Blue Bottle Coffee Growth Round

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We’re thrilled about today’s Blue Bottle Coffee news that they’ve raised a $25M growth round of capital. It’s an incredible step forward for founder James Freeman, Chairman Bryan Meehan, Blue Bottle’s amazing Baristas, team and investors. You can read James’ post here & Kara’s post here.

At True, we’ve been incredibly lucky to partner with amazing leaders, mainly in the tech world (Matt Mullenweg at WordPress, Chris Anderson at 3DR, Ayah Bdeir at Little Bits, Bre Pettis at MakerBot, James Park at FitBit, Philip Rosedale at High Fidelity, there are many many more…). What we’ve learned from these inspiring Founders is they do more than just create companies, these type of Founders, they start movements – it’s envisioning a way of life – it’s visionary, a vision of how the world will be in spite of how people do things now (remember when we carried around maps…) and it’s having a sense in your mind, knowing how people are going to use your product to impact their life is what makes it Visionary, and through that vision a movement is sometimes sparked.

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When we met James – it was instantly clear that Blue Bottle Coffee isn’t just about coffee drinks, it’s about so much more.  What we saw and why we got involved, is that James and his team are part of a handful of people who are founding a movement around coffee. It’s not just the very specific experience around the coffee Blue Bottle roasts, it’s everything they do from the the way they source the product, supporting farmers in developing regions of the world to grow the purest, highest quality organic beans that promote sustainability, the way they choose store locations that often acts as a vote of confidence for a developing neighborhood, how they serve the product [what cup, what glass, what temperature, single origin beans versus blended bean mixes, espresso drinks only on premise….] – thinking through every detail to offer something beautiful in our daily lives – it’s a philosophy/ an approach that has led to a movement around the integrity of experience around coffee.

It fits into a larger movement we’re all experiencing right now around a greater integrity in the experiences that we already have in our daily lives – we’re not just satisfied to have a meal, we want that meal to have greater integrity and be more aligned with our values, to know where the food is coming from, we want it to have a certain type of quality – this is happening in all aspects of life, we don’t just want to work for a living, we want to make a difference.

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Our original investment in James, Blue Bottle and their team was a fairly straight-forward, easy decision given the company’s rapid growth, loyal following, founder vision, management team and potential for broader appeal – we see tremendous opportunity to grow this business in a manner that adheres to the principles it was founded. We believe Blue Bottle Coffee is at the forefront of a “consumer movement” or mega-trend in which consumers are moving to higher quality, artisanal, micro-roasters of coffee, where quality, attention to detail, beauty, and a distinctive experience are being sought over more mainstream alternatives. In addition, we believe the Blue Bottle Coffee brand and products appeal to — and are accessible to — a large audience of coffee drinkers who are increasingly interested in expanding their appreciation for fine coffee.

Raising a cup of excellence to all involved!

BAM. BOOM. AARGHH. F*&^. PHEW. SIGH. SMILE……….. Everyone’s Been There Before

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 9.16.27 PMAt the end of yesterday, I connected with friends I hadn’t been in touch with for far too long.  I scheduled lunch with former CNET CEO Shelby Bonnie in a few weeks. My Twitter followers increased.  We added new about.me users.  Many of my friends logged in and sent me notes about how blown away they were with what we had built since buying back about.me.  Turns out I’ve got a lot of good friends who have our back.  I learned a lot about our team, marveled at their maturity and skill in the moment of crisis and fell in love with them all over again. But that’s not the way the day started……

It was a stunning, peaceful Saturday morning – the kind of morning when the heat is dry and the sound is very still (sorry to those of you who live in the brutally cold East Cost weather but this is San Francisco in late January).  After a morning run in the Presidio, I made myself some Blue Bottle Coffee in my Chemex, hit play on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and settled in to play around with one of our newest features that enables about.me users to invite friends to join our service.

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I clicked send.  Nothing happened.  So I clicked it one more time and it wasn’t clear anything happened. Hmm.  So I decided to send my team an email to see what was broken. When I opened my email, literally 2-3 minutes later, I had a crazy number of unread emails flowing in (like “I love you, man, but I’ve gotten ~30 of these so far….”). It’s just awesome to getting an email from someone you admire like Marc Andreessen letting you know you’ve sent them 20, oops, actually 24 emails in the past few minutes.

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 5.09.08 PMAnd then Twitter alerts started popping up on my screen (and each time I clicked, I had less followers than I had minutes before).  My phone rang.  It rang again.  And again. And then iMessage started popping up alerts (like “Please, like really please make it stop”).  And then I had that “aw f*&^” moment when I realized I’d jammed all my contacts with messages, more messages and even more messages.  I had triggered a weird bug because my email contact list is quite large and it would time-out, and then re-activate, creating a continuous loop.  It also somehow tied into my WordPress blog which was a separate issue (to be clear, not a WordPress issue but one on our end) that’s too complicated to explain.  NTL, I was on my way to sending 47,402 emails in a span of 4 minutes, an average of 23.6 emails per person. BAM. BOOM. AARGHH. F*&^.

 

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I sent out an urgent note to our team.  My co-founder Ryan, calm as always, called and told me to 1) make my tweets private; 2) start deleting all the repetitive tweets; and 3) disconnect my WordPress blog from the automatic tweet feature.  On his end, he disconnected the feature we were testing.  I then spoke to Matt, Founder of WordPress, who calmly told me where to go to disconnect the automatic tweet feature.  Just in case you missed it, there’s a theme in there, they were calm, I wasn’t.

Afterward, it stopped.  Kinda.  I watched as my Twitter followers continue to melt away, I lost about 400 in a few hours.  I turned my attention back to email and oh my, so many messages, many from me :).  I wrote a simple acknowledgement and apology response, copied and started pasting it in reply after reply after reply.  Then I went back to Twitter, announced “It’s just a hunch but I think there are a lot of people who are going to delete me from their address book.”  Then I let everyone on Twitter know “oy, even my family deleted my account.”  And then, people on Twitter started interacting, retweeting and favoriting those tweets and voila, I started adding new followers. And people invited friends to join about.me and many of them logged in and updated their pages.

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Meanwhile, the amazing about.me team started doing forensics around how many emails were sent to individual addresses in order to get a pattern to any duplicate sends.  We exchanged inputs in real time (exactly how did we do this before we had tools like Slack!?!) and figured out the root cause and, more importantly, how to make sure that didn’t happen again.

I read the hundreds of email replies to my apology and this is what was said more often than anything else “dude, don’t worry, everyone’s been there before.”  It reminded me how amazing our community can be in a moment of crisis. We are lucky.

And then we all went back to our beautiful, peaceful Saturday. BAM. BOOM. AARGHH. F*&^. PHEW. SIGH. SMILE.

Breaking-Away.

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There are lots of people (brilliant, high-achieving, incredibly successful people) who regularly turn off their phones, close their iPads and let their minds recover from the effects of an ever-increasing tendency to always be plugged in, tuned in and turned on. Call it meditation or simply being in the moment, the time these people take to disconnect from technology is rumored to lead to longer, healthier, happier and more productive lives, as well as increasing familial bonds and personal satisfaction.

Unfortunately, I’m not that guy. Most of the founders/entrepreneurs I know are not that person.

 As a founder/entrepreneur, you live a life where you are always “on.” Even before our age of connectivity, the original American founders—people like Rowland Macy, Henry Ford—succeeded in large part because they made their companies their entire lives to put things in motion, envisioning at their company’s inception a way of life that doesn’t exist yet. That’s what you have to give to it. You have to make tons of sacrifices. Sometimes that includes your family. Sometime yourself.

It’s not all bad. There’s a lot of flexibility that happens as a result of being constantly plugged in. It’s what enables me to slip out in the middle of the day and go to a parent-teacher conference. It’s why I can wake up in the morning and work out before I go into the office. But at the end of the day—if I’m being honest—being turned on and tuned in all day long has at times reduced my capacity for real connection. It’s easy to turn my phone off for 30 minutes to sit down and have dinner, but while I’m physically separated from my device, I’m not turned off. Often, to be honest, I’m sitting at dinner with my family and I’m thinking about what emails I have to reply to when we’re done. And, to be clear, I’m very much in love with my family.

 So many of us go through the motions, but we’re not connecting in a meaningful way. And frankly, that has characterized a lot of my interactions with people over the past 20 years. More often than not, I’m not really able to be totally in the moment. As much as I want to believe I am, I’m not. I think it’s true for a lot of founders/entrepreneurs, especially those who are trying to turn their idea into a habit.

 And then an extraordinary thing happened to me. In August, I took my family to Ladakh, India. And, for the first time in my life, I was forced into the moment. And it was amazing.

 Ladakh (located between Kashmir and Tibet) is one of the most sparsely populated regions in India, renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture and sometimes called “Little Tibet,” as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture. Ladakh also has a very spotty network, limited cell coverage and no Internet in the mountains. The most “technology” I saw in Ladakh was a few hours of electricity each afternoon that allowed me to recharge my phone so I could take photos. That was it.

My first day off the grid was liberating, but I was still dialed in. I was still thinking about what was going on at work, and even non-core stuff like which photos I wanted to share on Twitter and Instagram. But by day three or four, I just stopped thinking about all that stuff. And once I realized that I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff, I was incredibly surprised. It might have been the altitude of Ladakh (12,500 – 21,000 feet), which requires you to move slowly, but I felt like everything slowed down to a pace at which I could really experience it. I enjoyed my family at a depth I haven’t felt in a long time. I was present with them. I have never felt more in the moment.

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It got me thinking that I hadn’t probably been truly present like that since I was around 10 years old. Like a lot of founders/entrepreneurs, my entire life has been spent pushing forward, and I’ve leveraged stress and motivation and goals and achievements (that virtuous cycle) in a way I’m really proud of. But it comes at a cost.

The power of experiencing a few days of living completely present, completely disconnected from technology, was that I returned from Ladakh exceedingly energized and focused.

From a work perspective, it created the space in my mind to enable me to see the forest instead of the trees. On the flight back, it became crystal clear to me what I felt needed to be done for about.me’s next product evolution: it had to be the feed in our new web dashboard and mobile app. As a team, while we were working on these projects, we were also working on a lot of other stuff that seemed important, but in reality, didn’t have the same ability to impact our trajectory. By taking a step back, and in this case, a step outside, the day-to-day grind, I walked back in the office from my vacation and was empowered to have a conversation with our team about stopping everything and focusing 100% of our energy on the feed in our web dashboard and mobile app. In my opinion, disconnecting is what enabled that clarity to focus on areas that will impact our trajectory in a meaningful way.

And it has. Since we launched our new dashboard and app, our engagement and retention has grown to record numbers. The number of users logging in and interacting with users is at an all-time high. Traffic, time on sit, page views and visits are up. Daily active and monthly active users are at an all-time high and growing. Early mobile data is super promising, we’re averaging 20+ profile views/sessions and people are coming back to the app at 3x the rate of our previous app. And the qualitative inputs are super encouraging and flattering.

Yes, I came back to work full-speed ahead, but my time spent unplugged allowed me to come back and have a clear conscience for the first time in a long time. Before this trip, I would never be the guy to say “you need to disconnect; go off the grid,” because until now, I considered it a bit selfish and unproductive. And while it is something you do for yourself, it’s such a gift to everyone and everything you come in contact with and it resets you in a way that enables clarity around what really needs done. That’s the power of it. That’s why it matters. It’s an incredibly powerful experience and a habit I think we can integrate into our lives as founders and entrepreneurs.