Ben Hoyer

May 9, 2017

In the shadow of Starbucks, near downtown Orlando in the College Park neighborhood, Ben founded Downtown Credo in 2010. At first, it was a fledgling coffee shop with only his friends and random locals frequenting. It had a unique concept: you pay what you want. That’s right, you name the price. The other remarkable thing about Credo was that it would use its profits to fund community projects. Its mission is social impact. Pretty cool.

My friend Roy Reid once told me, “When I grow up I want to be Ben Hoyer.” It’s funny because it’s true and it’s hilarious because he’s younger than both of us.

In the shadow of Starbucks, near downtown Orlando in the College Park neighborhood, Ben founded Downtown Credo in 2010. At first, it was a fledgling coffee shop with only his friends and random locals frequenting. It had a unique concept: you pay what you want. That’s right, you name the price. The other remarkable thing about Credo was that it would use its profits to fund community projects. Its mission is social impact. Pretty cool.

Imagine if you came up with this pricing concept in the wake of the recession. The thoughts in your head would be swirling:

Is this a sustainable business practice? Won’t people rip the place off and take advantage of this policy? What are the economics?

While others saw a single coffee shop, Ben saw this as the beginning of a movement. Since then, he has grown Downtown Credo from one coffee shop to four. He has also started a number of initiatives such as Rally Makers (which advises & seeds social enterprise), a co-working space, and a network of initiatives all centered around people who live a life of meaning, impact, and community. My company, Blezoo, is a proud partner because I believe in this mission of connecting people for the greater good.

Let’s dive right into the talk I had with Ben Hoyer:

[Setting: We met at a Mexican restaurant during lunch time. Guacamole, chips & tacos. Loud music in the background.]

Dean: Ben, I’m always talking to my team about fighting the status quo and I wanted to know your take. What does the status quo represent to you?

Ben: The bare minimum. It feels like the unexamined good enough…I think unexamined is the key part. It’s the way things are because no one has really thought of it. For me, the fun is to deconstruct things and then build them back up rather than just take it ‘cause that’s how it has always been done.

Dean: I would definitely say Credo has challenged the status quo in many ways. What is the most remarkable thing about Credo?

a ‘name your price’ coffee shop is working

Ben: To a certain degree you could say it is remarkable that a ‘name your price’ coffee shop is working. For me lately, it’s been the way it has developed into this network of people. What’s even more remarkable to me is the reality of networks and how you can build them around a mission. And, there’s not a limit to that. We just talked about how our network now is in the federal congressional office so she is going to serve them Credo coffee when people visit her [Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, more about her below].

Dean: When did you see transition happen from a coffee shop to a network?

Ben: The dream has always been to build a network. The mission of Credo is to improve lives by cultivating networks of meaning, impact, and community. In the last year and a half, I began to realize that we have done that to a degree. Part of how I realized this is that as ideas came to mind, we were able to do them by just simply asking people to come along with us.  We did the Orlando City Parks Project, we started a bi-monthly conversation called an Orlando Exchange, we got Rally Makers off the ground, and are now building larger partnerships and getting it funded.

Dean: When was the first time you came up with the concept for Credo? I remember in a video you had talked about an experience in Guatemala. Was this when you first thought up the concept?

I had been down to Guatemala,

in muddy fields

Ben: I had been down to Guatemala, in muddy fields, walking underneath plants, and I was happy. I was surprised I was happy in that situation and realized that there is something powerful when you like who you are becoming. That whatever situation you find yourself in you can be happy and content if you like who you are becoming. Even you can do things that you normally wouldn’t do, or necessarily not like to do, because you like what it is producing and who you are becoming.

Dean: When did you know you were going to start the coffee shop and start this journey? Was it an idea you had many years ago?

Ben: I was here [in Orlando], we bought a house. I wanted the city to be different because I was here. I felt like people when they serve cities… they take stuff from people who have stuff and give it to people who don’t have it. And I feel like in that exchange of stuff is the implication that stuff is the best thing that you can get. And your quality of life is tied to the stuff you have. I didn’t think this was true, so then it was like…how can I serve this city in a way that challenges them to think about their quality of life tied more to who they are becoming than what they have. So I just started partnering with four local charities, went to them and said, “What are you not doing that you’d like to be doing?” and so I started organizing events….But I got into coffee because part of my credo says: ‘The world is not yet as it ought to be, neither is my city or neither am I, but I reject apathy and despair believing I can make an impact for good’. So I wanted to show people that there are global problems, but you will like yourself better when you realize you can impact them. You don’t have to get apathetic and say that this problem is too big for me there’s nothing I can do to help it. So coffee was one place where I felt that things aren’t how they ought to be, and this guy I knew was already going down to Guatemala so I just got on a plane and went down there, too.

Dean: You’ve been able to make Credo stand out by tying it into this mission and using this unique [name your price] concept.. and frankly, it’s just a really cool place. For my readers, what is a tip on how they can stand out?

Ben: Do something that you believe in. Find a way that you can believe in it very personally. I think that is part of the reason that Blezoo has worked for you, Dean. You really believe in the power of marketing and products that carry marketing to tell the story of a business and to help them succeed. You get excited talking about it. You’re passionate about it.  And it doesn’t work nearly as well if you started Blezoo because you saw the right margins and you wanted to make money. It’s ok to want to make money, but the reason you are successful is because you happened to be passionate about it. So the way people can set themselves apart it: carry a degree of passion and don’t be afraid to talk about your passion.

Dean: Thank you, I couldn’t agree more. Who is the most remarkable person you know and why?

She’s just really smart, passionate

Ben: Wow….well, right now, it’s this Congresswoman, Stephanie Murphy. She escaped Vietnam and was picked up by the Navy on a refugee boat and then was resettled here by a Lutheran church that was resettling refugees. OK, so she was born in Vietnam, resettled here, learned English, and then became fluent in like two other languages. Went to work in business, then the Department of Defense, then she had kids, was teaching social enterprise at Rollins College, and then at 37 takes a congressional seat of a guy who had been in Congress for 28 years. Totally a surprise. She’s just really smart, passionate, and takes action on her areas of passion. I tend to have a bias toward people who take action. I am impressed by that…and inspired by it.

Dean: Amazing story. Ben, to build amazing things takes motivation. I can imagine just breaking out of the first Credo coffee shop and turning it into a viable business was a challenge. What was something someone said to you that stuck with you throughout the years and helped motivate you?

Ben: A friend of mine told me to always be working to where you are able to spend 95% of your time in the one thing you are best at. It doesn’t help to have your top three. Narrow it down to the one thing that you’re best at and work yourself into where that is what you are doing.

Dean: What are you best at?

Ben: Strategic thinking. Taking a vision and building a strategy to accomplish it. I’m almost equally excited to build a strategy that accomplishes someone else’s vision as one that accomplished my vision. If no one has a vision I will come up with one in order to work on it. But I like helping other people coming up with strategies for their vision. It’s that #1 thing. That’s how I was able to work behind the counter at the coffee shop for three years. I’d never pulled a coffee shot before but I could see it was the step I needed to build in order to get to the next step, so for me working behind the coffee shop was in that one area. Because I was able to see the whole strategy, it enabled me to work at the coffee shop so I can get to my #1.

Dean: You were literally “grinding!”

Ben: That’s right! (laughter)

Dean: Putting your humility aside and digging deep to be open. What is your secret to be outrageously remarkable?

Ben: I feel like sometimes there is a fault line in people’s personalities. You are either confident or you’re not. My confidence that I can do whatever the hell I decide I’m going to do has made a lot of things possible. When you marry that with my optimism that things will work out… So the confidence and the optimism gets it to where I never pulled a coffee shot before, I never built an excel spreadsheet before, but I was sure I could make a coffee shop work. Because I could see the strategy. It needed to work in order to get to where I want to go. So I was just going to make it work. And I feel like the successful entrepreneurs, or business people, have that degree of: I can do it. Whatever I need to get done I’m going to figure it out…and that’s a hard thing to teach. People seem to either have it or they don’t.

Dean: Ben, how can my readers help you on your mission?

People laughed at me

Ben: Ohh hmm, well they can buy coffee? (laughter) … But I think also, my mission is to move people towards a life of meaning, impact, and community. And my thing that I have figured out, at least for us, is that almost always starts with steps so small that they seem silly. It’s like you putting aside the momentum of your life to take a small step…so small it seems insignificant…towards living meaningfully in a community that’s making an impact. For me, it started by picking up trash in a low income neighborhood in Orlando. Nobody cared. People laughed at me. It was a Saturday morning, they were waking up still drying out from their Friday night… but I had decided I’d like myself better if I was the kind of person that made an impact on the city and this was the opportunity that presented itself so I was going to do it. It was silly, but it led to the second step, and the third step…so if readers had the courage to take simple small steps towards that (a life of meaning, impact, and community) then they would help me on my mission.

Thank you, Ben. I feel more generous after getting the chance to sit with you. 

Check out Downtown Credo’s website to see what Ben is upto & connect with him.

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