Blend: Ben Cockin and Greg Hamilton

Blend is a one-stop shop to buy freshly roasted coffee from the most passionate and award winning roasters in the UK.

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Name of founder(s): Ben Cockin and Greg Hamilton
Age(s) of the founder(s): Ben (27) and Greg (39)
Location: London
Date launched: 14th June 2021
Number of employees: 2

Which university, if any, did you attend?

University of Bedfordshire

What does your business do?

Blend is an app marketplace for coffee enthusiasts to buy fresh coffee beans from Roasters in the UK.

We offer a simplistic buying experience for our customers whilst empowering small businesses to increase their sales and expand nationally.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I'm a coffee hobbyist and enjoy making my own espresso at home. During Lockdown 2.0, I searched for apps that I could buy coffee beans. Shockingly, there was nothing. That evening, I mapped out how the idea would work.

How did you know there was a market for it?

We conducted early market research to see if there was an appetite in the market and started signing up early adopters. Our data showed that 70% of people would not only be open to an app-based experience but would prefer it.

Zooming out and looking at the UK coffee market, we found that the UK retail coffee market in 2020 was estimated to be worth £1.6 billion and show exceptional growth at 9.8% per annum. As a result, there is an expected increase in the number of specialty coffee shops to open in the UK (65% of coffee outlets say that they plan to open new stores in the next couple of years).

We also looked into the age group demanding better quality coffee from the high street and at home. We found that 16 to 35-year-olds are more likely to choose fresh coffee over instant brands for a few key reasons:

– Sustainability
– Quality
– Supporting small businesses
– Variety of choice

Interestingly, buying behaviours also suggest that the same age group prefers to make 80% of their purchases online. The most popular reason for this was the ability to compare prices and explore more options.

What were you doing before launching your business?

I was a recruiter for 3 years focusing on business expansion into the DACH region. My day-to-day included speaking with execs at global companies, selling our services to stakeholders, hitting KPI's and closing deals.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Yes, my way of seeing unique solutions in a digital world mixed with my work ethic has always caused me to be entrepreneurial. I have a passion for people and pride myself on helping others achieve things they never thought they could.

My dream is to build a company with a group of special individuals who have an undying passion for quality and customer service.

How did you finance your business?

We have bootstrapped Blend.

Current expenses come to under £500 (not including loss of salaries). As of writing, I have written to 50 VCs & Angels and placed our pitch on The Angel Network.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

Blend is a marketplace for a variety of Roasters to sell their products on. We approach this with a “headless e-commerce” model.

Essentially, we have developed a system that integrates seamlessly into the Roaster's ordering platform allowing us to streamline the entire process with little error.

Once a bag of coffee is purchased in the app, our system automatically notifies the supplier that they have an order via their current ordering platform (e.g. Shopify). This adds ZERO added workflow to the Roaster and allows them to focus on building their business.

For this, Blend takes a 20% commission from every bag of coffee sold on the platform (from an £8.50 bag of coffee, we make £1.70)

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

Explaining our approach to Roasters. Because we're approaching this in a unique way, it was hard for them to initially see value in the approach. However, after a video call, they didn't just understand the model, but were extremely excited by it.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

Remote working has been beneficial, but challenging, as the early stages do really require constant communication to make sure both founders are on track.

We overcame this by implementing a Scrum/Agile approach so that there is complete transparency in what we're working on and setting out to achieve.

Describe your first breakthrough.

11:30 pm on a Friday, I realised what we needed to build for our MVP to test our assumptions. Suddenly, everything was fitting into place and I got to work with Greg on building it.

We were live in app stores 20 days later.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

No noticeable impact.

If the UK makes trade deals with coffee farming countries, it could be very positive for the industry.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

The same advice that a director gave me when I was starting out in recruitment:

“I'd rather see you fail spectacularly than see you succeed by the bare minimum”

He encouraged me to give it everything and dive headfirst as the upside will always outweigh the downside. I would give the same advice to aspiring business owners.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

Get funded.

We're exceptionally confident in Blend, and the data we've collected is very positive. We've achieved so much on a shoestring budget, and it genuinely terrifies us what we could do with capital (in a good way).

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

In three years, we will be expanding into coffee-centric EU countries such as Germany, Netherlands, and the Nordics, with further plans for the US, NZ, and Aus.

If you're a business owner with a startup that's less than six months old, apply now to feature as one of our Just Started business profiles.

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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