Coffee as a subscription — Interview

For this blog post, I wanted to try the interview format. For this one, I asked the founders of Direct Coffee, a Swiss ethical coffee startup, a couple of questions. I met Michael at the Kleinhafen coworking space where he sometimes works.

He and his wife, Marie, bootstrapped their company.

Hello! What’s your background and what do you do?

Hi! We’re both economists by education. We truly believe that trade can make a positive difference, and we’re about to prove it with our social startup, Direct Coffee. We import forest coffee directly from smallholder farmers in Ethiopia and use part of the profits to implement social projects for the farmers’ children. You can order our coffee online and make the world a little bit better with every cup you drink.

What motivated you to launch direct coffee?

The idea was born shortly after we went to Ethiopia on our honeymoon. We fell in love with the Ethiopian people, with their openness and motivation to change things for the better. Arabica coffee originates in Ethiopia, and the country is world famous for its aromatic specialty coffee. Being sceptical of certificates (Michael had worked in the field and seen the shortcomings), our idea was to offer a coffee that is more than fair, better than organic and 200 percent transparent.

What went into building the website? How long did it take?

Until now, we had two different versions of our website. We actually started out with a very innovative website. We spent a lot of time and effort in customizing WooCommerce — and we soon found out that we wanted too much. It was error-prone, and people told us they were confused by the unusual ordering process. So we decided to build a new website from scratch. This time, we only used WordPress standard templates, and we were able to make most of it by ourselves. Marie created the new version in the four last weeks before our son was born. And we’re much happier with this version than with the previous one. So our advice is keep it simple!

How do you attract users to the website?

As an online retailer this might sound weird, but until now we mostly attracted users to our website via events, printed articles, and networking — all offline. Additionally, word of mouth is very important for us. As you can probably imagine, this is our favorite channel. People that like our coffee and its story so much that they recommend it to their families, friends and colleagues.

Where do you struggle with your online communication?

We haven’t yet found a way to advertise successfully online. Google Ads, banners, Facebook ads — nothing has really worked so far.

What tools did you use to help speed up your business?

For us, the most important tool is what we call “next step sessions”. Which means that we both first separately write down a to-do list (also including to-dos for each other) and afterwards we sit together to create a common list distinguishing between urgent and important tasks. We take our time, discuss, and decide a lot during these sessions. Often, things seem to be so simple, but in fact one task, like “finalizing our new degustations sets”, consists of more than twenty subtasks that build on top of each other. The “next step sessions” are our tool to bring all the threads together and move the business forward.

Is there any book that you would recommend that helped your business or changed your life?

A book that incorporates our personal feeling that the world is getting better day by day — also through tiny organizations like ours — is Factfulness by Hans Rosling. In fact, the world is in a much better state than we often think: each day people escape from poverty, more and more girls go to school, and endangered species are successfully restored.  Embracing this fact instead of worrying makes it easier to focus on being part of the solution.

Thank you, Marie and Michael!

Note: If you’re interested, Direct Coffee will organize has organized a trip to Ethiopia this November. You’ll get to meet the farmers and see how your daily drug is growing. 😉

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Yann Graf
I am an experienced Digital Strategy Consultant based in Switzerland. After over seven year respectfully crafting and improving the digital presence of Terre des hommes, Nautilus and G-Star Raw, I am now a freelancer. Please have a look at my Portfolio