In 2011, Mike Brown was struggling to keep his upstate New York coffee shop open when he asked himself a question that would change the course of his business forever: "What is the world's strongest coffee, anyway?"
Not long after, Death Wish Coffee was born. Touted as "the world's strongest coffee," Mike told us that it some third party resources even say it's twice the amount of caffeine in your typical cup of joe.
Mike and his team of highly caffeinated coffee elves were honored recently to be the big winners in Small Business Big Game so we asked him to spill the beans on what his current challenges are as a small business owner and how he stays inspired day in and day out.
Name: Mike Brown
Business: Death Wish Coffee
Why did you decide to start Death Wish Coffee?
I've owned a small coffee shop in Saratoga Springs since 2008. Toward the end of 2011, I started Death Wish Coffee in the basement of that shop with the goal of creating the world's strongest coffee.
Back then, the coffee shop wasn't doing very well. It was losing a lot of money. Before I closed up shop (or at least before I thought I was going to), I wanted to have another project in the wings.
Luckily, because of Death Wish Coffee, our sales picked up and we're still open! The two businesses feed off each other a lot and the coffee shop has been growing steadily since we launched Death Wish. It's one of Saratoga's favorite coffee blends.
What has surprised you the most so far about running your own business?
The amount of work it takes!
Running your own business is not a 9-to-5 job. I wake up, I start working. When I go to bed, I'm usually still working on answering emails.
Sometimes, when I read about some business-related problems before I go to bed, I get answers in my sleep. I dream Death Wish Coffee. I dream about my business.
What is your favorite thing about being a small business owner?
My favorite part is the customers. I love talking to our customers, hearing about what they want and delivering what we promise.
What keeps you up at night as a small business owner?
The hardest part is dealing with the personnel issues that come up when you're running a company. I'm not great at managing people. I'm great at having an idea and turning it into a reality.
Even though it's not my favorite part of the job, managing people is the skill I need to work on the most because being a small business owner is basically all about people management and trying to get folks on board with your vision.
If you had a magic wand that you could use to make only one of your business challenges disappear, what would you use it for?
I'd use a magic wand to help us find the right people. It's really hard.
Right now we have a small team of nine and we just hired two new people in the last three weeks. It took us over a year to search for those two people.
Getting the right people on your team is so important. Luckily, I have nine of them! I don't yet have the solution for doing this easily in the future going forward, though. It's just a lot of work and a lot of interviews and a lot of background checks.
How do you keep the passion alive in your business? How do you stay inspired day in and day out?
This is my life. I do this every single day. I live and breathe it. It's always there, and sometimes I have to take breaks.
The biggest thing I've learned is how important it is to get away sometimes, to go on vacation two or three times a year. Otherwise, you will experience burnout.
I've been burned out before. You just kind of lose it. I've learned to take breaks and make sure I give myself time in between living and breathing my business.
If you had one piece of advice for a small business owner who is just starting out, what would it be?
My advice to folks who are just starting out is to ask people who have done it already. Ask other successful small business owners how they did it.
Find people who are successful in a field that you want to break into and take them out to lunch or out for a coffee and pick their brain. Ask them for resources.
You don't have to reinvent the wheel when there are people out there who have done it already. Just ask!
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