Kansas City. The home of Dorothy and tornadoes, where you might find a yellow brick road that leads to some great and powerful wizard who’ll make all your dreams come true. Well if you’re an entrepreneur in Kansas City, it’s close to the truth.
The Silicon Prairie
I went to Kansas City because I was invited to witness the start-up energy in what is now being referred to as “The Silicon Prairie." I wanted to see if this statement is correct. (sidenote: Google fiber headquarters stands out in the emerging city).
With all the tech start-ups that I was introduced to including a smart global stock-trading app, I veered off the tech path and met up with Bo Nelson, a close friend who just started a coffee roasting company called “Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters.” This is not just any roasting company; not at all. This self-funded operation started in a garage 18 months ago with a broken heart and a dream. The broken heart came from a twisted romantic relationship that was like a spider web, and the dream came from a trip to Zimbabwe where he was impacted by the quality of coffee beans.
Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters
Bo is a 6”4 large personality who comes from a horticultural background. He knows his plants and often compares two: coffee and wine. “Wine has many hierarchies and complexities depending on where it was grown, how it was harvested (timing of ripe-ness is critical), and the type of processing. The soil and pollination are two things most people don't commonly think about, but those two factors are of the upmost importance and really give the wine its unique, personal characteristics. Coffee is no different.” He went on to say that most coffee Americans drink is burnt because it’s roasted in such mass, and like wine, the best selections are made on a small-batch scale.
Bo has attracted some good attention and as part of the official launch of his coffee roasting gig he'll be pitching at 1 Million Cups (1MC), an initiative started by Nate Olson of the Kaufman Foundation. 1MC was started with this in mind: What would happen in a local city of entrepreneurs if the city had 1 million cups of coffee (or tea) together? Nice idea. There’s incredible support behind the start-up community for daring entrepreneurs. So if you have a start-up (and people like you), then they invite you over for dinner and will give you free stuff, and will sing you a song, and help you with your idea.
Bo complete with his Tombstone, Wyatt Earp look.
Bo is making plans to scale his coffee roasting machine as he cannot keep the “Thou Mayest” packages on the shelves.
In the two-day window I spent with Bo, we had about 20 cups of exquisite coffee (this was a good thing). On and off he exploded into philosophy about the bean, “The darker the roast, the less flavor there is.” And “Coffee blends are pitiful, it’s like taking a wine and dumping grape juice in it to get some flavor.”
Bo and his partner did a few things right to turn the wheels on their start up:
- Effort/hustle/drive: Bo sold his first batches out of the trunk of his car, door to door, business to business, used friends as connections to restaurants and coffee houses.
He went to select city officials and the leaders in the chamber of commerce giving them the story of good local American made magic and a packet of coffee.
- Upholding a standard of excellence: Thou Mayest rides the passionate story of being “a limited supply of the best.”
- Ethical responsibility—Thou Mayest is going beyond "fair trade" and promoting direct trade in third world nations including Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Ethiopia. This cuts out the middle that eats a lot of the profits that should be going to the farmers and communities.
- He started with the bare minimum and a small bit of seed capital. Bo started with nothing, just a coffee hobby in his garage. He found a demand for the product and got serious.
- Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Whether the company succeeded or not, he was going to view failure as an ally (learn from it, and use it to fuel success).
Bo and Bill with their coffee grinder.
Bo and Bill aren’t stopping with just coffee. They’re in negotiations with the city regarding buying a building downtown and turning it into an incubator house for new entrepreneurs in the Kansas City area. Some of the people that are knocking on the doors to be part of this industrial movement are into chocolate making, beer brewing, leather manufacturing, and film design.
“America was made up of people who took risks and developed a craft, and that’s what I want to bring back to this city. My desire is to provide the environment for people to be able to take risks.” – Bo
He’s invested about $25,000 into the company along with his partner, Bill. Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters will shortly become a household name for high end coffee (like vintage wine).
- Tip: Don’t burn the coffee
- Online: Website coming soon, in the meantime, find them on Facebook.
- Philanthropic Impact: In the words of Thou Mayest, "We are doing business with communities who practice ethical responsibilities with their workforce, who give back to their community, and who grow damn good beans."
“We are just 2 dudes who love coffee and experimented ourselves. We were never taught. We wanted to do something with our hands that we were passionate about and it happens to be coffee.”
If you want to experience the taste of Thou Mayest stay in touch—as Bo and Bill will be launching online sales in the coming months.
Posted on January 15, 2013
by Tommy filed under