Death Wish Coffee Company wins big

By Janelle Harb

Features Editor

Every year companies spend millions of dollars to have their ads featured in front of the over 100 million people tuning into the Super Bowl. However, John Swedish ‘99, co-founder of Death Wish Coffee Company recently won a competition to have his very own small business featured during the Super Bowl for free.

QuickBooks Intuit, an accounting software company, recently held this contest for small businesses with the winner receiving a thirty second ad in the Super Bowl, estimated to cost around $4.5 million. In addition to paying for this featured spot, Intuit would conceptualize, as well as pay for the production of the commercial. “Intuit wants to help small businesses,” Swedish said, “they figured the best way to support them is through sponsoring this.

“When we decided to enter [the competition],” Swedish continued, “we had a team of six, maybe seven, at the time. From there we entered, and they took it down to the top 10. After the top 10, it was brought to a public vote. Once the voting ended, they chose the top three vote-getters, and from there, they announced the company with the most votes, and that just happened to be us.

“After three, four, fives years of business, once you find yourself in a position like this, now you’re in front of 100 million people that’s going to fast forward us 10 years into the future, within 30 seconds,” Swedish stated. “We’re already available worldwide, but we’d like to make it more readily available for purchase; our goal is to create an iconic brand. We want to be known for strong coffee, we want to be that dark roast of choice. When people think of a dark, bold cup of coffee, we want them to think of Death Wish Coffee.”

Death Wish Coffee was originally founded by Mike Brown who had previously owned a coffee shop in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. called Saratoga Coffee Traders. When the economy crashed in 2008, the business was not spared and began to go under. This was until Brown, at the request of his customers due to their early commutes, created a signature highly caffeinated, dark roast coffee to sell in order to be able to pay his employees.

It was due to the success of this premiere dark roast that Brown was able to create the Death Wish Coffee Company out of this same Saratoga Coffee Traders store. Once the first online sale had been made in 2011, it immediately began to be pick up traction due to larger media outlets like the Huffington Post and Good Morning America featuring the product.

As a small business, Swedish emphasized the importance of catering to the customer.  “The first thing you want to focus on is your foundation,” Swedish explained. “Your core customer base. With any business, what you’re really looking to do is find a niche that is going to require your product and then create that base. If you have a strong foundation, you can build from there. From that, we were able to create this culture, and we’ve grown pretty fast.

“We put in 20+ hours a day, seven days a week,” Swedish said. “That’s another thing about running a successful business, you almost have to forget to eat, you have to forget to sleep, if you’re working your whole day, it doesn’t become work. If you really love what you do then it doesn’t become work, but you forget to do the essential things like sleep, because you’re so involved in your business.”

The work ethic that Swedish has gained can be attributed to the professors at Canisius that helped him along this path.  “I was a member of Alpha Kappa Psi (the business fraternity on campus). I was a non-business student in a business fraternity,” Swedish said with a smile. “There were a lot of great influences there at Canisius. It helped us be prepared, it was more than just reading things from a book, it was these life experiences that we got because of Canisius.”

Swedish has rightfully earned his place in the ongoing list of successful alumni of the College. Due to its already great successes, loyal fanbase, and firm Canisian roots, Death Wish Coffee Company is bound to create a buzz at this year’s Super Bowl.  Tune in this weekend to support one of our very own Griffs during this monumental moment.


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