Wait or Work – Nicholas Haffter Von Heide’s Origin Story

Shakespeare can’t spell. You’ve heard that, right? I think I saw a meme that explained it.


That’s how legends are born, though. People get lazy with facts and share the part of the facts that gets the biggest rise out of their friends, since that’s the ultimate goal any of us have for learning anything. We want to tell stories.


The trouble with this particular “fact” about Shakespeare is what it leaves out. The first thing it leaves out is the dependent clause. What Shakespeare couldn’t spell was “his own name.” Because in reality one of the very few examples of what Shakespeare wrote was his signature. The copies of his plays we have weren’t even written down by him. They were written down by journalists interviewing his acting troupe after Shakespeare died. So we have a lot of examples of his signature, and he rarely wrote his name the same way twice. So what people are misquoting (since dependent clauses really slow down the conversation at a party) is the sentence “Shakespeare couldn’t spell his own name.”


Hold on, though. What’s it even mean to spell something wrong? That’s what I want to know. Because “wrong spelling” implies the existence of “right spelling.” In order for spelling to be right, though, there has to be some manner of authority regulating accuracy.


In the case of spelling and misspelling, we need dictionaries telling us what’s “right.”


The first English dictionary was published on 15 April in 1755. It was written by a grumpy critic and scholar called Samuel Johnson in the upper rooms of a London coffee shop (the coffee and its shop were a necessary part of the process). Thing was, Shakespeare died in 1616.


So any wrong spellings in Shakespeare’s plays (not his fault to begin with, since we have no copies of his manuscripts anyway) are wrong only retroactively. Shakespeare was incapable of spelling things wrong, because correct spelling hadn’t been invented yet.


Which is the power of the coffee shop. The genius of a singular mind is reduced to specious nitpicking, because all of us hobbyist scholars need SOMETHING to do at our local café.


Samuel Johnson didn’t probably MEAN to give internet culture the ammunition to be all elitist about knowing how to spell better than Shakespeare. It just worked out that way. His coffee-fueled frenzy has had long-lasting impact on the coffee-fueled conversations forever after.

Coffee-Fueled Frenzy


That seems to be a feature of coffee-fueled frenzies. As a hobby, coffee has a side- effect of thinking. No matter what kind of coffee you like, there’s a few minutes of attentiveness that comes with every cup. When forced to spend a few minutes paying attention to the same thing on the regular, our minds—natural wanderers—seek connections. We look for stories. Where does our coffee come from? Why does it cost three dollars for a cup of coffee but I can get a whole pound for twelve dollars? The math is weird. Why are they all called after obscure places? And where is Sumatra anyway? Are they beans like green beans are beans? Or more like peanuts?


Coffee is mysterious. And it doesn’t offer a lot of answers in itself. So coffee ends up as a gateway into a wider world knowledge, because it suggests questions and it forces a little bit of focus.


A lot of people I know use “To fuel my coffee addiction” as an ironic excuse for little things like holding down a job. Coffee invites that kind of humor.


Nicholas Haffter Von Heide used it as an entirely un-ironic business philosophy.


Nicholas has had a few tipping points in his career, each of them falling like pebbles at the top of a hill and leading eventually towards a decision to use coffee as a tool for world change. An aspiration shared with many coffee addicts, I think. Speaking as one, I often wish my addiction to coffee would be so kind as to change the world for the better. Since I’m going to drink the coffee anyway, it’d be awfully convenient if I could help the world grow into a better place by getting my daily caffeine. Well, a possible way to do it may be in the hands of Haffter Von Heide.


His first tipping point happened when he started Point Blank Coffee to fuel his coffee addiction. He may have had some inklings where he’d go with it someday, but in his own words funding his coffee addiction was the highest goal of his first company.



Big changes need big tools. And Nick’s opportunity to flesh out a skeletal idea came in 2017 when he attended a veterans conference likewise attended by a great many people who had guiding power over the supply lines of 7-Eleven. At this conference, Nick heard a keynote speaker talk about the principles of delivering an effective pitch (principles which, maybe, he’ll outline for us). At the same conference, Nick delivered his pitch for expanding his coffee cravings. It must have been a good pitch, because, a long story made short, he ended up with a deal to supply coffee to nine thousand 7-Elevens around the world by 2018.


At that point, he pivoted his business into Fresh Pressed Coffee Company.


The Next Even Bigger Thing


So that’s cool. That’s interesting. But the main reason it’s valuable to this story is it gave Nick the resources he needed for the next big thing.


Because the next big thing was a disruption of the world’s supply lines. Nick had a deal with one big farm in El Salvador. He got all his coffee from this one farm and redistributed it to those thousands of 7-Elevens.


In early-ish 2020, though, shipping in and out of El Salvador was greatly restricted when folks reacted to Covid 19. No more coffee for Nick.


Unless he changed how he did business.


At this point, Nick’s been in the coffee business for a while. He’s seen supply lines. He knows where the coffee comes from. Whenever you buy a cup of coffee, he knows how those three to five dollars gets split up and who gets paid.


Know who doesn’t get paid well? I’ll tell you who. But in a second.


During 2020, Nick could have kicked back and chilled out and not worried about anything, if he wanted. He didn’t NEED to involve himself in the goings-on of the world.


That’s a funny word, need. Our “needs” are often defined as things without which we will die. Food, water, shelter. And then other things are “wants.” That seems to be the attitude.


Sometimes, though, thoughts occur to us that we feel with equal urgency as that stuff on the “needs” list. You ever experienced that? All of your “needs” have been met, but you have people in your life who “need” something too. Or maybe they’re not in your life—you just know about them. Or maybe they don’t “need” it now, but you can see down the road and you know they’ll “need” it later.


Nick could have sat around, eaten cookies, drank the coffee in his personal supply, and enjoyed the fact that his personal needs were met.


But he has a family. And he has two eyes, and he has an awareness of the realities of the business he’d wormed into. That and he’s a citizen of the universe, which is full of people, some of them asking for help—many of them failing to ask but with needs anyway.


So here’s Nick. He’s bright, and he’s part of a global community of coffee addicts. We all vote (in the most powerful way we can: with our pocket books) in favor of a continued stream of our favorite substance to ourselves. That means there’s a global community, spiting all national borders, united in a single dream and vision, and everyone dependent on coffee is part of it.


Where does coffee come from?


That’s pretty cool. And Nick happens to know most of the mysterious stuff that the rest of us just wonder about. He has the answers to those questions about a cup of coffee that we all just sort argue about.


The sad secret is that at the root of the chain between your coffee cup and the earth is a farmer who, usually, isn’t getting a good deal. There are complex mechanics involved, but basically when a big company buys coffee, they buy it for pennies on the pound, and at a rate failing to keep up with inflation. Meaning that farmers make very little money from your cup of coffee. Middlemen make the most money from coffee, because most of us who love coffee see twelve, fifteen bucks for a pound as reasonable. Most of that’s going to the buyers, though. Not to the farmers.


For my part, I hope that the farmers get more of those fifteen bucks. I would love it if coffee farmers didn’t see a reason to burn all their coffee plants and switch to more profitable crops. I like coffee. I would love to know that the plantations are staying in business.


Nick thinks the same thing. So in 2020, when forced to pivot his business, when he couldn’t get all his coffee from the same farm in El Salvador, he came up with a more fair way of securing coffee. He pitched it to a bunch of plantations all over the world (more than a thousand), and secured contracts to buy coffee and give a much better deal to the farmers. And if they get a better deal, it improves the entire community where that plantation does business.


Having set up this situation, he started to look for causes to partner with. Why? Because if you filter some of the greed out of the chain between you and the plantation where your beans grow, then there’s more money to spread around. It’s a strange formula, but less greed means more money. Not sure how that works, but there you are.


Nick’s tipping point, his superhero origin story, came as the result of a decision. He meditated over his caffeine-fueled coffee addiction and discovered the complex world it makes and comes out of, and decided to change the world.


It sounds like a lot of work to me. WAY too much work. But the way he puts it, he had a choice between sitting around and eating cookies or making a better world for his kids to live in.


Buzzwords


The reason it’s satisfying to make jokes about how Shakespeare can’t spell is because of the difference between doing something correct and doing something good. We have the ammunition to make these jokes because of Samuel Johnson and his invention. We can appeal to an authority and say which words are “wrong.”


The problem here is the fluidity of language. “Meaning” is in communication, not in definition. Which means that words “mean” more than the dictionary says they do.


Take the term “sustainable.” There is a context where the word doesn’t have the definition from an English dictionary. In the context of the corporate world, “sustainable” suggests a whole world of meaning. It conjures a whole culture—a whole image.


For most of us, it conjures a warm sense of a company’s values, doesn’t it? We hear they have sustainable practices and we know that means they’re responsible, caring people who want the world to be a better place and to treat everyone fairly.


Right?

That may be true sometimes. The trouble is with marketing. I can say this because I’m on the dark side: I’m in marketing. One of our superpowers is keying into hip concepts and coopting them to improve the profitability of the people signing our paychecks. If I had no conscience, and I was as clever as I am, then that would be a really wicked superpower to have.


Sustainable business practices have become a set of buzzwords. In themselves, buzzwords aren’t evil. If you are genuine in your pursuit of them, they’re great.


The danger is when they’re coopted by a group of people who want to buy a particular segment of the audience. They use hip terms and grab a lot more eyes that way.


I can say that as a marketing person.


Nick said it as a corporate mogul, of sorts. The way he put it is that so often “sustainable business practices” means “sustainable for them.” Not for the farmers— not for me, the consumer. For the people making money.


There are a few buzzwords like that—perfectly fine words, according to the dictionary—that have been coopted (and misused, mostly for marketing purposes) by people trying to grab a particular set of eyeballs. You might be one of them.


Nick’s got this list of buzzwords that he aims to supplant. Instead of sustainability, his word is “viability.” Make the whole chain between your cup and the plantation viable at every stage. Because if each link is strong, then the whole chain will work.


That’s his angle. ... Maybe I should switch to decaf.


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