4 out of 4 stars
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There are lots of books about running a business out there, but I never came across one told via a fictional narrative about a creative, experienced businessman until I found The 600 Million Dollar Latte by Neil Flett. Part extended fictional case study, part based on real-life autobiography, part motivational book, and part business owner's guide, The 600 Million Dollar Latte centers on Clyde West, an experienced businessman. Clyde is retired now, but he's bored out of his mind without the frequent challenges that running multimillion-dollar companies presents. One day, he, his wife, and two of their friends go to Barbados to visit Colleton Great House. While there, they visit the Cassareep Café for tea and coffees, and Clyde is blown away by how good the coffee is.
Cassareep Café is a tiny little place that's so small one can easily walk by it without noticing it, and Clyde takes it upon himself to help market the place. Sam, the owner, has no money for a marketing budget, so Clyde has to get creative. He decides to present them with a certificate from the ISOCC (International Society of Coffee Connoisseurs) in front of the media in a "presentation ceremony". The certificate declares that Cassareep Café won the "Best Coffee award 2007-2009", and Clyde manages to see the difference he made in Sam's business for a bit before he returns home to Australia.
This easily could've been the end of it, but Clyde quickly gets other ideas and eventually the ISOCC is an international powerhouse charging $200 per certificate. Clyde repeatedly mentions that this is ethically challenging, since they don't even visit the businesses they give certificates to let alone taste their coffee, but he justifies it with how much he gives a business owner for that $200: a certificate for their wall, tips for promotion throughout the year, a press release to give to the media along with the certificate, and access to the society's website.
The ride is fast-paced and full of advice throughout, but the tricky bit is knowing just who the advice is for. At first the book seemed like it would focus on trying to promote Cassareep Café without a budget, but it's quickly left behind as Clyde's business takes off. From here there are several tips for small businesses, sure, but there are also tips for people starting a franchise, people who are looking to hire very high ranking positions and advice for those with multimillion-dollar companies. I can't see recommending the book if you're just looking for small business tips, but overall it was a joy to read. Clyde is well-versed in business ideas for a reason; Clyde's history is base on Neil's own real-life history. Early in the book Clyde lists numerous tactics he used in the past to promote businesses, and they're very unique and some could even be very beneficial for small business owners today. Some advice Clyde mentions throughout the book includes keeping overhead low, the importance of quality workers you can trust, and creating stories that newspeople will want to run rather than just creating advertising. These tips are scattered throughout, and some are repeated frequently such as "thinking about what would make a good photo" when it comes to creating potential news stories.
However, some of these ideas may not be the best or most well-accepted depending on the business owner. For example, one of the things included in the price of the certificate (but not something made public to the business owners) is a slew of reviews on sites like Trip Advisor. These make the business owners think that they're getting even more publicity from the certificate while also helping drum up more business in the future. However, the idea of creating a bunch of fake reviews is definitely an ethical conundrum: it's certainly not illegal but would be looked at as very underhanded if it was ever discovered. The same is true of the certificates; Clyde makes sure no one finds out just how many people actually have certificates because if they knew how many others were buying them, they wouldn't think they're as special for receiving one. I'm sure they'd also feel a bit bad if they knew that no one even sampled the coffee before giving them an award!
I enjoyed the book, and I really enjoyed the format. The writing was very smooth despite having a half-dozen minor errors, and the 100+ pages went by before I even realized it. I was intrigued by where Clyde would go next with the business and just how big it could become, as well as the constant worry about everyone finding out just what exactly it is Clyde does. The book is also very successful at being motivational - who doesn't love the thought of having their brilliant idea explode into a gigantic multimillion-dollar company? The "Author's Note" at the end also states that parts of the story are really true, Neil genuinely did "create and award a certificate to the Cassareep Café" and even created the website for the ISOCC and "issued a few free certificates to coffee lounges and bars." The enthusiasm and excitement of a company taking off like this saturates every page of the book, and more than anything that's what I liked about The 600 Million Dollar Latte. Based on that enjoyment I feel confident in giving the book 4 out of 4 stars. It's an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a fictional story of a business exploding due to creativity, hard work, and putting one's strengths to work. It's far from a small business manual, but it's a good book overall, and I liked that there were some humorous personal moments mixed into the narrative as well.
The 600 Million Dollar Latte
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