Philly Mag’s ThinkFest attracted students, professionals and educators alike to Gerri C. Lebow Hall’s auditorium Nov. 6, including Todd Carmichael, the Philadelphia-based coffee company La Colombe’s owner and founder.
“I’m famous for doing nutty things,” Carmichael said, elaborating that he is a man known for walking from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, crossing deserts and drifting for years in the South Pacific. Although, recently he’s taken on different kind of challenge: running his own business. And according to him, it’s been quite the ride.
In 1999, La Colombe pioneered in a cafe location at 130 South 19th Street, beside Rittenhouse Square. Since then, the company has expanded into three other cities (New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago) but Carmicheal still considers his company’s true home to be Philadelphia. On-stage at Thinkfest he presented his personal theory as to why La Colombe was able to succeed– the big business enterprises, remarkably prevalent in the United States today, are presenting smaller businesses, like his own, with revolutionary opportunities.
But no business, regardless of opportunity, can be successful overnight. Carmichael highlighted that first and foremost startups center around anxiety and exhaustion, much like the stressors he faced during his global survival expeditions. The rapid development and quick-paced nature of modern-day business only allow prosperity if one can recognize the revolution going on in their field. For Carmichael, this meant examining the shift in the food and beverage industry.
“The companies that fed my parents will not feed my children,” Carmichael said to the audience. “That’s not an evolution. That is upheaval. And this is where I believe the biggest opportunities for us as a city, for you as a person, for my company—can be harvested. It’s in revolutionary times.”
Although many of today’s biggest companies see their large size as an advantage, Carmichael, sees “large” as a weakness. When entering business being big becomes a liability, because in order to be successful every company should have two things: vision and values.
“That vision thing is tough to hold onto when companies get bigger,” Carmichael emphasized, elaborating that the popular phrase “too big to fail” can easily transition into “too big to lead” when values disappear from the equation. These are the ideals from which his company La Colombe got their start.
“If your company values transportability and shelf life overnutrition you’re probably too big to lead,” he highlighted.
Referring to those with dreams of dabbling in entrepreneurship, Carmichael concluded his speech, acknowledging that placing his startup in Philadelphia was critical to his business’s successful cultivation.
“We’re going to find our opportunities in upheaval. We’re going to find our opportunities by applying our ideas and our values and our visions,” Carmichael said “…to a time of revolution.”