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In 2011, three staffers from Intelligentsia - Tyler Wells, Chris Owen, and 2010 World Barista Champion Michael Philips - left the company to start their own coffee business. The move drew hopeful remarks from many coffee bloggers and professionals, as the three combined were a sure shot for a quality product to come. After they left, things went a bit dark for a while, likely as business plans, suppliers, equipment, and space were ironed out. And then, early one morning, a little message popped up in the streams of anyone following one of the thhree guys on Twitter: an invitation to be part of a very unique promotion to help build their business - the Handsome Wager. Following the link to their Tumblr blog, I found the details of the Wager laid out, and I couldn't help but get excited. For just $50, one-time, I could buy into this program to help fund their trial roasting, and get no less than four, eight ounce bags of coffee (or fourteen, as their blog quipped). The catch was that it was limited to the first 40 respondents, so I knew I had to act fast to get in. I sent my email in that very morning, knowing that I was already four hours or so behind, and surely these spots would be filled up by then. Imagine my joy and surprise when I received my "You're In!" email later that evening.
Wager 1.0 was a phenomenal program. Despite being "interrupted" by the 2011 World Barista Championship in Bogota, Colombia, the Handsome fellows shipped a full 6 bags of coffee, two of which were 16 ounces. On top of that, the "Wagerites" all got free t-shirts, proclaiming to the world their part in the rather exclusive program. The unity between we lucky few could be felt, as we tweeted and blogged about the coffees we got - sharing tasting notes and brew recipes, as well as a few suggestions for improvement (I opened one bag to find a full five Quakers right on top, not a good sign of quality control). Despite a few shortcomings, and some What's In This Bag Again? confusion, the first Wager was a big success. The community was active, not only bringing awareness to Handsome Coffee Roasters themselves, but to the Wager program itself. This was evidenced by the start of Wager 2.0, when the "OG" First Forty members were encouraged to participate again, as well as give out two more invites to new people. I only knew one person interested in buying in, so I offered my other invite up on Twitter, and got something like 25 replies in the first few hours. It was a pretty popular promotion!
http://d3j5vwomefv46c.cloudfront.net/photos/large/379840052.jpg?Expires=1326489041&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIYVGSUJFNRFZBBTA&Signature=YAVr00heKhV158tXYYTjwQMZFaI~YlUDbnF3CAq-dsiveds7~ZI7o59x2whT4TSl7ilLDSAEsF2MXzHRs0sVf26f1JHnmauihQu9kOIj-ZbvjEJ--6FXv3xHJCaUjYWC0Uyfl28I0nJnj0QvFa85vpE8D-K0Ax9FaHci~IzyQxs_" title="First Forty Shirt" align="middle" height="450" width="600" alt="First Forty Shirt" />
First Forty - the t-shirt! Reverse shown.
Since the original Wager, there has been the follow-up Wager 2.0, with most of the First Forty, and the new Invited Fifty, as well as the current, year-long Wager 2012. In my opinion, the sequel wasn't as good as the original, but it was still pretty tasty. I think part of my issue was the fact that I had started grad school, and wasn't entirely committed to making awesome coffee at the time. The online feedback, though, was as strong as ever, especially with the fresh faces involved. What was really important, though, is that Handsome wass getting real customer feedback right around the time they started selling their beans online and distributing to cafes around the country. Not all Wager members were consumers, and in fact, I would bet about half were actual coffee professionals, so the feedback coming in was largely constructive, and well-informed. As they ready themselves to open up not just one, but two cafes, in LA and NYC, I'm sure the Handsome team is fully appreciate of the success of their program, and how it has shaped their understanding of their products and customers.
Wager 2012 has barely begun at this point, but it's looking to be even more phenomenal than before. I can't think of many subscription programs that treat members quite like VIPs as the Wager does, so, even though I am paying for the privilege, I feel blessed to be a part of such a glowing community, and to be a customer of such an appreciative company. We've already been given one coffee exclusive to the Wager - Kenya Kangocho - and there are a few more perks supposedly forthcoming. To my knowledge, any Wager member that has shown up at the LA site-in-progress has been received quite warmly, though reports from non-members detail the same thing. The Handsome guys are just pain friendly! Still, I can't wait to get out to NYC this March, for Coffee Fest, and stop by 90 Broad St. to hit up the newly-opened (in February) Handsome cafe. I'd like to actually show my apppreciation for the program in person, and get some face time with the people behind what's been in my mug for the last eight months.
If you get the chance, in the future, I highly recommend trying out the Wager program. If the trend continues, the program will get better and better as it gets more fleshed out, with more perks added on top of great coffees, and a fantastic sense of community with people enjoying the program with you. I don't think my spot will be up for grabs for some time though, as I've found it to be well worth my money and time. You'll have to oust somebody else ;)