A letter from our founder, Michael Brown
By Michael Brown — / Death Wish Coffee Blog
A LOOK BACK ON 2020
Dear Death Wish Coffee Community,
Well, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to write about this year, so I’m going to keep typing words until I start moving in some direction.
Jeff Ayers (The Incredible Jeff) reminded me that it would be a good idea to write everyone a letter recapping this year. I don’t remember if I’ve done this in previous years, but it’s a good tradition to start or continue.
I guess where I should start is in the beginning of the year. We came into 2020 with high hopes and 4 key priorities. The team was at 37 people, and we were getting ready to move into our new office at 260 Broadway in Saratoga Springs. The same street where Death Wish Coffee was initially created 9 years before. More on that in a bit.
Of our 4 key priorities for this year, Relentless Devotion to Our People was the one that excited me the most. The other 3 were based on distribution, sales, and products. It is very important for a growing business, but I want to focus on our #1, our people, for this letter.
Our people consist of our customers, our team, and our community. Obviously, without them, Death Wish Coffee wouldn’t exist.
Relentless Devotion was a term we pulled from one of the books we were reading in our team book club last year. I can’t remember which one, but the term means we will not slow down in our efforts to show love and loyalty to our people. This goal is big, and it is never-ending.
- Our Customers – from the days when I owned the coffee shop, I knew that the reason I was there was to serve the customer. To deliver as much value to them as possible. Back then, I did this very poorly, but my heart was in the right place. I always did what I felt was the right thing to make the customer happy.
Today the Death Wish Coffee team is far better at serving our customers than I ever was. The conversations that are taking place among the Death Wish team revolve around how to make our customers have a better experience? What problems are our customers experiencing? How can we make our customer’s life easier? How can we add more and charge less? How can we serve our customer better? How can we serve more customers?
Some great ideas and action came out of those questions this year. Most are in the process of being realized. We are working on solutions to improve shipping times, offer a greater product selection, offer an easier checkout process, improve the value of our subscription program, become more available in your local grocery stores and create unique and entertaining content centered around what you care about.
We also have a new medium roast coffee blend on the near horizon. I’ve been drinking it most mornings, and it’s damn good.
- The Death Wish Coffee Team – I’ve had my eyes opened in regard to “Team” this year. If there is one thing that I’m going to remember about 2020, it’s going to be COVID-19, but if there are two things I’m going to remember about 2020, the second one will be the growth and resilience of the Death Wish Coffee team.
In arguably the most challenging year for business in my life (I turn 40 on December 27), the Death Wish Coffee team was able to turn grave uncertainty into a pivotal launchpad for future success.
I could write 20 pages on what we did and how we went about business in the COVID-19 year. But in short, we focused on our people and they stepped up to the plate and did everything they could to make this year special.
The Death Wish Coffee team grew from 37 individuals to 59 plus 10 freelancers. All employees stayed employed the entire year. We shut down production when COVID-19 got really questionable in the beginning, but all employees were paid full pay through the downtime.
Team wellbeing and safety has been an important priority all year. I’m currently writing this from my home office, where I’ve been spending a lot more time this year. Video calls have replaced in-person meetings, and team get-togethers are now Zoom happy hours.
I mentioned my eyes had been opened because I wouldn’t have doubled down on investing in our team under so much uncertainty without strong leaders around me. Mike Pilkington, Lindsey Speach, Jason Mazzotti, Eric Donovan, Kane Grogan, Teah Teriele, and John Swedish all aligned on what we needed to do this year and how to go about it.
By the way, it’s now Tuesday, December 22, 2020. I take forever to write these types of things because I painstakingly obsess over every word. When I finish, I still find a ton of mistakes. Jeff wanted this on Friday. Yikes.
I’m still in my home office, and we just had our final weekly summary meeting for 2020. Thank you for your support.
One of the things that jumped out to me during this meeting was that almost all individuals took a moment before their presentation to talk about what this year, this company, and this team meant to them. This was totally unsolicited and very heartwarming. I’m not going to divulge what was said by everyone but a few words popped out quite often. Love, Inspired, Committed, Relationships, Friends, Family, Grateful, Meaning.
Finishing 2020 and hearing those words from the team means the world to me. I don’t take credit for them at all, but I know we have the right team now. They are special, they are committed, and they will take Death Wish Coffee Company as far as we need to go. They fuel me. I’m really happy to be surrounded by such good-hearted people.
- Our Community – There isn’t one of us who hasn’t been affected in some way by COVID- It hit around us badly. It hit everywhere bad.
My team busts their ass and sacrifices a lot to do what’s right in their community and for others. I always ask them to keep it quiet because I’ve been brought up by the phrase, “speak with your actions and not your words.” Relentless devotion to our community was a top priority this year, and the team’s work should be recognized. I’m very proud of what they did.
- Pledged to keep everyone on our team employed and at full pay while also providing additional jobs to the community.
- Ensure the team had additional equipment needed to work from home when they weren’t feeling well.
- Followed by all Fed and State rules and regulations (Thank you, Lindsey and Mike P for keeping us informed, ahead of the game, and thinking responsibly).
- Donated way over $100,000 cash and products to front line workers, service men and women, truck drivers, local businesses, business groups, food banks, and provided over 10,000 masks to those who needed them most when the economy started opening again.
- Provided funds to support a community meal program held by the Knights of Columbus.
- Provided the local Veteran’s trust with over $23K in cash to help them stay supported when they couldn’t hold their annual fundraising event.
- Forgave over $200,000 in debts to the small business customer to help them stay on their feet when they missed government-funded programs.
- The team decided to forgo their Christmas gift and celebration from the company and instead sponsored 3-4 families and make sure they have what they need to have a great Holiday.
- Supported the Boys and Girls Club and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
- Helped support local small business organizations with donations to keep them helping others.
- I know there are many other things my team has done, and I wish my memory was better. I apologize to anyone for anything I have forgotten. You are all very generous with your time and attention to our communities and helping whenever you can.
- A special THANK YOU to a few people from our community helping our community.
- John Swedish, on the DWC team, for continually pushing me to be more giving with the company funds.
- My Mother, for spending almost all her time sewing amazing creations. She sells them for basically what it costs her to make them and donates anything left to the charity or fund Death Wish Coffee is supporting that quarter. She bought so many toys for our Toys for Toga drive this year and has made many children’s Christmas very special this year.
- Gail Dunmyer is a legend in the Death Wish Coffee Community. She gives so much to so many people. There are very few people in this world like her. The team at Death Wish Coffee talks about her frequently, and we are all amazed by what she does to help others. Thank you!
Thanks for continuing to keep Death Wish Coffee in your life and for being a part of an amazing group of people who kick ass. Even when times are tough, you inspire me by stepping up big time to conquer all that life throws at you. With 2020 almost in the books, I hope it leaves you with something still in the pot. If not, grab some of that new Medium Roast Death Wish Coffee that hits the store shelves soon or join the Death Wish Coffee FB page, follow Death Wish Coffee on all your Social Medias, or even just give us a call. We’ll give you some inspirational/motivational talk to get you moving.
Be well and Mugs Up!