Mike McKim | Achieve More With Consistency and Persistence

When he lost his telecom job in the Dot-Com crash, Mike McKim was inspired to get in early in one of today’s hottest business trends: gourmet coffee. 

When he started, coffee was coffee to most people. But now he roasts high quality beans sourced from the best plantations on the planet and sells them all over the country.

But being a pioneer wasn’t easy… far from it. What kept him going? Maybe it’s like his dad told him: “You’re too stubborn to quit and too lazy to start over.” 

There’s more to it, of course. And Mike gets into all the details, including…

  • The attitude that kept him going after his first startup failure – and those that came later
  • How he changed his business model early on – and why it made him stronger than ever
  • The innovative product he invented that revolutionized the industry
  • Why he’s happy to be competing with Starbucks
  • How thinking like the consumer transformed his entire approach to business

Listen now…

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Transcript

Steve Gordon: Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. And today we’ve got a very special interview for you. I’m excited about this one because it’s going to be a little bit different than things that we’ve covered in the past and I think it’s going to be probably, I’m just going to predict here, it’s probably going to be one of our better episodes ever. And I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, since we got it scheduled.

So today I am speaking with Mike McKim. He’s the founder and CEO of Cuvee Coffee. He is the pioneer of Nitro Cold Brew Coffee. So if you drink Nitro Cold Brew Coffee, then you’ll need to reach out to Mike and thank him because he invented it. And he has been trailblazing specialty coffee in Texas and now is spread all over the country. And he really first learned the craft and science of roasting coffee back in 1998.

He went on a trip to visit his uncle in Reno, Nevada and experimented since then with his own roasting style. Then he launched Cuvee Coffee and they are a roastery that is sourcing just some of the most premium coffees from across the globe and now is distributing them all over the country. Sadly, unfortunately, not in Florida. And so I’m waiting anxiously for the day that they’re stocked on the shelves here at our local grocery store. So Mike McKim, welcome to the Unstoppable CEO. I’m really excited to be talking to you.

Mike McKim; Thanks so much for having me, Steve. I really appreciate it.

Steve: So this whole idea of the coffee business is a little bit of a departure from what we usually talk about here. But I think it’s really, really interesting because this is a business that sort of had a meteoric rise over probably the last 20, 25 years, and you’ve been in it for most of that time. And so I think it’s going to be really enlightening for people to kind of see that growth. But before we kind of dive into all of that, I would love for you to give everyone a little bit of a background on you and kind of how you got started in the business and what you got you to the stage of your career.

The Entrepreneurial Path Less Traveled

Mike: Yeah, for sure. You know, I always tell people, my path is not the one that I would recommend particularly to anybody. But, you know, it got me where I am today. So looking back and reflecting on it, you know, these past particular, these past several years, particularly, you know, I’ve kind of learned a lot about how I ended up where I am, and maybe didn’t realize the things that I was doing, you know, to help move me forward. But, you know, the short version of my story is when I was in high school, my parents and I moved halfway through my junior year of high school from Philadelphia to Dallas. It was a big culture shock for me.

I was already kind of having problems in school up in Philly. Got down here and just kind of, you know, those problems magnified for me. So I was a little directionless. Fortunately for me, my parents had the brilliant idea to take me on a road trip to visit all of the federal service academies in the US. So you know, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, Coast Guard, Academy, Merchant Marine Academy and West Point. And, of course, I had no interest in that and you know, they took me kicking and screaming, but they planted a seed.

And when I graduated high school, which I barely did, I had to go to summer school to graduate, that seed kind of started to blossom and I thought, you know what, I think this is what I want to do. I want to go to the Naval Academy. So I contact the Naval Academy and I have this vision in my mind of, you know, somebody taking my phone call and then hanging up and saying, Okay, you guys, you got to hear this phone call that I just got from this kid and all of them laughing about the idea of you wanted to go to the Naval Academy, right? It’s very academically challenging. Anyway, I said, Okay. You know what, I’m going to take another path.

So I enlisted in the Navy and applied to get in the Naval Academy. So you know, 1989 my first year in the Navy, I applied and didn’t get accepted. In 1990. I applied didn’t get accepted. In 1991. I applied, didn’t get accepted. And the whole time it was really fascinating, because I didn’t realize what I was doing, but it just made sense in my head. You know, when I got assigned to an admissions person, and man, wish I could remember the guy’s name because I’d like to find him and thank him. But if I remember right, he was a master chief in the Navy.

And I said, Look, Master Chief what I need to do, you know, to even be considered for the Naval Academy. And, you know, he says, Look, your grades suck your SATs suck, you know, you need to fix your academics. So, take some college courses, you know, at night, do whatever you got to do. And really, I said, Okay, I’m going to do that. And I started calling this guy, you know, at first it was, you know, probably every month to couple weeks and just continued that cadence, you know, where every week or two no matter where I was, even when I was deployed, I would find a way to reach out and say, Hey, Master Chief.

this is what I did this week, you know, I took this test, I got this grade, you know, I just passed this course whatever it was. You know, I kept him updated and literally, you know, for three and a half years, just non-stop stayed on top of it. Long story short, I didn’t end up getting accepted to the Naval Academy. However, I did end up getting an appointment to the US Merchant Marine Academy, which was, you know, apparently these admission guys talk to each other.

And this Master Chief said, hey, look, you know, to any of you guys, the other service academies have a place, this kid’s ambitious, been working for three years. So, I was in Japan at the time and got called up to my CO’s office. He says, congratulations, McKim. Pack your bags, you’re heading to the US Merchant Marine Academy. And, you know, a week later, I was in Kings Point New York and, you know, getting my head shaved and going through boot camp all over again.

But that was kind of, that was the first time that I realized that consistency and persistence was not only a value that made sense and, you know, was applicable to, you know, whatever goals you want to accomplish, but it was something that came naturally for me which I didn’t know. Went up to King’s point and academically couldn’t hack it. So I ended up leaving Kings Point and from that moment on that was kind of a downward spiral in life for me. So that was in 1992, 92,93.

I ended up moving in with my girlfriend at the time and took a job delivering pizzas, which was, nothing wrong with delivering pizzas, but you know, for you know, for a 23-year-old, you know, young man who had already served in the military, it was kind of not the career path I had imagined. And through a series of events end up getting a job with a buddy in telemarketing. Got into telemarketing realized that I was okay at sales. And I was with AT&T. And, you know, did telemarketing and moved into outside sales and had some success there. And got married and moved back to Dallas where my wife was from.

And a buddy of mine from high school, we ran into each other and he said, Oh, you’re in sales and that’s cool lunch come work for my dad. We sell fiber optic cable and stuff like that. And I was like, Okay, I don’t know what that is, but sounds great. I went to work for this company was a manufacturer’s Rep. And it was during the dot-com boom. And the good news for me was I didn’t really need to be a great salesperson as long as we had product on the shelf. All the phone companies were buying fiber optic cable, everybody’s buying data cable and there was a shortage. You know, it was just the perfect storm to make lots and lots of money which was nice.

We took a vacation, my buddy Patrick and our wives, and we went snow skiing in Tahoe. And I said, You know what, I got an uncle I haven’t seen in a lot of years. He’s got a business down in Reno. Why don’t we cruise down there and say hi to him? So we went down there to visit my uncle and he owns a company that makes food analyzation equipment. And one of the things he was working on was an analyzer to classify the degree of roast of coffee. So instead of saying light roast, dark roast, you know, you put in this machine, it assigned at a number and it’s now the international industry standard for roast classification.

But he had a little coffee roaster set up in his warehouse, and you know, it’s like, okay, so tell me about coffee. And he goes, Oh, check this out. You know, this is how coffee is roasted, and we roasted coffee with him. And he says, you know, what do you think? And my buddy Patrick and I were like, Man this is really cool. You know, can we roast more coffee? And he’s like, Yeah, sure. So instead of going skiing that day, we roasted coffee. And we both kind of got the bug to buy a coffee roaster and roast our own coffee. And so we did that. Not knowing anything we bought a commercial coffee roaster. You know, it could roast 25 pounds of coffee at a time.

And it was more than we could drink ourselves. So we started selling it to friends and family. And that’s kind of how the coffee business started. Fast forward to, I guess it was like 2000, 2001 and the dot-com bubble bursts. I get laid off from my job. My buddy gets laid off from his job and we had been working in separate places at that point. And I said to him, You know what, man, I don’t even like the telecom business anymore. I am really into coffee. I’m going to keep doing coffee. And my buddy says to me, You know what? Well, I want to keep food on the table for my family. So I’m going to go find another telecom job. So we parted ways.

And then I kept going with the coffee business, and I was roasting coffee in my garage in Houston. And spent about 10 months pounding the pavement, not selling a single pound of coffee. And it was a really weird time because, my uncle, when he got me into coffee, he said, Look, whatever you do, spend a little bit more money on the raw product to buy higher quality and people will notice. And I said, Okay, great. I’ll do that. So that’s how I started. I was buying, you know, really premium grade coffee, specialty coffee, what we call now, kind of before specialty coffee was even a thing. And I would go out and I would taste test it with people.

And they would say to me, yeah, your coffee tastes way better than when I’m buying now, but it’s 50 cents a pound more, so I can’t buy it. So for 10 months, I was really unsuccessful. I met this guy who was working at a coffee house, I went in to make a cold call. And he was leaving that coffee shop to open his own. He says to me, I want the espresso machine that we have there. Can you get it for me? I said, Yeah, of course. I can get it for you. And then I’m, you know, I leave and I’m like, How the heck am I going to get this espresso machine for him?

So, fortunately, my uncle knew the guy that imported these espresso machines, connected me. I call this guy, Joe. And I say, Hey, Joe, you know, I need to buy this, an espresso machine from you. And he says, Yeah, no sweat, Michael. So you want to do me a favor? You know, don’t call me anymore directly. We’re hiring a regional manager. She’s based in Atlanta. She’ll be your point of contact. And so I said, Okay, cool. Thanks, Joe. Have you hired her yet? And he says no, why? I said I’ll take the job. He says what do you mean?

I said, Joe, I haven’t had a paycheck in 10 months. And literally, the night before I made this call to Joe, my wife had said to me, we have enough money to pay bills one more month and we’re totally broke. So I’m at this point, I’m kind of desperate, and probably showing my cards that I’m desperate. I said to Joe, Hey, man, I haven’t had a paycheck in 10 months. I need the job. I don’t care what it pays. I’ll take it. He says Okay, thanks for calling Mike.

I call him the next morning, 8 am Seattle time, Hey, Joe. This is Mike. I just want you to know I’m ready to start that job, you know, any point. So for the next two weeks, 8 am every weekday morning Seattle time, I called him and said Hey, Joe, I’m ready to start ready to start ready to start. Long story short there they ended up hiring me that was in 01. And from 01 to 06 I worked for LA Marzocco selling espresso machines. And I always tell everybody that was my coffee MBA because I was working with all these really great coffee roasters.

I was roasting coffee on the side, selling espresso machines to them because I was a coffee guy, you know, we got along really well. We talked coffee all the time. And then finally in 2006, my side hustle roasting coffee, you know, there was, I was doing more of that. I was also selling more espresso machines than when I started. So I wasn’t really doing either job very well. And I had to make a decision. You know what I was going to do. And so December 31, 2006, I declared myself unemployable and went full time into Cuvee Coffee.

Steve: Wow. That’s quite a journey. So you may have answered this within all of that, but clearly, to get to that point you have to be what we would call unstoppable. The theme of the show, right? What, as you reflect back on that, what gave you the confidence or the courage to keep going and in all of the various situations where you just had to keep going and not quit?

What Gave Mike the Drive to Push Forward?

Mike: You know, it’s funny, and I listen, you know, I do a lot of reading on that, and I listen to what other people say. And I think at the end of the day for me, I just, I think two things. I didn’t think like, it made sense to me. I didn’t think I could fail. Like I just genuinely believed if I kept trying, eventually, I’d be able to accomplish something. And then, you know, the second part of it is my dad. I was chatting with him about this one time and, you know, he was just kind of, he was relaying to me that I, he actually told me one time when I called him on his birthday a few years ago, he said, Mike, I just want you to know that you’ve exceeded all of my expectations.

And there’s one of two ways I could take that one. Either his expectations were very low, or, you know, I’ve achieved something that he’s proud of. And I like to think it’s the latter. But one time he said to me, you know, I think the bottom line is that you’re just too stubborn to quit and too lazy to start over. And that’s kind of why, you know, you kept, you know, taking the unstoppable path.

Steve: Yeah, it’s funny. I’m sitting here, making notes as you’re talking and the thing that I wrote down because it reminded me of these banks that are too big to fail, you were too stubborn to fail.

Mike: Right. Exactly. Didn’t know it at the time but yeah, seems that way.

Steve: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in just that stubbornness. Like I’m going to get to this goal that I want. Even if you, you know, I think it from listening to you, it sounds like you had a clear picture in each case of what the goal was, but you didn’t necessarily know how to get there but you kept doing something you found an action you could take that kept moving you towards it.

Mike: Yeah, I think 100% that’s accurate. And then the other thing, you know, that I, you know, as I work with other entrepreneurs, and then also, you know, as I relay this story and try and share experiences with my two sons, I always tell them, Look, you know, things don’t always work out exactly how you think.

So you have to be able to pivot, you know? You just have to. I mean, if something doesn’t materialize the way you envision it materializing, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to work. You just got to try something different or you got to try another path. You know, for me, I wanted to fly fighter jets in the Navy. And that’s what I thought I was going to do. And, you know, the bottom line is I couldn’t hack it academically at the Merchant Marine Academy and so I had to pivot and find another path.

Steve: And, you know, I think we run into that in life. You know, you have this idea of what you want to do. You know, I’d love to play on the PGA Tour. But, you know, there are some realities around my capability when it, when I have a golf club in my hand, that is going to make that impossible, right? I could practice all day long every day and have the best coaches in the world, and it’s still probably wouldn’t happen. And so, I love the practicality of that. So you look at, I really want to do this. But that door closes and you reevaluate and you, as you say pivot, you go a different direction.

But you’ve still got this attitude of, kind of no matter where I’m going, I’m just not going to quit. And I think that’s a pretty important skill. Like having the flexibility as life and the world, the circumstances sort of present you with different opportunities. They close some doors, they open others. You know, you have to be flexible with that, but where you were inflexible was in your approach to what you were trying to accomplish. And I think that’s a really key message that at least that I see in all of this.

Mike: Yeah, and you know what? It’s a, you know, as I listened to other people, and talked with other entrepreneurs and stuff like that, it seems to be a common theme. You know, that never give up, never quit, you know, be persistent. You know, I meet very few people who start a business and they’re like, Oh, yeah, I made 100 million dollars my first 12 months and, you know, it was great.

Steve: Yeah, I know I’ve interviewed, close to 150 people now, I’m still looking for the one who can tell that story. If you find them, let me know. Well, but, you know, there’s that advice out there that, you know, never quit, never give up. But that can be taken in, I think, a really destructive way. You can internalize that and believe that you’re on a path and even though circumstances are such that there’s no way that you’re ever going to be successful at that, that you feel like you still can’t quit.

Mike: Yes. yeah. I agree. 100%

Steve: Yeah. So I think what your story illustrates is that, you know, you kept the attitude, but you adapted to the circumstances, which, you know, I think a lot of people need to hear it. I’m really grateful that you shared that. I want to take a quick break. And when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about the coffee business because I’m on about my fourth cup today. So I’m an investor in the industry and I’m fascinated by this whole idea of Nitro Cold Brew and you can educate me on it. So we’ll be right back in a minute with more from Mike McKim.

Commercial Break: Hi, this is Steve. I hope you’re enjoying this interview. We’ve got more to come in a minute. But what I’d love for you to do right now is rate this podcast. Leave us a review rate us on iTunes. It’ll really help others discover the podcast and help us help other CEOs, other business leaders become unstoppable. So if you go to unstoppableceo.net/iTunes, you can find instructions there and links that will take you right to where you need to go to review the podcast. Thanks so much. Now back to the interview.

Steve: Hey everybody, welcome back. This is Steve Gordon and today I’m talking with Mike McKim who is the founder of Cuvee Coffee, and I think most notably, the inventor of Nitro Cold Brew. I’m sure there’s somebody somewhere as they listen to this, they’re enjoying one. And it’s just fascinating to me that this is now such a big trend and you kind of started at all. So, I mean, as the coffee business, you know, you told us before how you kind of got into the business and how you started the roasting business but as that evolved, how did you get into doing the nitro cold brew?

Origins of Nitro Cold Brew

Mike: Yeah, the cold brew thing was funny. You know, cold brew’s been around a long time and a lot of coffee shops, what they would do is, you know, they would brew coffee, they’d put it in a pitcher, throw it in their fridge overnight, and that’s what they would use for cold coffee in their coffee shops. And I was never a huge fan of the flavor of that product. The year that I quit my espresso machine sales job, the company kept me on, as you know, a consultant, a part-time consultant for 12 months. And just because I’d had some success in my region, I started traveling around the US working with all the other salespeople.

And one of the sales calls I was on, we’re in this coffee shop and I’m talking to this coffee shop owner and I’m watching the baristas pour this drink off of the beer tap. And you know, they’re selling it to all these high school-age kids. And I asked the guy, I was like, What the heck are you selling these kids? You know, because I’m thinking some kind of beer. He said let me show you what I’m doing. He takes me in the back and he’s burning hot coffee and he’s dumping it into a homebrew keg, adding vanilla syrup and milk and then putting it on tap and serving it. I thought man, that is genius. And this was in 2007.

So, I got back home to Texas and I started going to visit all my coffee shop customers and I said, Look, the cold brew, you’re making, put in a keg, put it on tap, and you’re going to blow people’s minds. And then everybody says to me the same thing. They say, That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. And so finally, you know, you hear that a dozen times and I’m just like, Okay, I guess that’s a dumb idea.

And then in 2000, and like, 2010, 2011, I read this article, and it said that 85% of all the tea that’s consumed in the US is consumed over ice. And I kind of flashed back to that cold brew on tap thing, and I was like, You know what, this isn’t a dumb idea. And so I went on this journey to create a cold brew that was optimized to serve on tap, right? That would have the right flavor characteristics. And as I’m going through that process, I’m in the warehouse one night and tinkering around and I’ve got a four-pack of beer and it happened to be Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout. And so there’s four bottles in there.

And I’m reading the instructions in the bottle and it says, you know, pop the cap and pour hard into a glass. And so I do that and I watch this, you know, beautiful, you know, Guinness style cascade, you know, that whole nitro effect. And I was like, Man, this would be cool to do something like this with coffee. So the next morning I call Left Hand. Through a series of events, I get connected to the head brewer there and just start picking his brain about Nitro. And then in 2011, you know, we launched our first nitro cold brew on tap at a slow foods event here in Austin, Texas.

And everybody, you know, as I predicted back in 2007, or as I thought would happen in 2007, everybody’s like, Oh my god, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. So then I was hell-bent on canning the product, you know, making it ready to drink product out of it. So I started going down that path. And then of course, Guinness is the model for that. And in their cans, they have this device, they call it a widget. And the widget actually holds nitrogen gas inside of it. It’s a hollow ball basically. And, you know, when you open the can, that widget creates agitation and, you know, enhances this nitro effect.

So I contact Guinness and, you know, say hey can you license the widget and once again, I got laughed at. I was about to just kind of scrap the whole project and be like, All right, we’ll just can the product still. Instead of nitrogenated and lucky for me, I read this press release and it says Oskar Blues to launch Old Chub Nitro in brand new widget cans from the Ball Corporation. So the next morning I call Oskar Blues and I’m like, Hey, this is who I am, this is what I’m doing.

Amazing people and I love the beer industry. Really good people. They’re like, Yeah, come on up, see what we’re doing. So I went up there and canned beer with them. Nitro beer for two days. And then fortunately for me, they were in Colorado where the ball Corp. One of their offices that was kind of spearheading this nitro widget can was very close to them in Colorado. So I went over there, met with the ball team, ended up shipping a keg of nitrogen aided coffee up to them.

Came back and went into their lab and did a bunch of canning experiments, which ended up being successful. And then so we are the first people in the world to can nitro cold brew. We launched it in those ball widget cans, which we still use today. And that was in 2014. Yeah, that’s that was the nitro cold brew path.

Steve: So what’s intriguing to me about all of that is the thinking process that you went through. So there was an experience that you had with the regular cold brew product that you thought was not optimal. You know, it wasn’t the right experience. And you kept looking for a new solution, a new way to innovate that. And, to me, that’s the lesson that everybody listening can take from this because, I mean, there’s so many business owners who kind of wake up and they go to work and they’re sort of doing business the way that it was done the day before.

And that’s great, but that’s a pretty, you know, straight-line path to being a commodity. But really what you’re describing is a way to take something that truly is a commodity. I mean coffee’s traded on commodity markets. And you’re adding innovation to it. You’re adding an idea to it. And adding technology to it in the form of the can and the canning process. And now you’re creating a whole new category of product that, you know, at this stage, you know, that was what 2014? So we’re five years from that as we record this conversation, and it’s all over the country, probably all over the world, frankly.

Mike: Yeah. It is pretty amazing. And it’s kind of validating and frustrating all at the same time. You know, I was, you know, doing a little rant to a friend of mine one time and, you know, about how it’s so difficult because, you know, these buyers, they don’t understand cold brew had no category when we, nitro cold brew had no category when we launched nitro cold brew. So I’m meeting with all these grocery store buyers and stuff and they’re like, yeah, we don’t even know where to put it in the store.

And so I’m, you know, frustrated and a buddy of mine says, will Mike you know the pioneers get all the arrows and settlers get all the land, right? And it that has really become very evident to them particularly this past year because, you know, I visited every large grocery chain in the US last year to go into their line review and pitch nitro cold brew to them. And there were, you know, a few people who definitely saw the vision and believed that it would become a mainstream product. They were very few. The majority of the people said the exact same thing to me. They said, You know what, this whole nitro thing, total niche.

It’s just a fad. It’ll be gone next year. And then, you know, just earlier this year, Starbucks announces that they’re launching nitro cold brew in all their stores. And so now it’s a genuine bona fide category which, you know, like I said, I feel like, you know, pat myself on the back and see, I told you so. But then at the same time, that doesn’t really, you know, that doesn’t really help the bottom line. So now I got to go back into all those line reviews and go Hey, remember, last year, you told me this was a fad? It’s not. I gotta do that in a nice way, though. Right?

Steve: Right. Well, so how do you, from a business perspective, because people run into the same thing all the time. I mean, I don’t care what kind of business you’re in. I’m constantly talking with business owners who have ideas and then someone else, you know, comes along with either a very similar or an identical idea. And what’s your approach now that you’ve gone through this, you’ve had this experience? And certainly, there’s a growing market for it that you’ll go and capture. But as you think ahead to the next innovation, has it changed your thinking about how you’re going to go about it?

Think Like the Consumer

Mike: Yeah. I mean, the, it’s a really delicate balance. You know, because there’s two people that I have to cater to. One is a buyer, and then the other one is the consumer. And I think that what we’ve done, you know, historically so far, you know, I always think of everything as a consumer. Like I make products for me as a consumer, and so far that’s been, you know, fairly successful. So I’m always thinking about, okay, what’s the next iteration?

Or you know, what’s the next project I want to tackle? It’s the buyer one that’s really hard because a lot of times, you know, contrary to what you would think, they don’t always consider what the consumer wants. And so yeah, there’s this dichotomy between convincing a buyer to put your product on the shelf and convincing a buyer that this is what the consumer will buy if you put it on the shelf, if that makes sense.

Steve: No, completely, because the buyers have a different set of decision-making criteria and theirs centers around if I buy a bad product, or if I begin to create a string of bad products that I buy that don’t sell, I’m going to get fired.

Mike: Right.

Steve: Right? Yeah. And conversely, if I buy a bunch of really great products that do very well, I’ll keep my job, but I mean, that’s kind of what they pay me for here. So there’s not a big big upside but there’s a ton of downside and risk to them whereas for the consumer, you can look at the consumer and say, Well, this is the experience they want, and I can fulfill that. And, you know, and a lot of us go through that kind of the dual customer challenge, you know? And how do you make them both happy?

Mike: Yeah. And it is a challenge. 100%. And, you know, to your point, you know, I’m glad that Starbucks has come out, you know, with this product because it’s only going to help, you know, grease the skids for us to be able to sell in channels that, you know, may not have given us attention last year, but at the same time, you know, the amount of marketing that they’re doing, it’s so funny. I mean, we have printed right on our can and always have, right, to explain nitro to people. It says there’s a little pictogram of a pint glass, you know, with a foamy top and it says nitro makes it creamy without the cream.

And the first Starbucks commercial that I saw on TV, what do they flashed up on the screen? Creamy without the cream? And I thought Damn. Man, it’s just, you know, so I guess the big question is going to be, you know, are we going to be able to grab, you know, at least a piece of the pie that we helped start creating, you know, with somebody who’s got, you know, millions and millions of marketing dollars to push the product out. And if they want to flood the market, you know, with ready to drink nitro cold brew and cans, how am I going to compete with that?

Steve: Well, I think the question is, that’s exactly it. How are you going to compete with that? And, you know, maybe going to head to head isn’t the best way to do it. But it’s, I think it’s the same way that the, if you look at beer companies, so we’ve been, I live in Tallahassee Florida. We’re a relatively small city in Florida. I don’t think we have a quarter-million people that live here. And so even in our little city, we’ve had, I think five breweries pop up and all be very successful in spite of the fact that, you know, we have Budweiser here, we have Chors here, you know, we have every other major beer producer here selling their stuff. Pumping all of their marketing dollars in.

And, I mean, I think it comes down to understanding who you serve and differentially serving them, you know? And, you know, and so, I was telling you before we started that, you know, I didn’t really understand this whole cold brew thing, you know, until we talked a few weeks ago. And I’m kind of holding off now because I want to get it from the source and you guys aren’t in Florida yet. But, you know, but that sort of becomes a badge of honor for the people who drink it. They say, you know, I’m, you know, I’m the kind of guy or I’m the kind of gal that drinks cold nitro cold brew coffee, you know?

And that allows them to tell a certain story about themselves you know? And if I drink it from the company that invented it, that gives them the opportunity to tell even a different story about themselves versus their friend that goes to the Starbucks and drinks the stuff that they could get on every corner in America, you know? And so I think, you know, I think that’s the way for folks who are listening, you if you run into these situations, and you’ve got to start thinking about these problems of competition and in not in like this kind of fait accompli sort of attitude where it’s been done and now I’m out.

But like how do I craft a story that is going to be really important to a group of people that, you know, are going to buy my product or buy my service? So I’m, I can’t wait. Like, I know the story isn’t over yet. That’s the cool thing. We need to have you back in like a year, right? Because this is going to be a big year for nitro cold brew, you know, because of what Starbucks is doing, and because of what you and all of the other producers are doing. It’s sort of like, it’s like the debutante year, right?

Future Possibilities for Nitro Cold Brew

Mike: Yeah, there’s no doubt. And it’s, you know, you touched on the craft beer industry. It’s really amazing the number of people nationwide who have reached out to Cuvee and said, Hey, we want to launch a nitro cold brew product? You know, do you guys white-label or co-pack? I mean, the number of people is staggering. So yeah, it’s gonna be, you know, and I think the coffee industry is always kind of lagged, you know, five-plus years behind the beer industry. So this is going to be just like the, you know, the craft beer era as it was growing. You know, this whole cold brew era and particularly nitro cold brew is, that’s our craft beer in coffee.

Steve: Yeah. It’s amazing to me, I mean, just if you look at, and not just the period of time that we’ve talked about so far, but if you go back to, you know, the 80s. Like when I was a kid, a cup of coffee cost, like a quarter, you know? Or a nickel maybe, right? And it really didn’t matter where you bought it. It was all the same stuff more or less. And here we are, you know, 25 years, 30 years later and that ceiling for this product keeps going up and up and up because of innovation for people like you, right? To me that’s just, it’s fascinating. It’s interesting. It’s very motivating too from a business standpoint. It’s proof that anything’s possible.

Mike: Yeah. I agree with that. 100%. It’s also, it’s kind of refreshing because, you know, I’ve been in the coffee industry for 21 years. You know, since launching this product in 2011, now I’m in the beverage industry, and they’re very, very different. But I can tell you, just from my own experience in the coffee industry, it’s been very stagnant for a long time. There has not been much innovation in coffee until, you know, cold brew and now nitro cold brew have come along and it’s, I think it’s good for the coffee industry too. Not just the beverage industry.

Steve: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And for everybody listening that, you know, you’re not in one of these businesses, and you’re sitting there thinking, well, how can I apply this stuff? You know, maybe you’re an attorney and you own a law firm or, you know, you’re a financial advisor, and you’re helping people with their money. You’re in the same situation. You’re in a commoditized business.

And the, I hope what you take away from this is that the only way to escape that commoditization is to innovate. And Mike, I’m so glad you agreed to come on and have this conversation and share your story because what you’ve been able to do, I know that you’re probably feeling a little bit like okay, yeah, I got all the arrows and somebody else came along and got all the land but what you’ve been able to do and moving in industry is really quite astonishing.

Mike: Thanks. I appreciate that.

Steve: Well, any final thoughts that you want to share with anybody?

Mike: You know, I would say, I work with a group here in Austin called Bunker Labs. They have chapters all over the US and it’s a veteran entrepreneur organization. And, you know, as I work with young entrepreneurs, you know, one of the questions that everybody always has is, you know, if you had one piece of advice, what would it be? I’ve struggled with that, you know, for a lot of years because I always hate kind of cookie-cutter advice.

But one of the biggest mistakes I feel like I made early on was when I was, you know, marketing my product, I did it always thinking about what my peers were going to say. Like, am I using the right words? And, you know, instead of focusing on the consumer, I was focused on seeking approval from my peers. And once I finally decided that guess what, my peers, my competitors, all those people who may have opinions on what I’m doing or saying don’t buy products from me. And I started focusing, you know, on my consumer. That’s really when our business started to, you know, exponentially grow.

Steve: That’s brilliant advice. And I think a lot of people feel that same pressure. You know, you go to the industry association meetings, and sometimes you have, you know, as much interaction with them as you do with customers and clients. It’s easy to get caught up in that and I’m so glad to share that. So where can folks find out more about Cuvee Coffee, and where can they go to find maybe the locations where they can buy it if they want to go try it?

Mike: You know, as far as locations we had a map that we were trying to keep updated but the, you know, as we pick up more and more national distribution it was challenging to keep up with, you know, for a small company so we actually pulled that map. So finding the product is going to be difficult however if you go to cuveecoffee.com you can always shoot us a message, let us know where in the country you are, we can point you in the direction of, you know, somebody who carries our whole bean coffee or nitro cold brew.

We’ve had some good success with, you know, some big chains like Safeway, out west and Ingles you know, further east and then of course in Texas, you know, pretty much all the big chains, you know, in Whole Foods and Central Market and Sprouts and, you know, all those places, they carry our product. And luckily since we’re here in Texas, you know, we have a lot up and down the street business. So you can even go into, you know, some neighborhoods, convenience stores, you know, that carry craft beer and you’ll find our product on the shelf there, which is kind of cool.

Steve: That’s awesome. Well, folks, go check out cuveecoffee.com. We’ll link it in the show notes. And Mike, thanks for investing a little bit of time with me and sharing your wisdom with everyone.

Mike: Absolutely. Steve, thanks so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.