Tom Vincent | The Business of Coffee

A successful coffee shop must have great coffee. That’s a given, says Tom Vincent, founder of the Texas Coffee School. 

But, says Tom, a coffee shop has to offer so much more to bring in customers… and we’re not talking scones and biscotti or comfy couches.

Tom outlines how to differentiate one coffee shop from all the others in today’s crowded marketplace. Those lessons apply to startups in any industry.  The first one: your product is not what you’re really selling.

Tune in to find out… 

  • Why your business shouldn’t be like a Chinese restaurant
  • The eco-system of success
  • A simple secret for making the decision for your future customer
  • Having the best product in the industry doesn’t matter if you don’t do this
  • And more

Listen now…


Mentioned in this episode:


Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon. And today we’ve got a great interview for you and probably one of the most unique interviews that we’ve ever had on the podcast. Today I’m talking with Tom Vincent. He’s the founder of Texas Coffee School. And when I heard Texas, coffee school, I said, “Who knew?” But it’s a really interesting business. We’re going to dive into it today. It’s located out in Dallas, Fort Worth area and Tom and his team have developed a really unique and really impactful, what they call the coffee-preneur program that has really evolved over the last decade. They have literally helped hundreds of people from all over the world disconnect from the corporate rat race and start their own independent coffee shop businesses. And it just is the most fascinating thing. 


I love different businesses and figuring out what people have come up with for unique ideas. And this is the one of the most unique that I’ve seen. And so I’m excited for Tom to be here. So Tom, welcome to the Unstoppable CEO.


It’s great to be here Steve. 


So, I’ve been looking forward to this and I think I’ve consumed plenty of coffee today, so we should be good. But you got a really unique business. I’m anxious to dive in more. Before we get into the details, can you give us a little bit of background on you and how you’ve evolved into this stage of your career? 


So, it’s sort of a funny story. I got into this business completely and totally by accident. I literally got on the right elevator one day. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I was an advertising agency creative director and I got onto the elevator to go into work and a couple of guys from a pretty major independent coffee roasting company, got onto the elevator with me, invited me to go to a thing called a coffee cupping. And if you’re not familiar with that, I think it’s like a wine tasting, but with coffee and you’re physically capable of going back to work afterwards. But in any case, I was there till midnight the night before and I was like, “I’m going to blow off this morning traffic meeting to go try this coffee cupping thing which sounds interesting.” So, I go to this meeting or this coffee cupping and I remembered tasting things in coffee that I’d never experienced before. 


I remember one of them tasted like blueberries and one almost like raspberry jam and one of them even have like a green pepper chocolate going on. And I was by no means a coffee-sseur at all. At this point, I was just totally like big chain latte guy at the time, but nothing special. But anyway, I became friends with these guys and wound up going back every Friday to cup coffee with them and see what was new and eventually they hired on a new guy and invited me to go through his training with him. And somehow that turned into a two-year apprenticeship. And I say apprenticeship loosely, essentially, I just wouldn’t leave and no one would kick me out. So it just worked out. 


But, I was just sort of fortunate, I feel like I hit the coffee lottery because I had some pretty incredible mentors. One of my mentors went onto be a major quality control component for Starbucks. One of my people that I learned from in this company, the roasting company is now the Symposium Director of the Specialty Coffee Association. And one of my other mentors is now one of the main judges in the US Barista competition. 


Yes, there is such a thing if you’re wondering. 


In any case, it was just purely for fun, and I moved out to the Dallas Fort Worth area around 2008, just in time for the bubble to burst that came out here to be the creative services director at a big magazine. I wanted to change gears a little bit and I got here and I was employed for about seven months and then one day I was called into my boss’ office and I was notified I was being let go. And it caught me off guard as it did for a 75% of the rest of the company that did it. They laid off a lot of us and found myself out of work. It was a pretty difficult timing. I was able to get little freelance gigs here and there, but anybody in advertising will recall that time was a very difficult time. And I found myself in a pretty tricky situation. So, I got to the point where I really didn’t have much money left. I really didn’t have any iron in the fire for like a legitimate full time Gig. 


And I eventually got to the point where I was hanging out in the labor pool and I was jumping in the back of a pickup trucks to go move rocks all day in the glorious 115 degree, Texas heat or $50 selling plasma. Need to say, it was a pretty low point for me going from being this big shot, creative director guy to seven months later, having pretty much having to sell everything, including my car and just not having any money and having to work in the labor pool. And in any case, I got into a pretty dark place mentally. And I remember thinking to myself, “I’ve got to do something to right the ship here because I don’t know how far this could go.” Anyway, so I was like, “I am really tired of eating ramen noodles and Mac and cheese.” And in fact, I even remember my mom would send me Campbell soup in the mail sometimes. But in any case, I remember jumping on my bicycle and saying, “I’m going to go to Boston Market and get myself exactly one chicken leg.” Because that’s all, I had enough money for.


The Apprentice Becomes the Teacher 


And I’m on my way to the Boston Market. And as I get into that little shopping center and it was this coffee shop in there that I’d never seen before, I was like, “Man coffee!” It had been quite a while since I had coffee. And, I was like, “Technically there’s protein in a cappuccino.” So I go in, I was like, I’m going to forego the chicken leg and I ordered myself a cappuccino and the Barista just starts making a mess, just splashing milk everywhere. I’m just destroyed, I’m like, “Awesome, dude, that’s my last three bucks.” 


But I asked him, I was like, “Do you guys ever do coffee cuppings here or latte art throw downs or barista competitions?” He was like, “No, do you do that?” And I was like, “Well, I mean, I used to.” And he’s like, really? He’s like, “Do you teach?” And I was like, “Matter of fact, I do that.” That was literally the genesis of Texas Coffee School. He’s like, “Do you have a website?” And I was like, “I will by Sunday.” And I literally did by Sunday, I have a website and this is no joke. I went back on Monday like, “Hey, I have a website,” and they were out of business. But that’s where it started. And it was me and a Rubbermaid bin and my $159 homeless Brussel machine that I had back from when times are still good and my little grinder. And I was going around the doctors and lawyers houses on the weekends, teaching them how to make espresso in their kitchen with their buddies and that picked up a little bit of steam. 


And around this time, a girl that I used to work with at the magazine reached out to me, and she was just like, “Hey, I’ve got some friends that are in the process of opening a coffee shop then in Dallas. And they could really use help from someone with the amount of experience that you’ve got in coffee and with the amount of passion you’ve got for it.” And I was just like, “Yeah, okay.” So I reached out to these ladies and I got invited to come down and help them and went to one of their houses and showed them how to make coffee in their kitchen and taught them everything that I knew and then helped them some equipment selection and help them all the way through the opening and staff training and first several months from being open. 


And next thing you know, like all these different publications around Dallas are reviewing this place as the best coffee shop in DFW. And I was like, “Holy cow, this is crazy.” And so, right around that same time, I’d also gotten an email from this company that made all these all natural flavored syrups and sauces and stuff like that. And they’re like, “Hey, can we send you some samples?” And I’m just like, “Me, the Rubbermaid bin guy?” I felt like so special and important. But I noticed a lady’s email signature it said Arlington, Texas. I’m like, “Wait, I literally live like right down the street from you. I’ll tell you what, I’ll come to you.” And so I go and I take a tour of their warehouse. It was very exciting pallets full of syrup but as we’re coming out of the warehouse through the break room, I noticed that a professional espresso machine sitting there and a professional espresso grinder and a refrigerator. 


And I’m like, “Wait a minute, what do you do with all this stuff?” And they’re like, “That’s for doing product demos and it’s our break room too.” I’m like, interesting. I was like, “What do you do with this stuff on the weekends?” And they’re like, “Well, nothing. We’re at home.” And I’m like, “How often would you say you do product demos?” And they’re like, “Once a month, if we’re lucky.” I’m like, “How would you like to do a product demo every weekend?” And they’re like, “What do you mean?” I’m just like, “Well, let me teach my classes out of your break room on the weekends and I’ll demo your product.” And so they’re like done and done. 


So exit the Rubbermaid era and enter the break room area of a Texas coffee school. And then from there I wound up helping what’s now one of the major Dallas staples, is a shop down in Dallas called odd fellows. And I was involved with them, helping them get their business off the ground and next thing, they’re getting reviewed as the best coffee shop in DFW. And around the same time I ended up getting my first student in from out of state. Her name is Sylvia and she was actually legit from Italy, so pressure was on at this point and she wanted to open an espresso and gelato bar and helped her and her business partner. And next thing you know, they’re getting reviewed as best coffee shop in Lafayette, Louisiana. And then fast forward today, that’s what’s happened to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. We’ve had students flying from literally all over the world as far away now is Kathmandu, Nepal, China, Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Russia, Dubai, Nigeria, and obviously US and Canada. And it’s just pretty crazy how many people’s lives we’ve been able to affect and help in this process. 


That’s just an amazing story. And I’ll tell you, I talk to all kinds of entrepreneurs and almost everybody has a crazy story and a lot of times what spur someone to really create a very unique and very successful business is being pinned against the wall and really having no other place to go. And it sounds like you were sort of at that place. So as you sort of think through that evolution that you just described, I mean, there had to be days even beyond labor pool days, but there had to be days when you’re taking your rubber box around town, where you’re going like, “What am I doing? How’s this ever going to work?” There had to be those days of doubt. How do you, … if somebody else is listening to this and tried to put a business together, this is the thing that I think is the most interesting is trying to figure out how do you deal with that doubt and push past it. And you were dealing with that, was there anything in particular that kept you going?


What You Learn in Survival Mode


I’ve really thought about this a lot and it’s really a handful of things for me personally. I’ll be honest. Steve, at the time I was just too stupid to know that this was crazy. I just needed to survive at that point. I’ll be honest, I came out of school, I mean years ago thinking that I was really hot stuff and I got knocked down, some major pegs after what I went through with being like go and all of that. And I was just purely in survival mode. And since nothing else was working, I needed to do something. But what was interesting about this particular process is I remember that something inside of me just kept telling me that you’re on the right path. Every fiber of my being told me like, this is right for me. I need to keep doing this. And everybody I knew thought I was insane. Most people think I still am insane. In fact, it’s awesome to go to a dinner party and try to explain what I do and everyone’s like, “You own a coffee school. How’s that going?” I’m going, “Way the hell better than your cubicle’s going for you. I talk about what I love to talk about all day, every single day.” 


But to digress, where my mentality really shifted, I’m able to trace back to a specific moment. This moment really changed my entire trajectory. And it was when I was on a phone call with my mom after I had been out of work for about seven months or so, and I was at my really lowest of lows. And so, when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. I remember my mom just always budgeting every penny that her and my dad and made to make ends meet. And I remember how hard both my mom and dad worked every day, sometimes several jobs just so I wouldn’t have to go without. And I remember my mom always saying like, we didn’t have a lot of money and we’re not like the rich people. 


And I remember wondering why, to be honest with you, like my parents were doing everything right. They worked their butts off, they prove themselves, they earned good positions in good companies. But at the end of the day, they still didn’t get paid very much and we were still really poor. And I remember when I was at my lowest of lows and talking to my mom on the phone and she was telling me that I needed to find them a new job with better job security and benefits in retirement. And at that moment, something sort of clicked in my mind and I thought like, they did everything that society told them was right. They always put in 110% yet they’re at retirement age and they’re still struggling and I didn’t want that. When I was ready to retire and I didn’t want some corporate company to be in control of my life, just to have next to nothing to show for it when I was at retirement age. 


And that was the day I realized that I needed to do something different than what I was told to do by my parents and my loved ones for my entire life. And not having to go through what my parents were going through is one of my core motivations for pushing through, that was one of them. But something else too, and I thought about this a lot and after this conversation I really began to reflect inward and something I kept coming back to is, really owning grade school? I’ll be honest, I was a horrible student. I had an extremely hard time with reading. I was made fun of a lot because I wasn’t very smart and nobody had high expectations for me and it turns out I have ADD and that wasn’t really widely known or talked about back then. And I was just the dumb kid and I wasn’t able to focus when reading a book. I could tell you everything I was thinking about when I was reading the book, but I couldn’t tell you what was actually in the book. 


In fact, interesting, it wasn’t until I discovered audiobooks and podcasts that my entire trajectory in life changed and I became a sponge and I wanted to learn as much as I could. And to this day, I still listen to a new audio book pretty much every week. But something I realized later in life is that when I’m interested in something, I’m able to focus 100% of myself on that thing. And I study everything I possibly can about it to get as good at it as I possibly can really quickly. And something my wife pointed out to me is that, every hobby I get into, I become incredibly good at it very quickly. And I believe that my disability, so to speak, has actually become one of my best business assets, to be honest with you. But anyway, anytime I’m in a rut or things are going wrong, I think back to that time and those people that never thought I would amount to anything. And that really motivates me to prove them all wrong, to be honest with you. 


Yeah, I can imagine that’s pretty good motivation. It’s a heck of a story and I want to take a quick break and when we come back, I want to talk through the startup process because you’ve taken this idea from the very very beginnings that you’ve described to us, really turned it into a viable startup and then beyond that, into a very healthy thriving business that serving clients all over the world. And I’d love for you to walk us through that journey and share some of the things that you’ve learned along the way. So we’re going to be right back with more from Tom Vincent of Texas Coffee School. Hey everybody. Welcome back. It’s Steve Gordon and I’m talking with Tom Vincent, he is the founder of Texas Coffee School. And as you heard in the beginning of the interview, he went through quite a path to finding and then growing what he now calls Texas coffee school and their coffee-preneur programs. So, Tom, you’ve had this tremendous sort of startup experience as you’ve grown this business. Tell us a little bit about what that process was like. So I think where you left off was you were having these weekend classes, now you’ve got this entire facility, people fly in from all over the world, you’re really well known for producing very successful businesses in an industry where, from what I understand it, it’s not a slam dunk to be successful-


It’s hard-


So, tell us a little bit about the evolution of the school and of the idea and how you’ve gone through the startup process. 


Yeah, so I mean, now when we’ve got a full, good size facility with multiple espresso machines and all of that. And pretty sold out classes or classes of sold out every single month for, gosh, I can’t even count how many months in a row now. But in any case, what I can tell you is that it’s interesting ’cause … you touched on something that bit’s really important that, this business necessarily or isn’t necessarily a slam dunk right out of the gate. And what I’ve found over the years is that, so many people get into the coffee business because it’s a pretty low cost point of entry type of business comparatively to other businesses out there. And it’s a pretty high profit margin business as well. We see people from all different walks of life. I mean it’s a lot more folks from just regular middle America, small town USA that are just looking to bring something to their community and bring something in for their town to gather there and to have a great coffee experience. And just a place to meet. 


But something that I like to tell people when they’re starting this business since I’ve seen so many different people with so many different reasons, is just, if you’re going to do this, and you really want to be successful at this, understand that, anybody and a their brother can teach how to push some buttons on an espresso machine and how to make coffee. Awesome. Fantastic. That’s great. That’s a good starting point but it’s going to take more than that. And you can go to any business school in America at this point, learn how to write a pretty solid business plan and you can listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books on opening businesses. 

The Two Types of People in the Coffee Business – and the One You Must Be


But what I find is that there’s two groups of folks or two silos. There’s people who are just all passion for their community. They’re all passionate about coffee. They’re all passionate about that. They love this. But they don’t always have the best business sense. And then on the other side, you have folks that don’t really have the passion. And the reality is if you want to be successful in this, you’ve got to have a healthy mix of both. You can’t come into this and be inauthentic because it, … you can taste the difference between cooked for profit and cooked with love. But at the same time, if you’re not keeping a control over your cost of goods and you’re making really bad business decisions and you’re running an efficient business, you’re not going to survive. And so, what we’re teaching here is so much more than just making good coffee. That’s about a third of it. 


But what we’re also teaching is the mindset and the ecosystem for success. And so what I really like to focus in on is first and foremost, just making sure that when people leave here, they know if this is right for them. I don’t like to sugarcoat things and just say it’s all unicorns and rainbows and everything’s going to be fantastic. I just let them know like, “This is going to be a complete mental, emotional, physical and financial beat down.” And I speak from firsthand experience on that. And I just say, “Make sure you actually love this. If you’re going to do it, ’cause if you don’t love this, you’re not going to stay committed to this, if money’s your core motivating factor, I hate to break it to you, but it’s going to be awhile before you make some money. You’re going to need something more than being stimulated by money to want to make you get out of bed every single day.” 


And this is interesting. I’ve been doing this for about a decade now and this is no exaggeration, no lie. I have never once in a decade of doing this, hit snooze on my alarm clock once on a workday. I love this. I’m passionate about this. I want to get out of bed every day and do this. And I tell people, if you don’t genuinely love coffee and you don’t genuinely love people, your odds for success are very low for the same reason. I don’t think people would probably go to your coffee shop if you didn’t love coffee. So you got to love it. But beyond that you really have to understand the numbers too and you really have to understand how to, for instance, just put the right valuation on the real estate that you’re looking at and know if you have something that is your purpose, that is your why, that you’re committed to, that’s your cause. And you have a set of core values associated with this and you’ve identified the people that are going to identify with what you care about too. 


When you’re looking for real estate, you’re not just looking for a busy intersection. This is such a common mistake is, people are just looking for the busiest intersection in town. And I say, great that that’s a busy intersection. But what if it’s all the wrong people driving by, like if you have a whole bunch of people drive don’t want which you are doing. So what if it’s a busy intersection? So what we do teach people is how to look at first and foremost, like what is it that is your thing? Like what are you passionate about? What do you care about most ideally that’s not coffee related? And as Simon Sinek said, your why. Or the idea of your purpose. 


And if you can tap into that and then build core values and I call them … these are the things that always have to be present in your business for it always feel like why you started this business in the first place. I tell people you need about seven core values, ideally, but no less than five, that as you’re going through this process, you can essentially tap into these values for every decision that you have to make. Should I hire this person? What do they fit within your core values? Should I put this menu item on the menu board? Does it fit within your core values and so on. But once you have these core values, they become your company’s compass. 


Planting Your Flag So Your Ideal Customer Can See It


And when you have this compass, it’s very powerful because now you can say, “All right, this is what I’m planting my flag in the ground,” and saying, “This is what I believe and this is what I care about.” If you just set out the sell a cup of coffee and you’re just like, you’re not going to make it because that’s everybody and their brother is doing that already. Like there’s, if you go into most coffee shops, it’s like 95% or so, the same menus, the same user experience, the same thing at the end of the day, who cares? There’s lots of coffee shops out there. You need to do something more than that. You need to be something that’s unique, different and special. And that is going to come from your core values. And those values, again, are based on your why, your purpose.


So if you have this thing that you can plant your flag in the ground, say this is who I am, this is what we believe in, you have something powerful. Because in they can say, these are the people that care about this too. These are the audience that I’m speaking to. And now you can say, all right, where is there a large population of these people? And it may not be where you currently live. It may be a town or two over. But who are they? And then once you’ve identified this target audience in this market that you’re looking for, now you can go say where is the most densely packed and neighborhood of these people. And you can drop your business right there and not have to fight the good fight. 


And what I mean by that is this is really powerful, but if you’ve taken a time to figure out who you are first, and then who your customers that identifies with you and you put your business where they live in fertile soil, the beauty of this is that every day when people walk to the front door, you’re not going to have to convince them to like what you’re into. They already get it. And when they already get it, they become your biggest champions and they’re going to drive more business for you. But most importantly, your feelings fulfilled, from them coming through your front door and being excited about what you’re doing and wanting to be a part of this community, this movement, just the lifestyle that you’ve created. And so when you’re looking at this real estate and wanting to put this valuation on real estate, a lot of people, just say, “That’s a good price on this building in this market.” And they don’t realize that’s totally irrelevant. It’s only worth to you what it can potentially earn for your business. 


So we teach people how to take everything that I just said and then actually apply a mathematical formula to it where you look at what your specific market conditions are. And then from there based on the amount of traffic in that area and some other things. What is the earning potential on this building? How many transactions can I forecast for a day? And then based on that, can I actually afford towards rent based on that? What is this building worse to me at that point? How much can I expect from my cost of goods, my labor, my marketing, and so on, all the way down to the bottom line, like how much is left over? And that’s something that we really focus on, is helping people understand the viability of their business. And then from there, how just accumulate all the very specific detailed out costs on all things like equipment, your build out and so on. 


My biggest goal with this was just like, I didn’t go to some big fancy business school. I learned that the hard way and I don’t want other people to have to learn that as hard of a way as I did. And so I said, “What would I want if I was … when I was starting this business or what are all the things that I would have wanted help with?” And I tried to create that. So when other people come here, they are able to leave here with a very clear and defined path, do this first. Okay. And then while you’re doing this, start thinking about this because this is coming down the line. 


And so, it’s really so just regular everyday people, doesn’t matter what background they come from, are able to leave here and actually be able to do this. I’m not one of these gurus or whatever that’s out there. It’s just like, give me your money. Here’s my book, have a great life. Like, I really want people to actually go on and do this and disconnect from the rat race so they don’t have to be like my parents. And so that they don’t have to go through what I went through. I want them to be able to create their own freedom from the rat race. And realistically, I love coffee. I’m passionate about it. It’s one of my many hobbies. But my purpose, my why, it’s totally based around this table we have here in our school. 


It’s a long table made out of old barn wood and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people have sat at this table on day one of our coffee business class and they have this uncertainty in their eyes when I meet them and they’re usually at a transitional point. They either like me, have lost their job or have gone through something major in their life like a divorce or even the loss of the child  or something else that’s horrible like that and they look to us is honestly, is there hope, maybe this is something that that will get me to someplace happier in life. And I take that responsibility very seriously because maybe we are their only shot at this. And so when they come here and we’re able to send them out into the world. It’s amazing to catch up with these people, two, three, four, seven years later, in fact, my wife and I did a little road trip around the south central region of the country going to different coffee shops that exist as a result of this program and catching up with these coffee shop owners later and seeing that uncertainty in their eyes replaced with real joy, like genuine joy and happiness and meeting their families and seeing how happy they are as a result is of what’s learned here. 


And the thing I really wasn’t ready for though with meeting their customers and seeing how happy they were to as a result of what was learned here in our program. And so, this whole thing to me is so fulfilling and so rewarding knowing that we’re helping people disconnect from the rat race and creating their own freedom from this corporate ball and chain through something I happen to be very passionate about, which is coffee. 


Well, a couple of takeaways as I listened to that and I see this come up again and again and again it is one of the great dividers between successful businesses and those that tend to sort of perennially struggle and you did it in your own business and you’re teaching all of the coffee shop owners to do it as well. And that’s the idea of really getting clear on who you want to be here for, who your ideal client is. Clearly in your business it’s obvious who that is because of the name of the business. But there are a lot of people listening to this who are doing essentially the same thing that you’re doing, just not focused in any way. For the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and the coffee shop owner. And that makes it infinitely harder to get any traction because none of those people wake up in the morning and recognize that that business as being for them. But when you’re the Texas coffee school and you wake up in the morning and you own a coffee shop that isn’t doing as well as it could, and you hear about the Texas Coffee School, that’s for you, right? 


Yeah, exactly.


You simplify the decision making process for the future client. And that’s a secret to creating speed and momentum and in any business. And I love that you did that, but more importantly now you’ve taken that same concept whether you thought about it or not, and you’re translating that to these coffee shop owners, it looks different. I think what a lot of people don’t understand is this whole idea of niching. A lot of people want to think of it in terms of an industry vertical, which is what you’ve done with your business. But it’s not, it’s how are you going to craft a dividing line around the group of people that you’re going to be a hero to, that separates them, that they will recognize as, “Hey, I’m part of this separate indistinct group.” And it sounds like you’re going through that thinking process. You might describe it a little bit differently, but you’re going through that thinking process with these business owners, which means they’re already going to have an advantage built in that one single decision is going to give them such a huge advantage. I love that you’re doing that. 


Yeah. It’s interesting because a lot of folks out there just, they’re trying to be all things to all people. And this is something that I have debated over a number of beers before on a number of times, but a lot of people are always saying, this business is … this may make people that are listening to this. Even think, “All right, this guy’s out of his mind if they haven’t already sort of thinking that, ’cause I went to coffee school.” But this business isn’t your customer’s business. This is your business. This is the bed that you have to sleep in every single night. And you have to live with this and this is your thing. And you have to be happy first if you want anyone else to be happy. And so, obviously that could be pretty a polarizing thing. But what I’ve found is that, if you trying to be all things to all people versus everything to the right people, to your people, that the best analogy I can use is, it’s like here in Texas, like going to a Chinese restaurant. Because a Chinese restaurant in Texas is Chinese food, it’s Thai food, it’s Vietnamese food, it’s Korean food. And it’s this menu that’s like 43 pages long practically. And they don’t do one thing very well. They do a lot of things in a pretty mediocre way. 


And so what I tell people is, “If you don’t love this or if you don’t know specifically what it is that you want to focus on or that you love, don’t continue until you can figure that out. Don’t try to be all things to all people, focus in on what it is that you love most here and what it is that you’re most passionate about, what you care about most and do that do it really well. Do it better than anybody else in own it. And then it will be amazing because then the folks that are into that too are going to seek you out and you’re going to be everything to them and they’re going to open their wallets and hand you their money and you’re going to make more money as a result of being authentic and being passionate about that thing rather than just trying to sell people the same old stuff that everybody else sells.” 


Your Business Is Not What You Sell


Well, I think it goes deeper than that. As you’re designing your business, so many people start with what’s the thing that I’m selling when I’m in that business, and so in your case, it would be very easy for someone who’s coming to you, whether they’ve got a coffee shop or they want to start one and say, “Well, I’m in the business of selling coffee and anybody can buy coffee.” And the twist on that, that I think is important is okay, start with the fact that you’re passionate about, about in this case, coffee and everything and the whole lifestyle around it and all of that. And then decide, make a very important and a very intentional decision about who am I going to do that for. And that I think gets based on a couple of things. 


I’d love to hear your take on this cause I know you’re taking people through this thinking process all the time. But I see it as being based on two things. Number One, your unique point of view about how the thing that you’re doing should be done. So in your case, you’ve got an opinion about how coffee should be made, how customers have a coffee shop should be treated, how that business should serve its customers. And that unique point of view is, it’s going to be different and set you and the people who train with you apart in their marketplace. And so, infusing the business idea going beyond, well, this is what we sell. And infusing your point of view into it, I think helps you get to that differentiation. And then picking the people you want to do it for. Like identifying the people who would value that point of view is then the next extension. And I think when you put all those things together, you now have a business that almost can’t fail. 


Yeah. So when I meet people, and I’m not saying this is everyone, but a good chunk of folks, when they come in here day one of our three day coffee business class or coffee of newer start up program, people will say, “Tom, I want to open a coffee shop.” And I go, “Great, fantastic. There’s lots of those already. Why do we need another one? Tell me what’s going to be unique, different and special about this business.” And they’re just like, “Well, Tom, we’re going to get the best espresso machine, the best coffee beans, the best architecture with the most beautiful interior design. In fact, we’re going to get the hippest hipsters with the tightest pants. Mustache is pouring the most beautiful latte or you’ve ever seen. And that’s what makes us special.” And I’m like, “Really? So why couldn’t I go right next door to you get the same espresso machine, same coffee beans, get the same architect and get hipsters with tighter pants and tell me now, why is this business special?” And they look at me and they’re just like, “whoa.” And they can’t answer it. 


And it goes back to, … I mean, Simon Sinek really said it the best, it’s like how you do what you do doesn’t make you special because people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. And I tell people, if your purpose again, is for making money, don’t think of it in those terms. Think about just what gives you the most fulfillment and make money from that aspect of it. And if you can focus in on that, because if you’re not authentic and you’re not walking the walk, especially in this business, it’s going to be very obvious. 


And the reason I say that, so there was a pretty large scale study conducted in the specialty coffee world about the specialty coffee consumer and they the consumer of all sorts of things. Things like why do you choose one shop over another? Why do you return? By the way, the answer, why they chose one shop over another, wasn’t convenience or anything like that. It was quality of coffee by the way. And number one reason they returned, was consistency of the user experience. But, they recorded all these interviews and it was really fascinating. Because this was a lot of people that were studied. And the number one word that came up in every interview, they had this computer go back and pull them out and you would think it’d be the word coffee but it wasn’t. It was the word love. 


And when I tell people this it’s like, “Guys, you’re not in the coffee business. You’re in the selling something. People love business and you happen to have great coffee too. But having great coffee is the most basic and obvious need. Like you’re in the coffee business. Of course, you should have excellent coffee, you should have the best coffee on the planet, but that isn’t enough to make you unique, different or special. You have to be able to communicate, what is it that is your singular thing that is the flag that you’re planting in the ground that makes you different than the kajillions of other coffee shops?” And some folks like, “Well Tom, I’m going to an area where there isn’t a coffee shop right now. So, there’s no competition.” 


I go, “Great, but do you think it’s going to stay that way once you prove there’s a market for it? Like your playbook is wide open and if you’re leading with all your tricks and shiny objects and everybody can see that pretty blatantly, who’s to say they won’t just go get newer tricks and shiny objects. The newer espresso machine, the newer coffee brewers and cooler, newer interior design. Like, no, that stuff cannot anchor people for a long period of time. What will anchor people is being a part of something that’s bigger than just cups of coffee. Feeling like they’re in a place where they belong, where they feel like they are contributing to something and that they are valued more than just from a transaction.” 


Yeah, I think that’s fantastic advice. I’ve sort of, as I do these interviews, I listen, and I sort of make mental notes and this is probably one of … I think the most powerful interviews that we’ve done because you’ve shared some really important ideas in all of this. So I encourage everybody that’s listening. I don’t care what business you’re in, you need to go back and listen to this again because some of the things that Tom is sharing will apply no matter what business you’re in. So Tom, I know we’re way over time, and I’ve imposed upon you today, but it was a good conversation. And before we wrap up, I want to give you an opportunity to let everybody know first, where they can get in touch with you if they want to reach out and find out more. You’ve got a great website, fantastic resource. And also, I’d like for you to share who you tend to work with. Another couple of types of people that fit in that category. So first, where can people find you? 


Yeah, just all spelled out, is our website and also on Instagram and Facebook and just Texas Coffee School, you’ll find it. So our three audiences are obviously as we touched on the coffee-preneurs the folks who are looking to open a coffee shop business, but also, we do professional Barista training and development and advanced training or working in a coffee shop or if you own a coffee shop, and you want to send your staff or your managers to be trained and get dialed in, not just on making awesome coffee but how to do the other things too. Things like upselling, things how to deescalate an upset customer, that level of stuff as well on top of making the best coffee on planet earth. 


And then beyond that, we also have classes for consumers who are looking just for to make better coffee at home and who are just curious about learning more. In fact, we still do a coffee cupping every single month. And it’s something that I open up to the public and it’s something that I’m really adamant that we always do since that’s how I discovered coffee. I liked that to be our path forward. So hopefully maybe somebody else would come through one of our coffee cuppings and we’ll go on to do something else great in the coffee world. 


Excellent. Well, you truly are the epitome of an unstoppable CEO. When we coined that phrase, it was to describe people who have gone through the struggle and growth and just didn’t quit and kept pushing forward and believed in an idea. And you really are the personification of that. And so I thank you for being that, I think you for being here and for sharing some wisdom with us today. It’s been a great investment of a little bit under an hour together and I’m glad we had a chance to do it. 


Steve, I’m really appreciative. Thank you so much for having me.

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