In 2006, Victoria Lynden tried selling hot coffee on a summer weekend at a farmer's market in Texas. The result? Too little sales and too much sweat. She knew she needed to pivot. Inspired by memories of her mother brewing tea on the porch, Lynden decided to give slow-brewing a try. She bought some bins, filled them with coffee and water and left them out to soak. Surprisingly, it worked. Once brewed, Lynden's concoction tasted smooth, rich and refreshing over ice.
And so, Kohana Coffee was born—just in time.
According to a survey produced by research firm Mintel in 2015, the consumption of cold brew coffee has increased by more than 75% from 2005 to 2015. Although cold brew originally got its start in the 1600s in Japan, Lynden was among the first to reintroduce cold brew to the American market ten years ago. With a combination of demand and entrepreneurial expertise (Lynden's a serial entrepreneur; her first company Alliance Abroad Group got its start in the 90s), Lynden quickly grew Kohana into an industry leader. In 2014, Inc. listed Kohana Coffee as the sixth fastest-growing food and beverage company, and in 2016, Kohana reported $12.3 million in revenue. As for their current goals, disrupting the coffee world will be next.
According to Kohana's team, the company plans to source entirely from women-owned and women-run coffee farms by 2020. This is no easy feat—the coffee industry is notoriously male-dominated, yet disproportionately powered by women laborers, which means in most cases male-run co-ops and farm owners control the purse strings, while women work the fields. As a socially responsible, woman-identifying entrepreneur, Lynden wants to change that by putting Kohana's money where its heart is. By sourcing entirely from women producers, Lynden hopes Kohana can change the face of coffee leadership and strengthen the coffee world's infrastructure for innovation.
A few weeks ago, I met with Lynden in Austin, Texas to discuss the future changes of Kohana and glean some insight from her career. We discussed the grind of entrepreneurship, the duty of social responsibility and how she has managed her own expectations and failures throughout the years. From our conversation, I pulled five key lessons. So, whether you're a side hustler, a creative entrepreneur or simply looking to make a change in your industry, I suggest you read up:
1.) Look for problems to solve, not egos to groom.
Both of Lynden's companies, Alliance Abroad Group and Kohana Coffee, began as solutions to her own problems. For example, with Alliance Abroad Group, she was looking to meet the needs of American students living and working overseas. She saw a gap in information and resources and decided to become the bridge.
"My first venture was Alliance Abroad Group, and I got the idea for that when I was living overseas in Italy. I was a part-time au pair living with an Italian family, and I was probably around 22 years old. One day, I was riding my bike down the street and got hit by a car. Someone was opening their car door and smashed me off of my bike. I flew off, and all of the locals came running, checking on me to make sure I was OK. I responded with my American-Italian accent, and when they realized I was American, they started to freak out that I was going to sue them. I went from being embraced as part of the culture to all of a sudden being turned away. It was really scary to be in a foreign country not knowing what services or support I needed. So when I returned back to the U.S., I started my company Alliance Abroad Group. [Alliance Abroad Group helps those traveling overseas find jobs and employment.] When I first started it, I didn't have this business plan—I was just trying to solve a problem. And if I failed, I failed fast," Lynden said.
2.) Fail, learn, then pick yourself back up again.
And with Kohana Coffee, the same problem-solving mindset applied. Lynden actually began producing Kohana Coffee because she was trying to find a new blend for her bodega at the time, Cissi's Bar and Market, and she didn't want to source anything acidic. Although Cissi's ultimately closed, it was still the birthplace for one Lynden's most successful endeavors, Kohana Coffee.
"When you're younger, failure has a negative connotation, and it shouldn't. Failure is an opportunity. If you haven't failed at something, maybe you haven't reached your potential. For me, my best success is my failure. So, how do you go about it? There's no algorithm for what it looks like to fail. If I start to see that I'm hitting a wall, I pivot. It doesn't always mean I give up on it completely, but I do have to pivot. I have to reframe how I'm thinking about the problem and my expectations. Do I want something more than what's realistic? Are people telling me things I'm not listening to?" Lynden said.
3.) It's OK to begin small.
Like I mentioned at the start of this piece, when Lynden first launched Kohana, she was brewing out of plastic containers in the sun and selling at weekend markets outside of Whole Foods (all while managing Alliance Abroad Group). As the coffee began to gain traction, her production process graduated to trash cans, and industry-level equipment came much later—after Lynden had proof of concept.
"It was really great because it [Kohana] wasn't my main business. I wasn't looking at it to make a profit. I was just bringing it from Hawaii back here [Austin, Texas], and it was just kind of a simple sourcing decision. Then, I thought, 'Well, why not be a roaster?' Why not just do it? So, we started selling it at Cissi's, and then Whole Foods picked it up as a roasted coffee, and it was very different. There was no specialty coffee ten to 11 years ago, and this was Hawaiian coffee. I also sold it at a really great price point because I wasn't looking to make a profit on it in the beginning," Lynden said.
4.) No matter how much you have to start with, do the work.
Lynden's journey with Alliance Abroad Group and Kohana Coffee are both testaments to learning the trade, identifying pain points and finding product-market fit. Both ventures required a combination of hard work, the ability to sacrifice ideas she was emotionally tied to and some realistic budgeting.
"If you have a limited amount of money for whatever your project you're trying to launch, how long do you have before you will run out of money? Three months? Six months? Twelve months? Be really honest, because that's the hardest part. Exactly what are all of your expenses and what are the things that you take for granted that are expenses? Is your business at home or are you paying rent? And what happens when you can't pay your rent money? Approach your business idea pragmatically," Lynden said.
5.) And, last but not least, invest in your own leadership skills to positively impact your industry.
Via curiosity and authentic engagement in the work, Lynden and her team have been able to forge relationships with co-ops and other industry leaders in coffee that may lead to a sweeping change in the industry, as a whole. Achieving these change will necessitate making financial investments and taking considerable production risks.
"Being a female-owned company, I want to stand up and show up, even when there is no fanfare. How can I be intentional? What our [women farmers'] day-to-day realities? What does work-life balance mean to them? How can we support them? What are their needs? For us, finding the solution meant having conversations and dialogue. We are going to do it right, and we want to do it right, because it's the best thing to do."
Original article available here: For Kohana, The Future Of Coffee Is Female