Ripple [hearts] baristas

Looking for something to do on Thursday nights? Wanna see something you probably haven’t seen before?

Come on out to Octane on Thursday night at 9:00 and watch a barista throwdown. What the hell is a barista throwdown?

Well, this is what baristas do for fun.
They have latte art competitions. With rules. Money goes into a hat, winner takes
all. It’s hard to explain why it would be cool. But it is. So cool that Ripple is the Platinum Sponsor ( the Platinum Sponsor I say!) Here’s a video of an
impromptu one last Friday.

octane latte art throwdown from chemically imbalanced on Vimeo.

See an art form you probably didn’t know existed, have a few beers, and watch the future rock stars, artists, and scientists of this century making the most of their college job.

5 steps to saving lives (or your business)

This is maybe the most important article I have ever read.

I’m not kidding. And I read a lot of articles.

This is an astonishing testimonial to the power of putting aside your pride and realizing that systems COMBINED with smarts is exponentially powerful.

The takeaway: Checklists prevent problems. Checklists for things we already think we are good at.

In this case, literally thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of
dollars were saved at just a handful of hospitals using a simple
5-point checklist – for stuff everyone already "knew."

The article is just plain interesting for it’s own sake, but it also
begs the question: What simple steps might we take that would save
untold hours of time, and make dozens of clients happier, safer, and
more productive?

Octane and a Great Brand


Probably the most succinct definition of what a brand is comes from Marty Neumeier in Zag. He says a brand is:

A person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.

I have always marveled at the completeness of the Octane brand. How perfectly Octane everything is. How authentically Octane everything is.

The Octane brand isn’t really about the things often associated with "brand." They don’t do much advertising or traditional marketing at all. It’s all about…everything else. The people they hire, the art on the wall, the music playing overhead, the customers they choose to attract.

The thing about Octane is that you can tell what they are all about the first time you walk in. You know what it’s like by simply talking to someone who works there. More often by someone who goes there. Octane passes the gut check.

The lesson about brand is universal. Your brand is what are, not what you say you are. More branding is done every time you hire someone than in a year of marketing communications and advertising. Marty gives a last piece of advice about building your brand that Tony and Diane knew before they even started:

(Your brand is) a strategic filter for questions like “What should we do? What should we make? Who should we make it for? Who should we hire? How should we behave?”

A culture of ass-kicking at Octane

So I was talking to Ben, a barista at Octane, and he was explaining that he has passed the first phase of their new certification. He was pretty proud. As well he should be. Their certification is hard as hell. So I asked him "why do you do it? Do you get paid more?" I mean I knew he didn’t, but I was curious his answer. "Because I want to be the best at what I do."

Almost everyone at Octane feels the same way. Inspired. Inspired to be the best. And that’s just hard to do. Is it like that where you work? I know it isn’t like that at most coffee shops I go to. At Octane it’s in the culture.It makes it enjoyable to be a customer there, and as someone who finds businesses fascinating, I enjoy watching it unfold.

I used to think Tony and Diane were passionate people about their coffee shop. Then I thought they were good at finding people. Then I came to realize that they are gifted leaders. They set a vision, without a trace of doubt, to become to best coffee in the world, starting with the Southeast. They asked their people to get on board and they did.

Unwavering leadership and ass-kicking. Oh, and beer.

Product Leadership At Octane

So there is this dilemma that I think nearly all businesses go through. I know we did.

Giving the customer everything they ask for.

When Octane first opened, there was coffee. Then smoothies. Then sandwiches. Then super-large coffee. Then beer. Mixed drinks. I’ve heard people ask for breakfast, greeting cards, and shoes (seriously). At some point it got out of control and Octane was in danger of losing its essence.

Every customer suggestion should certainly be listened to – but not always acted upon. Octane concluded that it’s hard to really stand for something when you’re doing everything.

Tony and Diane decided that they would have product leadership. They canned huge coffees. Killed nearly all the Frappuccino ( sorry, "Coolant") flavors, and pared back the food menu. Smoothies are dead. Less beers, not more. They decided on product leadership, and with less than half the items they sold before, sales are up – not down.

Now, Octane invests in 2 things, best I can tell. Coffee excellence and beer excellence. Their baristas go through ridiculous amounts of training for both. They practice, experiment, and study coffee and beer. They eschew the compromise of huge portions which are in direct conflict with a perfect coffee or espresso drink. They resist the higher margins and numerous requests for Bud Light and Coors and margaritas.

As a customer, I’ll admit I initially found it sort of frustrating. I mean I used to have my own sandwich. I wanted breakfast. Lord knows I would buy shoes there if they sold them. I hounded Tony mercilessly lobbying for what I wanted to see at Octane. Of course that’s why it’s product leadership. Leadership is never easy. But Octane led me to things they never could have otherwise, and I’m grateful for it. I’m more loyal now than I ever was. I talk about Octane more now than I ever did.

In the old world, businesses won by diversifying and expanding product lines. Big mattered. In the new world, it’s just the opposite. Businesses win by kicking-ass.