Solle' Weekly Grind #1: Lifts and Headers
It’s commonly said that the first year of any business is all about one thing… survival. This common notion is just one of the many variables that make taking the leap into entrepreneurship incredibly frightening. When Mike and I had our first Sollevato meeting at Hudson Hound in Jersey City about a year ago and he proposed the idea of going into business together, this was no exception. Getting over this barrier of self doubt and fear of failure has ultimately led to incredible consequences in the first year of operating our business, and we are excited to begin sharing more of our journey, our learnings, and ourselves through the Solle’ Weekly Grind blog.
After our first year, I have to disagree with the previously mentioned idea that the first year is about surviving. In my mind, the first year was about two factors: learning and building relationships. Prior to Sollevato, our knowledge of coffee was pretty much limited to what to order from our local cafe and a couple of YouTube videos about how to make latte art (which I still can’t do). In addition, as a data scientist and an engineer, neither of us had any experience operating a business. What we did have, though, was an incredible community of advocates to help “lift” us, so to speak.
The name “Sollevato” is an Italian translation of “to be lifted.” In sailing, the wind can shift in two directions, from bow (front) to stern (back), or stern to bow. When the former happens, you’ve been “lifted” and are pointing closer to your destination. When the opposite occurs, you experience a “header” and it takes you a little further away. In year one, Mike and I have learned from quite a few headers, but have had the benefit of more frequent lifts. Our intention with this blog is to share the upwind zigzag along the way through news, reviews, instructions, and general updates on the Sollevato family. For our first post, it only makes sense to share a few of the takeaways from the inaugural year of the business.
1. People are SERIOUS about their coffee.
If you ever launch a product, make sure that you are truly a subject matter expert before trying to sell it to anybody. I thought I was prepared when we launched Hudson and Governors blends because I knew the bean source, the flavor notes, and the difference between Arabica and Robusta (after a quick Google search), but, holy cow, I was wrong. “Are your beans dry or wet processed?”, “Shade grown or not?”, and “Is it fair trade, UTZ certified, and Bird Friendly?” are just a few of the questions that left me stumped and a bit embarrassed. Quality means a lot to people, and no matter how niche it sounds, we have found that it’s important that we understand our customers’ needs fully if we are going to ask them to spend their money on our product.
2. People are NOT SERIOUS about their coffee.
If I had a dollar for every time that somebody mentioned that they have always just drank Folgers and it’s perfectly fine for them, I probably wouldn’t need to be building a coffee business. What I appreciate the most from these customers are that they believe in Mike or myself enough that they were willing to take the chance to break a decades long habit… and more time than not, they made the switch either permanently or for their “weekend coffee.” To my surprise, one of my closest friends didn’t even have the means to make a coffee at home and bought a coffee machine just to try us out (more on this in upcoming content). These advocates are what kept us going over the past year. Whether it was the belief in us or the genuine pleasure found in a specialty cup of coffee, it made us want to do better, stay engaged, and make those around us proud of us and our product.
3. Coffee isn’t just about a flavor, it’s about a feeling.
I’m not just talking about a caffeine jolt. Solle coffee was created for those who want great quality coffee wherever and whenever they please. From our own passions of sailing, hiking, and traveling we recognized a need for those moments where convenience is key. This led to the majority of our social media content over the past year (Huge thanks to Brittany and Emily for leading this!). The great thing about those pictures that you see is that they are real life moments. We don’t have to stage any of this, because the coffee puts us in a moment that we are truly appreciating, sometimes too much and we forget to even get a shot for the Gram. The stories that we hear from our customers are rarely about the coffee itself, but more about the experience that surrounds it which to me is much more valuable than a review of the character and body of the brew.
4. You can’t start a business alone.
Partners are great, and I appreciate Mike infinitely for bringing me into this idea and brand, but more important than the business partners is the community that supports, encourages, and spreads the word about your product. We have the absolute greatest ambassadors who have created content for the business, gifted our products to others, introduced us to other business leaders and potential customers, and even buy our product when they don’t even drink coffee. As we continue with this new blog and accompanying content, we want to do this for them. We look forward to learning more about what you want and providing content that helps you enjoy our coffee to the fullest.