In 1998, after his uncle introduced him to coffee roasting, Mike McKim, founder and CEO of Cuvee Coffee, purchased a roaster with his friend to create coffee for personal consumption. This quickly became an enjoyable hobby to McKim, as his family and friends began asking to sample his roasts as well.
This was amid the dot-com crash: McKim worked in the telecom industry at the time, pursuing coffee roasting on the side. However, he eventually lost his full-time job, forcing him to look elsewhere for income. That's when Cuvee Coffee took off.
The company exists to offer direct-trade, high-quality coffee to consumers. In their world-class lab in Austin, Texas, they custom-dial every roast. McKim wasn't intending on turning his experimental pastime into a full-fledged business, but that's exactly what happened – and it paid off. Here's what he learned along the way.
Focus on your customers' needs
When you're launching a company you're passionate about, it's normal to seek praise and attention for your products and services. Most business owners dream of becoming a well-known figure disturbing their industry. However, prioritizing your status over your consumers won't help your business progress.
"For years, I have used the term 'coffee famous' to describe the desire to be recognized by your peers ... basically to be a celebrity in your industry," McKim said. "This is common in many industries and particularly smaller industries like the specialty coffee industry."
Early on, McKim invested most of his energy in his goal to become "coffee famous." However, while he achieved it to an extent, he realized that fame does not translate to revenue, especially if you're making decisions without considering your customers.
McKim advised aspiring entrepreneurs not to seek approval from other experts in their market, but rather focus on the people they're serving.
"Do not market to or make decisions based on what you peers or competition might think because, most likely, they don't care about you and would like to see you fail," he said. "Know your customer and make all your decisions about meeting or exceeding their expectations."
Remember where you came from
Before creating Cuvee Coffee, McKim struggled in school and decided to enlist in the Navy.
"Having few goals and little direction, the Navy gave me a challenge, which helped me form some goals," he said. For instance, he spent four years trying to get an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and ended up receiving one to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. "Being part of a Patrol Squadron in the Navy … helped me develop discipline, pride in my work and contributions, and a massive sense of pride that I was able to serve my country."
Being in the Navy also helped McKim become a better leader. During his time, he experienced good and bad leadership, both of which helped him improve his own style and skills – which is crucial as a CEO of a thriving hobby-turned-business.
No matter who you are or where you've been, it's important to remember your past and channel the lessons you've learned along the way. Your journey is unique to you, something that sets you apart from the rest. Don't be afraid to leverage it.
Pay it back
When you reach a level of success that satisfies your needs, it's easy to want to bask in victory and continue expanding your business without looking back. However, odds are, someone helped you get where you are today. Be that person to someone else.
"The things that excited me have changed over the past 20 years of business," McKim said. "First, my passion was coffee. And while I still love coffee, my real passion is growing my business, building a team and learning how to be an effective leader. Along those lines, I like to learn everyone's goals and give them the opportunity to achieve them."
Opportunities come in many forms, he explained, like receiving an education, earning a certification or starting your own business.
"I always encourage everyone to have at least three goals that they are working toward; and during our reviews, I make sure we write them down and work on a plan to get them there."
Not only does McKim help his own workers, he also gives back to his fellow veterans. He serves as board president and chairman of Operation Supply Drop, a nonprofit that offers a strong and supportive community for the nation's service members, veterans and their families.
At the end of the day, business is about more than marketing products and securing sales; it's about honing passion and making the world a better place – one cup of coffee at a time.