Start selling coffee beans

I ran across this interesting Starbucks fact (via Seth Godin):

It wasn’t until several years after the company was up and running that they realized it would be a good idea to sell any beverages at all. All they sold was beans.

It’s inspirational to think that a successful company like Starbucks had a much different business plan when they started. The company made $5.4B profit this year off people like me who, despite having some excellent Guatemalan beans and a working percolator at home, frequently find myself weekday mornings in a drive-thru line a dozen cars deep.

The business world is full of stories about companies who started in one direction and ended up finding success by doing something completely different. It’s easy to hear these stories and nod with understanding — we all want to believe that someday we’ll get struck with the perfect idea, slap a $4 price tag on a cup of espresso and milk, and retire with billions.

So if it’s not too late to tweak your business plan, then it’s never too early to start with a failing business plan. I think too many people get crippled by trying to find the perfect idea that they fail to get anything started. Would Starbucks have been in a position to execute their current plan if they hadn’t started out with the wrong one?

I often find myself crippled by this fear of failure. When I do something new it’s often because I just made a deliberate decision to close my eyes and take a leap. (Sometimes it’s just because I skipped my morning coffee and couldn’t think straight).

It amazes me to look back at some of the stupid things I’ve done because I don’t remember where I found the confidence to do them. Like how I left a good management job at a Fortune 500 company to start Recursive Function with a shaky business plan, unimpressive savings, no outside income, and a newborn baby. It’s not that I had the perfect idea — I just took the leap.

Out of college, some friends and I founded Bottled Software, my first startup company. We were very naive in our estimates of how successful we would be, made a lot of mistakes, were paid terribly, and ended up closing the door after a couple years of business. But I wouldn’t trade those failures for the equivalent time as a junior programmer at Google or Microsoft. Much of what I’m doing now came from what I learned at Bottled Software, and I can certainly say that I’m starting to make espresso now only because I sold coffee beans many years ago.

I’ve had a lot of failures, but they’ve all put me in a position to create new successes (and failures) — something that definitely wouldn’t be true if I had done nothing at all in the first place.

Anyone have some good stories about their coffee beans?

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