Are You Considering Starting Your Own Business?
Mita Srinivasan
10X People

Are You Considering Starting Your Own Business?

Kim Thompson, Owner and Managing Director at Raw Coffee Company, shares her insights into what this means and what she has learnt from starting her own business 14 years ago.

While the last 14 months have been particularly crazy, a positive from it all is that maybe you have taken time to breath and to reflect on the more important things in your life. What you do for work, who you spend your time with and ultimately what you want your future to look like. For many that’s a luxury. If there has ever been the right time, to pause and re-evaluate how you live, I think that time is now.

Nearly 14 years ago I founded a coffee roasting business. When I am asked how it came about, I nearly always snigger internally, and sometimes out loud, as it was a thoroughly unhealthy mix of being brave and as equally, totally naïve of what I was getting myself into. But what I didn’t know then that I know now, is that this is not that uncommon as a foundation for establishing a new business.

Having the idea to start something, and then actually being brave enough to follow through, is the beginning of how most businesses starts – you need to be brave and believe in yourself, and there is no way that you could properly know what you are getting yourself into until you have already jumped in. The idea, the dream, the first business plan that often rapidly evolves and morphs into something barely recognizable from your initial dream, is the progression that should happen as you collect more information along the way.

Having an authentic idea that you are enthusiastic about is crucial as suddenly your world is going to be all consumed, so to love what you are going to be doing is key. It’s ok not to know everything there is to know about your chosen vocation but 100% you will need to have a sound foundation of knowledge. Read some books as there are many amazing and motivational business books out there by entrepreneurs who go into lots more detail about the risks and rewards.

Here are a few really basic things I believe are a starter to know.

What is different about the solution or product you will be offering to the market?

As a definition, every business provides a product or a solution to a customer. You have to be very clear about what your product is and where you fit into the market. With RAW Coffee Company, we made the decision to play in the niche specialty segment of the coffee market. We were the first in the Middle East to roast specialty coffee and we have pillars that we live by, that are still relevant as we grow. Local = freshly roasted; Ethical = we are committed to ethical and honest partnerships; Direct Trade = Sustainable Direct Authentic trade where we get the money directly to our partners.

Who are your competitors and how will you improve the product or service so that a customer will buy from you and trust you – how are you going to make money?

Knowing your market, your competition, International trends, and understanding consumer behavior is invaluable. In really basic terms we like to add value to our industry, so that everyone involved from the farmers, the producers, our commercial partners, suppliers, and customers all feel like we have added value and made their experience better. Every company that is successful makes a profit, it’s more than just covering costs, it’s also having surplus money and being able to invest in your future growth.

How do you reach them?

Our world has changed, having a strong online presence, means creating a website, social platforms and an online identity that clearly conveys your DNA, your story, and your vision to your target customer. When we started RAW in 2007 this was not the case, we had the luxury of starting slowly and most of our marketing was attending events with our coffee machines, making coffee, and personally handing it over to a consumer, so that they could taste the difference. It was so much fun, and we had direct face to face contact with our consumers which I still believe is invaluable – you must have direct communication with your own customers. We never had a marketing department! Now our marketing team is one of the busiest within our company and I feel so proud to see our content go out, but it takes a huge amount of time and skill, lots of planning and collective intelligence so that it has the right impact and tone and is authentic to who we are.

Who do you hire?

The harsh reality is that you also don’t just get to focus on the most exciting part of your new business, for me that was the actual sourcing and roasting of the coffee. You have to quickly learn about everything within your business because often in the early years you will not have the budget to afford all the key people when you are starting up. I compare it to a human body, with all the organs that must operate so that it functions correctly. You will need to appreciate each department or organ that is producing your solution or product. For RAW this is Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Marketing & PR, Finance, Strategy, HR and local legalities, Training, Sales, Logistics, Customer service, Facilities Management etc, and every department has to function soundly for the business to be successful. It is always good to be really honest with yourself, and to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, as when you do acknowledge where you find the biggest challenges, these are the first important roles you need to fill within your organisation, so that they can complement and support your strengths.

When choosing your team, you need to look for personalities that share your same core values, people who you will like spending lots of time with. I believe one of the biggest strengths a business has is its people and while I definitely made mistakes in the early years, I now have the most amazing team of people who are my rocks, my ambassadors, and our greatest assets. A constant is that you will always be developing and growing, and communication is key to everyone pulling in the same direction.

Where’s the money?

The main reason that many startup businesses fail, is underestimating your initial financial investment. A crazy percent of really good business fail in the early years due to insufficient working capital and cashflow (because lets be positive, it requires additional investment to grow). I was told this by friends who had their own businesses, but I didn’t listen and looking back it is the stupidest thing I did. But trust me this is real; you must believe me. Do your business plan, create your budget and forecast, run it passed either friends or family, who you respect to see if they have any pearls of wisdom, and then file everything away, and times the money by 3 as this will probably be closer to the real investment you are going to have to make.

And finally, this journey has to be empowering and it should be fun, don’t get me wrong there will be days it’s not fun but those days should be the exception rather than the rule. In my opinion the buzz of owning your own business, and the freedom of creating your own ecosystem completely negates the risks. To be in control of your own journey and to be part of a tribe that you have collected together is so invigorating and rewarding and even now after so long, I am still learning new skills. Be brave, if I can do it, so can you.

About the author

Kim Thompson is the Founder / Owner / Managing Director of RAW. She has lived in the Middle East for 25 years, originally from New Zealand and selected as an Endeavor Entrepreneur in 2016. First woman in the Middle East to obtain her Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Diploma, and a certified AST instructor. Her role within RAW focuses on the sourcing and roasting of the coffee, supporting Matt in the growth of the business and internally, the human element of the company.