When soul mate business partners bring in a third

What happens if you meet a guy over coffee (in France, mais oui), fall in love in a soul-mate kind of way and start a roasting business? That's the story of Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti, the co-founders of La Colombe Torrefaction in Philadelphia. 

And then, what happens 23 years later, when you bring in a third person, a third person who is also the majority investor? How does that play out? 

 

 

Todd Carmichael:  I wish I could show you the inside of my soul in that I really felt that there was a third person to this crazy little brotherhood we had that was missing.  There was someone.  It was the wise man.  I’m the creative guy.  I’m the front man.  I’m the hands-on guy.  JP is the designer.  We were three members of this team and we needed to find that third one.  It had to be someone who had been on a trip before that could just guide the way, you know. 

In our interview, published in the business section of Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Carmichael talked about the business' latest push -- selling canned La Colombe's canned cold draft lattes in thousands of stores (Target, Wegman's, Wawa, Whole Foods, among others) across the nation. You can read about it here and here. The venture requires mass production on a scale that neither Carmichael or Iberti had experienced. In August, 2015, Hamdi Ulukaya, of Chobani Greek-style yogurt, became majority investor.  Read our story about it here.    

Was it weird?  You say it’s like three brothers, but yet, you and JP were so close.   

And, we still are.  I guess the important thing to keep in mind is that it took us 23 years to find a third partner.  Do you know how many dates I’ve been on?  I have no idea. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.

Looking for a third partner?

Investors, investor groups and, `Oh, my God, no.'  They just weren't going to happen. But we knew that there was this role that needed to be filled, and we designed it.  We had an idea of who we wanted, but we didn’t know exactly who it was.

The type of person.

And, when I realized who it was, I went to him.  I said, `It’s you.'

How did you know him, though?  

We knew of Hamdi.  I followed Chobani’s kind of success and I followed it strictly because he was a crafts guy.  He was a guy like me, just from the sticks, and he found his way and he found his way into food and beverage and he displayed a certain amount of wisdom.  He’s an old soul.  Anyway, I was told one day that we won the Chobani account.  I was like `Ah, that’s great!' and then a week later…

What do you mean you won the Chobani account?

Again, they wanted to open up a certain number of Chobani branded stores and so we were the coffee people.  He’s a tough guy.  So, they started with 30 some odd roasters and we won it, right?  So, he said, `I want to meet this guy who’s running it.  I want to meet this Todd Carmichael guy.'  And, we met and we had coffees.  And, I realized it.  Internally,I said, `This is a true craftsman.  This is a man.  This is a crafts-based man.  This is not a business guy.  This is a guy who thinks like I do.'

You know, our golf swing is very business, but ultimately, we’re driven by different things, and I didn’t really think much of it.  When the draft latte came, I thought well, `I’m going to go present to him and see what he thinks.'  I poured it for him. He looked up and said, `Yeah, you’re going to change the world with this.  Can I be on your team?'  I said, `Yeah, okay, you can come aboard' and we did it that way. 

My friend, who has done a lot of online dating, said she always knew within the first 20 minutes if she was going to be interested.  And now she has a boyfriend and their 20-minute first date turned into five hours and they are still together eight months later.  So, did you have that 20-minute vibe with Hamdi?

For me 20 minutes is a really long time.  For example, I’m married.  I’ve been married for 12 years now, but I was a single guy for a long, long time, and I asked my wife to marry me on our first date, because I knew it was her.  She thought I was silly and I said, `Okay, I’m going to ask you again in four weeks, but I would hope you would say yes.'  And I did and she did.  You just know certain things and it’s her.  That’s her.  That’s my wife.  That’s her.  JP and I we started this business together 23 years and we will die together.  Our graves will be put together.  This is it.  It’s very rare to meet someone and you know there’s that connection. 

To invite an investment group with a different idea of the direction we should go, with a different time horizon, like a venture capitalist group and let’s flip this thing in three years is absolutely not going to work for Todd Carmichael or La Colombe.  To invite a successful man like Hamdi -- Hamdi calls me brother and I call him brother. We text every day and we rarely talk about the day-to-day business.