Technori (2010) continues to hide it’s FIRST interview with me, Philip Tadros.
Meet Phil Tadros: The Coffee-House Recruiter Behind Doejo
By: Seth Kravitz, Later Negatively Influenced By: Alan Matthew.
Something’s brewing at this Lakeview interactive agency and 13 other locations around Chicago.
Kickstand is one of Phil’s latest coffee shops. Check it out at the corner of Belmont & Clark.
Working hard or hardly working?
A man walks into an empty retail space at the corner of Belmont and Clark for the first time. Within two hours a lease is signed. Within a week, construction is well under way. Within a month, a bustling coffee shop is alive and kicking. Five months later, Kickstand, Philip Tadros’ latest coffee shop is cash-flow positive and well on its way to becoming profitable.
Phil is unlike any entrepreneur you have ever met and Doejo is like stepping into a “business twilight zone.”
Trying to understand exactly what it is that Doejo does can be a frustrating exercise when Tadros starts to list off all the various projects under way. There’s a cartoon for Adult Swim called “Homeless Cop” going on in one room while in another his event planning company Galaist is booking new clients.
Meanwhile, designers and developers scuttle around the office, traveling from desk to desk, running ideas past each other and tweaking the designs of clients’ websites and print materials. The office has a constant buzz about it that screams: this is a place where ideas are born. The office itself is a cross between an abandoned coffee shop and a warehouse but feels surprisingly warm and inviting.
The team behind it all is led by Tadros. He’s a serial entrepreneur that started off in the coffee shop business and has jumped into half a dozen companies all with different purposes but with the same underlying creative energy.
Phil has what I like to call a “furious calm” to him. He’s driven by something deep within that comes across so naturally and fluid that it’s hard to figure out how serious he is about business. It seems to be a thing he is merely a part of not something that he tries to be a part of. As bizarre as it might sound: it feels as if he allows business to happen around him.
As for his approach to starting a company, or running one for that matter, “Wing it,” he says nonchalantly. “I don’t want to overplan because it might ruin the reality of everything.”
In the business world, creating a lasting brand is something that requires patience and a long term focus. Phil doesn’t seem to possess either of these qualities yet he’s building a solid brand that’s making its mark on Chicago’s design industry. His client list includes the likes of Lightbank, Groupon, True Value, and Umbra.
“I think Doejo is a brand that will be there for 20, 30 years…” says Tadros, while shifting in his chair in the makeshift coffee shop that sits in the front of his design agency. “If Leo Burnett can be all around the world, I don’t see why Doejo can’t…”
Asking Phil about any one of his myriad companies yields unconventional business methods and more surprises. You’d naturally think anyone with 13 coffee shops would be obsessed with the perfect roast.
“For me it’s not even about the coffee. We serve great coffee. For me it’s about the spaces and the people. If I could open up 100 shops, I would only do it if I could maintain the people and spaces.”
His approach to coffee houses is more in-line with the old world concept of what a coffee house is. If you look back a couple hundred years, coffee houses served as a common place to come together and drink in a sober oasis, away from taverns and drunks.
But the similarities end right there. For when you step into one of Phil’s shops, you aren’t stepping into place that serves coffee, you are actually stepping into one of Phil’s many offices. In what has to be one of the most unique business growth plans I’ve ever heard, Phil uses his many coffee shops as offices and more valuably, recruiting centers.
Anyone who has sat in a coffee shop has seen dozens of people busily typing away on laptops, head phones on, completely oblivious to their surroundings. Phil found that many of these people happen to be talented designers, advertising people, marketers, copywriters, and video editors. A light bulb went on in his head and since then Phil has opened 12 more “coffee offices.”
As Phil said, “It’s almost like, not to be cheesy, but what if you were a photographer and you were having a show. People could show up and you could treat it as a showroom, that’s what my coffee shops hope to be.” The idea behind each coffee shop is to foster a creative environment where everyone gets to participate. The result for Phil is a never-ending supply of fresh talent that he can invite to work for Doejo.
Beyond those uses, coffee shops hold a deep meaning for Phil. After leaving Columbia College, Phil saw a unique opportunity to test his business skills in a low risk environment when he stumbled upon a small, run down coffee house on Jarvis Ave in Rogers Park. Phil’s first business was taking over Don’s Coffee Club for $20,000 in 2000 and that would be the first of a large portfolio of coffee shops around the city.
That portfolio now includes Kickstand, Dollop, Noble Tree, and three new cafes at Columbia College. At Don’s he learned his first of many business lessons: you need to keep the regulars happy.
“I complemented the culture there. Many people don’t understand that when you’re buying something that exists, you have to add yourself into it, but definitely complement what is going on and the history of it.”
Don’s grew and with its growth it fueled Phil’s aspirations to do something bigger and more meaningful. Realizing he wanted to move into the creative world, take advantage of all the incredible creative people he was meeting in the coffee shop, and start building bigger projects, he launched a coffee shop/music venue/creative agency called Chase and sold Don’s Coffee Club.
“I’m interested in the stories. I’m interested in the situations. If I get excited about something, there’s a life that comes to the situation. If I say something and then take it seriously, it becomes more and more real, there is this whole spark that comes alive.”
That was the idea behind Chase, where Phil would be able to “facilitate anything exciting” and grow the company organically. To understand his drive to create a company where he could facilitate new concepts, it’s important to understand where Phil came from.
Phil was born in Orland Park in 1979. The oldest boy in a family of entrepreneurs, Phil was surrounded by business people his entire life. From the earliest times he can remember, he wanted to start a business. “I was raised like that. I always looked at things like: I want that space, I want that building, I want that parking garage. When you are raised in that environment you start to think that way.”
Fueling his early entrepreneurial spirit was his father, Issa Tadros, who owned a chain of grocery stores on the south side of Chicago called Horizon Foods. Tragically, in 1992 Phil’s father was murdered inside one of the family’s grocery stores.
In the aftermath, 13-year-old Phil was overcome with a new appreciation for life. “It changed things on how I looked at life and how short life is. It just fueled it more that I wanted to do something.” However, through the rest of his teen years Phil would struggle to find his calling and lost interest in education.
Realizing, however, that he had far too much passion and drive to sit idle, he enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado and then transferred to Columbia College in downtown Chicago. It was the creative environment at Columbia that led him to realize his calling in life.
“I’m stimulated by new problems … I’m into people and problem solving. If someone walked up to me and was like ‘my roof is collapsing,’ I would be like, ‘how can we fix this?’ I think I’m best at producing and pulling the best out of the people around me.”
That was the inspiration for Chase, since it would allow him to finally create new things for people and pull from all of his strengths. Chase is also where Phil experienced his first failures.
Along the way there have been bad partners that he had to push out, con artists who took advantage of his gung-ho attitude to get involved in projects, and the first business failure he had in the form of a Craigslist competitor called MetroProper.
“MetroProper was my first web startup. It was a Craigslist with profiles to create trust for the people reading the listings. It failed because of the people and the concept became too restricted as time went on. A lot of it was my fault, for adding too many things. We had a business directory. We had a social network. We had a Digg style news thing in it.” In the end the idea was shuttered and Phil moved on.
“I go back to failures, and I always look at them in a positive light. At the same time I was down about Metroproper not being the way I wanted it to be, I saw new things that were relevant to the same group of people.”
Phil’s approach to failure is one of the most healthy ones I’ve heard over the years. ”I’m only happy when I’m doing projects. Success to me is being able to keep doing stuff.” As long as he can continue to do projects and create new things there can be no failure in his mind.
“There is definitely a huge part of me that looks at the world like everything is made up. I can’t take things too seriously. If you can step out of the world and say, ‘How interesting is all this made up stuff,’ why would I let it affect me so negatively? I’m interested in the story.”