What if Sisyphus Made Friends on His Way Up?

Foundry Coffee has stopped developing it’s prototypes, stopped doing all the things that start up teams typically do, and has sat dormant for months. Foundry Coffee Company is officially over. There are many things we could explain, perhaps another time, but this is going to be a story about re-framing failure. This story is about showing that our efforts lead to benefits that are more varied, hidden, and indirect than simply the cliche of “If I do X, then I will receive Y.”

Sisyphean Punishment

The myth of Sisyphus is a great illustration of this cliche. As mentioned in one of our early posts, the King Sisyphus is given the eternal punishment of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it slip from his grasp just as he reaches the top, rolling to the base of the hill where he must start anew.  The boulder is a goal;  singular, simplistic, easy enough to understand as a bed time story. If we left it at the boulder, the myth is about being perpetually haunted by setbacks, unmet aspiration, the obsessive pursuit of a goal driven life. But what if we retold this myth? What if we focused less on the boulder, and instead took a step back and expanded the story? What if Sisyphus met people on his journey up the hill each time? What if people helped him on his way up? What if he achieved other goals as he toiled after his boulder? What if pushing the boulder is life itself and that a better man, one full of experience and character, surrounded by friends he met along the way sits at the top of his  push and looks down at the slipped boulder knowing that someone will benefit from his help as they push their boulder?

I would like to think that Foundry Coffee has been a smaller version of this retold Sisyphean myth because I have met so many wonderful people these past few years, and without those experiences, I don’t think I would stand the same man that I am today.

Along the way and among the many I met over the past two years in coffee, I met the owners of a wonderful coffee shop in my home town of Grand Rapids, Kurt and Steve of Rowster Coffee. Kurt was nice enough to provide a couple hours for a discussion of everything coffee. I wanted to discuss Foundry’s efforts to create an espresso machine, which we scrapped months later, but Kurt was nice enough to provide his feedback. We stayed in touch by email from time to time, but life moved on and figured this relationship would be little more than a friendly contact and an insightful customer discovery interview.

Rowster Shop

A little over a year would pass. My wife and I moved back to Grand Rapids. We started new full-time positions. I had fallen out of contact with the Rowster guys and started networking back into the local start up scene. A very charitable guy by the name of Paul Moore from Start Garden had connected me to a few businesses in the area that were looking for advisement. One day he put me in touch with Kurt and Steve, unbeknownst to him that we knew each other quite well. They had a new concept coffee brand called Regular Coffee that aimed to upend what customers have come to expect from packaged coffee. Regular aims to make a great coffee service that tailors itself to your preferences and becomes the only cup of coffee you’ll need throughout your busy life.


Fast forward to the present and it looks as though I’ve come full circle and find myself working in coffee again. I am very excited to see what we can do with the Regular service in the coming year. I will try not to worry about the top of the hill so much and focus more on who I meet and what I learn while pushing this boulder up the hill again.

Thank you again to everyone that helped us over the past two years and we wish you the very best going forward.

If you would like to check out Regular Coffee, you can find us over at https://regularcoffee.com or on Twitter at @RegularCoffeeCo

All the Best,

Joe Gallagher

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Foundry Hammer Development Newsletter

Interested in the Foundry Hammer? This will be the first tamper to provide real time force and levelness feedback of your tamps. It will also record and visualize your tamps so you can review later and master your craft.

We are privately testing our prototypes with a close set of coffeehouse friends, but if you’d like to get the latest on our progress, sign up for our monthly (as in one email a month, tops) newsletter.

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Nelida was able to encourage only about 5 percent of the population…

Diffusion of Innovation Book CoverNelida was able to encourage only about 5 percent of the population, eleven families, to adopt the innovation. The diffusion campaign [boiling water to eliminate germs] in Los Molinas failed because the innovation was perceived as culturally inappropriate by the villagers. Local tradition links hot foods with illness. boiling water makes water less “cold” and hence appropriate only for the sick… Only individuals who are not integrated into local networks risk defying the community norm on water boiling.

- Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition, Everett M. Rogers

Last weekend I started serving at Octane Grant Park. About 6 months before then, I had sat down with Tony (one of the owners) to talk about Foundry Coffee and some of the coffee equipment we were exploring. This was not my first “customer interview”… I had just finished reading a bunch of customer discovery boiler plate books and was invigorated to “talk with my market”… Tony was great and generous, as he always has been, but looking back at that conversation now I can finally see how far away I was from the community and relationship. I had never worked a day in the community I was intending to serve. There was no felt sense for the counter, the customer, the culture, the norms and values. Sure, I had read lots of books and spent the time learning the mechanics of coffee, the craft of making a great cup, hundreds of pour overs, espressos, steamed milk pitchers made alone in my apartment, but I could not yet relate.

I came to realize this disconnect, over time, far too slowly. Finally, I reached back out to Tony and pitched the crazy idea of part-timing at Octane on the weekends. He sat there for a good few silent seconds when I sputtered out the ask, he looked at me finally and said “let’s see what we can figure out and talk with Diane.” I come to find Diane is Tony’s wife, co-owner, manager over the Grant Park location, and an all-around awesome person. We get to talking, managed to find a way to make this arrangement work and the rest is history… or really just the start.

One weekend in, one TNT under my belt, and Saturday fast approaching, I can say without hesitation I learned more about the people who serve this community than I have in a year. The rabbit hole has been found; time to finally see how far down it really goes.

Stop by in Octane Grant Park most weekend mornings and say hello, I’d love to serve you.

Big thanks to Dawn and all my friends that came out to support me on my first day!

Big thanks to Dawn and all my friends that came out to support me on my first day!

[UPDATE] Here is a super rough, super short video of our tamper being demo’ed by the gentleman, scholar, and damn good barista Mike:


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The Mission is How to Domesticate…

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas TalebWind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. 

Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind. This summarizes this author’s nonmeek attitude to randomness and uncertainty. 

We just don’t want to just survive uncertainty, to just about make it. We want to survive uncertainty and, in addition-like a certain class of aggressive Roman Stoics-have the last word. The mission is how to domesticate, even dominate, even conquere, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable. 


Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We have been working away at our tamper prototype 2.0 for some time now and with the parts in production we can safely step away from the work to share progress with you.

So the “Hammer” as we’re starting to call it, we like metal foundry equipment, is going to be a tamper that measures, records and provides live feedback on the levelness and forcefulness of your espresso tamps. This data is important because cup-to-cup consistency is paramount to building consumer trust that the barista is an expert in their craft and will lead them to delicious coffee beverages. Trust in the barista as a professional is one gateway to premium pricing, better wages, and growth for specialty coffee. We want to see coffee go through the same expansion that specialty beer went through the last 20 years. Today, not everyone is a beer snob, but almost everyone has a favorite, high-quality, craft beer made by a local brewer. We want this for coffee.

To get to consistency while maintaining artisanal cup crafting that is so integral to specialty coffee, we need equipment that helps domesticate the unseen in coffee crafting. Hammer will do this for tamping. Hammer is not intended to be your daily tamper, it is intended for training new staff, roastery training programs, and checking in on long running espresso programs to ensure the shop is executing at peak performance. By measuring, recording, and providing live feedback on the levelness and forcefulness of tamping, we hope new barista’s will master tamping quicker, and veterans will use it to squeeze that last ounce of perfection out of their craft. Below is a breakdown of the features we will have in prototype 2.0:

The tamper itself:

Hammer Tamper Assembly

The prototype comprises of an aluminum stem, mirror finished stainless steel head for tamping, an accelerometer and a force transducer. The sensors embedded in the stem of the tamper that measure levelness and forcefulness will, for this prototype, cord connect to a small box that houses the brains of the operation. From the box there will be live LED readouts that show the barista in realtime how hard they are pushing, whether they have met the force goal they set, and how level they’ve been tamping. The measurements will also be recorded and sent to a website for more in depth visualization, tracking, and learning. See below an example of our prototype site comps:

Hammer Tamp Website CompFrom the site a barista, trainer, shop owner, can review, learn, and analyze the data Hammer has recorded. What we’ve learned so far from prototype 1.0 feedback is that live feedback is great for correcting mistakes in realtime, and historical data reviews help solidify progress and identify areas of opportunity to dominate next tamp.

Our parts are due back on the 15th and we will take about a two weeks to assemble, test, and setup our first five prototype units. These five units are going to go out to some of our trusted partners in the industry for live field use 1st week of March. We will be  posting highlights from what will most certainly be a messy learning experience.

If you are interested in partaking in this prototype feedback round, please feel free to email Joe directly at joe@foundrycoffee.com and he’d be happy to discuss. To be clear this is not a finished product, it will cost a bit of money to get one (we’d pass them along at cost), and we’d like access to the recorded data so we can perfect our software for the production version. If you are bleeding edge kind of person, or really like what we are doing and want to help, this is the time to get involved.

Looking forward to the next month and hopefully making cup consistency more achievable.

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The Church of Coffee

Social Animal Book CoverInside, the swirls in his mind were still interlooping with hers. They were shared swirls that leaped across from her conscious world to his unconscious one. Categories fell away. Tenderness was out of control. His ability to interpenetrate the soul of others increased. His relation to her at this moment was direct. There were no analytics, no reservations, no ambitions, no future desires or past difficulties. It was just I and Thou. A unity of being. A higher state of knowledge. A merger of souls. At this point his questions about the meaning of life were no longer asked, but were answered.      – Social Animal, David Brooks

Fictional Coffee Morning

6:30AM: Mr. Coffee drip brewer makes a pot of the black stuff

7:15AM: out of the shower, half dressed, slam a messy pour into your car mug

7:30AM: mug in hand, shoulders up to your ears (its much colder out here than you thought it’d be), into the car

7:45AM: damn, still too hot, won’t taste lunch now, commute halfway over, what do I have to do today?

8:00AM: slam back the last of the black stuff, teeth gritted, bearing a painful smile as you power up the laptop

Fictional Coffee Evening

6:15PM: laptop screen slapped down, not taking it home tonight, not… taking…. it… home… tonight, I have plans

7:00PM: arrive at XYZ favorite specialty coffee house, what band is that playing? I like it. Wonder if John and Jane are here yet?

7:03PM: hey man, yeah just got off work, you been well? Great, ohh, yeah I’ll take a cappuccino. Flick a card, start a tab

7:05PM: brrrr, brrrr, groom, tamp, extract, whrrr, whrrr, swirl the steamed milk, pour the velvet rosetta upon the espresso, serve

7:07PM: warm cappuccino in hand, like the white porcelain cup, take a quick sip, salty front, velvety approach, rich espresso flavor, nice

7:10PM: a conversation between three friends. There is a premise for the meetup, but that holds for about 5 minutes and then the hours pass by

Coffee has always been a part of American culture. It has not always been a community epicenter. Specialty coffee houses have become the secular churches of our times, a place for friends/acquaintances to meet and converse. The shops cared about their ambiances first. As they matured they started caring about their coffee. They crafted, inquired, experimented, improved, regressed, learned and still pursue the better cup of coffee to this day. The coffee doesn’t make our friendships any stronger, but it can be a great conduit for conversation.

Foundry Coffee Company is going to use 2013 to help pursue that better cup of coffee. We hope you use the year to pursue better relationships… and perhaps to invite a friend or two out for a cup of coffee…

Happy New Year, may it be grand.


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The More He Tries…

The more he tries to make the brilliance of his swordplay dependent on his own reflection, on the conscious utilization of his skill, on his fighting experience and tactics, the more he inhibits the free “working of the heart”. What is to be done? How does skill become “spiritual”, and how does sovereign control of technique turn into master swordplay? Only, so we are informed, by the pupil becoming purposeless and egoless. He must be taught to be detached not only from his opponent but from himself. He must pass through the stage he is still at and leave it behind him for good, even at the risk of irretrievable failure. Does not this sound as nonsensical as the demand that the archer should hit without taking aim, that he should completely lose sight of the goal and his intention to hit it? It is worth remembering, however, that the master swordsmanship whose essence Takuan describes has vindicated itself in a thousand contests. – Zen and Art of Archery, Eugene Herrigel

So it has  been awhile since my last post… I wish it all could be chalked up to deep development and execution, but in reality has had more to do with internal and external distractions. External in that I continue to work full time (50-60ish hours and should not be an excuse); internal in that I seem to be stuck in a cycle of self reflection. Self reflection is great, it weeds out biases, helps plan for contingencies, but as Eugen Herrigel aptly points out, intuition (spirit) has to take over at some point. One must lose themselves in the pursuit without being completely conscious of their participation.

So back on the horse after some lateral drift… where are we at? Posts up until this point have been purposely vague. Appropriate for the learning phase in this effort. Time to get specific:

Our proof of concept recording tamper

After 6 weeks of customer interviews, we tabled our first concept and refocused on something much simpler. We are building a coffee shop training tamper to teach perfect espresso tamping. We have developed a recording espresso tamper that gives the trainer and trainee real time feedback as to how they are doing while tamping espresso before the shot is pulled. Seems niche? Yup, we’re cool with that because this is an industry we are passionate about. We make coffee equipment that respects the barista’s art, while empowering them with data so they can perfect their art.

Tamping is the only user controlled variable left in most independent coffee houses. Once your grinder is set, you forget it, once your espresso machine is programmed, you forget it, but tamping is still done by hand and is a contributor in uneven espresso extraction (burnt/flat tasting espresso).

Even extraction = vibrant, respects the roasting flavor profile

Uneven Extraction = flat, disrespects the roast flavor profile






Getting to this point has been a lot of time in the shop, a lot of internal debate, and a whole ton of work for the team. Really happy we are at this point, really excited to get much further, much faster going forward.

If you are interested in meeting up for coffee, getting a personal demo of the prototype and hit me with candid feedback, give me a shout at joe AT foundrycoffee DOT com or 616-822-2574.

I am always up for a late night coffee run.

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Forbidden to Acknowledge the Object


American Restoration Authority, Security Directive IX-2.11 “Together We’ll Surprise the World!”

- Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel, Gary Shteyngart

Somehow I got into a conversation about doppelgangers this week… when I hit an obscure topic I feel compelled to research, just a little at least; usually a Wikipedia article will suffice. Either way, the idea of a phantom identity, felt just behind you, outside of sight, in the periphery, seemed like a totally appropriate way of describing the past couple weeks and the state of Foundry Coffee efforts. I knew I wasn’t posting new entries, I knew I wasn’t doing end user interviews; I willingly kept those truths in the periphery. I forbid acknowledging the existence of “the object”…

A wall was hit. We climbed one wall, only to meet a new wall, go figure. Self funding an entire espresso machine design is too much at this time. I knew that going into this effort, and even planned for it, but I delayed facing the pivot until after the first proof of concept was accomplished. I needed to show myself and the team some progress toward that ideal state. Intimidated by the “Pivot Doppelganger” I let it loom and siphon off motivation. The phantom identity whispered doubting questions in my ear: “How are you going to do small batch manufacturing?”/ “How can you compete with incumbent players?” / “Do really know your customer, really?”

Then last Sunday came and through a confluence of factors (thank you @stephenfleming) I finally gathered the gumption to turn my head and face my doppelganger. Once you decide to turn to face him it’s all over, you realize he isn’t there, merely a fear, a mirage, and in an instant the fog is cleared, the path was always under your feet.

@Stephenfleming pointed my open tweet toward My Inventor Club, a local maker space here in Atlanta. I immediately went down there, met the owner of the space, Shane, and signed up Sunday. One key problem solved. We could now make prototypes rapidly and iterate our way to understanding.

With the My Inventor Club as the path, we went back to the drawing board and identified product opportunities from the customer interviews we had already performed. We had been kicking around some ideas for espresso tampers already and many of the coffee house owners we spoke with demonstrated an intense focus on proper tamping technique. Each shop did it differently, but regardless, tamping mattered and ensuring consistency was key. Our next post will profile the development cycle we went through the last few weeks putting together this prototype, but let’s just say a recording tamper was born…

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Big Brother as a Double Plus Good Idea

Retro 1984 Book Cover

“He took a twenty-five-cent piece out of his pocket. There, too, in tiny clear lettering, the same slogans were inscribed, and on the other face of the coin the head of Big Brother. Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps, on covers of books, on banners, on posters, and on the wrapping of a cigarette packet–everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed–no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” – 1984, George Orwell

Just go with it, just nod and go along with me for just a few minutes here… Let’s think of Big Brother as a good thing for the sake of this post. Okay forget that, he can’t be good, but let’s think of him as an idea that has haunted you for days, weeks, months, a lifetime. An idea that watches you or is seen most everywhere you go. Ever had one of those ideas? A person you finally realized you cared deeply about, an unexplained urge to see a movie you know nothing about (but just knew would be good),  a business idea you couldn’t shake, a perfect present for a friend you held onto for months and finally it was their birthday.

Some people chalk  these ideas up as the manifestations of an impulsive temperament. “Tamp these impulses down” they say, push them aside, put them in timeout, relegate them to a distant corner of your skull to be forgotten. I don’t take immediate action on these ideas myself, constraint/restraint is good, but I do think they should be noticed, shine a big-ass floodlight on them, figure out why they are there, expand them, explain them, detail them, and whatever you do don’t forget them.

The Startup Owner's Manual

Props to Startup Gauntlet, wish Fridays worked

As mentioned in my first post we all desire to make a statement with our lives. A statement’s genesis is an idea. I too want to make a statement, one that is based on my craft of product development. Now I have danced around the idea, the team has shown you pipes assembled in haphazard ways, even graphed unicorns and rainbows. I am being coy, I know.

So why the smoke and mirrors? Because we still need to shine a our own big-ass floodlight on this Big Brother. We have a market to figure out, we have to do customer interviews, tons of them, we have hypothesizes and feature sets to test. This testing and research is all training for the day we let the cat out of the bag. Once the idea is out in the open for full view, our Big Brother damn well better be up for the fight, because if he is just an Oz, Emerald City is going to fall to East(Eur)asia.

So here is what we can state, so we aren’t just inside our own few cubic centimeters:

  1. We are in the business of making coffee related equipment that empower end-users to perfect their craft and share it with other enthusiasts
  2. We are developing an espresso machine. One that will honor the art, romance and heritage of the classic machines, but one that fundamentally changes the game by delivering on statement A
  3. We may develop another smaller-scale product first in order to stepping stone our way to statement B. This potential product will also deliver on statement A

These are statements our team is committed to standing by without exception. As always, more to come.

Also, if you love coffee, espresso, and want to share your feedback about the equipment you use, contact me anytime at @joegallagheriv or six-one-six-eight-two-two-two-five-seven-four. Always up for a chat over coffee… about coffee.

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And what business is that?

Atlanta here we come!“And what business is that?”

“Dean and I are embarked on a tremendous season together. We’re trying to communicate with absolute honesty and absolute completeness everything on our minds. We’ve had to take benzedrine. We sit on the bed, crosslegged, facing each other. I have finally taught Dean that he can do anything he wants, become mayor of Denver, marry a millionairess, or become the greatest poet since Rimbaud. But he keeps rushing out to see the midget auto races. I go with him. He jumps and yells, excited. You know, Sal, Dean is really hungup on things like that.” Marx said “Hmm” in his soul and thought about this..” – On the Road, Jack Kerouac

The time has come, a tremendous season is upon us indeed, our first weekend build. Colin and Nick get into Atlanta tomorrow night. All the parts and equipment are laid out, very excited. We will have plenty of updates over the weekend to share.

Old Boy (Egg Films) is an amazing movie

In other thoughts, I think Kerouac had a lot to say about the concept of distraction. It is so ungodly easy to get distracted these days, just Google the counter-culture movement infoveganism or just count the number of browser tabs (10 for me) you have open at the moment for immediate examples. Holy-wha-the-fu-are we supposed to do about the barbarian horde of distractions we have surrounding us?


In all seriousness, here are the steps I have taken in the past couple weeks (with plenty of setbacks) to get back on track with the 16 hour workday required to pull off high-marks at work and make Foundry Coffee Company a reality rather than Avalon just beyond the mist.

  1. Listened to Jack Dorsey and themed my days
  2. Uninstalled Twitter and Facebook from my phone
  3. Uninstalled every video game from my desktop computer
  4. Setup a porch desk removed from the distracting familiarity of my apartment desk
  5. Listen to ambient music on loop when focus is absolutely critical
  6. Write out a daily narrative every morning, without fail. One for the workday, one for the personal night

And so there you have it… I would say these steps have helped build up some distraction anti-bodies. What has worked for you? How have you coped with distraction overload?

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The Sisyphean Development Process

Image via Wikipedia

“As a punishment from Queen Persephone for his trickery King Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he could reach the top, however, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again. The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for King Sisyphus due to his hubristic belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus Himself. Zeus accordingly displayed his own cleverness by consigning Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration.” – Wikipedia Entry on Sisyphus

Anyone that has developed a physical, manufactured, tooled, product can relate to the story of Sisyphus because you know that cumbersome climb. You also know what is feels like to be back at the bottom of that hill countless times. An engineer’s atonement for creating something new I guess…

Countless Skype calls, endless Basecamp posts, $1500 in McMasterCarr parts, two plane tickets, and a couple of awesome friends willing to help build something new have brought our first boulder to the top of the hill…

So what boulder did we bring to this peak? We brought an espresso machine. Well not really, just a pressure chamber, filled with water, that we can control temperature within, record key espresso related variables, and serve that data to a web enabled data visualization package.

Prototype One is a far cry from the planned end state, the amoebic predecessor to that of multi-cellular organisms. A Frankenstein of an apparatus, a monster with purpose. You see, it is one thing to know about espresso, another to know mechanical/electrical/design principles, and entirely another thing to smash those two domains of knowledge together and design a machine that makes espresso. That is why Prototype One is so important. It costs us 20 to 30x less to make than the end product will require in investment and we will probably learn 20+ percent of what we need to learn about designing our espresso machines. We will have learned temperature control, pressure chamber design, recording key espresso variables and serving that data to a convenient web interface.

Wait, why does recording matter? What does that have to do with espresso? Because that is where all the magic happens. Espresso is an extremely complex emulsion. There are oils, solids, plenty of water and all sorts of gases that comprise every shot. That cacophony of ingredients doesn’t come together as a symphony under any old set of extraction parameters. That is why there is bitter, flat, weak, acrid coffee, and then there is really gorgeous coffee that is bright, fruity, sour, semi-sweet, bold, and downright delicious.

Right now, creating a great shot is resigned to great coffee shops  and passionate home brewers, it is still an art. We aim to respect that artistic heritage with our very own manual lever espresso machine and then to take a bit of the mystery out of the craft via recorded shot profiles we like to call casts. Another day we shall explain why we think casts are going to be important.

Until then we will keep pushing our first boulder.

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