Thursday, April 16, 2015

Intelligence And Coffee

It has been said (at least by me) that coffee is to intel as air is to life.  In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has reportedly recognized coffee, along with sugar and alcohol, as part of the three basic food groups of intelligence professionals everywhere (note I said "recognized" not "approved of"...)

So, it is no real surprise that I am beginning what I hope will be a three part series on the intelligence lessons I have learned running various crowdfunding campaigns with Roast Assured, a project that is not just about coffee but about the perfect cup of coffee.

Roast Assured is a client of our Quickstarter Project here at Mercyhurst.  Quickstarter allows us to match aspiring, energetic college students and their skills with entrepreneurs who need those skills to help get their crowdfunding projects off the ground.

I received a $10,000 grant from the good people at Ben Franklin Technology Partners last year to help local entrepreneurs run some campaigns (and recently received a much larger grant to run lots more campaigns over the next three years).  Since then, I have run five campaigns (three of which are live right now) and have spoken to nearly 30 other potential creators.

What have I learned?

Lesson #1:  Entrepreneurs need lots of intelligence support.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that the number one requirement of an entrepreneur is reliable intelligence about the environment in which they are operating.  Most entrepreneurs know their idea inside and out.  They know all about their current operational capabilities and limitations. Everything else is almost always enshrouded in varying degrees of fog.

To a certain extent this should be expected.  Clearly there are levels of expertise when it comes to entrepreneurship.  Most of the people who come to me are raw and untested. Some of the people I do see come to me better informed than others but I don't see many serial entrepreneurs or experienced business people.  The fundamental truth seems to remain, though, entrepreneurs love their ideas and know them quite well.  The rest ... well ... not so much.

Much of this intelligence needs to be tactical, real time support, however.  I call it "just-in-time" intelligence.  Intel support at this level is all about being able to fill in the gaps immediately and with just enough info to keep things moving.  To put it in terms most national security intelligence professionals will understand, with entrepreneurs, all of the alligators are at your ankles and all of the targets are 50 meter ones.

Roast Assured is a good example of this.  Jack Barton, an expert coffee roaster and the creator of Roast Assured, has a great idea.  He wants to work with people to help them get their perfect cup of coffee.  He knows how different roasts and different grinds and even different flavorings and spices work together (or against one another) to change the taste of a cup of coffee.

What he really likes to do, though, is to put that knowledge to work for people - to help them craft their perfect brew.  He also wants to take it a couple of steps further.  First, he wants his customers to be able to name their coffee.  It can have personal significance, it could be the regular coffee in a small town diner or even the official coffee of some internet start-up. He even wants to work with you and his artists to craft a logo for your brand of coffee!

The bottomline is that it is your coffee with your chosen name on it.  Once you and Jack figure out the perfect blend, your named coffee goes into his database and you can go online and order another pound of Spy Roast (or whatever) anytime you want.

Beyond this, it gets tricky.  Who wants to buy this?  Where can we find him or her? How should we price this?  What's our value proposition?  Who will finance us?  Where can we get this made?  Who are our competitors? And on and on and on!

Virtually all the important questions entrepreneurs have are, at their core, questions about things critical to the success or failure of the project that are largely or completely outside the entrepreneur's control - in short, intelligence questions.  

One problem, of course, is that these raw, untested entrepreneurs don't typically have the money to pay for this kind of intel support.  This problem is unlikely to go away.  A second problem is that most of the entrepreneurial literature and many of the entrepreneurship training programs don't expose creators to the kind of intel tools and skills that could be so helpful in getting their projects off the ground. 

Next:  Intelligence And Cookies