Austin From Scratch, Episode #22: Matt Allen, Founder of CoffeeShark
Austin From Scratch is our favorite series on the blog and involves Owen (age 11) and Malia (age 9) interviewing local entrepreneurs who have created a thriving business here in the heart of Texas. For this session, we sat down with Matt Allen, Founder of CoffeeShark. We choose CoffeeShark because they recently opened shop in our part of town and we now have quick and easy access to quality caffeine and hot chocolate and milkshakes and beer and wine and… (I think you get the picture). We hope you enjoy!
Owen (our 11-year-old son): What were you favorite things to do as a kid?
Matt: I grew up in southern Idaho in a pretty rural town and there were lot of things that you could do in a small town that you couldn’t get away with here. I used to bike all over town when I was your age and we’d play in creeks and we’d chase snakes and we’d do all sorts of stuff like that. But we’d always be outdoors. I also liked to play a lot of sports like golf and baseball and tennis and I was really just an outdoor kid. We were also into video games too but they didn’t command all of our time. In fact, we’d bike to the arcades and play for an hour or so. But overall, I was involved with a lot of outdoor activities.
Malia (our 9-year-old daughter): How did you go about learning as a child?
Matt: I just listened a lot. I was also pretty good at obeying instructions as a kid. Whenever teachers would tell us to study, that’s what I’d do and that’s how I learned. And then when I was in high school, I took the student newspaper class which teaches you how to be a journalist. And it taught me how to ask good questions and how to listen. They used to give us an assignment where we’d have to interview people and I would find out when I got home that if I didn’t ask a lot of good questions, it would be impossible to write the story. So I learned to ask a ton of good questions and it made things much more easy to do. And that’s how I learn today, by asking a lot of good questions and by listening.
Owen: How would you describe CoffeeShark?
Matt: I like to think of CoffeeShark as an oasis in northwest suburbia where you can get great coffee, great local beer and a lot of great stuff the city has to offer that you would typically have to go downtown to find. We bring in a lot of good Austin suppliers to provide all of our goods, like Russell’s who provide our pastries, we have some local breweries that provide our beers and our coffee beans are locally roasted; anything that can be sourced in Austin is sourced in Austin. We try to provide a fun atmosphere for people in this area so they can enjoy the best that the city has to offer.
Malia: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Matt: When I decided to do this about a year-and-a-half ago. (Matt chuckles…) I was in big business for about twenty years, working in the different aspects of a large company … actually a couple different large companies. I started out in Marketing, moved to Transportation, then moved to Finance, then Supply Chain, and finally Product Management. I did that for about twenty years and even telecommuted back to my company in Seattle, but we always used to complain about the lack of a coffee shop here and my wife dared me to do it. And so that’s how this came to be. I didn’t think I’d be an entrepreneur until I realized this is something I really wanted and the only way it was going to happen was if I did it myself.
Owen: What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
Matt: It’s neat how if you want to see something happen, you can make it happen fast. For example, if we want to add a menu item, we can make it happen in a matter of days. If I want to swap a beer out, I can do it immediately. You can really control everything that you have here and you can change it quickly without having to go through a huge bureaucracy to make it happen. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to see the choices you make become part of the establishment as time goes on. For example, when we added a bottomless cup of coffee to the menu, we decided to make those cups red so we could discern between people who buy one cup and people who buy the bottomless option. And I remember when I made that decision, and now I see people all across the shop drinking out of those red cups. That’s the fun part about owning your own business.
Malia: What’s the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?
Matt: When you work for a company and you have a boss, that person typically sets the agenda for you. You don’t usually even have to think about it. When you’re the boss, you’ve always got to be thinking. You need to think about where you want the business to go and your vision for the future. You can never really rest. You’ve got to set the direction for everyone else. And that can be tough at times, because sometimes you want to sit back and relax. And you can’t really do that when you’re responsible for running the business. Also, at a business like this, you don’t really get a weekend because we’re always open on weekends. So Fridays aren’t a big hurrah for me because I know we’re going to be here on Saturday and Sunday. But you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.
Owen: What would you be doing if you weren’t running CoffeeShark?
Matt: I would probably be doing another big business type of job and it would be a bummer. It would probably be a job that would require a lot of travel. And that’s another big reason I did this is because I have kids that are your age. When I was working for a big business, I had to do a lot of travel and that was a bummer because I really enjoy being with my family. I knew that if I did something like this, I wouldn’t have to travel and I could be home every night with my family.
Owen: Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Michael: Yes! Stick with it and be diligent. That was the one thing I had to learn because there a number of things that can distract you and pull you away from what you want to do. You just gotta stick with it and be diligent and know that you can make it happen. Be patient, but be diligent.
Owen: Where did you come up with the name CoffeeShark?
Matt: I’ve been asked that question a zillion times and the truth is not as good as anything people have come up with. My wife thought it would be interesting if we called it Coffee but that would create some real problems if people tried to find us on the internet. My son actually wanted to name it after an animal so we started thinking of animals. His favorite animal is a giraffe but CoffeeGiraffe didn’t sound that great. I believe my wife came up with CoffeeShark and we thought that sounded cool because sharks are cool and my Architect even noted that they’re the most efficient animals on the planet and that sorta fits in with what we do here. And finally, it sounds like CoffeeShop and so that’s why we went with CoffeeShark.
Malia: What’s your favorite coffee drink?
Matt: It’s straight black coffee. It’s about as boring as it gets but that is my favorite drink and I’m very particular with my black coffee. There are a number of good roasters in town, and we’ve tried all of them all but I landed with the one that I thought makes the very best cup of black coffee. The staff will all say they like cappuccinos and stuff like that but I drink black coffee every day and that’s it.
Thank you Matt for the great interview. We hope you java lotta success!