Meet Eric Donovon, Production and Shipping Manager at Death Wish Coffee, the world’s strongest coffee. He talks to us about growing an international eCommerce business that’s been featured on CNN Money, Good Morning America, and Forbes – to name a few – and is taking the coffee world by storm.
Death Wish Coffee became a household name when it won a Super Bowl commercial, introducing the brand to over 160 million viewers. But tell us the backstory. How did the company come about?
Mike Brown, founder of Death Wish Coffee, owned a coffee shop in upstate New York, which he still runs. He kept getting customers asking him for the strongest coffee he had. That was really the impetus for him to start working on a blend of strong coffee that would taste great. When we had that, we got a website up and would take orders from the website. To help get the word out, we were reaching out to bloggers and newspapers and publishers, anyone who could try our coffee out and do a story on us. We knew we had a great product and really believed in it.
What were the challenges starting and growing a new business?
In the beginning, we were doing everything manually. We would package the coffee by hand, and carry it to the post office down the street, stand in line and have them scan it. It was very personal, but also very time intensive.
Getting a brand out is hard work. The most important step at that time was reaching out to people who would be interested in the product, and figuring out how to present the brand within limited resources. Luckily for us, people love coffee, and they love strong coffee!
Getting featured on Good Morning America in 2013 was really the tipping point for Death Wish Coffee. All of a sudden, things changed. We weren’t ready for the success of that. We had a single computer. From a couple hundred a month, there were now thousands of orders coming in. We had been cutting stickers with scissors, and now we were rushing to make all our processes faster to keep up with the demand. There were certainly some mistakes and growing pains!
“We want our customers to be wowed by our coffee, to love the taste, to love the caffeine kick, to love the company.”
Where does your coffee come from?
We source green coffee from India, South America and Africa, working closely with importers to bring the coffee in. We then inspect the product to make sure it’s quality coffee. If it passes the test, we start roasting, right out of our warehouse. We roast around 2,500 pounds a day of coffee! We’re really caffeinated at the office! We then get the coffee ready for sale and ship it to the distribution center, from where it either goes to Amazon or to the consumer who has purchased from our website. From importing to distribution center, our goal is to have the coffee as fresh as possible. We’re continually roasting. We want our customers to be wowed by our coffee, to love the taste, to love the caffeine kick, to love the company.
When people think of coffee, they mostly think of coffee shops. How did Death Wish Coffee go down the online selling route?
Our goal from the get-go was to be an eCommerce brand. We wanted maximum reach. 90 to 95% of our sales come online. From our inception, we’ve been selling from our website and through Amazon. My role is managing the shipping and logistics, running the Amazon platforms, setting up new eCommerce platforms, and handling the retail operations.
“Shipping and taxes can deter people from moving into international markets, but going that extra mile means you have access to a loosely tapped market, which means less competition and more sales.”
When did you start selling internationally and why?
Appearing on Good Morning America was really the game-changer for us. Suddenly all the hard work started paying off and we were getting more recognition. A few months after the show in mid-2013, we got involved in international Amazon sites using Fulfillment by Amazon, as we saw lots of opportunity abroad.
What has it been like selling overseas?
A learning process! I’m still learning about VAT, taxes and duties. Shipping was also a challenge. These two factors can deter people from moving into international markets, but going that extra mile means you have access to a loosely tapped market, which means less competition and more sales. Having partners in place to help answer questions has been really helpful in overcoming that initial hump.
Where are you selling?
Currently we sell all over the world through our website except for Brazil and Russia. Through Amazon, we sell in the US, Canada, and the UK, with goals to be in Japan by early next year. 10% of our sales come from abroad, which is fairly significant and we only expect that to grow. We want to become a truly global brand.
Early on we didn’t even realize we had an option to use a service like World First to save money. Working with TJ and Megan, our account managers at World First, has been really helpful in terms of overcoming the challenges of selling internationally, and the online platform is also very easy to use. We’ve saved quite a bit on all transactions. For example, we sell in the UK and worked with World First to switch money before Brexit, which saved us on the conversion rate, and also meant we didn’t have to wait on Amazon.
What’s next for Death Wish Coffee?
Right now we’re working on different products, including cold brew cans coming to a grocery shelf near you, coffee vodka, and coffee personal care products.
“We want to become a truly global brand.”
If you could give advice to other eCommerce companies and online sellers, what would it be?
Be persistent in reaching out and talking to people. Before we started selling internationally, I had no real experience managing overseas sales and setting up platforms. I’ve really relied on knowledge from experts like World First. Don’t be afraid to ask people who know about selling internationally.
We hope this story inspired you! Get started on your own global success story now.
This article comes from our magazine “E-Commerce Solutions – Insights for Online Sellers.” Download now to read lots more best practices on selling online!
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