Questions on getting started:

Hi Tim, first-time caller long time listener. I’ve always wondered where do you start? Do you find a catchy name and run with it? Or do you find your location or build your product? What do you suggest for someone who has no idea what step one should be?

Chris E.

The big question for most folks is where do you start?
The answer is almost always the same– you start in somebody else’s business and learn everything you can.

It’s ideal to start in a business that you admire– even if you’re not sure what it is about that particular biz that lights you up.

It means that if you’ve got a jones to have your own coffee business, tackle the foothills and big slopes of the learning curve on someone else’s dime.

Now, that’s a shitty answer if the questioner has good coffee experience but is still bewildered about how to get started on her own thing.

But I’m still going to go back to your experience– If you don’t have an idea of what parts of that business’s model you want to adopt and what parts you want to change or eliminate, you have to think about that stuff.

Like it or not, your first coffee job is going to be a formative one, and it’s going to be difficult to unlearn the core lessons you pick up as you’re getting started with coffee (and business.)

This is why it’s not such a bad idea to start at a Starbuxxx. Everything you learn there is the result of a system that produces profitable and smoothly run coffee shops.
My first coffee job was at a tiny drive-thru only Starbucks in Grandview Heights Ohio.
Soon after helping get the location open, I became the main trainer for that location, and we’d bring in hires from other branches to train on the equipment in a less distracting environment without a cafe full of Starbucks customers.

Learning their system for training people (which is responsible for a veritable National Guard’s worth of adequately-for-starbucks-trained coffee workers mind you) enabled me to have super solid training systems for my businesses that came after, and set me up to run a small freelance business conducting espresso crash course training for independent coffee shops in Maryland. That’s an advantage I have over other businespeoples that I don’t even think about.

That said, once you learn how the *$ systems work, discard most of what they say about coffee, because their coffee is butt. Sorry not sorry.

But I’m rambling over here. Chris mentioned 3 possible starting points, and we’ll address the pros and cons of starting with each.

Find a catchy name and run with it.

It’s OK to come up with the name of your shop before anything else. I wouldn’t be surprised if a substantial portion of businesses begin with the name of the business as the seed. (Wait til you see my Hamburger Van!) I don’t know how many of those businesses survive, but the name is not enough, obviously. This question reminds me of all the god awful products you see that aren’t really particularly useful but they have a clever or a stupid punny name.

There’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.

David St. Hubbins

Whatever. The point is, if you find a catchy name and run with it, and all you got going for you is the name, you’re going to run out of road and it’s going to be over.

Find your location

This is another valid starting point. There are spots in neighborhoods that certainly need something. WJat exactly is an important question.

The thing that makes any location sparkle is traffic. With the right amount of traffic, just about any business is going to do OK. For a coffee business, you need a lot of traffic, and you need to be convenient to access. This is why drive-thrus have become such a driving force in coffee.

Sometimes folks stumble upon a location that’s quaint, affordable ,or some other third appealing thing. Lots of times they’ll shoehorn a coffee shop business where it doesn’t really fit. We’ve all been in shops tlike that, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. Now imagine being there every day, and being responsible for causing it. Yikes.

Do not get location wrong, and remember, some coffee businesses do very well with no brick-and-mortar presence at all.

Build Your Product

This one is my favorite. If you’re doing retail coffee, or wholesale coffee, or whatever, you need to have something to sell. Please have an idea what your business means, and what your products are going to mean to your clients. Before you get started on your own business you have to know what you’re taking from your prior experience, and what you’re going to create that’s entirely your own.

You can take this too far though. This is the downfall of many, many creative endeavors. It reminds me of the time I spent in rock bands. We’d spend hours and hours writing and rehearsing songs, honing our performance til it was razor sharp. Then we’d get out on stage to showcase our stuff, play a couple kickass shows, and get a bewildered or tepid response from the industry people we were trying to get on our side. (These were the dying days of bands trying to land record deals. I have no idea what bands do now.) Our response was always the same: go back to the rehearsal studio and write five more songs. Rinse, repeat. What we should have done was figure out a better way to present our material– it was good enough already.

You can spend too much time developing your product.

The solution is to start building the other parts of your business once you have an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. After that point the product and the business both evolve together. You can get a feel for what your clients like and take better care of them. You can branch out and innovate, which will (sometimes) srprise and delight your customers.

So, to answer your question as precicely as I can, you start with a product and go directly to building your clientele. From there you see what options you have for a location.

Thanks for reading!

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