1. Don't underestimate your local audience

‘Initially I lived in a very supportive neighborhood in south-east London, and I was flooded with orders when I posted my story on a local Facebook group and neighborhood app. When I moved to a less community-centric area, I immediately lost about 75% of my trade. I hadn't realized quite how important the local support had been and it's been incredibly hard to find that again since. But I've found pockets of supporters that I now treasure, on social media groups, in my office building (where A4 posters in the lifts are the extent of my marketing efforts) and through my incredible friendship group spreading the word.’

2. Find your own way

‘I'm a “chief everything officer”: the accountant, graphic designer, ops manager and head of logistics. I didn't know how to do 90% of these things before starting CC, and I'm doing a lot of it unconventionally, getting creative to solve problems. Whereas a typical roastery can roast a few kilos of beans at once on a £5,000 to £10,000 commercial roaster, my little kitchen set-up is a £250 home roaster that I've learned to get a great profile from. I researched hard and found an amazing supplier of smaller, 5kg bags of ethically sourced beans, giving me more control of the costs and stock, and more variety of flavors and roasts.’

3. Every penny matters

‘When I launched my espresso roast, I bumped up the order quantity of labels from 50 to 100. When they arrived at twice the size I had hoped for – and the mistake was entirely mine – it was a 20% chunk of my cash gone. You have to get inventive at this size, to treasure every penny and roll up your sleeves. I've got better at explaining why I'm not able to help other friends with their startups (a good friend of mine has a bookkeeping business). I've had some offers of investment of £20,000 to £30,000 to open a little coffee shop in London, but I'm going to wait until I've learned a bit more this way. Anyone can work in the good times and it's much easier when money is  less of an issue, [but] it feels like cheating me and my project, somehow.’

4. You can innovate, even at this size

‘After a few months of steady sales and the introduction of a subscription service, I found myself trying to compete with brands with proper marketing budgets. First, I partnered with an artist friend to make a “pour-over” coffee bike. Three months and £150 later, I've got something that barely cycles and weighs a ton, but will be a great prop in a future coffee shop. Next, I spotted a liquid instant-coffee concentrate being marketed in the US – but the brand is really tight-lipped about how it's made. After much late-night research and a reinvestment of approximately £300 (earned from profit) on new equipment, I tried to make something to vaguely match. A few weeks of experimentation cracked a winning formula of a concentrated extraction that can be mixed with hot or cold water, milk or Martini. Orders have been flying in. You've just got to be brave (or stupid) enough to try it – and stay playful.’

5. Small is still valid

‘There have been so many days when I've looked in the mirror and had to talk myself out of a spiral of self-doubt or impostor syndrome; questioning how I can call this project a legitimate business. I'm roasting coffee in my kitchen, measuring success in Google Sheets documents. When I get through these phases, I realize that this is a proper business: it's set on a solid footing, with real values and a proper sense of purpose. Every little fist-pump I do when an order comes through really is a cause for celebration. And I hope that I continue to feel like this as it (hopefully) scales.’ 

This article was first published in Courier issue 44, December 2021/January 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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