Travis Boersma | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Travis Boersma


Dutch Bros Coffee was founded in 1992 by Dane and Travis Boersma, brothers of Dutch descent. After leaving the dairy business, they bought a double-head espresso machine, threw open the barn doors and started experimenting with just 100 pounds of beans and a rockin’ stereo. Today, Dutch Bros Coffee is the country’s largest, privately held drive-thru coffee company, and is closing in on 300 locations in seven states with 5,000-plus employees. The company donates over $2 million a year to its local communities and nonprofit organizations, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in honor of Dane, who passed away in 2009 after a four-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The Mistake:

Mistakes can shape our lives in positive or negative ways. I never was one who was looking to be malicious with a mistake that happened. I was always pressing or challenging to determine how we could obtain the results I desired.

In the early days of the company, I would get frustrated if the gap between the result and expectation was large. I would think, ‘Why doesn’t this person understand this expectation? Why did they do it? Why aren’t they behaving in a way?’ The result was always a negative response, and it didn’t help us get closer to the result we wanted as an organization and individuals.

At one point, I just had this epiphany moment. I began to think that the mistake was me. And I would think, ‘How can I help this person get closer to the result?’ With that shift from why to how and focusing on me as the problem or the mistake, it was a game-changer in my life. It put me in a continual state of how I can improve as a leader, how can I help others feel great, be great, kick ass.

If I could come up with great answers to those questions, then we’d have a phenomenal team, phenomenal organization and a phenomenal journey.

Attitude times skill times effort is how I measure.

The Lesson:

Mistakes are always happening; there’s no way to avoid them. I want our people to be at peace with making mistakes and learning and growing from the mistakes because that’s what it’s all about for us.

We can control our thoughts that lead to emotions and do our best to adapt to the changes around us. So, with that change, mistakes are going to occur, and they provide the opportunity for us to learn and grow – to become a better version of Dutch Bros.

An example of this occurred during a promotional effort with scratch tickets and prizes. It was a really fun, cool promo that was highly effective in a couple of markets. Customers loved it. Employees loved it. It built business, and it was really something we wanted to do as we continued to grow with all of our franchisees.

There was an error made in the ordering, and amounted to a quarter-million-dollar error. There was no way to turn it around. There were choices we had to make as a result of the mistake. But at the end of the day, it was a loss on our financial ledger but a gain within our organization.

The people who were involved felt horrible. They were completely in a place of fear, concerned they may lose their jobs.

The thing that was critically important to me was for them to know we don’t measure performance over one act. It’s measured over time. Attitude times skill times effort is how I measure. If you have someone who’s trying to do the right thing, I want to be there to help them dust off and help them back up.

This life that we get the privilege of leading is short. Problems and challenges are coming our way. We like to think we’re in control of everything, but life’s circumstances and the struggle we’re all going through is real.

I’ve been some through some things in my life and more as time goes on, I just hope as these lessons come my way I can continue to try and be the best version of myself and pass that along to our organization.

Follow Travis Boersma on Twitter at: @DutchBros.

Photo courtesy of Travis Boersma.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.