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Soledad O’Brien, Sheryl Crow, and Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Help Us Understand What Just Happened

Soledad O'Brien and Amy and Ben Wright of Bitty & Beau's Coffee on Leading Through Change

On the one year anniversary of Leading Through Change, Soledad O’Brien shares her pandemic puppy and a year of wisdom, while Bitty & Beau’s Coffee founders reveal which business pivots they’re keeping post-pandemic.

We were roughly two weeks into nationwide lockdown on March 31, 2020, when we streamed the first episode of Leading Through Change. One year and roughly 50 episodes later, we’ve brought back our first guests for an update. We hear from Amy and Ben Wright, co-founders of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina. All of their coffee shops are run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2017, Amy was CNN’s Hero of the Year, and at Dreamforce 2019, Amy and Ben were awarded our Service Equality Award. We also visit once again with Soledad O’Brien, an award-winning journalist and chief executive officer of Soledad O’Brien Productions. Sheryl Crow is the musical guest. With a year of wisdom under their belts, Salesforce’s Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Franklin probes into what they’ve experienced, and asks her guests to paint a picture of what’s next – franchise operations, pandemic puppies, and all.

If you’ve watched this episode of Leading Through Change, or even if you haven’t, here are a few highlights from the show:

How have you maintained a human connection with your customers, and what will you continue once your doors open again?

Amy Wright: Our business is all about human connection. When we had to close our shop for two months, we had to keep this connection going by sharing the same interactions that happen in the shop. For us, it wasn’t just about social media and newsletters. We had to get really creative with how we keep our employees involved. One thing we started doing was writing handwritten notes that were included with every shipping order. We continue to do that.

Ben Wright: Like a lot of businesses, revenues are off. But one thing we did with a lot of help from Salesforce was pivot very quickly to lean into our online business. Through that, we’ve been able to keep ourselves afloat and even expand our brand and our recognition with social media and newsletters. Just as our employees with disabilities want to feel valued and feel seen, some of our guests that come in for coffee want to feel that, too. So to Amy’s point of writing a little message or just coloring – we will continue to do that on their iced coffee cup or on their muffin bag in the shop.

What advice do you have for small businesses fighting for survival?

Ben Wright: Ask yourself every day: Why do you exist as a business? If it’s simply to make money, good luck. It has to be more than that. You have to define that and sharpen that every single day. And anything that doesn’t contribute to that, get rid of it. Last summer we decided to offer franchise locations of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee. We can only get one location opened a year, and it’s just not fast enough. We thought we’d lean into our franchisees and teach them everything we know about running a successful business with this mission and this model.

Amy Wright: It’s really nice when your passion collides with your purpose, and that’s turned into what we do as our business. It does sometimes take time to identify what that is, and we feel very fortunate that we figured that out – but we were in our 40s when we did. But I agree with Ben. When you ask yourself, what do I want to do? What drives you? Everything else begins to fall into place. 

Please introduce us to your pandemic puppy.

Soledad O’Brien: We fostered a puppy and then we kept her. She’s so cute. I post her on Twitter all the time. Her name is Coco and she’s just a rescue, but she looks exactly like a Rhodesian Ridgeback. We got her DNA tested and she’s not Rhodesian Ridgeback at all. She’s Akita, Shihtzu, Pitbull, and Lab: She’s everything, but she’s just very sweet and mellow. My husband used to say, “If we had a dog, it’d be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” because we have four kids and busy jobs. But it’s just so lovely to see your kids love on an animal and take care of an animal. They are a ton of work, but it’s just an absolute joy.

What advice do you have for business leaders right now?

Soledad O’Brien: Over communicate, over communicate, over communicate. I am a fast talker, and so I “blah, blah, blah” and then I assume everyone has heard me, they completely understood what I said, they got the context, and that they’re going to deliver. Often people don’t hear you and they’re still looking for a pen while you’re moving on to the next thing. Also, put in a structure, both for work and for home. Our team starts with a morning meeting, we talk about what we’re delivering today, and how we need to end the week. At home, we start with where we have to get everybody and when, and which one of us is watching the puppy while the other has an important Zoom call.

This post is the latest installment of Leading Through Change, our video conversation series with industry and thought leaders who use Salesforce products to transform the way they work.

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