Escaping the Cube

Accountant takes a chance and makes it to the Super Bowl

From bean counter to king of hyper-caffeinated coffee
From bean counter to king of hyper-caffeinated coffee

Less than a decade after leaving his job at the New York State Comptroller's office, Michael Brown is heading to the Super Bowl… sort of. His brainchild, Death Wish Coffee won Intuit Quickbook's "SmallBusiness Big Game" contest. The award: a big-budget 30-second commercial,created by Intuit's agency, RPA that will air during Super Bowl 50. Not bad for a guy who had no career plans when he left his four year stint as an accountant.

"I wasn't the greatest employee," Brown told CNBC. "I'd come in late, try to leave early and I wasn't into my job."

So he quit in 2007 and started searching for another career. About a year later, a store on the main drag in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. went up for sale. Brown bought it with the idea of turning it into a coffee shop even though there were already quite a few java joints in the area. Not to mention, his only experience at that point consisted of working just one day at another caffeine location nearby. Undeterred, he managed to design and open Saratoga Coffee Traders in 2008. The job transition did not go smoothly.

"I went through all my savings and I had to sell my house and pour all my money into my coffee shop," Brown said."Eventually, I had to move in with my mother when I was at the age of 30."

Determined to make it work, he began to look for an additional source of income. The candy he sold at the shop wasn't sweetening the pot enough. He thought real money might be made through online marketing. He just needed a good product with a catchy name. One item he couldn't find listed on the internet was the world's strongest coffee,something many of his customers craved. So Brown set out to create that missing hyper-caffeinated link.

Former accountant Michael Brown created Death Wish Coffee known as the World’s strongest coffee
Source: Elizabeth Chiandusse

First, he looked for the best beans.Then, he tinkered with roasting methods and times. Finally, he experimented with blends. Eventually, he came up with a blend that "made [his] jaw lock up and had a great taste." This was what he had been searching for--a blend that tasted so dangerously strong, it deserved the humorously appealing name Death Wish Coffee.

Thanks to Google ads and Amazon, he sold his first bag of beans before the product was even ready to ship. Still, sales were slow at first, about a bag a week. At that point, customers were mainly buying the coffee for the clever name and logo. Soon, good reviews created a buzz and industry magazines and blogs picked up on the extremely strong, good tasting coffee. An appearance on a national morning show spiked sales so much the company couldn't fulfill all the orders at first. Four to five months later, the Death Wish Coffee operation expanded, moving out of the basement of the Saratoga Coffee Traders shop and into its own warehouse. Now, the company has three warehouses and a large roaster.

Though it's still tiny with less than a dozen employees, the little coffee powerhouse managed to rake in about $6 million in revenue last year. And now, Brown and his crew are gearing up to meet the enormous demand they're anticipating from the Super Bowl ad. They are determined not to be caught empty handed this time.

Another bonus, Brown has finally been able to move out of his mom's house and into one of his own, again.

Mike Brown's recipe for changing professions

-- You can quit your day job without another career in mind

-- Fight for your business beliefs

-- Be willing to find new streams of revenue

-- Don't underestimate the power of a clever name and company logo