Bryan Meehan gave an insightful interview in front of his Powder Mountain neighbors during the Presidents’ Weekend gathering. The Irish-born serial entrepreneur is CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee, which he purchased in 2012. By then, the Harvard Business School grad had already started and sold two businesses. Fresh & Wild, a London based chain of organic markets that sold to Whole Foods in 2004 was his first. The next was Nude Skincare, a high-end organic product that Louis Vuitton purchased in 2011.
He discovered Blue Bottle Coffee after moving with his wife Tara to San Francisco in 2009. Enamored by the quality of the coffee and the founder’s obsessive passion for it, he felt compelled to inquire about the company’s plans. Since purchasing he’s helped the company open more than 80 locations around the world while enhancing its super-premium brand status. Today, the Blue Bottle Coffee brand attracts diehard connoisseurs and business leaders for its groundbreaking sustainability efforts, a story that’s close to the heart of fellow Summit Powder Mountain neighbors. Behold, a few pearls of his wisdom.
“I don’t know how many cafes we’ll have in a year’s time and I really don’t care.” – Bryan Meehan
Entrepreneurial? Look for good brands that need help
Startups are tough. Really really tough. “90% of them fail and you’re sweating seven days a week. I realized from doing Fresh & Wild my landlord was making all the money and I wasn’t. After that, I learned through doing real estate that I should be buying a company, not starting one. I’m not a startup genius, but I am a good businessperson who could recognize that Blue Bottle is an amazing brand, and James Freeman is an incredible founder. He knows so much about coffee. He just needed a partner who could help raise money and grow the company.” Meehan recommended those thinking about starting a business to consider a different approach.
Care more about quality than growth
At the end of the day, the quality of your product is all that counts. Early on, Meehan decided to make the crucial decision to pull Blue Bottle Coffee away from wholesalers they couldn’t control. “They simply weren’t putting the necessary care into the effort,” he says. By a pure numbers game, that move cost them 20% of their business overnight. But within a few months, their valuation was higher because the brand quality was stronger. “We care about it all: our baristas, our taste, our guest experience, our impact. People get that. I don’t know how many cafes we’ll have in a year’s time and I really don’t care. What I care about is people in this room respect Blue Bottle Coffee as a company that’s innovating, taking the lead, standing for change, and is being responsible for our products, our baristas, and our team members doing something great.
Use your brand to make the world better
While Blue Bottle Coffee has taken a leading role in reducing plastic and promoting composting, but for Meehan, that’s still not enough. A huge percentage of paper products still end up in landfills. That’s why he’s rolling out a move to make all Blue Bottle Cofee cafes zero-waste operations by the end of 2020. To reach that label, “It’s a bit confusing, but you have to prove that 90% of what you produce in a café doesn’t go to landfills …and we’re confident we can do that.” He’s also launching a pilot program in a select group of cafes where customers won’t be able to get a to-go cup. “You’ll either have to bring your own cup or rent one from us. You can keep it or bring it back…So we’re testing the phycology of human behavior by making people bring a cup to our cafés. We’re a little nervous about it, but we think it’s something that will spark change.” To that end, Meehan is impacting Blue Bottle’s new parent company, Nestle, who they joined forces with back in 2017. As a member of their sustainability committee, Meehan spearheaded the effort to get Nestle to create a 250 million fund that will invest in sustainable companies. “Nestle needs to change, and they need us as much as we need them.” Meehan is vocal about getting his hands dirty in their broader sustainability efforts, and Nestle is welcoming it.