I hung out with my friend at the Google office today, and I couldn't help but feel awestruck by the espresso machines in every micro-kitchen, two on every floor.
On the eighth floor, there was an island called the "Coffee Lab", a dedicated pour over station with multiple Fellow Kettles, a Mahlkonig EKK43, and multiple Kalita 185s. After a gaggle of Googlers finished their coffee break, I waded over to check out the set up.
Eight different coffees from Variety Coffee rested in Atmos containers, with neat labels describing the tasting notes of single origins, blends, and decafs. I wondered if the staff felt annoyed while restocking these 200g containers every day, and then I thought that they probably didn't restock the coffee daily. I'd be impressed if they did.
The pull-out drawer beneath the marble tabletop held an Aeropress and multiple sets of paper filters, again neatly organized and labeled. The adjacent drawer, the real treasure chest, held coffees owned (or contributed?) by Googlers. These coffees were labeled by means of sticky note, containing the owners's work handles, scrawled in under-practiced handwriting. Feeling like I had discovered someone's underwear drawer, I quickly slid the drawer shut. I still managed to catch a glimpse of Regalia in the mix, though. Nice choice karfgen@.
As I listened to the high-pitched screaming of bastardized milk steaming on the other end of the kitchen (that side had two espressos: a fruity single origin and a nutty blend, fully dialed-in on E65s with labels warning against making adjustments to the grind settings), I couldn't help but think about my friends who had taken out loans to afford espresso equipment in their cafes.
I wondered if the last two years wandering without a corporate job were worth it. I wondered if I should quit the coffee thing, the entrepreneurship thing, and PM at a company with free lunch and espresso machines.
After an unremarkable Q3 of 2022, I took time to pause and think about Polycentral as a business. Selling other people's coffee meant my margins were too thin, and I wasn't aggregating enough demand because I didn't have a clear marketing strategy. It didn't seem like VC-funded coffee marketplaces Trade and Bottomless were profitable either.
In the last two months, I've thought about my future in coffee, and despite loving it deeply and dearly, I don't want coffee to define my career. I haven't figured out what this looks like just yet; maybe I'll have more to say in the future.
Yet, despite drinking a full cup of a beautiful Tanzania this morning, I still drank my friend's cappuccino (great job, Iris), poured a macchiato for her friend, sipped the batch coffee from the Fetco in the cafeteria (👎), tried the latte by Google's baristas (👍), and poured my own single-origin cortado (Honduras) late in the day. I'm writing this at 11pm, because I can't fall asleep.
I know I can't make a comfortable living in coffee. But I still can't get away.
That's why in 2023, I'm hoping to pivot Polycentral into a business driven by demand. This time, instead of creating a product I would've wanted for myself, I'm using the skills I've learned in SEO and paid media to orient the business around what home brewers are seeking, what my friends in corporate jobs would pay for.
In March, I'll launch a new coffee blog on iracoffee.com, answering questions about pulling espresso and brewing coffee at home, and using SEO keyword research to prioritize content. I'll blog about how that's going behind the scenes here, and demonstrate how to use SEO as a growth channel, from the bottom up.
Simultaneously, I'll start a paid newsletter oriented around tasting different coffees, with step-by-step guides on how to brew the coffee I'm drinking, first on pour over, and later, on espresso. This feels like the natural evolution of Polycentral coffee: my goal is to continue tasting coffees as I have in the past and sharing the exact tasting notes and brew specifications with my audience. My costs will be lower, as I'll no longer carry inventory, and with good-enough marketing, I'll hopefully be able to taste and share new coffees constantly.
If iracoffee.com experiences success by Q4, I hope to start roasting my own coffee, at small scale, with my smoke alarm bagged, but that's as far out as I can imagine.
I hope we can revisit this post one day with all the loose ends tied up. If you have advice on starting an e-commerce brand or being a solo entrepreneur, I'd love your help.