Startup, Cape Coffee Beans – Brews Business in a Niche Market

Updated on 16 October 2014

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Startup, Cape Coffee Beans, brews business in a niche marketWhat do you get when you mix a passion for quality coffee with a wide range of e-commerce skills? The answer is an online store for coffee lovers. It’s from this combination that Cape Town-based, entrepreneur Phaedon Gourtsoyannis founded his startup, Cape Coffee Beans.

The online store is a coffee lovers’ paradise. The store sells locally made coffee made by some of SA’s best artisanal roasters.

Despite having been around less than a year, the website has already already been named one of the Top 30 websites at this year’s UAfrica eCommerce Awards.

E-commerce was not unsurprising business for Gourtsoyannis (pictured below) to get into. He has vast experience in e-commerce, having worked for one of South Africa’s most well-known online retail stores Zando, and Rocket Internet, which is one of the world’s largest e-commerce venture capital firms.

The idea for Cape Coffee Beans was the product of some soul searching about how I could combine my background in e-commerce with a product category that I really loved. When I started to think about coffee, it quickly became apparent that this was a great opportunity. Coffee beans and coffee-related products are very well-suited to online retail and we have an abundance of fantastic artisanal coffee roasters in Cape Town, whose coffees I really wanted to make available to the rest of the country.

The inspiration for this business was really the collision of two areas of my life. I’ve worked in e-commerce and I was consulting to an e-commerce company at the time so I knew the ins and outs of selling online.

Speciality coffee is rapidly growing with Cape Town at the cutting edge of what’s being achieved in this country, so there is absolutely a market for coffee beans and brewing equipment online. However, despite the great interest, most of the rest of the country is poorly supplied, particularly because of the important issue of freshness. Traditional retailers can’t really address this problem and that’s where Cape Coffee Beans comes in.

“You’ve got to dive in to come out the other end”

This is definitely a niche market. At the end of the day, we’re focused on the subset of coffee drinkers who care about things like where their coffee beans are sourced, how they’re roasted and how they grind and brew them.

I’ve been happily surprised by how quickly Cape Coffee Beans has gained traction. This is in no small part to the support that the speciality coffee industry has given me in getting going. It’s also because there are a lot of passionate coffee drinkers out there who love what we’re doing. Cape Coffee Beans is now turning a small profit, which is a wonderful place to be less than a year into this venture.

My passion for coffee was also really blossoming here in Cape Town and I was having a lot of fun exploring what the artisanal roasters I now work with have to offer. As cliché as it may sound, I was sitting in a café when I thought to myself – “hold on a second – you could easily courier these bags of coffee beans”. It wasn’t long before Cape Coffee Beans was taking orders.

As much as I knew intellectually, I hadn’t really experienced the sheer amount of blood sweat and tears it takes to get a business off the ground. That includes some pretty poignant moments of anxiety and stress. But you’ve got to dive in to come out the other end.

I think the biggest hurdle for anyone starting a business is psychological. Once you start moving, excitement and adrenaline will pave the way. There are plenty of other hurdles that come up later but I think the one you have to jump over initially is to stop thinking and start doing.

Stop thinking of ideas and start implementing an idea – ideas aren’t worth anything without execution

Cape Coffee Beans is 100% bootstrapped. I used a little bit of cash from some consulting work I was doing just before I got started to help fund the setup and then it was a sprint to cash flow positive. Fortunately I was able to build Cape Coffee Beans very lean and avoided many of the big setup costs other e-commerce ventures incur.

I love the startup community here in Cape Town. It feels like it’s full of passion and hunger and while there’s still a lot of growing to do, I’ve found lots of people who I can share experiences with. I actually love the fact that it’s small because that contributes to it feeling like a community.

There’s no question that there are challenges to doing business here generally and specifically in the context of startups but I feel that the momentum is all in the right direction.

In the next two years, I want Cape Coffee Beans to be THE online destination for all coffee lovers around South Africa. Not only somewhere where they buy their fresh coffee beans and equipment, but also a place where they go to learn more about coffee and interact with a community of fellow coffee lovers.

Gourtsoyannis‘ advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:

  • If you’re just beginning your career, go get a job at a corporate that will teach you business skills – you’re going to need them.
  • Once you’ve learned what you need to, don’t wait too long to jump off the treadmill – the longer you wait, the harder it seems.
  • Stop thinking of ideas and start implementing an idea – ideas aren’t worth anything without execution.

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