Season’s Greetings Everyone!
Dec 12, 2009
Thoughts on business on Slayer on the past and future year.
This post is rather a rambler.
So before going further, I want to thank you all for your support this year. 2009 was an epic year for us. This was the year we completed designing, and finally introduced, and began building the Slayer. For over two years prior we’d been working toward 2009.
And our work continues. We continue to fine-tune Slayer. There are some components that we are improving and some features that we are adding in 2010 to make the machine better yet. These improvements are based on what we’ve learned from the field, from cafe operators using Slayer in the real world.
Many people have experienced both espresso and brewed coffee on Slayer already. Even more will hopefully get the chance when we introduce a brand new brew mechanism early next year. Over the past few months my attention has been galvanized on getting this work completed, which has been both exciting and all-consuming!
So what does 2010 look like?
World events over the last year have opened the eyes of many people. I know they’ve opened mine. The bank crashes and economic slowdown have made me wonder at times, “What’s it all about?” If you run a cafe, there’s a good chance that a significant number of your customers have seen their jobs disappear, their livelihoods diminished, or even their homes foreclosed. How many laptop campers in cafes are actually searching for work as they sit there?
Like me you’ve probably also watched with wonder as small business owners and cafe operators struggle while larger corporations are floated on billions of taxpayer dollars.
As events of the last year have unfolded I have been considering what the point of business actually is? Both in terms of Slayer and in the larger context too. I know that the obvious answer is to make money, to make a living, to pursue a dream even. But at the root of the concept of business-as-usual lies this notion of growth, of profitability at any cost. These ideas are mainly latent until something sets them off. Perhaps the whiff of success?
How do you grow profits more, how do you reduce costs a little bit further, how do you take market share? For most businesses addressing these questions rarely results in a destructive corporate behemoth emerging. Most small businesses remain small. But the idea of growth, of expansion, of hegemony over a market influences our individual thinking and the choices we make with respect to “efficiencies” in sourcing, cost reduction, and most importantly the role of people in the “organizations” we are shaping.
Taken too far, “positive steps” can actually mess up the product at the root of the business itself.
The ideas of mass production, of specialization of labor, of analyzing financial statements shapes our thinking (shapes my thinking) more than I care to admit. Conventional business school wisdom says that if your business is not growing, it is dying. To live, growth must continue and it must be growth over the previous year, and be measurable on an income statement, so it must be denominated very specifically in dollars.
Other things like expanding institutional wisdom, developing the ideas and skills that could someday result in new products, insight & experience, or just plain making friends are not easily tallied on an income statement any more than cleaner air or healthier trees are. Ironically, some of the very qualities that people seek & pay for when they visit a third wave cafe are considered of no value in the context of conventional business operations, or at least can not be tallied with real precision by the yardstick of dollars.
One of the aspects of Slayer that I like has been our focus on building a great machine as part of a profound interest in coffee and the people who make a life of sourcing and preparing some of the rarest coffees on Earth. So far, in the last six months or so, we have built and sold around forty Slayers to individual cafe owners and a bunch more are on their way. Each of these machines has been crafted by hand from components that for the most part we designed and built ourselves.
There are many more Slayers needed in the world because of the unique functionality of this machine. But not 10,000 machines. Probably not even 1,000. In all honesty it is not a machine for everyone. Which is not to say Slayer is an elitist product. But it’s value is primarily to those who see the possibilities of coffee in new way, as a boutique culinary preparation–with powerful cultural overtones. We build Slayers so they are valuable to you long after your business has fully depreciated the book value of the item itself. If there is a Stradivarius in specialty coffee, Slayer could very well turn out to be it.
Keep it and pass it on.
That being said, do you ever wonder how products like a Stradivarius violin would be built under the wisdom of our current business thinking? It is hard to imagine. How would a man, a workshop, a group of master craftsmen, ever survive today? How would they establish a reputation for fusing a profound interest & understanding of the principles of playing a violin, with the art & craft of making the world’s greatest violins? If he lived today could Stradivarius take his concept of production to a bank to get a loan to grow? Would he even need to?
So on that note, Happy Holidays everyone and best wishes for the New Year!
As always, my thoughts and good wishes are with you!
See you at the studio in 2010!