June 11th, 2009 by Andy Didyk
I’ve been writing a lot about social media lately, and I decided to have some Q&A time with a good friend that is actually using it to help power his business. Patrick Smith is the co-founder of UTOPIAN Coffee Co., and an overall great guy. He and business partner Brendon Maxwell (insert obligatory cheap coffee aside here) employ no full-time social media guru or consultant, and are bootstrapping most aspects of their business. Social media presents a key marketing opportunity, and like most small business owners, it’s an avenue that they must navigate on their own.
As the coffee expert so astutely articulates, the very basics of product marketing (start with a genuinely good product) and relationships (be nice to people and they will be nice in return) are the foundations that are propelling UTOPIAN Coffee Co. forward. That and lots of caffeine.
The following is our exchange about social channels, the coffee business, and the ethics of underage coffee consumption.
Tell the readers a bit about your business. What do you sell? How are you selling it?
UTOPIAN Coffee Co. is a web-based quality-oriented specialty coffee micro-roaster. That’s the official answer. What does that mean to the average Joe/Jane? We are uber-picky about the green/raw coffees we buy, meticulous in roasting, and we bag and ship straight out of the roaster. This way the coffee arrives on your doorstep (anywhere in the contiguous 48) within 4 days of roasting. Crazy fresh.
At a time when McDonald’s is undercutting more expensive coffee brands such as Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, etc., with the McCaffe versions, why do you believe your more upscale, niche product will be successful?
Great question, Andy. I’ll answer anecdotally then more substantively.
When I was in college, I drank lots of coffee. Knowing this, a buddy of mine bought me a freshly-roasted pound of Sumatra as a gift. I noticed immediately that this was far superior to anything I’d ever had. The curse came when poor, tuition-drained Patrick tried to revert to Chock-Full-o-Nuts. NO WAY. I literally skipped meals to ensure that from that point forward I would have good coffee around.
Driving through a coffee shop (or McDonald’s) on your way to work will cost you $2 to $5 each day five days a week. That’s a monthly habit of $40 – $100 for 20 cups of coffee. If you were on a myUTOPIA membership receiving 2 pounds a month you would save between $7 – $67, and it would yield 80 cups of coffee! You’d have more money, more time, better coffee, less stress, heck I bet you’d even live longer!
How important are social media channels to your developing business? Why?
Social media is hugely important to us for two primary reasons. It builds consumer confidence in our product–lots of people brew our coffee and love it. It is an avenue for the world’s most effective marketing–unsolicited word of mouth.
How do you measure the success of your social media efforts?
There are both qualitative and quantitative successes in social media. The former is more difficult to measure than the latter. At the root of business is the need to be profitable. So while it is certainly not our only concern, selling coffee is critical to our survival. That said, we have established some really rewarding and gratifying relationships via social media that don’t lead to sales (at least in the short term). Doing good, being helpful, & affirming the successes of others are the right things to do, so we do them. They may lead to sales some day; they may not. We’ll keep doing them either way. I actually have a secret barometer to measure the more subjective successes in social media. Every night as I fall asleep I rate the warm fuzzies I feel from one to ten.
On the objective end, Google Analytics allows us to simply track the sources of our traffic. Additionally, any coupon codes we generate are always specific to the outlet through which they are disseminated. This allows us to carefully track the effectiveness of any such campaign.
I know your expertise is in coffee, and not necessarily social media trends, but how do you see the social media market developing over the next few years, and how do you plan to engage it?
I definitely don’t have a crystal ball pertaining to such things, but I see a few things happening. I think the major players within social media will soon be on the same page in terms of storing and sharing contacts and content such that they will become increasingly intertwined. That will simplify things on our end. We’ll create content once, and it will appear across the spectrum of social media outlets. This is happening between some, but it is not yet universal.
People are using social media for everything….obtaining news updates, getting shopping leads, and let’s not leave out socializing. It leads to a smaller world, but also a smaller attention span. In order to successfully utilize these channels, we need to remain specific, concise, and relevant.
Any plans to enter the brick and mortar retail market?
Not if I can help it! The hours are rough, overhead is higher, & managing hourly employees is difficult.
What are the things that social channels can’t help a small business with?
Product quality. It is one of the pillars of our business. Social media can help with marketing, and if you’re really clever distribution, but never product quality.
Who should quit their day job and start their own business?
Anyone with a good, somehow original idea, the expertise to make it a reality, a high stress threshold, low sleep requirement, good marriage (or none at all), strong work ethic, optimistic outlook, and billionaire parents.
What advice do you have for closet tea drinkers like myself?
Switch to coffee. It doesn’t stain your teeth as badly and is more readily accessible stateside. No, honestly, I don’t know a load about tea. Give some serious thought to the science of extraction when you’re tooling around with tea. You might have some fun results. Play with variables like water purity (RO or tap), water temp, contact time, and agitation.
I know you have small children. How early do you plan on letting them have their first cup of Utopian Coffee?
Been there. Done that. Calvin is almost a year. He’s not super keen on coffee.
Hudson is 2 and a half. He loves coffee. If you ask him his favorite kind, he responds “mytopian.” He apparently thinks that the first syllable of the word “UTOPIAN” is the pronoun “you” and than “-topian” is a separate word. Naturally since he is referring to himself and not to you, he calls it “mytopian coffee.” I have a photo somewhere with Hudson at 2 years old with a crema mustache from having a sip of my espresso.
Thanks Patrick, and if you ever get a hold of some high quality imported teas, I’ll be first in line.
You can follow UTOPIAN Coffee Co. on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/UTOPIANcoffee
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 11th, 2009 at 1:47 pm and is filed under business development, communication, consumer products, consumerism, marketing, social media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.