What I have learned in business

The Last Word



Lincoln Fowler
Co-founder, Colectivo Coffee
2999 N. Humboldt Blvd., Milwaukee
Industry: Coffee roasting and retail
Employees: 500

As co-founder of successful Milwaukee coffee chain Colectivo Coffee, Lincoln Fowler has learned a few things about how to thrive in business. Here, he shares what he’s gleaned over the years.

Failure is critical to success.

“My first business failed. It taught me a number of valuable lessons, among the most important of which was the value of hard work and knowing I could work a problem to death. The second lesson was frugality. When my partners Ward and Paul and I applied for our first line of credit for Colectivo, the bankers had us fill out personal financial statements and couldn’t figure out how we lived on so little. Frugality had been burned into us.

Do your best work.

“You can take frugality too far, though. When we were building our first café and the expenses were reeling out, Ward and I were getting a bit concerned. Paul sat us down and reminded us that, ‘We’re building this to be successful…not because we’re going to fail. We have to do our best work!’ We’ve tried to be true to that for the last 20 years.

Complicated is fun.

“There is an unofficial saying at Colectivo: ‘We’ve never met an idea we couldn’t complicate.’ Our original intent was to build a simple café, but we realized we needed to roast coffee as well to ensure freshness and quality. When the cafes needed pastries to accompany the coffee, we decided that opening a from-scratch bakery would be a great idea. When our interiors needed lights, why buy stock when you can custom make them? Outdoor furniture? Sure, let’s make that, too. It is not complication for its own sake…it keeps it interesting for our customers and our staff (and for me, too!). We want our workplace to celebrate the artisanal city it was born in … plus, all that extra attention keeps it fun.”

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