Today I have Mike Brown on the show. Mike is someone who I was introduced to through by Tommy Walker who runs the Shopify Plus blog.
Anyway, normally I don’t interview referrals who I haven’t met but Mike has an amazing story. He runs the popular coffee brand Death Wish Coffee which even has its own wiki page.
His company has been featured in countless publications and even had an ad in the superbowl. Normally, I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone go into the coffee niche because it’s extremely competitive and saturated, but Mike made it work with a very unique value proposition.
What You’ll Learn
- Where Mike generates most of his revenue today.
- The main drivers of traffic to his ecommerce store
- How his strategy changed after getting on the Super Bowl.
- The effect of the Super Bowl on sales.
- How he markets his coffee today.
- How he built a cult following for his brand.
Other Resources And Books
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Intro: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family, and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. Today I have Mike Brown on the show. Now Mike is someone who I was introduced to through Tommie Walker who runs the Shopify Plus blog. Normally I don’t actually interview referrals who I haven’t met, but Mike has an amazing story.
He runs the popular coffee brand Death Wish Coffee, which even has its own Wiki page which I found out while I was doing my research. His company has been featured in countless publications, and he even had an ad in a super bowl which is pretty cool.
Normally I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone to go into the coffee business, because it is extremely competitive and quite saturated, but Mike made it work with a very unique value proposition. With that welcome to the show Mike, how are you doing today man?
Mike: I am great, thanks for having me here.
Steve: Yeah, so I did a bunch of research on you prior to this interview, but please give us the quick background story, and tell us about Death Wish Coffee, how you got started in the coffee business.
Mike: I was a [inaudible 00:03:03] right out of college, and I worked for the city of New York in the controller’s office, and I realized real quick that wasn’t for me really. I got to study forensic behind a desk all day look inside like bank accounts, so I just took time off. I tried to figure out what I wanted to do and I’ll hang out of coffee shops a lot. I sat there, I decided, hey maybe I’ll try and start my own coffee shop.
Steve: Just randomly or?
Mike: Yeah right away, I wanted to learn about business, learn how to run a business, and the coffee business seemed pretty simple, just making coffee and sell it to customers that walked in.
Steve: So this is a brick and mortar coffee shop, right?
Mike: Right, a brick and mortar coffee shop. I tried to start a couple; it didn’t really work out so well. Then I finally found a company, I found a guy that wanted to sell his coffee shop, this is in 2008 when everything was kind of turning sour for everyone.
I got a decent deal on it, but at the same time it’s not a great time to go on business by yourself, so I started losing money head over face. I learnt that running a business wasn’t as simple as putting products on the shelf and hoping people will walk in.
Steve: Was this because your coffee shop was just like every other coffee shop, and was it like the rent that was pretty much dominating your costs?
Mike: Yes, certainly a grey area, but yeah the rent was high. Actually the employees, that the cost employs it, that was always the highest expense on my books just keeping people behind the counter, and yeah it was like every other coffee shop. I mean we tried to differentiate ourselves a bit by offering fair trade organic products, and some local products, but I don’t think that was enough really.
Steve: Were you selling online at the time or no?
Mike: No, not at this time, it was just solely brick and mortar. I kind of made the big mistake of when customers came in and gave me a suggestion, I pretty much took everyone’s suggestion, I put on the menu. After a couple of years I had this menu that was like four pages long. Buying inventory was a nightmare, and just keeping stock was a nightmare and things would go bad.
It was a big mess throughout; I realized I was going to lose money. It took me long to figure out how to run the business and what decisions I should make to make the business a little bit more profitable.
Steve: At the time it wasn’t called Death Wish Coffee either, right?
Mike: No, it wasn’t, it was called Saratoga Coffee Traders. It still exists in Saratoga Springs New York. The menu is a lot smaller now; really kind of learned to kind of focus on our best products.
Steve: How did that evolve into Death Wish then?
Mike: As I was struggling with making ends meet, I started doing whatever I could to learn more about business, to learn more about making money so I could keep the coffee shop always open. I started reading a lot of books about selling online, and that really caught my interest. I had an idea for this coffee by customers actually coming all the day, and every day and ask for my strongest cup of coffee.
I was always like do I give the dark rose or do I give them the coffee that the most caffeine, which sometimes isn’t the dark rose. When I knew what they were looking for, the taste, but they also wanted the caffeine as well. I put together a dark rose to have a lot of caffeine, and put our scary label on it. I sat down one day after work and made up this website, and I called it Death Wish Coffee.
Steve: What was the website, was this your own personal ecommerce store at the time?
Mike: Yeah it was. It was deathwishcoffee.com, it still is today. It looks a lot different now than it did when I first made it.
Steve: Sure, what platform you were on, just curious?
Mike: I was on Weebly.
Steve: Weebly, okay wow, and then what is it on now?
Mike: Now it’s on Shopify.
Steve: Shopify, okay of course dah, tell me about that.
Mike: I put these websites together, and I made the logo myself and put some software I got at Staples. I had the coffee, I knew what the coffee was going to be, and I knew what– I had the logo online. I didn’t actually have a product at the time put together. It wasn’t until I think a few weeks later when someone actually went on my website and bought the first bag.
I was like okay crap, now I need to put these products together, so I went back to Staples, I got some stickers, I got a coffee bag. I put together the beans out of my coffee shop and I blended them together the way I’ve been testing and I sent it out, and I got a good review. From there I sold a couple more.
Steve: How did that first customer find you, just curious?
Mike: On Facebook ad.
Steve: Oh you were running ads to a site when you didn’t even have a product?
Mike: Exactly yeah. I really wanted just to test it out first to see if it would sell. I did some testing on the product search. I had the product, but actually I didn’t have the packaging or anything, does that make sense?
Steve: Yeah, yeah of course. Okay, so you had already developed this really strong blend of coffee.
Steve: And you were actually probably serving it in your shop?
Mike: Yeah, I was testing it out on my customers in the coffee shop, and they were loving it.
Steve: Okay, so you run Facebook– can describe what that first Facebook ad looked like?
Mike: It was a sword and cross bones, and I believe it said something along the lines of do you like strong coffee, click here pretty much.
Steve: And it just led to your site, you only had one product on the site?
Mike: Yeah just one product and actually still we don’t have many products. We just focus on our signature brand, our Death Wish Coffee. We do have 2 other brands, Walhalla Java and Belvolene [ph] coffee, but our focus is very more of I don’t know, I guess I want to say a separate basic, they are like a separate project off of the Death Wish Coffee
Steve: Okay and I actually looked around for strong coffee and there weren’t a whole– I mean there is a lot of people who sell coffee, but I couldn’t find a lot of people that specialize in the strongest coffee. Would you say that that’s the main reason why you’re standing out?
Mike: I think so, yeah, because at the time when my customers were asking me for strong coffee, I went on Google, and I was like, hey if I could find I’m the strongest coffee out there, and amaze my customers with it one morning, they are going to think I’m great, and consider even coming to my coffee shop.
When I goggled there was nothing, at the time there really wasn’t any strong coffees available. And the ones that were available they weren’t — I have had them before, and they weren’t that great. So that was the light bulb that went off. I was like; okay I can make this and sell it online.
Steve: So you have your site now and you are driving Facebook ads to it. Meanwhile you are still running your brick and mortar coffee shop, right?
Steve: So when did this shift happen and how did it happen?
Mike: So the shift happened when I decided to really focus on — I won’t even say focus, really good consistent on marketing like my new coffee brand. Actually one of my barristers was quitting and I’m like — she said, I’m like what are you going to do? And she goes like, well I don’t have real shares, I don’t want to be behind the counter being a barrister any longer.
And I said, well I got this new coffee project I’m working on; it’s an online coffee company. I’ve got a couple of sales; I’ve got some good reviews I think it can really take off if I really put some focus on it. So if you wanted to just work on the computer every day, and just post on social media, pay attention to the Facebook ads, pay attention to the different social platforms and kind of get a conversation going, I think that would be valuable.
And once she started doing that, that’s when it started to take off. When we started working on it every single day and actually I wrote out a template for her. I’m like here is a template, just a letter. Send it out to influencers, people online that have a lot of followers, or they have a good blog, or that have a good following, and see if they want to review this coffee and…
Steve: Can you talk about what was in that letter or template?
Mike: Yeah, of course I have it somewhere, but actually I know I’ll look it for now. But yes said something along the lines of we’re big fans of what you do. We have this great product; it’s got a lot of great reviews. Our audience is growing and we would like to see if you would like to try our products and possibly write a review. If so we’ll share the review with our audience.
Steve: So these were coffee blogs?
Mike: No actually, never really focused on coffee blogs. We focus more on blogs that had cool innovative products like one of the blogs…
Steve: What was your biggest here, what was your biggest feature at the time like your first early feature?
Mike: Well a blog called Cool Material…
Steve: Cool Material, okay.
Mike: Yeah they wrote a nice piece on us, and then…
Steve: And you pitched your coffee as like the world’s strongest coffee?
Mike: Yeah, we pitched it as the strongest coffee and I’m trying to remember exactly how this went, it’s a few years ago now. And it’s funny after Cool Material wrote about us, all these bloggers and news reporters, I feel like they all follow each other in some way.
So once one big blogger wrote, and I think it was a Cool Material blogger who wrote this blog piece. We started getting phone calls from other bloggers and other news reporters. And then in March of 2013 Good Morning America called, and were like, hey we read about your coffee online, we want to come up to your coffee shop and shoot a report…
Steve: Wait you didn’t do anything for that one, it was just — they just came to you out of the blue because of these blog mentions?
Mike: Exactly, yeah they came to me out of blue, they were like, they called me at 10 am, and I’m about three hours north of New York City where they are out of. And yeah they called me at 10 am and they are there by 4 pm, so I hardly had any time to prepare. And the next morning they actually opened their show drinking my coffee, and gave us glowing reviews and they said how much they loved it.
And then right after that, sales kind of took off right off almost to the point where it’s detrimental to my business, because we were selling a very small amount at that time, maybe 10 pounds a day. And all of a sudden we had thousands and thousands of pounds of coffee that we needed to fulfill. We didn’t have enough bags, we didn’t have enough coffee, we didn’t have enough labels.
I didn’t have enough staff; it was just me and my barrister, my former barrister. So I actually called customers out of the store to help me fulfill as much as I could, like place the orders for more coffee or more bags. It took me 30 days to fulfill some of these orders. I ended up refunding half the money. But what I did do throughout the entire time, I mean even though I got kicked off — I was selling on Amazon at this time too.
I got kicked off of Amazon; I got kicked off in eBay. But even though it took me 30 days to fulfill some orders and I had to give a lot of the money back, I always kept on good terms with the customer, and I was able to capture their information. So I was able to build my mailing list by about probably 30,000 people at this time. So even though the first six…
Steve: Okay hold on, so before the Good Morning America you already had 30,000 subscribers prior to the Good Morning America?
Mike: No, I probably had 20, but I think I gained another 30 right after.
Steve: Okay, so let’s back up then. So how did you get these 20,000 subscribers?
Mike: So one of the — from day one I’ve always had an email opt-in on my website, and I’ve always run campaigns to get people to opt-in to my mailing list.
Steve: These are Facebook ads?
Mike: Yeah mostly Facebook ads, I might have messed around with Google ads at the time. But yeah I was just trying driving people to our capture page, lead capture page. I think I was even…
Steve: So what were you giving away?
Mike: I think I was giving away free samples at the time of the coffee. That worked well, I mean it turned out to be kind of expensive, I mean it probably cost me about $2 for the coffee, and then another two bucks to send it out. So it just cost me four bucks a lead.
So I wasn’t making any money from the coffee, I was kind of investing just about every dollar of sales back into the business. But it’s working, it’s build there a good list and as that list grew I saw my revenue rising.
Steve: Okay that’s really interesting. So you started your list very early on giving away free coffee samples, that sounds really expensive. That’s like $80,000 worth of free samples?
Mike: Yeah, I mean I’m sure they weren’t all free samples, I’m sure some were like organic, that does sound like a lot at that time especially because I was broke.
Steve: Yeah, I’m sure this is overtime but yeah.
Mike: Yeah, that’s over a couple of years.
Steve: Okay so you would drive Facebook ad over to a landing page where you gave out a free sample. And then you would send it out, people would try it, and they would come back for sales. So I’m just curious how did you correlate the sales from those people back to your store?
Mike: I don’t think I understand the question. How did I correlate — how did I track that?
Steve: Yeah, how did you track it?
Mike: I don’t think I did at the time, I wasn’t tracking. But I was seeing growth on my mailing list, and I was — we would offer pretty much a deal just about every week, or we had some type of free giveaway, every week. So we sent out a newsletter. We could see as our list grew the revenue also increased, and we still do that today.
Steve: Who do you guys use for email provider?
Mike: Right now — we were using MailChimp back then, now we are using — I’m sorry we were using Constant Contact back then, we are using MailChimp now.
Steve: Okay and you mentioned that you got kicked off of Amazon, presumably you were doing merchant fulfilled then?
Mike: Oh yeah, yeah I was doing merchant fulfilled. Actually I was doing FBA, but then as my inventory ran out, I didn’t want the sales to stop, so I switched to merchant fulfilled, which wasn’t a great idea. But it took a little bit of time for me to get back on both platforms. Actually eBay was a lot of harder to get back on than Amazon believe it or not.
Steve: Really? Okay so when you get banned what happens? Like so Amazon banned you obviously because you couldn’t fulfill your orders and you had to cancel a bunch, right? So how did you appeal?
Mike: Right, you just write them letters, just call them up, talk to them. We had to put a plan in place. Pretty much draw up a plan that says why will this never happen again. Pretty much I just told them I’m just going to keep on FBA, and I’m not going to switch it back over to fulfillment by seller all the time, but on inventory and they record that.
Steve: Okay and in terms of when you first got started, did Amazon come first or eBay come first, or did your own site come first?
Mike: My own site came first. But if I had to do it over again I would recommend testing out the product on Amazon or eBay first before…
Steve: Okay and so when did you actually start selling on Amazon then, shortly after?
Mike: It is relatively shortly after. I don’t remember exactly but I started in 2000 — end of 2011, I was probably selling on Amazon in 2000. No, I was definitely selling on Amazon in 2012 because I got one of those, I think they sent them out to everyone at the time. But there was one of those cards that said you are a top Amazon seller in 2012 or top holiday seller. I was so thrilled, and then everyone I know now is like yeah I got one of those too.
Steve: Yeah, but you were one of the early ones. So would it be fair to say that your Amazon sales were exceeding your own website sales in the beginning or?
Mike: They were about…
Steve: They were about equal?
Mike: They were about equal. I think the website was a little bit more just because I had that email list, and that’s a lot — I drove a lot of business that way.
Steve: Okay, let’s talk about your email list real quick. So did you have autoresponders, or were you just sending out deals on like a weekly basis?
Mike: I did set up an autorespond program; basically if someone signed up from my list they got a welcome letter, and then a couple like a week later they got a discount probably in the week. I think pretty minimum and it wasn’t based on any — it wasn’t really based on anything. They were getting them whether they bought something or not, you know what I mean?
I think now ours is a little more dynamic where if they don’t purchase, then they’ll get a reminder something like that. It’s sort of more complicated right now, but yeah back then it was pretty just — I think there was like three or four emails in the autorespond chain.
Steve: So I was just — was most of your business derived from email, would it be fair to say early on?
Mike: I would say possibly, I think most of it was derived from influencers writing blog posts about us. We were really able to really crash it early on, because people were reviewing our products and giving us great reviews online.
Steve: Okay so the influence — in terms of finding those influencers was it just basic outreach, did you use any services to do that?
Mike: Yes basic outreach, I would go on make a list of people I saw on like Twitter, Facebook just in news articles. I would go to like BuzzFeed, and I would like find their authors that go to New York Times, Huffington Post.
Basically anyone I could find, I would write — and don’t get me wrong most probably about 90%-95% of people wouldn’t respond at all or would say no. But between like 2% and 5% would respond and only a couple would say yes, and it really only takes a couple of people to say yes for it to have a big impact.
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So I’m just curious you mentioned early on that you didn’t really target coffee blogs. Is it because you were just looking for much larger publications, like what was the rationale for that?
Mike: I feel like coffee blogs at the time and even now they are more focused on really high — they are focused on a different type of coffee, I guess the specialty coffee, the third way of coffee, the high — I don’t know. A lot of specialty coffee is in the market right now. They are like the opposite of what our coffee is.
They try to get like the sweet floral and fruity notes out of the coffee bean where that’s not my coffee. My coffee is like the high caffeinated, you taste it and it wakes you up immediately. And I actually use Robusta beans in my blends. And Robusta beans are looked down upon in the coffee industry for probably the last 20 years. It’s just recently that they are coming around now.
I think it’s because there is such good quality of Robusta beans coming into the market right now. That there is actually Robusta coffee that isn’t even considered a specialty coffee by the SCAA, and only Arabica beans are. So the fact that I was using Robusta beans in my blends I avoided the coffee brands…
Steve: I think I understand where you are getting at, like there is similar things with wine, right? Yeah okay cool. So let’s — okay so how did the super bowl ad thing happen? So you have an email following at this point, you’ve been on Good Morning America. How did the super bowl ad thing come into play because that was huge, right?
Mike: Yeah, this is a giant. In 2014, let’s see 2013 I watched GoldieBlox; it was a company that made engineering toys almost like legos for girls. And I watched them when the super bowl commercial threw into its small business begin competition. And I was like — I saw that and I was like, wow if I could win that with this business, it would be the biggest splash ever of a cool product.
I think it’s the best product in the world, I know I’m biased, but I think it’s amazing, and I think everyone else would too. And in 2015 last year in June they decided to run it again. I saw I had come across my Facebook news feed, and I got my team around me.
Actually a lot of my team that stay with me now are the same people I pulled out of my coffee shop back in 2013 to help me fulfill the orders. But I pulled those guys around, and I hear they are in this competition again. We have a decent online following now, I think we can make a run at this, and they are like yeah let’s give it a shot and…
Steve: So what was involved in entering the contest?
Mike: Entering the contest wasn’t too bad. We had to make a profile like online profile, and join their social network called Own It which is a social network for entrepreneurs. It’s actually really cool and helpful, you should check it out if you are entrepreneurs. And we had to make — I guess two activities such as take pictures of my team, make a video, answer a bunch of questions, take some interesting surveys, and basically make an online profile that when people went to it, they would want to vote for your company.
And it was all about entrepreneurship and who embodies entrepreneurship better than I guess the rest. And it actually would have come — the companies that came down too at the end, they are all amazing companies. And it was almost like a big vote off towards the end where there was 10 finalists, and we all had to see who could get — drive the most people to our voting link to get votes for…
Steve: So let’s talk about that a little bit. So you obviously used your email list for that, but how did you — because I imagine every company at this point has huge followings right, I would imagine?
Mike: Oh yeah, one of the companies Chivies they make short reports. I mean they have a following like millions of followers on Facebook and Instagram, and yeah they have a giant following. We thought they were going to be — were going to run away with it. And as it turned out they didn’t make it into the final three with us.
There was us, there was [inaudible 00:27:57] a brick and motor store actually out of Buffalo in New York, they were in the top three as well. They hardly had a social following at all. They had a few good YouTube videos, but they just had the support of the community around them, around Buffalo and New York. And they had such a loyal following in their community that they were able to just drive consistent votes every single day.
Steve: How did you guys do it?
Mike: So we tried everything, everything, everything, but I’ll tell you what I think works. We weren’t able to see the actual vote count or keep track along the way. So we were able to kind of get an idea of what was going on by looking at Facebook shares on everyone’s voting links. So we could see each person’s voting link and through Facebook we could see how many shares each of those got.
So we kind of used that as a gauge there. We were doing bad in the beginning, and it wasn’t so we just used the strategies that we use to build the business to reach out to influencers…
Steve: Interesting okay.
Mike: So we used Zack Wild, we actually do coffee for – he’s got millions of followers online. We were able to work with him and his Facebook account, and his social media account to push our leading link to his fans.
Steve: Well was there any incentive for him to do that, or was he just doing you a favor?
Mike: No there was incentive for him because we do sell, I’ll probably call it Walhalla Java which is for him and inspired by him, and actually he has all the branding rights on it. So he gets the royalty from that. So if we wanted, it was going to be good for him, and it has been great for him.
Mike: Also Lisa Kelly from Ice Road Truckers, and the whole Ice Road Truckers crew, they helped us out of time and…
Steve: These are like major TV shows right, I mean Ice Road Truckers…
Steve: Yeah okay. How did you hookup with them?
Mike: Somebody on my team had a good relationship with their manager, or developed a good relationship with their manager. And yeah we started talking and they helped us out pretty much out of the kindness of their heart, there really wasn’t much in it for them. I mean we sent them coffee when they wanted, and we sent them sweat shirts and t-shirts and stuff, but they helped us out at the time, they are really good people.
Steve: So it sounds like a lot of what made Death Wish Coffee successful was like the people relationships that you developed in the outreach if you were to just choose one thing that voted you guys to the top, is that accurate or?
Mike: Yeah, that’s very accurate yeah. And I think right now when I think to have this win as we have some like crazy loyal fans who are amazing, and they are like huge brand ambassadors. They go above and beyond for us and not only voting, but they start their own campaigns and even get their own social campaigns going to try to get people to vote for us.
Steve: How did you get those fans? Was there anything special that you did to get those raving fans?
Mike: I think it was cool like logo cool brand identity, that’s part of it. But also we have pretty much of a no bullshit policy here where our number one value is customer satisfaction. If the customer isn’t satisfied they get their money back right away, and we’ll go over the top to make sure they are satisfied.
So not only that, our customers are always happy one, and we always try to over deliver and under promise. So everything we do we try to just kind of go above and beyond so when a customer gets the product they feel like they are taken care of. And we follow up with them afterwards to make sure they are happy, if they are not they get their money back.
It’s those things that we hear day to day; hey companies don’t do this anymore. They don’t really care about the customers, but you guys do. Like I have a customer service team, there is three of them right now, and that’s all they do all day is they not only reach out to the negative reviews. They reach out to every positive review, every question, every — yeah they are amazing.
Steve: Actually what I was trying to get out was are you guys actually putting out content also that people are consuming that really makes them huge fans, or is it really just about the product itself?
Mike: We put out some content, not enough I don’t think, but we would go over things to put out content. Our customers put out a lot of content which is even better…
Mike: Yeah they make content nonstop, and there is always — I always see my Google alerts newsfeed like a new piece of content, or a new video that one of our customers created on YouTube or something. And yeah those are…
Steve: So what do they talk about in this content — like if they put out a video, are they are just raving about your product?
Mike: Yeah they are really raving about it, or they are doing some type of challenge with our product like eating coffee grinds, yeah it sucks. Sometimes it’s like irresponsible stuff like how much of this coffee can I drink before, or really like makes me sick or something. I don’t know so they do crazy stuff sometimes. Most of the time it’s just they drink this coffee, and I don’t know like a rainbow shoots out their butt and they fly over the clouds. I don’t know they make some crazy stuff.
Steve: Okay and this is probably just the tribute effect that you have the strongest — you are known as the strongest coffee out there, right? So that kind of sparks off all these interesting pieces of content that people produce?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Steve: Okay, so let’s talk post super bowl. So you get this ad, how do you prepare for it, and how much did your sales spike as a result of it?
Mike: So we found out in late November that we had won the competition. And we were super thrilled, but they were like okay now we really need to focus because how much coffee are we going to sell? Can our website handle this, can we produce enough, can we — there was all these questions. Is customer service going to get overwhelmed? We don’t want to get kicked off of Amazon again.
Since we got kicked off of Amazon in 2013, I had worked to make the business as scalable as possible. So we started working with fulfillment centers. So we didn’t fulfill our own products anymore, we had fulfillment centers do that. So we had to contact our fulfillment center, let them know. I actually made a list of every part of my business that would be affected by an increase in traffic, and came up with a worst case scenario, best case scenario, and probable scenario, and different steps to take at each one.
Steve: Okay, what was the actual scenario and — like first of all what was the increase in sales?
Mike: So the increase in sales once the commercial went live — and actually went live about two weeks before. They released the commercial on CBS This Morning — I think it’s CBS This Morning. Yeah they released commercial two instances before on CBS This Morning, and right from there we saw initial spike in sales.
Steve: Are we talking like 10X, 20X, 100X?
Mike: I think it’s probably about 10X to 15X on that day. But the day of the actual super bowl we did about 25 times of what we typically do on a day.
Steve: That’s crazy okay, and so at this point had you changed your website over from Weebly to Shopify or?
Mike: Yes, yes, yes, we were at Shopify at this time. We called them up, they had a team of 12 just waiting to see what happens when the commercial went live, and to handle any problems. We were able to follow the stats online through our…
Steve: And then you guys had enough coffee, because you had 4 months to prepare for this?
Mike: Yeah, we had to reach out to third party rosters to help us with the roasting process and packaging. But yeah we were able to get enough coffee everywhere our inventory channels where we didn’t run out. At the time of those commercials we had 125,000 people hit our website at the same time.
Steve: That’s crazy.
Mike: Yeah, it didn’t crash, it stayed up. That was a big — we celebrated for that. And then…
Steve: You– sorry go on.
Mike: Then after that sales were so good for — I mean it’s still good right now. They leveled off right around four or five times than they were before super bowl, so I have a business now that’s pretty big. It’s pretty big compared to where it was just a year ago today.
Steve: So wow okay, so the super bowl ad – you had already prepared for by using a fulfillment house. And were you using that fulfillment house prior to winning the contest, or were you still fulfilling everything yourself?
Mike: Yeah, but prior to the contest we were using the fulfillment center. We started using that at the beginning of– probably in the middle of 2014.
Steve: But you guys still have to pack up the coffee right, or were you still doing that yourself?
Mike: Yeah we package the coffee here, we put it in the case packs, and we send it down to our fulfillment center. From there the individual orders come in, and they ship it directly to the consumer.
Steve: So do you have a huge team then to do this packing at your own facility?
Mike: No, not a huge team. A year ago we had six — there were six of us. And now there is 14 of us. And on the production side there are– let me see, there is about seven.
Steve: Okay, I’m just trying to think like if you are getting like 100X sales or 25X sales during that stretch, I guess you had time to prepare, right? So you probably stock piled a bunch of stuff?
Mike: Yeah, we had time to prepare and at that time we were actually working with two third party rosters who were helping us roast and pack. Now we started to bring all that back in-house, we have invested in new equipment, two packaging machines, a new grinder, and we made some improvements on our roaster too.
Steve: Okay, and so a post super bowl like has your strategy changed at all?
Mike: We focused a lot of — a little bit. We’ve been focusing a lot on making those onetime purchasers regular purchasers. We want to get our frequency up, our products sometimes can come across as gimmicky, or I don’t know. I’ve heard some people figure as something you’ll find in Spencer’s and it’s really good coffee, and we really want to focus on getting those repeat purchases.
Steve: So how do you do that?
Mike: Well we started; we put a subscription platform in place.
Steve: Okay nice.
Mike: Yeah both on our website and on Amazon. And that’s a great route to — just in about a year I think we are up to like 6000 subscribers with…
Steve: How does that work? So they pay upfront for like a whole year, or they pay monthly?
Mike: Oh they pay monthly right. They just put in their payment information, and they get charged monthly at a discounted rate. And it just gets automatically shipped to the house, so they don’t have to worry about ordering coffee every month, it just shows up.
Steve: Okay, that’s very nice. And then for the other people who aren’t on the subscription plan are you just sending out emails to get them to join the subscription. Like what’s your strategy for acquiring subscription customers?
Mike: Yeah we have actually – it’s actually not released yet. But other than the discount there is a subscriber only deals that they can get on merchandised ads on exclusive releases that’s only available to them. And we would let our customers know through our mailing list…
Steve: Okay and then all this stuff is all done through Shopify, through some sort of add on?
Mike: Right, yes all done through Shopify apps. [inaudible 00:39:50] is a good company we work with and we have a good relationship with them. And they really do pretty much what we want most of the time, it’s fantastic.
Steve: Are you guys still running Facebook ads and Google ads?
Mike: Yeah. We still find that’s our best — I mean in my opinion that’s — I can’t quote the number here, I think Facebook ads have the best return on investment, other than maybe a super bowl commercial.
Steve: Yeah, other than a super bowl commercial. Real quick though on your Facebook ads like who you are targeting just curious. Like you are obviously targeting people that reach your website, but in terms of new customers how are you getting them?
Mike: We do look alike audiences. We do sometimes even competitor look like audiences, sometimes we do — we are always trying different things out.
Steve: What’s worked the best?
Mike: I mean re-targeting probably is the best, but yeah I mean other than re-targeting I guess look a likes or friends of our customers.
Steve: I’m just curious like when you are running these ads, are you still running them directly to your shop, or are you running them to content pages?
Mike: Right now I do them direct to our shop unless there is a specific goal we have in mind. If we are trying to build a mailing list we can send them two piece of content. But at this exact moment in time I think we are running — I think it’s some retargeting. Or somebody goes inside a product and they don’t buy it, they get retargeted with that product and there are news feeds somewhere.
Steve: I’m just curious are you still giving out free samples, or did you just stop doing that long ago?
Mike: Well actually we stopped doing that yeah. I mean we do it at events and stuff now when we go out like physically to events around the country, but yeah not online. We do have a free or we do have 100% money back guaranteed. If somebody is not completely satisfied with the product, I tell them, “Hey if you just want to try it, just buy it and if you don’t like it let us know, we’ll give you your money back,” it’s not a the big deal on our part. If you are trying the product we like to think that you are trying it to buy it anyway, so there is really no risk.
Steve: I’m just wondering how your Facebook ads have kind of evolved, like in the beginning you were trying to get leads by giving away free coffee. Like how has that evolved, is your brand name good enough now that you just put out an ad and link into your shop and people just buy?
Mike: I think it’s funny though, it’s changed a lot, because I don’t do it anymore and so…
Steve: Okay, so I’m asking all these specific questions around the campaigns, okay.
Mike: Cane a guy that works with me on my team. He handles our Facebook ads and most of our advertising. And we work with a consultant who works with us to try different things out and try to optimize it, so we have the most return on investment.
Steve: Okay, are you guys still doing Google ads or no?
Mike: Not as much, a little bit, but no not as much, they got really expensive.
Steve: Yeah, because I would imagine like coffee keywords is just ridiculous I would imagine.
Mike: Yeah they are ridiculous, and it turns out we ended up — yeah it just seemed like a lot of keywords we were targeting weren’t working out as planned, and like some of them got expensive so – a little bit on the fence. Like for a while we were targeting like our own branded keywords. I mean that seemed to be doing well but…
Steve: You would probably write number one for those anyways but yeah.
Mike: Exactly so it’s always like am I just throwing money away here or not?
Steve: So let me ask you this, so I mean a lot has happened over the years. And if you were to start a coffee business from scratch today, like what advice would you give? Because it is still a saturated niche, so how would you have done things differently, and what things would you have done the same?
Mike: You definitely want to stand out. So I won’t do that the same. I probably would have done more testing in markets that are already setup before I went ahead and created my own website.
Steve: So what does that mean exactly?
Mike: I mean the first thing I did when I started my brand is I went and I spent money to build the website. I didn’t spend a lot of money, because I did it myself, but there was still money like signing up for the Weebly platform. I could have just made the product and put it on Amazon, and done the same thing, and it wouldn’t have cost me anything.
Mike: Definitely I would have started the mailing list like I did, maybe focus on that even a little bit more. I think that’s — I think there is still tons of value there even with the changes that Gmail and I think will be happening in the future, where people will be able to kind of get ads out of their news — out of their email. But I still find there is tons of value there, I might focus a little more on Google ads in the beginning, I think they are so worthwhile at the time.
Steve: What type of ads like AdWords or Google shopping or what type specifically?
Mike: I was using Google AdWords back then.
Steve: AdWords, okay.
Mike: I think we are doing more Google shopping now, but I can’t seem to get results I want with that so…
Steve: Interesting, okay.
Mike: Yeah it just requires more work, a little more work on it.
Steve: So influencer marketing would still be your number one?
Mike: Oh yeah anything free. The free step I think is the best. We do influencer marketing, yeah that’s by far the best. What are some of the free — I had a whole — there is this book actually out there, it’s by Jim Cockrum, it’s called 101 Free Marketing — Online Free Marketing Lessons or something.
It’s by Jim Cockrum. I actually went through that book about six times, and everything I tried in that book was knocking out a product, and it didn’t cost any money. So I mean the return on investment there was surreal.
Steve: Amazing okay, so you didn’t really have to compensate these influencers that much outside of giving product away?
Mike: Yeah no I didn’t pay them anything, I was just kind of showing a new product, giving them some content that they were looking for at the time. I think that the game might have changed a little bit now I think influencer marketing is more of a popular term than it was back in 2012.
Steve: Sure oh yeah definitely. So in terms of — I imagine you were getting back links this whole time also right whenever you got published?
Mike: Yeah, I never focused on SEO or back links. I mean I’ve kind of started to look into it more now, but at the time I was just kind of focusing on my product, my customers. The content I was putting out there wasn’t like — there was no strategy behind it. I was just doing what I thought was best for my customers.
Steve: So is search like a significant portion of your sales, or not so much mostly social influencers and that sort of thing?
Mike: Well we get a lot of traffic from search definitely now, and we just started working with an SEO Company to help us learn how live it more now. They’ll hopefully sign to it because a lot of the content we have is great content, it’s just not like optimized for anything.
Steve: Okay cool man. Well it sounds good, the subscription thing is going to be huge I would imagine. Because then yeah you got this customer, and they are just paying you every month for life.
Mike: Right, the trick there is to get them to stay on, and to continually provide more value month and month out, so that’s been a challenge for us. As many subscribers as we have there is been good amount that’s dropped off, just because all the value must not have been there. So we are revisiting that, and we are putting together a pretty cool platform where they are able to get a lot more for less money.
Steve: And I would imagine once people try your product and it’s really strong, they can’t really go to any other coffee brand after that, right?
Mike: That’s what I hear.
Steve: Because your stuff is like crack.
Mike: That’s all I drink.
Steve: Cool Mike, I have had you on the show for over 40 minutes, and I want to be respectful of your time. Where can people find you, and where can they actually try some of your coffee?
Mike: So if you are located in upstate New York, that’s where I am from, all the New York and Connecticut area, or you just moved in to over 100 price choppers. If you are not in upstate New York, but anywhere else in the world you can go to Amazon, or usually you can just type in coffee, we are usually the number one two or three coffee on Amazon just about every single day. And you could also look through deathwishcofee.com, and signup for our mailing list, you’ll get tons of free stuff with every order.
Steve: That’s awesome mike, well hey I really appreciate you coming on the show, it was great.
Mike: Yeah thank you so much, thanks for having me.
Steve: All right, take care.
Mike: Bye, bye.
Steve: Hope you enjoyed hearing about Mike’s incredible story. And here is the important take away; if you are going to go into a competitive niche like coffee, you better have a strong value proposition. And the reason mike succeeded was because his coffee was the strongest.
For more information about this episode, go to mywifequitherjob.com/episode133. Once again I want to thank sitelock.com for sponsoring this episode. If you run your own hosted online store or any website for that matter that handles monetary transactions, then you should definitely give SiteLock a look. They can also help your site with site speed issues as well, and did you know that ecommerce sites that take longer than 5 seconds to load often shed customers.
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Once again if you are interested in starting your own online business, head on over to mywifequitherjob.com, and sign up for my free 6 day mini course, where I teach you how to start your own profitable online store. So go to mywifequitherjob.com, sign up right there on the front page, and I will send you the course via email immediately. Thanks for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.