12 Things we learned from the CEO of Philz Coffee about running a business

At antedote we value learning from other people and discussing ideas and different philosophies in order to move forward and become smarter about how we work. While our core business tenants are unchanging, in practice we’re constantly “feeding forward” and looking for new ways to innovate on ourselves—this could be anything from regrouping midway through a project to check in on the method, or asking for suggestions on how we can each grow personally as leaders, team members, and consultants.

Phil Jaber

We also believe that it’s through feeding the mind and soul that we grow and innovate, and one of the great things about working in a collaborative environment is that we can bring people in and learn from them. Most recently, Phil Jaber, the founder and CEO of Philz coffee came to talk to us about lessons he’d learned in starting and building a business. Phil is someone who has not only started a business from the ground up, but continues to practice what he preaches and is genuinely motivated by his true love: coffee. His first coffee shop opened 2003, and today his 16 coffee shops are known as a place for people to come, watch a barista make their coffee and chat for a bit, sit and enjoy a delicious, quality cup, and leave with their spirits lifted. While there’s a lot we could say about Phil and his skill in building a thriving business from a passion and a vision, we gathered 12 pieces of real-world advice from chatting with him, all of which inspired us; we hope they inspire you too.

  1. Observe and watch people. Great insight and innovation can begin with observations. It’s important to stop, take your own pulse, and pay attention to what is happening around you. Phil does this by visiting coffee shops—one of his Philz locations or a competitor’s coffee shop—and simply observing customers, staff, and the general mood or atmosphere. Not all businesses can literally watch how their competitors work, but everyone can pay attention to their own business and take some time to gather learnings from the industry as a whole through external resources.
  2. Know your business from the basement to the roof. If you have the skills to do every job in this business, then you are especially capable to run the business and know what is happening at all times. As a leader, you have to be willing to do what needs to be done—whether it be making the coffee, delivering a project with the team, or writing a proposal. If you’re experiencing every part of the company yourself then you can work to make it better.
  3. In your free time, baptize yourself in coffee. For Phil this means getting to know coffee and spending time with coffee. At antedote we always recognize the importance of what we do with our down time, and how this ultimately fuels the work we do for our clients. Real life experiences—whether it be trawling through the grocery store, wandering through an art gallery, or burying your face in the latest novel—all serve to fine-tune our skills. If you keep your eyes and ears open all the time in a way that comes naturally to you, you will be gathering valuable data and have new opportunities to make more and more connections—which are essential to innovation.
  4. The best employees are people who are working for the future. Phil describes this as looking for employees who have a vested interest in the future of the business. At antedote we feel the same and actively seek to hire people who want to be a part of creating something bigger than themselves. As a business we share a common passion for the work that we do and how we do it. We often say, “bring your whole self to work” – because the business, its culture, and the people in it grow when everyone is present.
  5. Phil says to his employees, “We hire, you fire yourself.” At antedote we provide the infrastructure and support that employees need, but ultimately we believe in personal leadership and personal responsibility, which includes individuals taking charge of their destiny–from chasing the projects they want, to developing their skills and expertise.
  6. Phil tells his employees, “It’s very hard to work for me, but I’ll show you how to do it and then give you freedom.” It’s up to the people running the business to set the vision and objectives, and then to give employees freedom to figure out how to achieve that vision. This helps people enjoy the process, constantly learn in their own personal way, and ultimately flourish as individuals and leaders. At antedote we couldn’t agree more. We believe the leaders of the business set the vision and the goals, and it’s the team that works together to ensure we get there.
  7. You have no time for drama; it’s just actions that count. Phil put it best when he said that if you’ve got an idea and you talk about it for a month you’ve wasted 30 days. If you’ve got an idea and you implement the idea, in a month you’ve got a market case for what worked/didn’t work and what needs to be improved. At antedote we value beta testing over talking, and the sharing of unfinished ideas over one perfected solution. We apply this philosophy in everything we do, which helps us stay ahead as a business and give our clients the best ideas.
  8. “Hire people who want your job, believe in your vision, and have the skills to do what you do,” Phil says. The greatest honor is for someone to be hungry for your job and eager to grow into your role. You don’t want people who are content with the skills they have, because this mindset does not move a business forward. At antedote it’s important that we as individuals are constantly learning, growing, and evolving. The same goes for our work—what is the next or better thing we can bring to our clients, and in turn their customers, and how can we help them get there?
  9. Build partnerships with your suppliers and vendors. Creating partnerships creates opportunities for better collaboration, and keeps you in a place where everyone is willing to help out. Focus on doing your job the best you can do with the other person’s best interest in mind. If your goal is to look good, then you are not focusing on the task at hand. Once again we share this philosophy of Phil’s, and at antedote we work hard to create partnerships up and down the customer journey.
  10. Do what you do, do what you love, and think positively, and the money will follow. It’s essential to work with both vision for the business but also with purpose. If you become focused on how to package something in a way that makes more money, the experience will not be enjoyable for anyone, and the quality of work will suffer. At antedote our focus is on delivering great work to make clients happy, which makes us happy and leads to better business partnerships.
  11. Hear others, but listen to yourself, because you’re the one who’s running the business. What we like most about Phil’s choice of language is the word “hear” in contrast to the word “listen.” Anyone who has ever run a business knows that there is an endless stream of data flowing from employees, clients, and consumers, and sometimes it’s at odds with your gut.

At antedote, we value data, analysis, insight, and our instincts too—and these are muscles we exercise for ourselves as well as our client partners. We at antedote were inspired by the stories that Phil shared and were encouraged that so many of his ideas were aligned with our own. Perhaps one day our story will inspire other businesses, too.

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