What components drive a person to take on the role of being an entrepreneur? Much like going to college for an arts field of study, proclaiming that you’re becoming an entrepreneur can often be met with criticism and skepticism from friends or family members. The ‘why’ of becoming an entrepreneur is varied and vast. One of the most common phrases for an entrepreneur to relay is the ability to ‘be my own boss’ at the end of the day. Doing things the way you envision them is an exciting prospect no matter what field you delve into. The reasons people put on the entrepreneurial hat can give you a deeper insight into what drives their company. Some do it for financial gain. People create a business to bring a new product to stores. Many have an innate passion for creating. Family businesses are taken up by younger generations.
Alycia Otte of Monument Coffee Roasters had started working with and around coffee at a young age. “My dad started a little coffee shop in 1992. I worked for him in the coffee industry. When I went off to college, I went to U Mass – Amherst, I worked at a coffee shop all through school. The guy that I worked for there was a roaster and that’s where I started to learn about roasting. My dad eventually started to roast as well for his coffee shop. When I went back home I would always help him roast. Off and on since 1992 I have been involved in the industry.
Some entrepreneurs have a defined path set out in front of them. They know exactly what they will be doing in the future and slipping into an entrepreneurial role is easy. What follows is anything but. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built a business from the ground up or are helping a family business continue for generations to come it definitely takes a steady hand and an innovative mind to make sure the ship runs smoothly. Once Otte moved with her husband for work she discovered a lack in coffee. More importantly – a lack in small-batch specialty coffees, “We decided to start it ourselves. I spent a lot of time in Oregon roasting with my dad. I brushed up on my (roasting) skills. I think I have coffee in my veins…literally.”
As with any field there are trends in the coffee world which ebb and flow. One minute a certain mixture is at the top of the charts as far as demand and cravings go. Every entrepreneur understands that in the world of business it can be tricky to stay up on what’s in and what’s out. Your software might not be the latest, customer relations might be moving in another direction, and their taste buds have gone with a completely different flavor. Otte knows well the shift of taste when it comes to coffee connoisseurs, “The craft industry as a whole is growing. I think a lot of people, and this is just my theory, but what I see is a lot of customers are tired of the fast food, big chain-everything that’s the same everywhere you go. It’s the consumer demand of wanting a better product that’s not so generic. The D.C. area is really up-and-coming. The Virginia area might be slower, but it’s there. I really think the consumer likes it.”
Evolving with customer taste and learning how to grow with the changing tide is what sets entrepreneurs apart. Getting your name out there for customers to hear and file away can make a business. It takes a single customer to spread the word around to friends and family members for you to find a whole new group to support your operations. Every entrepreneur has to start somewhere. “It actually started at one of our local breweries. We were sitting around and talking about doing this sort of thing one day. The response was overwhelming and they all wanted a shop like this. It went from we probably won’t do it until later to a let’s just start right now. We started with a small roaster which only did a small amount of coffee at a time. We did it in our garage to figure out which coffee we wanted to roast. Samples were given out just to get a feel for what people liked. When we reached capacity for roasting in our garage we decided to build another location which is pending approval.”
Learning how to navigate building a business and brand can be tricky no matter what field you’re in. Starting the path to becoming a full-blown entrepreneur can be daunting. “There are so many bumps in the road,” Otte says, “There are just so many hoops you have to jump through. My biggest piece of advice is to definitely find a group of other business owners who have gone through the same process. You always think you’re the only one and then you find out that you’re not. The end result is awesome. You’re working for your personal goal. You have to have patience and know that it takes a long time. It’s a process.”
Finding your niche is important. Knowing where to go and who your clientele are can make or break your business – especially for local business owners. Living in and around the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area gives entrepreneurs unique advantages, says Otte, “What I’ve found is that it’s such a melting pot of people. It’s so well-traveled. There is a lot of discretionary income which is helpful when you’re trying to sell a product. From my experience in going to markets and talking to people, everyone is quite knowledgeable about the products. I think there’s a niche market out there for almost every product. There’s such a diverse population here. For at least the crafts product since it’s kind of a new trend, they are really latching on to the products. The other thing I’ve found is the Chambers are so supportive here. I’m originally from a really small town where the Chamber is kind of a joke. Here the Chamber is amazing. You can network and go to classes…there’s always something to do.”