By: Lexie Newhouse
A year to the date from his release of Time to Get Tough, Michael Coles’ memoir offers a glimpse of his experiences as Co-Founder of Great American Cookies and former CEO of Caribou Coffee. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute was honored to host this accomplished entrepreneur, philanthropist and author through the H.J. Russell Center for Entrepreneurship Motivational Author Talk.
From humble begins, Coles shared about his experiences being raised in Buffalo, New York as a child and the financial challenges his family faced. At 10 years old, his parents went bankrupt, forcing him to move around frequently. By age 13, Coles was in the workforce.
“Take your risks as early as you possibly can,” said Coles, “When you’re young, you have plenty of time to recover.” Starting Great American Cookies with only $8,000 and growing it to a $100-million company, he encouraged students to pursue those entrepreneurial endeavors sooner rather than later. For those worried about timing, he explained that, “The time to do something is never the right time.”
Beyond the financial obstacles, time also proved to be a challenge when first launching Great American Cookies. After meeting with several mall managers, Coles finally got the “yes” he needed to create the storefront. He built the first store in 1998 in 19 days at Perimeter Mall here in Atlanta, GA.
“Success is never defined by what you prepare for,” said Coles. In preparing for the launch, he forgot one key thing: oven mitts. The first batch of Great American Cookies slowly turned from that iconic golden glow to a burnt crisp without oven mitts on hand to retrieve the hot tray from the oven.
Coles went on to share other personal stories including his near-fatal motorcycle accident and his experience growing the Caribou Coffee brand. With all these business lessons, Coles left students with one final thought: “If you’re not going to be overly ambitious, then why even be ambitious?”
Copies of Time to Get Tough are available for purchase at Georgia State University bookstore. All book proceeds are allocated to the development of entrepreneurship at neighbor university Kennesaw State.
We wish to thank Michael Coles for his time and commitment to inform, educate and inspire our students. Click here to view the highlight video.