The Calm Before the Entrepreneurship Storm

It was about three months ago in a small coffee shop on Telegraph Avenue when I felt this intuition-feeling arose, ‘I should run a coffee shop.’

I know.

After all the years studying to become a doctor, I was going to give it up to run a coffee shop. Even I thought it was pretty crazy, but I stopped arguing with that intuitive part of myself that’s always been wiser than my thinking mind. The difficult task was not convincing myself but convincing others.

The small number of close friends supported me from the get go because they trusted who I am instead of what I am doing. However, I faced a great deal of skepticism from the most. If I got a penny every time someone kindly encouraged me to return to medicine, I could have bought a venti espresso drink from Starbucks with that money.

I kept on going without the reasoning. I had my intuition telling me I was supposed to make coffee. I thought to myself, ‘the whys and hows will come later.’

I read a ton of books. I started drinking coffee daily. Then I started making coffee daily. I worked on the business plan.

I kept busy, but I was aimless for the first two months; the biggest problem was that, of the thousands of tasks a successful entrepreneur must complete, I didn’t know which ones needed to be tackled first.

Looking back, I can identify a few key events which directed me in the right direction.

First was the trip to Grand Rapids to visit Schuil Coffee. It forced me to build the prototype Kup-Fu platform, which I finished the night before I left. Along the trip, I began making coffee to strangers for the first time. I made ton of elevator pitches to new friends who were curious about what I was doing. Then I visited Schuil roasting plant where I learned a lot more about making coffee.

On the last day of that visit, I finally convinced Tim Witting – an old friend who, up until that trip and the first sip of 1Cup, was very skeptical. I returned triumphantly home to Oakland – now with first business trip under my belt.

At this point, the first potential investor requested a copy of the business plan. This got me to work on the business plan as much as I could. What I sorely lacked was a set of milestones which would help me figure out where I needed to focus my limited time and energy. I wrote down a business plan from the beginning to the end – which brings me to the second key event – the first milestone.

As a side note, I realized a real milestone is the event which changes my daily activities as an entrepreneur. Up until the first milestone, I was in a massive, 3-month long brainstorming session. The first milestone changed my activities from brainstorming to putting things into action.

1Cup Week was a public event to showcase Kup Fu as a performance art of making coffee, which took place in early October on Center Street in Berkeley. My primary goal was to become proficient enough to make coffee at 25 cups per hour. By the end of the week, I was actually up to 77 cups per hour before the Berkeley city officials forced me to close shop.

1Cup Week
1. Validated Kup Fu as a valid way of making coffee fast
2. Gave a street sense of future customers
3. Provided an opportunity for an unsolicited meeting with a potential investor
4. Identified rate-limiting step in Kup-Fu which was having a constant source of water at the ideal temperature.
5. Realized the need to file away intellectual properties created from 1Cup activity.

By the end of 1Cup Week, there was no questioning that 1Cup was going to happen; it was just a matter of how and when.

The third key event was the first real investor meeting, where a Kup Fu presentation was made in a conference room with private investors. To be ready, I had to really polish up the game, and to talk about 1Cup became as natural as telling a story. I had to get ready all the things a business needs to legitimize itself – a business logo, business card, and a polished website.

The investors and I will meet again in about a month’s time – after I’ve filed away the patents. And apparently with bigger players next time.

Today, I have also gotten an unsolicited inquiry from an overseas business person who has seen the website. On Thursday, I will be meeting a coffee industry veteran of 45 years, who plans to introduce me to a local large-scale roaster and its president.

This past week, I have really been feeling like 1Cup was taking a life of its own. The force behind 1Cup was now beginning to take shape outside of my mind and will. I can feel the calm before the storm that is going to be 1Cup towards the end of this year.

There must be a phrase people use to describe this phenomenon…. things beginning to shape on their own with momentum beyond the initial stages of a startup.

I’m pretty sure I’ll come across it in a book soon.