Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 21 - THOMAS DRAGONETTE
ART DIRECTOR - THOMAS DRAGONETTE
DEATH WISH COFFEE COMPANY EMPLOYEE SERIES #4
“You can do what you want to do, but you have to stick with it. People who are the most successful are the ones that work the hardest through the times when most people would quit.” - Thomas Dragonette, graphic design/art director, Death Wish Coffee Company
ON EPISODE 21 - THE NEXT LEVEL:
The Cassini spacecraft is about to go where no ship has gone before - in between Saturn's rings and the planet. Hear about the details of Cassini's final mission on Science. Then, no matter how much you learn there is always another level, and this is the thought that drives What Fuels You this week. Finally, on the D-Man Update, the hosts reveal details about the highly anticipated July 4th mug release from the World's Strongest Coffee, and the new batch of Nitro Cold Brew.
ABOUT THOMAS DRAGONETTE:
Thomas Dragonette is the mastermind behind all the best designs coming out of Death Wish Coffee Company. He sits in with the podcast to talk about his background in art, graphic design and skateboarding, what it was like joining the team and details about the creation of the Grind It Out campaign.
Dustin: So, Thomas ...
Dustin: I would like to start this off with ... We usually start off with the other employees with this question. With the changes, they have seen in the companies since they started to where they are now ... 'Cause, I mean, just about every person has seen so much change within this company with a small amount of time, but you've been here for about year and a half?
Thomas: Yeah. It'll be ... Yeah. Two years this September. So, we're right in the middle of that.
Dustin: Yeah. Nice. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in this company since you've been here?
Thomas: I mean, do you want me to talk about the building ...
Jeff: Yeah. Both.
Dustin: All of the above.
Thomas: Or just everything in general?
Jeff: Did you start over in the smaller building?
Thomas: I started next door, as did probably most of the people that are here, right?
Dustin: Yeah. Well, not Jeff. Jeff started here.
Jeff: Not me. I started over here.
Thomas: Yeah. We were, I think, nine people crammed into a 600 square foot space. Which, I can't put that ... how small it really is when you get that many people that close together, but it was hot and tight ... Oh, that sounds gross. Or, maybe it doesn't sound gross. But either way, yeah, it was a small space. Moving from that to this has been awesome. There's that aspect.
There's the aspect of before I started there was no graphic designer. Everything was freelanced out.
Dustin: How did they do the designs before you even came in-house?
Thomas: They would use either freelance people or people online that they found. There's sites ...
Dustin: Oh, like Fiverr?
Thomas: Yeah. Those crappy sites that devalue my job. No offense to them. They're a small business, so they didn't want to pay a graphic designer full time to be there making stuff, which I understand. But at the same time, it makes people like me, who do this for a living, not be able to charge the prices that we would want to.
Jeff: Were you aware of Death Wish Coffee before you started working here?
Thomas: I actually was. I've known about them. Well, they're from my hometown. Also, before I worked for Death Wish, I worked for a privately-owned food market named-- shout out-- Healthy Living Market. I was their graphic designer. They were one of the first stores to pick up Death Wish, so I'd seen the company from its infancy. Which was kind of cool. And to see that and then a year later be working for 'em, which is kind of weird and awesome at the same time.
Dustin: How cool of that was a move from Healthy Living to Death Wish Coffee Company?
Thomas: It was cool. Healthy living was a great place to work. It was a really chill environment, sort of like this. But ...
Jeff: Way less skulls.
Thomas: Yeah. Totally different branding, and ... I don't know. I'm a skateboarder, so this was more in line with what I was into. I wanted a little bit more creative freedom. Obviously, you work for a brand, so you have to fit inside those guidelines. But there was more creative freedom here, so that's a blessing.
Dustin: Can you talk about your background a little bit, on how you came to art designing and all that goodness?
Thomas: Oh. Sure. I've always been into art. High school, did it through there. I went to college for two years and got an associate's degree in media design, which doesn't really actually mean anything. I was really into photography at the time, but I also took a bunch of graphic design classes. Yeah. That's how I got started. But through the years, I just was always practicing and reading and creating, whether it was music or visual art. I've always just been drawn to that sort of stuff. Once I moved ... I moved around a little bit. I lived in Buffalo. I lived in San Francisco for a few years. And I've always been surrounded by creative people. I think when you are surrounded by people who are making things, it inspires you to make things. When I came back here, my now wife and I, we opened our own studio in downtown Saratoga. 'Cause she's a fine art photographer. Having a space to be able to create allows you to have that freedom. And at the time I was working a crappy warehouse job. 'Cause we had just moved back. And I wanted to make sure we had an income to keep the studio space and be able ...
Jeff: And eat.
Thomas: Exactly. Be able to eat. Yeah. I transitioned out of that warehouse job to the design job at Healthy Living Market. And here I am now, sitting next to you, doing a radio podcast, talking about my life.
Thomas: Which is weird.
Dustin: What brought you back to Saratoga after hanging out in awesome San Francisco and pretty cool Buffalo.
Thomas: Well, this is my home. Family and friends are always a magnet to bring you back. There was that. There was also the fact that while we were in San Francisco, it's a beautiful city and some of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. And it's the skateboarding mecca of the United States, which is enticing to someone who rides a skateboard. So there was that. But, that being said, when I lived there, it's super expensive for one. You're spending the majority of your time working. Enjoying the city, unless you're making like six figures a year, is a little bit difficult.
Thomas: There was that factor. Then, also it was the housing bubble burst when we were living there. One day I get home from work and some lady's pounding on my door and she's like ... I open the door. I'm like, "Yeah? What's up?" She's like, "You have to move out of your house. It's been foreclosed on." And I'm like, "What do you mean?"
Thomas: Yeah. First of all, who are you? Second of all, sorry. I'm not just moving out of my house because some random person told me I have to.
Dustin: Yeah. I'm gonna try that move.
Dustin: When I see a house I like, just pound on the door. "Sorry. We foreclosed on this house." "Oh. Okay. I guess I give up."
Thomas: Yeah. So after a few minutes of conversation about who she was, blah blah blah, the person who had owned the house went into bankruptcy and this was one of their extra properties. Of course, that's the first thing to go.
Thomas: So we were forced to leave. But not before recoup- ... They basically ... our deposit to move into that place was almost eight grand. Which is a lot of money.
Thomas: That's so much fuckin' money.
Jeff: Oh my God.
Thomas: Yeah. We were like, "Well, what do we do? Do we eat the eight grand and then try to find another place to live in a housing crash and pay another eight grand to move in somewhere else? Or do we just cut our losses and head home and try to figure a new game plan out?" And that's what we did. After all was said and done, it was like, it's not worth it. We enjoy living here, but to work this hard ...
Dustin: It's a weird balance, right? You move to a place that has a lot of stuff to do, and you tend to have less money to do that. You move to a place that's a little bit cheaper to live, but there's not much to do with all the money that you're saving.
Thomas: Yeah. It's a quality of the living thing, too. Now, I have way more disposable income, because my rent or mortgage is much cheaper, which allows me to travel to places and enjoy those places. Where, when I was there, you don't have that luxury. Because most of your money's spent on living. And also, the other fact is, depending on how awesome your job is and your boss, you might get two weeks off a year, or you might get four. But either way, you have to decide. All right, which of those weeks do I have to go home and see family and friends? Do I actually get to take a vacation this year, or is it just going home to see family and friends? Which is awesome, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, you're like, "Maybe I want to go to Mexico. Maybe I want to go to Hawaii, whatever." But you have to make those decisions. All in all, it's good to be back.
Jeff: Yeah. I like that.
Thomas: I like it here. It's awesome.
Dustin: Yeah. And with this job, we get to do a lot of cool traveling, which is a really nice perk, for sure.
Thomas: For sure. And we're centrally located to everything. We have the Adirondack mountains, which are beautiful. We have New York City, which is a couple hours away if you want to get that fix of city life, or ...
Dustin: It's kind of funny when we're out at other places and they're like, "Where are you from?" And it's like, "Nowhere, really."
Dustin: We're just up in the mountains, just chilling, roasting coffee.
Thomas: The thing I miss most, and everyone who knows me personally knows how much of a pig I am and how much I like to eat. So the food is the major thing that I miss most.
Dustin: Yeah. I bet. I bet.
Thomas: The diversity there, it's incredible. And you don't get that here.
Dustin: Even in Buffalo, the food is next level good.
Thomas: It's bet- Yeah. Yeah. But San Francisco ...
Dustin: Compared to around New York ...
Thomas: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: When you started here at Death Wish, what was some of the first stuff ... 'Cause you, like you said, you were brought on as graphic design, which the company did not have in-house until that point. What were some of the first projects that you actually started working on for the company?
Thomas: It was a lot of more organization stuff. I was designing. But it was a lot of organization stuff. Because there was nobody in-house doing that. There were files in every direction that you could think of, in folders that you couldn't find.
Jeff: I'm having flashbacks.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, we're still going through the cleaning up process of that now. But I've tried to build a system where it's easy to find things. But, yeah. That was, I would say ... Also, mind you, I was only working Monday through Thursday. He ... I kind of took a gamble taking this job. Because I gave up a job with amazing benefits and vacation time to basically take on a part-time job.
Jeff: Sometimes you gotta do that.
Thomas: Yeah. And I did. I had other offerings, and ... Sorry. I'm getting off topic here.
Dustin: No, no.
Jeff: No, no.
Thomas: Yeah. I was only working four days a week. It was like ... That one day a week makes a huge difference. I would come back on Monday and a bunch of stuff had changed.
Jeff: That probably didn't last too long, that four days a week ...
Thomas: Well, yeah. Also, when I got hired it was a few months before the whole Super Bowl thing was starting to kick off. And that was part of the reason for them hiring me.
Dustin: Pun intended.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. I was definitely designing. But more of just trying to build some structure. Bag designs that all looked the same. Using the same fonts on everything so that when you saw the brand, you were like, "Oh, yeah. That's Death Wish Coffee." Just some basic things, foundational things, that help. It's easier to build off of when you have stability. Yeah. That was, for the first, I would say, six months, I was designing things. But it was more of just the staples that we needed: bags, boxes, basic t-shirt design. I didn't really get into doing product stuff until six or seven months. Also, there was a feeling out phase. John, who I love to death, was ... You know, that was his baby and so he was not gonna let some dude who just started who he doesn't know to take over those responsibilities.
Thomas: This is his and Mike's company from the beginning. And they made those decisions. It's good. I think you should earn your trust with whoever you're working with.
Jeff: Totally. And we have been excited to get you on this podcast for a while. Because we name check you probably every episode.
Dustin: Jesus. Every time. Every single time.
Jeff: Yeah. Because you have now cemented yourself to the point where almost all the time we're coming out with a new product that either you've had a hand in or you've designed from the ground up.
Dustin: Designed, created ... I mean, you're at the base level to the finishing parts. You're the design guy now.
Jeff: It's the truth.
Thomas: I'm lucky.
Jeff: And one of the things we like to ask people in that position in this company is ... It's fun to think about because what Death Wish is really based on is this idea of just, "Get out there and do it. Don't worry about the if and and and when and all that stuff. Just try it." And that's how we have created this juggernaut of a company. In your position as a designer, we always love to ask this question: Have there been ideas that you've thrown against the wall and didn't stick? Have there ... We don't like to call them failures, but have there been things that like, "Yeah, this is gonna work out great." And it turned out not to work out so well?
Dustin: That's almost the same answer everybody gives.
Thomas: Yes. I'm trying to think. Although with mine, I would say the majority of 'em never even get past the idea stage, mainly because you're gonna have to spend a shitload of money to get this stuff made.
Thomas: You're ... It's probably not a good idea if half the team thinks it's a horrible idea to do it.
Thomas: I can't think of any off the top of my head that were failures in the sense that we lost a crapload of money or it was like, people just weren't responding. Actually, there was one. We made those hat and scarf set this year, which I thought were going to be awesome. But people weren't really receptive to it.
Dustin: I think ... You know what? I think they were awesome. I think we probably bought too many.
Dustin: But I still think those are awesome.
Thomas: All right. So maybe they weren't a failure. But they weren't ... I had the idea. Oh, we're gonna get a custom ... Before we were doing Carhartt hats with a patch on them. Which is cool, don't get me wrong. But I thought, "Oh, a custom designed hat and scarf set. Death Wish, it has our embroidery and everything on it." But it didn't do as well as I thought it would do. But those things happen.
Jeff: That's true.
Dustin: That's part of it.
Thomas: Yeah. Most of the stuff we usually kill in meetings. And people get mad and cry. Not really. But it turns into a bickering match. Then, yeah.
Dustin: The thing I love about it here, though, people speak their mind brutally, sometimes.
Thomas: Yeah. It's a blessing and a curse, I think.
Dustin: It's a blessing and it's a curse. But it's only a curse for a little while 'cause we come back the next day and it's like nothing ever happened. You know?
Thomas: Yeah. Totally.
Dustin: We've all got pretty thick skin here, which is important when it comes to constructive criticism, or ...
Thomas: For sure.
Dustin: Other kinds of criticism.
Thomas: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
Dustin: Can you talk about your influences a little bit? What got you wanting to become an art designer or photographer? Who was it that sparked that interest?
Thomas: It started at home. My mom was an aspiring photographer when she was young. And my dad was a commercial painter, but he painted murals.
Dustin: Oh, that's cool.
Thomas: He's like contracted ... I was always surrounded by two artistic people. And both of them were forced ... They weren't forced, but they had twins. I have a twin brother, who's a photographer.
Dustin: That's crazy. I thought that was a joke at first. That's just you with long hair and a funny mustache.
Jeff: No. It is.
Thomas: Yeah. Totally. It's my brother. Having twins at ... I think they were 22 years old. And, mind you, I could go into the story but I won't, my mom or my dad, they didn't know they were having twins. The doctor, up until birthing my brother, told my mom she was only having one kid.
Dustin: Oh my God.
Jeff: So which one's the favorite?
Dustin: Were you the surprise?
Thomas: I was the surprise. Yeah. And my mom was like ... The doc ... This is a quote. And the doctor ... My brother got shot out of the womb and the doctor went to do whatever they do after you have a baby, and he was like, "Oh, shit." And my mom's like, "What?" And he's like, "There's another baby in there." She's like, "What? Leave it in there. I'm not going through this again."
Jeff: Oh my God.
Dustin: Oh my God.
Thomas: And the doctor's like, "You have to push. I can't fuckin' leave a baby inside of you."
Dustin: Oh my God.
Thomas: And then my dad nearly fainted. 'Cause it was already like, "Oh my God. We only have one stroller, and one car seat, and one set of clothes." So he called his mom on the phone. And his mom's like, "You're a liar." He's like, "No. She's literally giving birth to a second baby right now."
Dustin: That's crazy.
Jeff: That is crazy.
Thomas: They were forced to give up their passions to take care of two babies.
Thomas: But I always knew, growing up ... My dad always still drew. My mom was always talking about photography and showing us photos. That had an impact on us. And then, being a skateboarder, in a rich area forces you to not conform to normal things. I was into music and art and at the time, in the '90s, skateboarding was ... It's not like how it is now. It's not glamorized.
Dustin: There was no X-Games. Yeah.
Thomas: There's no Ryan Sheckler's.
Dustin: There was no Tony Hawk.
Thomas: Yeah. Well, no. There was a Tony Hawk.
Jeff: There was a Tony Hawk.
Thomas: But it wasn't big. There weren't cool videos and commercials with skateboarders.
Dustin: Tony Hawk didn't do the 900 yet, anyway.
Thomas: He hadn't done the 900 yet. We were looked at as the dirtbag kids in school. We all stuck together. Some of the most talented people I know came out of that group. Actually, almost ...
Dustin: Can you talk about that group a little bit?
Thomas: Yeah. Jeremy Fish, who's one of the most influential people in my life. Seeing that guy going from insane skateboard kid in say ... He moves to San Francisco to pursue art. And he's now the godfather of San Francisco and just in art in general. Seeing him be determined and work through college and stick with his art, that influenced me in a major way, seeing that. All right, it just takes a lot of hard work and time and dedication and you can do what you want to do. But you have to stick with it. I think most people, especially now, with social media, see successful people. But they don't realize how much work goes into all of that. So they get bummed out and quit. And you can't. The people who are successful are the people that work hardest through the times when most people would quit. I did the same thing. I slowly but surely ... I had odd jobs and I wasn't working in the field that I wanted to, but I just kept with it and kept reading and learning and teaching myself, and eventually got to the point that I'm at now, where I'm happy with what I do. And I get to create every day. And that's a blessing.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Jeff: Now, as we've said on this podcast before, you're constantly pumping out stuff for this company and I would love to talk about some of the things that you're working on that are coming out that are just hitting. In fact, the big one that has just hit right now is our brand new campaign, the Grind It Out campaign.
Thomas: Yeah. I would not consider myself a marketing person. But I fall into that category because so much of marketing is visual now. I'm constantly working with the marketing team, which is awesome, by the way. Shout out to Tay and Alyssa. They kill it. And Jeff. And Doug. Actually, you know what? Everybody who works here does marketing.
Dustin: Yeah. A little bit.
Thomas: At the end of the day, this is marketing. Everyone on social media that shouts us out regularly.
Dustin: I feel like that goes with a good team, though. Like you were talking about earlier, if half the team doesn't think it's a good idea, we usually don't pull the trigger. And it's because we are a good team. We rely on each other for decision-making. And that's important. 'Cause if you're in it, you're creating, you're invested in it, you need the viewpoint of somebody outside who you can trust with an opinion that's, "I'm sorry. I know you've been working on this so hard, but I don't think it's gonna work." That's so important.
Thomas: And at the end of the day, we're all consumers. And we all didn't work for this company at one point. So we bring different viewpoints to the table. Which is smart. You should listen to everyone. The guy who's taking out the garbage, his opinion's just as valuable as mine. He might have seen something along the way and been like, "Oh. This would be a great idea." And then ... So bring your ideas to the table. That's why we are successful, because ...
Dustin: The diversity, too. If it's a comic book thing, we're talking to Jeff. If it's a skater thing, we talk to you. If it were a fighter thing, they'd be talking to me. We do a really good job of splitting that up. But, sorry. Back to grind it out.
Thomas: Totally. Yeah. Well, we won the Super Bowl. Can I say Super Bowl on the radio show?
Dustin: Yeah. Of course.
Jeff: Yeah. Sure.
Thomas: We won the Super Bowl commercial, which was basically like ...
Jeff: No. We won the Super Bowl.
Thomas: We did win the Super Bowl.
Thomas: In a way, we did.
Thomas: So the following year was the company telling its story, where it came from, what it's all about. So we were talking about the coffee and who we are a lot. Which was awesome. Everyone needed to know. What's this brand? Oh, my God. People are like, "Death Wish. Who are these people?"
Dustin: Who are these people? Right.
Thomas: That was the message and after talking with the marketing team. We were talking about what's our course of action moving forward? And we decided that this year, in 2017, we wanted to turn the spotlight off of ourselves and put it on the people who basically got us the Super Bowl commercial. But also who drink our coffee every day. So we came up with the concept of grind it out. Almost everybody has a job. Most people that go to work every day are passionate about what they do. Otherwise, you wouldn't get up and do it. And even if you're just doing it to feed your kids, at the end of the day, you're ... You're passionate about something.
Dustin: That's the grind.
Thomas: Yeah. The grind it out concept came from that. We wanted to highlight those people, everyday people, the regular ... Not just ... Every company has their star athletes and influencers that they do commercials with. And they're like, "Check out who we got on board backing us." But that's not really authentic. 'Cause at the end of the day, you're paying that guy probably six or seven figures to talk about your brand. Awesome. Way to go. We went to the approach of, let's talk about and do a campaign that is people who are right down the street from you. Or who pick up your garbage, or who built that chair that you're sitting on. We didn't pay these people. These people were enthusiastic to be part of it. Because we were gonna tell their story. By us telling their story, they're telling our story. This is our coffee, and this is how it lives. That's the tagline for the campaign. And it makes sense. These guys are the ones getting up day after day after day after day and doing their grind. That's where we're at with this.
Dustin: There's many more people that are doing that than the people who are rock stars and celebrities and stuff like that.
Thomas: Yeah. Exactly. And that's a ... Honestly, one of my favorite movies is A Bronx Tale.
Dustin: I love that movie.
Thomas: There's a line in it that he, Calogero, or however you say his name, says. I think the gangster dude says, "The working man's a sucker." And Robert De Niro's character says, "The working man's not a sucker. It takes way more strength to get up day after day and do your job than it does to get fast money." And it's true. That actually stuck with me since I was a kid. Watching my mom and dad struggle, but work hard. It really ... That's ... It's sup-
Dustin: That takes a lot more courage.
Thomas: Yeah. It does. Because you're not ... It's easy to make fast money. The reward ...
Dustin: Especially if you're born into it.
Dustin: Who cares?
Thomas: But to get up ... And even if you're doing a job you hate, to get up every single day and do that takes a lot of guts and courage to do.
Dustin: And I think anybody truly successful if they don't come from a background like that, they watched their parents struggle through life. And I think that struggle's so important, right?
Thomas: Yeah. It is.
Thomas: It is.
Dustin: You need that adversity. You need something pushing you down in order to push back up. Otherwise, it's like ...
Thomas: Yeah. What's the point of living if you're just handed everything in your life? You don't understand the value of hard work. There's nothing better than working hard on something, and getting frustrated, mad and wanting to throw your hands up and be like, "Fuck this. I quit." But then you work through it and when it's done, you're like, "Holy shit. I did that. I made that. Whoa."
Dustin: Yeah. Yeah. If you get it just from ... If it's just given to you, there's no gratification. There's something really special in that. I'm gonna say it. The misery of grinding it out. Because in the end, when you finally grind it out, it's like, "Yes. I have achieved."
Thomas: Exactly. That's where this whole thing is ... I don't know. I can't even put it into words. It's more of a feeling than it is a sound bite. It's hard to explain it. And I'm not a man of good words.
Dustin: You're a design guy.
Thomas: I'm not like Donald Trump. I'm not good with words, or whatever he says, "I use lots of words."
Jeff: Your hands are normal sized.
Thomas: Yeah. I don't go like this all the time. Yeah. Grind it out, keep your eyes peeled for that. It's ...
Dustin: So how's that gonna go? You're gonna roll out different people each week, or ...
Thomas: Yeah. We'll ... Yeah. It'll start with an introductory video, an all-encompassing 60-second commercial.
Thomas: That will tell the story of what grind it out is. And then, every other week, we'll be releasing a mini-doc on a certain individual and their grind. And it explains the person and maybe a little bit about where they came from and what they do, and shows ... Obviously, it's a video, so it's visual. It shows what they do and tells a story about a day in their life without being super intrusive.
Dustin: That's so cool.
Jeff: That is.
Thomas: And it's a candid view. We didn't ... None of it's scripted. None of it's staged. We literally followed these people around and ...
Dustin: How was that? That must have been pretty cool.
Thomas: It was so interesting.
Jeff: Is there anything you took away from all that?
Thomas: Yeah, man. I mean, there's lessons in everything. And I learned so much as ... Listening to somebody else talk about where they are and how they got there is super inspiring. No matter how menial the job is like I said before, the guy that takes out the garbage, even him doing that, there's a lesson to be learned in how you do that. Following these people around and figuring out how do they get there and why do they do it and what keeps them doing it, that's super inspiring. Yeah. I learned so much and literally, at the end of the day, I'm like, "Oh, man. That gave me an idea to do something else for this project.
Thomas: Or inspired me to work harder. Maybe I'm not spending enough time on this project. Let me focus a little bit more on this aspect of it. I think listening is an important thing that not enough people do.
Thomas: Yeah. If you listen a little bit more, you might learn something. A little gem.
Jeff: I think ...
Dustin: Wait. I got a perfect segue.
Thomas: Aw, yeah.
Dustin: After talking to all these people to see what brings them to what they're doing, what fuels you to do what you do every day?
Thomas: Man, that's such a tough question. We've been asking everybody else that question. I'm like, "It can't be that hard to answer." And then you ask it to me.
Dustin: Why are you here, Thomas?
Thomas: Why was I born? Actually, I have no idea. 'Cause my mom didn't know I was there.
Jeff: It was a surprise.
Thomas: I was a surprise. What fuels me? Well, food fuels me.
Thomas: I do love food. But I think ... Aw, man. This is tough.
Jeff: Well, I mean, I think we've almost touched on it a little bit because we've been with you on your journey and you've talked about the importance of, like you said with this campaign, grinding it out and working hard. I mean, to really hit that nail on the head, what fuels you to keep getting up every day and trying something new and coming up with new ideas and designing and applying yourself?
Thomas: I knew this. I've known this for a long time. And one of our subjects, Koli, who's a florist. She also is into writing and poetry. I think she's an English major. Anyway, she spoke about this book. I can't remember the name of it, but ... Yeah. I can't remember the name of it. Anyway, she talked about this one writer. And there's this thing. I don't know what he wrote about. Anyway, to get to the point, since I was a kid and skating, and as I got older, everyone was like, "Why do you still skateboard?" Or, "Why do you still make art?" Like, "That's stuff that little kids do. Get a real job." You know how many times I've heard, "Get a real job?" Anyway.
There's something special about those things because it's just you and the skateboard or you and your pencil or you and your whatever that you're working on. And no matter how good you get on your skateboard or at your art, there's always the next level. That's what fuels me. No matter how good I get at my job or how good I get at skateboarding, there's always another level to get to. Those things progress at a faster rate than you can as a human being. The fact that, "Oh, man. I just learned this new trick." Or, "I just learned this new brush stroke." Or whatever. Great. There's five more of that, five more styles or five more tricks that you still can't do. So now onto the next one. So honing your craft, to me that's the reason to stay alive. I would hate to get up every day and be perfect at something. 'Cause how shitty would that be?
Thomas: I'm a master at ... Even the masters, they have the title of Master but they're always practicing and always getting better. And that's how you become a master of anything. Yeah. That's what fuels me is the ...
Dustin: Greater goals.
Thomas: It's infinite.
Thomas: You can never ... For things like that, no matter how good you are, you can always be better. Learning, just always learning.
Dustin: I think it's in our DNA, to just push those boundaries.
Thomas: But I feel bad because there's people out there that don't have that drive, that ... And no disrespect to them, I don't know. Maybe it's just they're content with it. But the idea of going to work, going home, watching TV, eating dinner, and going to sleep, is ...
Dustin: Rinse and repeat.
Thomas: Oh, man. I couldn't do it.
Thomas: What's the point of living if you're not learning how to do something or be better at something?
Jeff: No. That's it. That's distilled right there. That's pretty awesome.
Thomas: So that's what drives me is the fact that I can always be ... And bettering yourself. It doesn't even have to be ... Oh, man. I'm gonna get all deep on you guys.
Jeff: Go for it.
Dustin: Go for it. I'm ready.
Thomas: It doesn't even have to be better at something. Just being a better human being. We live in a pretty rough time right now.
Dustin: I think it's always rough.
Thomas: It is. And it goes through phases, obviously.
Thomas: But right now, it's pretty rough. There's a lot of turmoil. And it's not ... Politically or not, people are at each others' throat in a horrible way. So if you're not getting better at drawing, get better at being nice to people. You can always better yourself in more capacities than one.
Thomas: Yeah. I don't know. That's ...
Dustin: If we didn't have that drive, we'd still be monkeys throwing poop at each other.
Jeff: That's the truth. And that's awesome. To lighten the mood, real quick, we always ask our employees this at the end of the podcast. Because we're very curious.
Thomas: Are we at the end?
Jeff: Yeah. We're there.
Thomas: I really like talking to you guys. And I'm not really a big talker.
Dustin: This is great.
Jeff: We like talking to you, too. But one question that we want to know from all employees of Death Wish Coffee is, what's your favorite: Death Wish or Valhalla Java?
Dustin: No bullshit answer.
Thomas: Come on.
Jeff: No bullshit answer.
Dustin: You gotta pick one.
Thomas: Is that even a fuckin' question?
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is.
Thomas: Death Wish.
Jeff: There we go.
Thomas: Sorry, Zack. I'm ... I mean, Death Wish all day.
Jeff: Hey. You know, you are, I think ...
Thomas: You have to drink it black. Sorry, people.
Jeff: There it is. There it is. I think you're the first person that we've asked that question to who has had a definitive answer. 'Cause that's why we preface it with "No bullshit." Because we constantly get, "Well, they each have their good ... " Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Dustin: "If you want the caffeinated kick, blah blah blah."
Thomas: Oh, shut up. Yeah. Get out of here.
Jeff: You heard it. You heard it. Thomas said, "Death Wish black. Or get the F out."
Thomas: Yeah. Or just drink water. I don't know.
Jeff: Love it.
Dustin: Do you see ... Where do you see the company going in the future? Is there any excitement you have for future developments in the next five years?
Thomas: Oh, man. Sky's the limit at this point. Every day, we're growing and getting stronger and getting better at what we do. I don't see a limitation at this point. I don't see a ... And coffee is one of those things that everybody drinks it or almost everybody. It's the second largest commodity in the world. At the end of the day, I don't know. I don't see any limitations. Our limitations are only on ourselves. If we stop caring and stop trying to push the boundaries, then we'll limit ourselves. But if we don't and just keep swinging for the fences, we'll make it there.
Dustin: I think that's the thing I love about this company is that you can feel it. You can feel the potential. We're successful, but we can still be better.
Dustin: And we haven't even reached that yet.
Thomas: And I think that it comes back to what I was saying before, is so many companies get comfortable. And they're like, "All right. We've made it. We're a million dollar company ..."
Jeff: We were in the Super Bowl. We're good.
Thomas: "We're successful." It's like, yeah. You're successful to a point, but guess what? You can be even more successful.
Thomas: Successful isn't just monetary. But ...
Dustin: I think that's why it's important to have huge goals. Because if you have that ten million dollar goal, well, done. Great. Wonderful. But it's like, Mike has this huge goal of just, we want to be the next Red Bull. It's more than just coffee, it's a lifestyle. It's a personality. And I love that aspect, that ... I mean, the sky's the limit.
Thomas: Yeah. And it totally is. We can be the next Red Bull. Watch out, Red Bull, we're coming for you.
Jeff: Heck, yeah.
Thomas: We can be bigger than Red Bull. Maybe one day we'll be shooting rockets into space, or who knows?
Jeff: Tomorrow we're shooting rockets into space, in the parking lot.
Thomas: By the way, those are bottle rockets.
Dustin: If this doesn't actually happen, I'm gonna be really upset. I'm bringing in bottle rockets tomorrow.
Jeff: Excellent. Excellent.
Thomas: Yeah. Who knows what the future holds. But if we just continue to stay on the path that we are, and keep pushing each other to do the best that we can, I don't see a limit in front of us at this point. We created this niche in the coffee industry. And we own it. So all the imposters out there that are trying to take shots at us, good luck.
Dustin: Yeah. They're way behind the ball.
Thomas: Because, at the end of the day, if you guys are copying what we're doing, then you're already ... You're behind. If you're copying what we've already done, we're already ten steps ahead of you 'cause we're thinking about the next thing. Good luck to you.
Dustin: That's the way I think about it too. It's like, man. What we've had to do to get here, even though we pioneered this way, is a ... They just have so much more to go to get to even where we are as far as the trials that we had to go through. They're gonna be going through all that. Even dealing with Amazon. They're gonna have to deal with that. Because that is a monster.
Thomas: And like you were saying before, we earned this. We blood, sweat, and tears earned this. That's why we are where we're at. We were saying, oh, something's handed to you, you don't appreciate it as much. These other companies, I'm not saying that they're not hard workers or whatever. But we ... They're basically on our coattails.
Dustin: So that first dollar comes easy.
Thomas: Yeah. We paved the way for 'em. "Oh, yeah. We're the strongest coffee, blah, blah, blah." No. We are. And we carved out this arena for you to be in.
Thomas: You guys better be pushing the envelope harder than we are, 'cause we're not letting off the gas.
Dustin: I don't see it possible, man. The overtime it took to make this happen is unbelievable. I'd love to actually see a number of hours worked overtime to ... Not that it's about working overtime. It's about working smart, not hard. But if you're working smart and hard, which is what happens here ...
Jeff: And surrounding yourself with people that are on the same page as you. 'Cause you can hire people that are just collecting a paycheck.
Jeff: But you can also hire people that are hungry.
Dustin: Yeah. I feel like if you have an atmosphere where you are hiring a lot of people who are hungry and motivated and you create this culture if you're not that, you kind of just fall by the wayside and slowly drip out of the bottle. You're just not there anymore.
Thomas: Yeah. Left in the dust.
Dustin: It's what I've seen in almost ... Work atmosphere that I've been in before that it's an atmosphere. It's created. And if you don't fit within that creation, you're just gonna fall out. You're just gonna get squeezed out. But here, it's such a healthy creation of just that hungry, motivated, creative thing that it's a great culture that we've built here.
Dustin: It's pretty amazing.
Thomas: Definitely. Yeah.
Thomas: I don't know. I don't know. We're ...
Jeff: On that note, how do people follow Mr. Thomas Dragonette?
Thomas: You can come to my house and follow me that way. No. I'm not gonna give you my address. As far as what, social media?
Jeff: Yeah, sure.
Dustin: Anything you want to plug, or ...
Thomas: I'm not a huge social media guy. I am on Instagram. You can follow me @misterdragonette, which is M-I-S-T-E-R-D-R-A-G-O-N-E-T-T-E. Yeah. That's pretty much it. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff: Your Instagram's pretty on point, though. 'Cause, I mean, you're always putting out new ideas and new stuff you're working on. So it's really cool to follow you on that.
Thomas: I need to get better at it. It's funny, I work with the marketing department. And then, on my own time, I'm the worst social media guy ever. I go on there maybe once a day. I post maybe three times a week. But I need to get better at it.
Dustin: I like the social media just to keep in touch with what people are talking about with the company and what they like. For me, I love it when we have new releases, and I can go through the hashtag and see how many people love the thing that they're getting. And that gives me a real idea of what works and what doesn't.
Thomas: Yeah. That's always cool. That's one of the things I love about my job, too, is getting to make something is awesome. But getting to see people enjoy it is even more awesome.
Dustin: Yeah. It really is.
Thomas: That's the best feeling in the world. You can't ... Money can't buy that. Making ... That ... Shit. That came out of my brain, and those people love that thing? That's cool.
Jeff: Yeah. That is cool.
Dustin: That's very satisfying. All right, Thomas. Thank you so much for sitting with us.
Jeff: Yeah. Thanks, man.
Thomas: Thanks for having me, guys.