HACKNEY COFFEE COMPANY: Jon Penn, James Penn and Kevin Mills

The coffee start-up's co-founder Jon Penn on how they plan to scale in a competitive market and why it's important to have fun along the way

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Name: Jon Penn, James Penn and Kevin Mills
Location: London
Date launched: 15/09/15 
Website: www.hackneycoffee.co

Tell us what your business does:

Hackney Coffee Co. creates beautiful coffee from the best beans and machines available.

Using only the top 2-3% grade Arabica beans, ethically sourced from around the world, our baristas carefully craft each cup using our La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Over the years the three of us had often talked about setting up a business together, but it was a trip to Colombia, when Kevin and James first tasted speciality grade beans and learned about the production process, that the idea of getting into the coffee business first arose.

Fast forward seven years and a chance opening in a property owned by Kevin’s father reignited our plans to set up shop. Situated on Hackney Road, in what was originally a Victorian-era brewery, the property has been passed down through three generations of the Mills family. With Kevin’s father having recently retired from his successful mechanics business, the opportunity has arisen for Kevin to develop the premises for the next generation.

With the Penns also having their roots in London’s East End, where their grandfather and father ran a number of butcher shops, setting up a business in Hackney also seemed to make sense. Jon had also sold his design business and had been actively seeking new investment projects, and so the timing seemed perfect.

How did you know there was a market for it?

The coffee market has been around since the fifteenth century so its pretty well established. What is changing however is the user experience and how customers want to engage with your brand. The world is becoming smaller and there is now more choice than ever so it’s really key to stand out and engage with your customers. Apart from creating great products, this will be our main focus.

For anyone who’s ever tasted great coffee, it’s difficult to go back to the products served in the big chains, and for us, that signalled an opportunity to do something different and have a lot of fun in the process.

What were you doing before starting up?

I’m involved in a number of different companies within the creative, digital and retail sector. My expertise lies in developing concepts and taking them to market which has been something I have done for the last 10 years. My brother James is an ex-lawyer and continues to work in the sales sector.

Kevin has been running his own electrician business for the last five years and previously worked in the banking sector.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

This business was very much started on Kevin seeking the opportunity to develop his father’s premises into something much bigger.

I have been running my own companies for the last 10 years within the retail and creative sector and love being involved within the start-up scene, and the idea to set up a new business with Kevin and James really appealed.

How did you raise the money?

Everything has been self-funded so far. As part of our 3 year plan we may consider raising additional funds to further develop the 3500ft space into a coffee/cocktail bar and more.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

We make money by selling beautiful coffee from the best beans and machines available. Using only the top 2-3% grade Arabica beans, ethically sourced from around the world.

Speciality coffee is typically more expensive to produce from bean to cup than the regular coffee produced by the big chains. But customers are also willing to travel further and spend more for a great coffee and a great experience.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We’re still at very early stages of establishing our business at present. Our biggest challenge has been focusing on renovating the site to the standard we want whilst juggling all the other aspects of setting up a new business.

What was your first big breakthrough?

The one thing we wanted to get right from the outset was our brand, and having worked with many creatives in the past we decided to hire a very experienced and talented designer that has worked on many of the top fashion brands.

We set Henry a brief to come up with a brand and logo concept that reflected the kind of business we wanted to create. The reaction so far seems very positive and we’re confident that we’re on to a good thing! In just a few months we’ve amassed 7,000 followers on Twitter, over 3,500 on Instagram, and a growing list of email subscribers to our website.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Stop waiting and make the jump! I always think of business scenarios like doing a solo skydive. The more you keep looking out, the more you will convince yourself why you shouldn’t jump. Sometimes you just need to jump and see what happens. It’s better to regret the things you did than what you didn’t do.

I also think one of the best things you can do is surround yourself with like minded people by joining a network of some kind. I’ve been very fortunate to be on the UK board for the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) which is a network of over 11,000 entrepreneurs worldwide with turnovers of  over a million.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time

With this business, our primary focus will be to develop our premier site on Hackney Road into a mixed-use coffee house, cocktail bar and retail space. We’re also be considering opportunities to develop premium products we can sell into various retail channels.

Building long term relationships across our supply chain will also be a key focus, understanding the businesses of our coffee farmers, dairy farmers, and everyone else, to ensure we’re helping them as much as they’re helping us.

Waste is also big concern for us, so we’ll be looking at ways to either reduce or commercialise upon this, whether in the shops or elsewhere in the supply chain. Like any business, once you start, there are certain to be new opportunities that present themselves, and we’d love to bring innovation to the coffee sector.

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