are giving constant push which I think it’s huge and that’s marketing, and that’s usually a huge amount of money to have someone endorse your product like that over and over again.
[00:33:40] Mike: Oh yeah, 100%.
[00:33:41] Scott: So it’s cool. So that was like your next product, what kind of came next? What was in the next, in part of your pipeline?
[00:33:50] Mike: After that we are just focusing on girl theme and continually driving more value for our customers and basically figuring out what works like on line with all the sales, we weren’t really focused on brick and mortar stores at all, so it was all just to direct our consumer and then in 2015, actually I was on Facebook and an advertisement, small business, big game competition came across my news feed and, “Oh this is cool, it’s a competition for small businesses,” and basically the winner would win a Super Bowl commercial so finally I was like, “Yeah let’s apply for this, I think we could have a shot here, I think we have a pretty decent online following.”
I had my team, we sat together, we filled out the application and I joined their social network and we waited and had to actually drive people to our voting link initially. At the time I kept telling everyone, “Oh we are going to win this, we are going to win this,” but I was kind of full of s#@!. I was just kind of like putting forth the positive vibe. All of a sudden one day they called out of the blue and they were like, “Hey, you guys made it to the top ten,” and I’m like, “Really?” I’m like, “So we made it to top ten,” I had to fly out to, I can’t remember if I flew up to San Jose at this point or not. Maybe they flew out to us, yeah that’s what happened.
The representatives flew out to us and they were like, “Oh, we are interviewing all the top 10 businesses and basically you guys need to keep driving votes to your voting link and try to get America to vote for you to represent small businesses in the Super Bowl.” At this time my team and I were psyched, we are doing everything we could think of to drive votes to, I don’t know, basically selling our souls to get these people to go to our voting link and vote, we were doing everything we could think of. We are asking our friends, our family, my mom’s calling people in our yearbook, having people at the coffee shop vote, we’re running Facebook ads to drive people there, basically anything and everything.
[00:36:01] Scott: Anything you could do, you were making it happen. You knew that was going to be a big deal.
[00:36:05] Mike: Yeah, I knew it was going to be a big deal if we could win because the companies in there were big companies too. They were small business but, Chubby Shorts was one of the companies, great guys but they had a large following. They had over a million people following them at the time and they had brand ambassadors on every college, campus, I was like, “These guys are going to roll through this with ease”
We stayed consistent and we tried to like post as much viral stuff as we can, we were going back through like our social history and finding the most like viral post we had been recycling them and throwing the voting link in there. It actually worked pretty well. We were trying to get influencers out there to push our voting link, we had Lisa Kelly from Ice Road Truckers, she’s a friend of ours, she really went above and beyond to help us win and from that same show and Zakk Wylde helped out a ton. We had a lot of help from our former influencers, we finally, they announced that we were at the top three, so we were like, “Oh my God.”
[00:37:14]Scott: That’s kind of killing you right?
[00:37:16] Mike: Yeah, it’s killing me, and then finally they came down one day, they came to our warehouse, actually they came to my house first while I was still sleeping and they were like, “Hey, we are not going to tell you if you won, but we are just doing this recording thing,” then I go like, “Okay.” Then we went back to my warehouse and when we got there they announced that we won and I was like, “Wow,” I couldn’t believe it, I was crying because we were working so hard on this one. I almost forgot about sales, even our sales were going great at the time just as we were totally focused on just driving as much traffic as possible.
[00:37:51] Scott: So at that point though, they tell you, you win and all that stuff, so now what’s the next step? You’ve got to film the commercial and all that stuff too.
[00:37:58] Mike: Yeah, got to film the commercial. They gave me three options for the potential commercial and I got to pick the one I liked and it was this viking ship on the sea and it just didn’t make sense with the coffee but to me it was just looked like a blockbuster movie type thing, so I’m like, “Yeah let’s’ go with this.” We went out, they took me out and filmed it and at the same time we have two months to plan my business to make it basically, make it able to succeed with 100 million people seeing it all at the same time.
We had to call our 3PL, make sure they were all set. We had to call Shopify and let them know what was going on, call Amazon, let Amazon know what’s going on and I had to ramp up production, hire some other roasters to help me out and at the whole time like basically plan all this, because there is no case studies out there and we are like, “Hey this is what happens when the Super Bowl ad hits.
[00:39:02] Scott: Here’s the playbook right?
[00:39:04] Mike: Right, there is no playbook so I’m using stats for back when we had the Good Morning America, I had everything like their traffic stats and the conversion rate we had then to forecast what demand I thought we were going to have during the super bowl and sounded like a good idea but they don’t correlate.
[00:39:26] Scott: So then, okay, now you guys got to be on the edge of your seat, it’s going to air, you guys are getting to air, I remember when I aired, I watched it because it was all big news too for us because I was local, obviously where you are from and everything and they were really, telling everyone I’m on news and stuff that it was going to be happening and we had a local winner and all that stuff so we were all routing.
What was it like, getting ready and then all of over sudden your spots there in front of those people for that blip of a commercial?
[00:39:58] Mike: It was kind of like of a dream, into it they were nice enough to have us out to San Francisco, they put us in like, they threw this great party at the penthouse in this very tall building, I think around the 30th floor of this penthouse building, like we were overlooking the bay of San Francisco, we had ice sculptures, these were the craziest stuff you could ever think of. There was like 25 TVs all around this penthouse suite, and my team was there with me and my family and we had like a war room setup with all the computers, everyone.
All the top execs from Intuit were there with us and we were drinking, eating, and we were watching just waiting for the third quarter, so third quarter comes around and they know what commercial spot is going to come, they gather us all around, it really seemed like, it was 30 seconds that seemed like a second or two seconds to me because it went so quick and I’m not one of those guys who loves to be the center of attention but I was definitely the center of attention that day and the commercial goes live, I’m watching my phone, I’m watching the traffic numbers spike, they just kept jumping every second by like 10,000 until it got to 150,000 people on the site at once and I’m like, “Don’t crash.”
[00:41:16] Scott: I was going to say, Oh my God that is insane.
[00:41:23] Mike: Yeah, it just kept going. That was the greatest sales day like our best sales hour actually obviously and everything went smooth. I don’t know if it’s out of luck, I don’t know if it’s preparation or a little bit of both but everything went smooth and all our orders, our 3PL was there, they were going to ship everything out within two to three days, like mass amounts of coffee.
They had everything packed and ready to go and people were like, “What is the craziest most disappointing part or worst part,” for us there wasn’t one, there really wasn’t. I had one vendor who underperformed but other than that everyone went above and beyond and knocked it out of the park and there was no hiccups or nothing. It was just smooth sailing. We grew our customer base by 30% and they never fell off. Then we were able to continue to grow throughout the year and even into this year we have the best first quarter this year that we ever had and even better than last year even though we had the super bowl commercial. It was pretty, I have a good team and we were able to execute when we had to.
[00:42:33] Scott: Yeah, I think the big thing here for people to understand and just listening to your story is you were prepared but then everything went as planned and that’s great and that doesn’t always happen.
Then you had that momentum and I think that the momentum and you have customers, to me like when you get a customer and you get a hold of that customer they’re a long term customer. They are going to tell people and that’s just how that can spread for your business as far as how I see it. I think that’s why that growth is so much.
[00:43:04] Mike: Yah, and we didn’t do everything right. There’s people out there like “this guy probably has it all figured out.” 100% I do not have it figured out. Every time I look at my website or my email or my auto replies or my social media marketing, there is vast amounts of room for improvement, like vast. We do everything I think okay and we’re always trying to improve I think where we do well is that we’re always improving a little bit.
[00:43:33] Scott: Yeah, well that’s key, it’s like you and I think it’s key also that you’re in the mindset that you don’t have it all figured out. It’s not all perfect and you’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay. It’s all about you’re putting the customer first and you’re trying to make a better experience for them and then you’re trying to do the best that you can for them when they do receive your coffee because I mean let’s face it. If they get your coffee and it wasn’t a good experience they’re not going to buy more, so you kind of over deliver.
[00:43:55] Mike: The whole team cares a lot. I think maybe that’s the key everyone here they care so much. They care about everything they do and that’s like if they ever underperform it’s devastating.
[00:44:08] Scott: Yeah, and let me ask you so how many are on the team right now? How many do you have on your team right now that’s helping you through this business growth?
[00:44:18] Mike: Yeah, we’ve been hiring like crazy, there is 23 of, I’m sorry 22 of us now and let’s say a year ago there was I believe there was only 11 and the year before that it was like six of us. We’ve been doubling in staff sense in the last two years.
[00:44:36] Scott: Wow, that’s awesome. That’s about right. I think you probably not hiring just to hire. You’re hiring to make the company better and to make it flow better and all of that stuff right?
[00:44:49] Mike: Oh, 100%. A lot of the hiring we’re doing is on the production side right now. We’re still trying to bring in the rest of that production that we outsourced out during the Super Bowl commercial. We do outsource a lot to just experts around the States. We work with a lot of third party companies, so it’s the people were like, “Oh, you will have 22 people on your team?”
They were like well, actually if you really think about it I work with this guy to help me with my Google ads or work with person and help me with my theme. There is probably hundreds and hundreds. My 3PL has 60 people there like sending out our product every day. We have a pretty big footprint but at the same time working directly as employees, there is only 22 of us.
[00:45:37] Scott: Yeah, okay, so before we wrap up here I’ve got two other quick questions. One of them is how much in the business are you working? You know what I mean because…
[00:45:48] Mike: Too much.
[00:45:49] Scott: Well, and I was going to say because some people will be like, “Oh, he’s got it made now. Now he’s just sitting back and he is sipping a muay thai on a beach.” Not that I think that would get boring after a week or so. I’m just saying like you just said you’re probably doing too much. Are you the kind of guy that always wants to have his hands in it?
[00:46:08] Mike: I let things go to an extent but at the same time I’m very meticulous and I like digging down into like the nitty gritty of everything. I’ll go and I’ll spot check our shipping costs when I have time just to make sure my 3PL sending the products in the most efficient manner.
I’ll go through my mailing list to make sure that the subscribers that are the most valuable are not just not getting… Sometimes people subscribe just to I don’t know win a free coffee hat or something. You know what I mean?
[00:46:46] Scott: Sure.
[00:46:47] Mike: If they’re not valuable I don’t want to keep them on the list so I’ll spot check them. The idea I get nitty gritty on some things very hands on when it comes to the finances because I was broke, very, very, very broke before and every dollar that goes out of the door I feel the need to look at it and make sure it’s a justifiable spend. Unfortunately that takes a lot of my time. It shouldn’t but it does.
[00:47:13] Scott: No, I get it.
[00:47:14] Mike: It’s ingrained in me for some reason. I want to make sure that we’re spending the right amount of money on things and not have wasteful spending. I think I read somewhere that a lot of businesses they go on there because they don’t really recognize how much money is going out the door and I don’t want to happen to this business so I question every dollar.
[00:47:37] Scott: No, I get it man, I get it.
[00:47:39] Mike: I do a lot of stuff. I’m always like pulling reports and digging around and making everyone angry because I’m questioning everyone’s decision.
[00:47:49] Scott: Well, but yeah, it’s your baby, right?
[00:47:51] Mike: It is.
[00:47:51] Scott: It’s that’s thing that you’ve got going and you don’t want to see it go down the tubes and you want to also make sure that everything is going to be there for the future. I get it man, I get it. Last thing I want to talk about the podcast. So where did this whole idea come from and then from there what is a podcast on coffee? Help me understand that.
[00:48:14] Mike: Absolutely, it’s called Fueled by Death Cast, I think we’re on 25th episode and I think we’re already on the top 10, I think we’re better than that top 10% top 8% of our podcasts in terms of listeners. It came about one day because actually we sponsored a podcast a while back and it was going well and it was through all these friends we made at Comic Com and the podcast that they were running, I think it went under, they had a disagreement.
I ended up hiring one of the guys that ran their podcast to come work with me full time and they put it together and I’m like, “Yeah, let’s get this podcast going. I want to be able to deliver more value to my customers. We have a loyal following and I don’t want them to have to wait till Thursday to get their email to be able to get the coffee news, get to hear what we’re doing and to I don’t know… Provide some type of value to them. I think when it comes down to that it’s all about content and value.
One of the things I said to them like, I don’t want this to be about coffee. There is no reason it should be 100% about coffee. It should be about what our customers care about. Go on, find our customers out there build a couple of personas out, what do they like? What do they listen to? What are their interests and let’s make it a geared towards that.
Yes, we don’t talk about coffee a lot. We do get interviews with some great people. We interviewed like her name is not coming to me on the top of my head. She was the first, I’m sorry not the first but last female astronaut to interview her we had to interview lots of rock stars. A lot of artists and some comic book writers and artists and it’s crazy.
[00:50:16] Scott: So it’s basically just you guys jumping on and having some conversations with some interesting people that your audience would be interested in?
[00:50:23] Mike: Yeah, that’s part of it and then we also we do have a coffee news section. We do have a science segment. We have little segments here and there, sound segment… I’m trying to think of the other ones. One like our joke of the day yeah, it’s pretty cool.
[00:50:39] Scott: Okay, and about how many times does this come on a week and how long is it?
[00:50:43] Mike: It’s about an hour and it comes out once a week right now.
[00:50:45] Scott: Once a week, okay.
[00:50:46] Mike: Yeah, I think we’re going to be moving into… Actually building a studio right now, it’s going to be live on Facebook starting within the next two months. I actually have a two components to it, so it will be the live version and the recorded version.
[00:51:00] Scott: Cool, yeah, so you’re going to basically record a Facebook live as a podcast but then you’re going to publish it as the podcast and do it as the live on Facebook?
[00:51:09] Mike: Yeah.
[00:51:10] Scott: Yeah, that’s cool man yeah, you can get basically two footprints with just one pass in a sense.
[00:51:16] Mike: Right.
[00:51:17] Scott: Yeah, we actually do that with our podcasts, not all the time but I’ll do it on we do something called TAS Power Hour. It’s where we talk about ecommerce stuff and everything on Fridays at 2 o’clock and then if those turn into be something I feel that my audience is going to be interested in then I’ll go and it’s not a bunch of us just rambling. Then I’ll turn that into a podcast episode and people love them. Again it’s like a round table more discussion type thing and it seems to work really well. Yeah, I get it man, but that’s really cool.
I think anyone that’s listening and they’re just thinking to themselves like well I sell a garlic press so how am I going to create a podcast about that? It could be about like you said your audience maybe it’s women that are cooking that are also interested in stuff like Good Morning America stuff all those different topics. You could have a podcast about that it just happens that you guys do a lot of cooking.
[00:52:08] Mike: 100% correct.
[00:52:09] Scott: Yeah, so I love that because a lot of people think it’s got to be about the thing and yours isn’t really about the thing. Yes you’ll splash a little bit of that in there and obviously you guys can push a promotion if you want to or any of that stuff because you’ll have the listenership. Yeah, I think it’s part of the brand and in this case you’ve done it and how many episodes are you at right now?
[00:52:33] Mike: I think between 25 and 30.
[00:52:35] Scott: Okay, nice yes you guys have been out there publishing a little bit that’s great. That’s awesome yeah.
[00:52:40] Mike: Maybe to start at the end of December.
[00:52:44] Scott: Yeah, that’s good, that’s really good, yeah, awesome. I’m going to have to tune in to that show.
[00:52:48] Mike: Yeah, check it out.
[00:52:49] Scott: Yeah, you’re going to have a new listener right here or anyone else out there. If anybody wants to listen to that what’s it called again Fueled by Dead Wish?
[00:52:56] Mike: Fueled by Death Cast actually.
[00:52:58] Scott: Oh, Death Cast.
[00:52:58] Mike: Fueled by Death Cast yes, it’s on all the major podcasts syndication.
[00:53:04] Scott: Yeah, and I’ll link it up in our show notes and stuff so if anyone wants to check it out I’ll have a link that can on over and check it out and yeah, leave you guys a review and some feedback over there on iTunes if you’re listening to it on over there. Yeah, that’s awesome, all right Mike I think that’s going to wrap it up man I mean this was awesome.
I knew your story but not all of the nitty gritty and it was really cool to hear the behind the scenes and also even leading up to those major announcements like on Good Morning America. The commercial is on what the after effects were in and I also like it that you’re…
[00:53:42] Mike: Yeah, those morning shows are powerful. If any of the listeners can get on a morning show, the bang for the buck for those are far better than anything else.
[00:53:51] Scott: Yeah, and I mean but for you it was like they reached out to you because there must have been some buzz going out around social media or a blogger or whatever. You never know who’s going to take the content that you published and actually consume it and then turn it into something. It’s funny I have my CPA I had him come on and do a couple of spots for ecommerce sellers. Then a new station contacted him and wanted to put him on the news and do a whole spot on CPA stuff.
[00:54:20] Mike: That’s awesome.
[00:54:21] Scott: Yeah, it’s just the way it happens right, so you can’t think that everything is going to be that but you have to just if you put the content out there people can actually consume it and then you never know who is going to actually get or maybe get into other hands where they’re going to turn you into a major network like you did.
[00:54:39] Mike: Yeah, you don’t need PR companies anymore, you just need to put out great content and people I mean if it’s that good it’ll get discovered.
[00:54:45] Scott: Yeah, absolutely, so what’s the link for people to go on over to Death Wish? Give them that.
[00:54:52] Mike: Yeah, it’s deathwishcoffee.com.
[00:54:55] Scott: Check that out if anyone wants to get in touch with you or the podcast we can link that up in the show notes. Do you have any way for people to get a hold of you personally?
[00:55:06] Mike: Yeah, if you want to email me you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:55:12] Scott: Cool, yeah, and I’ll link all these stuff up on the show notes as well. Mike I want to thank you for taking time out of your day. I know you’re a busy guy and I wish I would have known earlier before I moved we could have actually had that cup of coffee together maybe when I come back.
[00:55:25] Mike: Yeah, I would like that.
[00:55:26] Scott: Yeah, maybe when I come back and visit we can definitely do that. I’ll definitely I’ll let you know when I’m heading to town. Yeah, man I just want to thank you again is there any little bits little tidbits that you would like to give anyone that’s maybe just starting in this whole ecommerce space or just even starting to get a brand up off the ground. What would be something you would have told yourself going all the way back those years?
[00:55:49] Mike: Oh man, this might sound like corny to hear but just stay with it. There is so much opportunity out there right now and it’s funny even as more and more sellers enter the market you think the market share is getting smaller and smaller but it’s really not.
The market share is getting larger and there are just more opportunities and there is easy ways to… You don’t have to be a web designer anymore to get a website out there. You don’t have to understand SEO, you don’t have to understand marketing. You don’t need any of that. There is so many blogs and resources out there that can do it for you right.
You just piece together three or four great companies and you could have… You don’t even need product. There is these sites out there where you can basically have them create a product, drop it before you and you’re done. There is no reason everyone shouldn’t have an ecommerce company in my opinion just because they’ve made it so easy with all the other opportunities. You could hire a designer to design a tshirt, have another company create the t-shirt and ship it to your customer. You don’t really have to touch anything.
[00:56:55] Scott: Yeah, no I love it. I really agree with you 100% man it’s to me a lot of people say, “Well, the market is getting more saturated.” Well, it’s also been creating more opportunity to me. There is definitely, there is new ways of marketing, there is old ways of marketing. They all still work and to me it’s just getting easier to go out there and leverage these different platforms that allow us to do so.
[00:57:17] Mike: For the experienced sellers focus. I say that for the new sellers there’s tons of opportunity further and further, the sellers that already in the market just focus on something and just hammer it.
[00:57:28] Scott: Focus on what’s working and keep focusing there. I mean come on, all right Mike. Well, hey, thank you so much I really do appreciate it we’ll definitely be in touch for sure like I said if I do go back to head back to New York which I’m supposed to be maybe in the fall I’ll give you a shout out maybe we’ll get together for that cup of coffee. Yeah, I just want to thank you again man I really truly appreciate it.
[00:57:47] Mike: Yes, swing by the warehouse I’m always here.
[00:57:49] Scott: All right Mike thank you bud.
[00:57:52] Mike: Thanks Scott.
[00:57:54] Scott: Okay, so that’s a wrap. That was pretty darn awesome and I want to thank Mike once again for taking time out of his busy schedule to come out and hang out with us and really share his story and I think you have to always go back to people that are or that appear to be successful didn’t start out being successful. Understand that there’s been things along the way that have gotten them to where they are.
We can have the vision of where we want to go but there is going to be things that happen. Think about if you take a road trip. You take a road trip, you get a flat tire what do you have to do? You’ve got to pull over on the side of the road and you have to change the tire or you have to call someone to change the tire depending on if you can change a tire or not.
You get what I’m saying. You just sometimes you have to adjust, you have to pivot and that’s exactly what he did and he still continues to do. Even listening to him say that he got Zakk Wylde, a very, very well known guitarist in the industry, I mean I personally know how popular he is. Some of you may or may not know I mean Ozzy Osbourne some of you may or may not know.
I mean a guitarist at his that’s like big time in the guitar world and he is a huge guitar guy. I mean he has got a huge following of his own that he has created his own brand and you would think that all he needs to do is mention something and it’s going to work and it didn’t. Then they fine-tuned a few things and they got it to work. Again it didn’t work out at the gate and you would have thought it would have.
Just understand I want you guys to take away number one that every single one of us starts at zero in a sense. Then from there in order to see what the next move is, we’ve got to actually do something. We have to take action as you guys always hear me say.
I just want you to listen to interviews like these that I did with Mike and others and just learn from them, be inspired, be motivated, but more importantly take those lessons learned and put them into action. You might want to bookmark this one or come back and listen to this one again. I think it’s really chock full of goodness I really truly do.
[01:00:06] Scott: I’m going to actually going back to New York here in the next month or so. I may I’ll reach out to Mike and see if we can have a cup of that Death Wish coffee together. Maybe I’ll get him on an audio or a video and we can maybe see where he’s at now, see what’s happening, see what’s exciting.
Guys that is a wrap, I want to remind you guys if you want to download the show notes, the transcripts, anything that we mentioned there, the links if you want to go check out Death Wish coffee, all the links will be over at theamazingseller.com/419. You can go check that out, his new podcast that they’ve launched or new it’s not as new now as when this is airing, but it’s a newer podcast probably go check that out too.
It’s good and yeah that’s it guys that’s what I got for you. Hopefully you guys were inspired, motivated but also ready to go out there and do your thing. Guys remember as always, I’m here for you, I believe in you, and I am rooting for you but you have to, you have to… Come on say it with me, say it loud, say it proud, say it with some energy because we’ve got some coffee running through our blood today, “Take action.” Have an awesome, amazing day and I’ll see you right back here on the next episode.
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