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Startup stories – the subscription coffee service, Porter’s

Startup stories – the subscription coffee service, Porter’s

I caught up with the founders of Porter’s and asked them how they went from a drunken conversation in a pub to a leading coffee subscription service.

Porters Trading Limited
Porter’s Trading Limited

The internet has always offered convenience for shoppers and the rise of Subscription commerce has made life even easier, by helping to eliminate purchasing decisions. You can now get everything from ice cream to socks, delivered straight to your door at monthly intervals.

Porter’s Trading Limited offer a subscription coffee service, with a different variety of coffee bean, roasted and delivered to customers every month.

In this post, I caught up with co-founder John Porter and asked him how they went from a drunken conversation in a pub to a viable business.

Q) Hi John, can you tell us how the business got started, where did the idea come from?

A) The three of us (Porter’s founders) all have a background in the digital and design industry and so, as friends, knew we had the skills to put something together.

It started, as many do, in the pub throwing ideas around! We started with common interests and landed on the fact that we all love quality coffee but had no time to source it on a regular basis.

With this idea in our minds we looked at what was already available and realised that whilst it was already out there we felt we could offer a better product and importantly, a better service

Coffee being bagged immediately after roasting
Porter’s coffee being bagged immediately after roasting

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) Getting it off the ground with the technology and brand was the easy bit, a few late nights and discussions (arguments) and we were there.

Sourcing the right product partners was the hard bit as unlike our competitors we wanted to make sure we were heavily involved in the process rather than acting as resellers. We spent several months finding people who had the same vision and values as us.

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) The competition ranges really. We have one or two big competitors and then several smaller ones who offer various levels of what we do. Then there are also the supermarkets to deal with!

We stand out by offering a product that is superior in quality and freshness and we don’t mess about with made up marketing names for our coffee either. It’s all about the product for us, not the “exclusive made up farm name”.

Our coffee is flame roasted and arrives on the doorstep within a few days. Supermarkets certainly can’t compete with that and most of our competitors struggle too!

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) A typical customer is normally quite particular about coffee and recognises the difference between fresh and supermarket bought. They are also normally pretty busy so the continence of it arriving to their door each month is a big factor. A large percentage of our customers sign up for 12 months in advance because of this.

We also have a few business customers who want to provide quality coffee for staff or clients (or both!).

This is some serious gourmet s***
This is some serious gourmet s***

Q) A couple of the guys involved in the business have day jobs as well as running the business, any tips on how to juggle a 9-5 with a startup?

A) To be honest it’s hard work, really hard work! My tips are just be prepared for this and try to think of every eventuality.

Remember that when you need to work in the evenings, the people you need most are probably closed so you will need to be ready in advance!

Also, if it’s a customer service-based business you are going to need some time to deal with this in the day so either find someone who can help you with this or be prepared to do it on your breaks.

Finally make sure you keep it fun! It’s a lot easier to work evenings with people you get on with and something you are passionate about.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) As discussed above, a problem for us has been time and quite simply you just have to find it. It probably means giving up on a hobby for a while but it will be worth it in the end.

You also need to make sure you think big, particularly if you have well established competitors with lots of budget for marketing. You need to be clever with what you do and start small but act big on your service levels!

Q) Are there any services or tools that you can recommend for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A) When first starting the technical side of the business we simply used tools such as Basecamp for project management and Balsamiq for wireframes of the site. We don’t live near each other so this was ideal for us.

From a business point of view we used SMARTA (http://www.smarta.com/) and http://www.docracy.com/ for help with terms and conditions etc.

I would also recommend speaking to an accountant as early as you can, it’s an extra cost but is likely to actually save you money in the long term! We were lucky as thanks to our day jobs and background we already knew someone that could help.

Porters coffee is bagged in this lovely packaging with a leaflet explaining the origin of the coffee
Porter’s coffee is delivered in this lovely packaging with a leaflet explaining the origin of the coffee

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) So far we have used a mix; at the minute it is tricky to work out which channels works the best as customers tend to visit the site from several sources before converting. Social was key for us, particular at the start but our business attracts a large word of mouth audience, even in the digital age!

We also helped out when a smaller, similar service went out of business and asked us to help take on their customers on the same agreements. This saw a large number of customers sign up at once and continue to stay with us.

Q) Techcrunch’s Ryan Lawlor argues that some products just don’t warrant subscription, what makes coffee any different?

A) I agree to be honest, but we believe that people cannot access fresh quality coffee that easily. Add to that the fact that we offer a new coffee every month and our customers like the “surprise” of what type of coffee is coming next. It’s a discovery service for them as well as a subscription service

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Our long term plans are to continue to grow whilst ensuring we stick to our principals of service and a quality product.

Next year we are looking to enable people to start a subscription whenever they want to rather than waiting for a pre-defined date every month.

Are you a startup with a story to tell? I’d love to hear from you.

Martin Harrison

Works at Copify

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