Values vs. Ventures — The Reason We Declined to Sell Our Cold Brew Coffee

After a 4-week market test, my wife and I realized we had a real and exciting family business on our hands.

You might think we would take any opportunity — especially free — to market and sell more of our specialty cold brew coffee. That’s what our mentor told us to do anyway. And we were ready to do it…

..until I did a values exercise.

It turns out the one area of my life I felt was suffering most was the one I was about to strain even more.

I decided my family had to come first.

Let me share where we were, how we got to where we are, and where we’re going in case it helps you on your journey.

Past: My Childhood Goal to Start a Food & Beverage Business

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had a goal to launch and run a food business.

I brainstormed concepts and brand names. I designed storefront signs and logos. My second favorite book was about starting your own restaurant. (My favorite book was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.) 📖🤓

As I approached college graduation, my friend and I prototyped Turkish-coffee-based lattes and mochas. We offered samples at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. We were on to something.

Then the naysayers chimed in.

“You can’t start a restaurant. You don’t have any experience.”

“It’s too expensive to start a cafe in Palo Alto. It’ll fail within the first year.”

“Just focus on getting into grad school or get a job in banking or consulting.”

I never gave into naysayers and doubters. In fact, I always used their rhetoric as fuel to accomplish the goal anyway.

This time I listened. Regretfully.

I tabled my coffee business goal in 2004, and it sat dormant in my head for 12 years.

Present: 12 Years Later to Run a 4-Week Experiment

My family and I enjoy taking our kids to farmers markets. I appreciate the hard work and soul each vendor brings to the scene.

One of our favorite vendors is also a long-time friend from Oaxacan Kitchen Markets. I got to know the beautiful family back in my college days and experienced their authentic Oaxacan food at my third-year dorm kitchen.

Zaida runs her market stand in midtown Palo Alto every Sunday. And nearly every Sunday we order the chicken quesadilla for the boys and vegetable tamal for us (all the veggies came straight from the farmers down the strip).

Can’t forget the café de olla. Olla my gosh, it’s good. ☕️🤓

One Sunday in June, the café de olla was off the menu. And the next Sunday. And the next.

I finally asked Zaida why. “It’s too hot!” she said in her charming, vibrant tone.

The wheels turned in my head and I mustered the courage to revive a 12-year old idea…but with a twist.

The following week I pulled Zaida aside after our usual order. I asked her if she’d consider testing our Turkish cold brew coffee on her menu for the hot summer Sundays.

I explained it came in two flavors: Original and Cardamom. The cardamom would complement her cuisine nicely just like the cinnamon in the café de olla.

She was into it. Two weeks later we ran our first pop-up…Zooz Coffee went to market.

My wife and I set a clear purpose: Validate the business viability and personal interest for four consecutive Sundays.

That’s it. We prototyped the experience. We listened to customers. We iterated each week. And we learned.

I’ll share more detail in another story about the 4-week experiment.

For now I’ll simply say it was a blast.

Our family had fun. The boys enjoyed sharing samples with the community. The community enjoyed meeting Zooz himself when we told our story.

Quick Results: Once we adjusted the amount of coffee to brew after Week #1, we sold out every other week with consistent sales.

It all seemed like a no-brainer to keep going. It wasn’t.

By the time Monday morning rolled around, the boys were bummed when I left home for work after not getting much quality time on Sunday. Saturday mostly consisted of brewing the coffee and planning.

Work demanded more of my time and energy. I felt depleted.

During an offsite with my team at Medallia, we all went through a values exercise. You can do a similar activity for yourself:

Values Exercise

  1. Take a few minutes to embrace stillness and mindfulness. Recall fond memories and stories where you felt light, joyful, and fully alive.
  2. Write down as much detail as you can about what you recalled.
  3. Share with a partner who will write down what they hear you say and identify possible values for you.
  4. Accept, reject, or modify what your partner captured.
    Identify your top 5–10 values and score them from 0–10 (0 = isn’t showing up well in your life; 10 = you’re content with how this value is showing up in your life).
  5. Choose the value you’ll focus on improving, and let your partner know how they can help you see it through.

My number one value was family, and my score was awfully low.

You can also use a similar exercise in assessing where you are with your work and life using the method in Designing Your Life, by Stanford d.School professors.

The week before the values exercise, I received an invitation to sell Zooz Coffee at an all-day event in Sacramento with up to 250 people in attendance. I was wrestling with the logistics, travel, and babysitting options most of the weekend.

After the values exercise, I was clear about our decision. We needed a weekend full of family time. Coffee could wait.

Future: What’s Next for Zooz Coffee?

I honestly don’t know right now.

And that’s ok.

I know we enjoyed a fun weekend as a family. It was worth every minute seeing my boys smile and laugh and skip.

I also know this: Whatever we do with the next iteration of Zooz Coffee, it must pass a simple test…

Does it strengthen my family?

That’s the benchmark I choose to use when designing future careers, businesses, and lifestyles.

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