The scene: Explaining to my parents in Cleveland my decision to leave my corporate job to join a startup company, 3-19 Coffee.
Me: I might be taking a new job with Mike (Weaver ’06). He’s starting a specialty coffee company with another partner, and they think I would be a good fit for the team.
Mom: Specialty, like Folgers?
Me: Not exactly.
Dad: But you have a great job.
Me: I have put a lot of thought into this. [This conversation happened when my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child and I was 10 months into my engineering job and enjoying it.]
Dad: Why do you think this would be a good move? [I had also convinced them it was a good idea to do a stove project in South America, to move to Denver with no job, to spend a year in American Samoa.]
Me: If I don’t take it, I think I’d regret it the rest of my life. [I said the same thing when I started a company to get solar lighting solutions to rural Guatemalan families.]
Mom: So will you have a coffee shop?
Me: We will sell everything online at the beginning.
Mom: How will this company work?
Me: People are willing to pay a higher price for quality coffee when they know the farmers are being paid fairly. We would source great green coffees, roast them with care, then sell and ship the freshly roasted coffee.
Dad : OK.
Me: People’s willingness to pay more for better coffee allows the farmers to make more money, which in turn allows them to get better education and medical care for their families, reinvest in their farms, and save money for their children’s futures.
Mom: And what is the name of the company again? 3-19?
Me: Yes, 3-19 Coffee. The founders’ wives share the birthday March 19. The branding is really cool.
Dad: So that’s it?
Me: No. A portion of every sale will go toward social projects in any community taking part in our coffee from seed to cup. The first project will be an art program with Catracha Coffee in Santa Elena, Honduras. Youth there do not have opportunities to create art.
Mom: How will that help you sell coffee?
Me: Well, it won’t directly. But by funding this art program, we tell customers we are seriously committed to social good.
Mom: Is Cleveland one of your communities?
Me: I’m working with an artist here in Cleveland who does projects with kids here like those in Honduras.
Dad: Why this focus on art?
Mike: 3-19’s mission is coffee, art and community. People everywhere should have the opportunity to express themselves creatively.
Mom: An artist in Cleveland?
Me: Yes. She’s going to be one of our 3-19 Coffee featured artists!
Dad: Featured artist?
Me: We’ll partner with artists to design the art for our packaging. We commission art and customers select which art they want on their coffee tins. And, we’ll put a video bio on our website for each artist to promote their work.
Dad: It seems like your heart is in this.
Mike: Trust me, we should be able to find people that share our beliefs and LOVE coffee, too.
Mom: Would you have to travel? What about your future daughter?
Mike: My wife and I have already been working out how we could make it work if I had to leave the country for several days. We want to be honest with our customers that we have seen, firsthand, operations on the ground.
Dad: This is a big decision, Michael.
Mike: I’m excited. I have faith that taking this risk will be worth it. I love that I will be using my Spanish and working with video production again. I’ll learn, get better. I want to bring stories from around the world to people’s living rooms and smartphones. When I used to sip a cup of coffee, it was just a sip. Now it’s a story.
See those stories at 319coffee.com.