Interview: @simonianson on his gourmet coffee start-up @wearekopi

Simon I’Anson is the co-founder of Kopi, a new British start-up that delivers gourmet coffee to lovers of the beverage around the country. I’ve known Simon for a few years from our time at Made by Many, where we used to work together.

I thought it would be interesting to ask him a few questions about his new venture and see how he’s getting on. So here goes:

First questions first: please could you give us the background to Kopi. Why did you feel it was the right time to launch a gourmet coffee delivery service?

There’s been a rapid rise in the number of different subscription services on the web. People are willing to spend a small amount of money on little luxuries that appear through their letter boxes each month. That, coupled with the fact that the understanding that what is happening to coffee in the UK is similar to what happened to wine 20-30 years ago. People are interested in trying different types of coffee, learning about how they’re grown and where they come from. They’re also tired of the same-old supermarket stuff. Put those two forces together and the business case seemed to write itself.

On the one hand you have the Starbucks of the world and on the other the more local friendly UK brands like Monmouth Coffee. Where do you see Kopi in this spectrum?

We’re definitely more towards Monmouth rather than Starbucks in that spectrum, but in particular Kopi is about three things:

1. Curation
Our experts select interesting coffee from anywhere around the world; especially rare, single-origin coffees that are difficult to buy elsewhere.

2. Discovery
Helping our customers discover new types of coffee from interesting places that they may never have tried or heard of before. For example, November’s coffee was a rare and interesting Thailand Peaberry.

3. Convenience
No hunting the supermarket shelves. No more confusion when staring at 12 bags of similarly priced averageness in the shops. We deliver it to your door as part of the subscription price.

Other coffee sellers might provide one or two of these but not all three.

Your background is in design: how has the switch to being a full-time entrepreneur been, and how has your design background helped?

Well, the website and print materials haven’t cost us anything to create! I’ve always had an end-to-end focus as a designer, i.e it’s not just about a website. It’s about the user’s/customer’s life and how what I’ve built fits into that. This business takes that thinking to the extreme. Our first contact with most customers is through the website, but we deliver a physical product. Understanding how all those bits fit together is some pretty extreme design and process thinking.

You work with co-founder Philip Wilkinson, who’s somewhat of a serial entrepreneur with startups like Kelkoo and Keynoir behind him. What lessons learnt from those services have found their way into the way Kopi operates?

Phil’s experience in those businesses have really helped us get up to speed very quickly. We had our refer-a-friend scheme planned from day one (a vital marketing channel for us). Also, Phil had a very good idea of the types of things he wanted to track on the site admin system. Referral codes, visitor referral sources, recurring revenue etc. For a young company we have some pretty powerful CRM stuff in the back end of the site – so much easier than retro-fitting it six months down the line.

Kopi’s had some great word of mouth publicity recently: the Daily Candy featured you, and a few food bloggers have picked up on you as well. Do you have a marketing plan in place or do you belong to the school that believes that the best marketing is the product itself?

We obviously want people to talk about us and recommend us – hence the refer-a-friend plan. We’re also riding on the back of some natural ‘we’re new’ PR from the likes of The Independent and The Express. We are speaking to marketing people at the moment with a view to hiring someone full time in the new year.

Tell us about Kopi’s ‘coffee gurus’. Who are they and how do they build relationships with coffee growers around the world?

Between the four of them they have about 100 years experience in the coffee industry. They also consult for high street chains so they prefer to stay behind the scenes. They speak to suppliers and have visited many of the farms that we have, and will buy from. They taste 60+ coffees a month so they have some great ideas about what will work for us and our customers.

Is there something you think more people should know about Kopi as a product that you feel hasn’t got enough love yet?

We’ve done MasterChef Live and the Tea and Coffee Festival on London’s South Bank over the past two weekends. That gave us direct access to our current and potential customers which was invaluable. A few things became clear that we need to work on. The fact that we deliver a different coffee each month needs to come across more strongly. We also source coffees that are single-origin. We don’t blend. The beans we choose are good enough to be roasted, brewed and drunk on their own.

What’s been the best compliment you’ve received about Kopi so far?

It’s been a pretty amazing response. There have been some great Twitter compliments – and not just from people I know. However, nothing matches the pleasure of watching someone taste your coffee and compliment you face to face. Also, many people thinking that the idea is brilliant and wishing us the very best. That is as good as it gets and makes me feel tremendously proud of what we have achieved in two months.

You have 3 well-bundled subscription plans: what’s next for Kopi?

A few things aren’t secrets. We want to launch business boxes in the new year. Bulk order, invoiced subscription for offices that want coffees that are that bit better. We’re taking expressions of interest right now with a view to the first boxes going out in February. Also, Kopi Black. A dedicated Espresso blend for those epic caffeine addicts who want a kick in the morning. The great thing is we’re not short of ideas – which is a good thing. We’re just being guided by customer demand at the moment.

And finally, what are your plans for world domination? 😉

For the time being we just want to build an amazing business that delivers outstanding coffee to our customers month after month. Anything else will be a happy by-product and a bonus.

Thanks very much, Simon. It’s been lovely to hear about how Kopi is progressing. Here’s wishing you the very best as you take Kopi from strength to strength!

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