In order to feel the full impact of this story, we first have to give the full background of why we exist as a company. Joe and I served at Barksdale AFB between 2011-2019. In that time, we worked closely with two guys that ended up dying by suicide in that timespan. When we looked to start a company after separation, we knew it had to have the purpose of ending Veteran suicide. You see, the military community is fully aware of Veteran suicide. We have quarterly training on it while in the military. So, for us, the mission of raising awareness is only a byproduct of the goal to prevent suicides from ever happening.
Joe and I probably established a measurement of success that differs from many businesses. To this day, we have not taken a dollar from 22 Sierra Coffee Co. Not because we aren't profitable, but because we continue to reinvest into growing our platform and network. Whether that is through sponsoring events, expanding our product lines (looking at you K-Cups), etc., we know that our brand awareness will ultimately be what makes a difference in the fight we set out to fight. On the day we had our whiteboard session to draw out the early business model, there was one thing that could have been written in permanent ink: "Above all other things, we will not be successful until we can connect one life saved to our work."
By standard business measures of success, 22 Sierra has been extremely successful in our first five and a half months. We have month over month growth, are profitable, and we are able to give back. Sometimes, we get asked if we are so public about every little dollar we donate because we are seeking attention. To this, we always answer that we are seeking credibility and trust. Unfortunately, not all companies that say they exist for a cause or benefit organizations supporting the Veteran and First Responder communities actually do.
Living the Cause
Joe and I did not have intentions of becoming a support line for Veterans and First Responders. This isn't because we don't want to be there if somebody needs us; it's because we are busy and never want to not be there if somebody needs us. Neither of us are at a point with our own mental health to have something happen to somebody because we missed a call. This is the number one reason we sought a partnership with organizations that can be. However, we did not want to use the partnerships to allow us to take a passive approach to helping Veterans and First Responders. We have sponsored a few events in our short life as a company with more coming up. We feel it's too easy to let a portion of profits go to an organization each month, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But, similar to why we post a picture of each donation, we want to be seen at these events despite the high costs of attending and sponsoring them to show that we actually live the Cause. We also try to be involved in the local communities (plural, because Joe lives in North Carolina and I live in Missouri). This includes setting up at the weekly Farmers Market. In these forums, we are able to tell our communities why we exist as a company and how drinking our coffee really does make a difference in the lives of Veterans and First Responders.
A Plea for Help
On October 20th, I received this email:
As soon as I saw the email, I replied with my number and asked him to call me. I followed up the next morning and then unfortunately missed his call and voicemail. Luckily, he responded to the email on the 22nd (of all dates) and Joe and I ended up having a conference call with him. I'm not sure who was more nervous in the moment, him or us. But, we talked. We asked tough questions. We gave our perspective. We were direct. "You're valued and you're not alone. You're worth it."
We learned that his wife had gotten a business card from me at the Farmers Market and slipped it in his wallet. A Farmers Market where we may have sold two bags of coffee but handed out 20 business cards. After trusting he was in a good enough spot, we set up a group text and scheduled weekly phone calls and got off the phone. We provided the Stop Soldier Suicide case manager number and a link to the 22 Until None resources. We texted over the next week and hoped hours of no response was due to him driving (he's an over the road driver). This past Thursday, the 29th, he called at the scheduled time. Let me say this. You cannot fake tone. Between that first call and this one, I believe we were speaking to a different man.
And we were. We were speaking to a man in a dark spot with suicidal ideations who reached out for help. He broke the stigma and fear of being judged and reached out for help. On this last phone call, we saw first hand the impact these resources can have on a person's life. He told us that the past week had been one of the best he's had in a long time. He was getting better sleep. He was able to drive more miles and earn more for his family. But, above all, he was positive. He had something to look forward to. Yesterday, I was able to meet our new friend at the Farmers Market. We have lunch plans for the next time he is in town.
We started this company because the suicides of our friends affected us enough to inspire us to do so. Nothing will bring them back. We know that. But, all we can do is honor them with the lives we lead and the business we own. Today, I was able to text one of their mothers (text, because I wouldn't have been able to get through a phone call) and tell her that somebody's life had been saved through her son's death. When we set out on this journey, we said, "above all other things, we will not be successful until we can connect one life saved to our work."
We won't stop now.
We heard nothing but great things about Stop Soldier Suicide, Honor 2 Serve 2, and Give an Hour from our conversation with our new friend. But, if you're reading this, you made this possible. Whether it's been through following us on social media, purchasing our products, or some other means of support, you made it possible. You enable us to do what we do and earn enough of somebody's trust to reach out to us. Thank you for your part in directly impacting the life of a Veteran.