Life Changes at Death Wish Coffee: 5 Questions with Founder Mike Brown

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Death Wish Coffee

Death Wish Coffee, dubbed “The World’s Strongest Coffee,” has been in business since 2011. Its products include Death Wish Coffee, Valhalla Java, Death Cups and Odin Cups. Located in upstate New York, Death Wish has made a name for itself largely on its claim to being “the strongest coffee on the planet.” In fact, Huffington Post once crowned it the king of caffeine in a piece about coffee. But a single feature can become a liability, so Death Wish has been turning itself into a more dynamic brand.

We spoke with Death Wish founder and owner Mike Brown along with the company’s head of advertising and customer service, Kane Grogan, about the brand’s big break, barrel-aging beans and the threat of  competitors looking to take away the “strongest” title.

brandchannel: After launching in 2011, what was Death Wish’s big break?

Mike Brown & Kane Grogan: After launching, we were mentioned in a few publications, but Good Morning America really put us on the map. Millions of people were introduced to our product and being offered almost exclusively online made it easy to access and purchase. That was a huge deal for us and really jump-started everything.

brandchannel: How does Death Wish fend off threats from competitors looking to become “stronger than the world’s strongest coffee”?

Brown & Grogan: There are always going to be people out there who try to imitate or put their own spin on something that becomes successful—but being the first to the market really helped build a solid base. From there, building a reputable brand has been key. Having awesome customer reviews and loyalty will help keep us ahead of the competition. By offering the best possible product and not sacrificing quality, we have been able to continue to grow.

brandchannel: How often are you asked about the specific make-up of “the world’s strongest coffee” and to what lengths do you go to protect the secret sauce?

Brown & Grogan: People ask us all the time: “What makes it so strong?” and “What is in the coffee?”

We tell people exactly what’s in it, which is two different kinds of coffee beans. The roasting process is key. There are zero additives and nothing artificial, which allows us to have it USDA-certified as organic. We don’t keep too many secrets and have always been very open with people about what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish.

brandchannel: Last year Death Wish started barrel-aging coffee and getting very artisanal with the process. What’s the biggest challenge for your brand switching from a focus on strength to a more dynamic brand personality?

Death Wish Barrel Brand

Brown & Grogan: We have always been innovative at heart—that is how Death Wish was born. We saw a problem, or hole in the market so to speak, and through a lot of experimentation, we were able to fill it. We never thought of stopping there.

The Barrel Brand is something we kicked around for a while and experimented with, and when we thought we had it right, we released it. We keep it as a separate brand under the Death Wish umbrella to avoid confusion. We want to be at the forefront of coffee innovation and really push the limits on what people have been able to accomplish up until this point. We have also started doing seasonal blends that have been received really well by our fans.

We always let the fans speak for us, so if we come up with something and they don’t like it, we scratch it. They are the reason we’ve gotten this far so we usually make all of our decisions with them in mind. Mike actually owns a local coffee shop where Death Wish was born, so the love for all things coffee has always been the driving force behind everything we do.

brandchannel: What’s next in the life of Death Wish?

Brown & Grogan: Back in June, we entered Intuit’s Small Business Big Game contest, where one lucky business will get an all-expense-paid commercial during the biggest game in football. Some 15,000 companies entered and three are remaining—and we’re blessed enough to be included in that three. Huge thanks to all the fans and support! Right now, we have fingers crossed but won’t find out who wins until January.

If we win, it will obviously change a lot for us and introduce our brand to over 100 million people. But even if we don’t win, the contest has put us in front of tens of thousands of new faces, so we are already looking into expanded distribution and product lines. We have some ideas we’ve been trying out that will hopefully see the light of day in 2016. It should be a very good year for us so we’re all really excited!

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