I’m not in it for the money

May 3rd, 2012

You hear this a lot among passionate people who start businesses, particularly coffee ones.  For many of us coffee is compelling, fascinating, satisfying yet frustrating in equal measure.  It is huge, it’s complex and it easily becomes something of an obsession.

Working with what you love is a goal for just about everyone.  In any industry there are people stuck, hating where they are and dreaming of turning their hobby into a living.

Within the division of the artisan, of the craft, of the quality focused, there seems to be a pervasive idea that to be in business with the end game of making substantial profit is at odds with the very reason they got into the business.  They’re there for the coffee, and not for the money.  It isn’t about profit, it is about quality.

Perhaps I fell into that group initially.  I don’t really want a lot of stuff, I’m not hugely motivated directly by money.  (I’m motivated, I can’t deny – but it isn’t the primary decision making factor.)  It took me a little while to realise that profit was not the antithesis of being quality focused, but was actually a requirement for being sustainably quality focused.  I can’t continue to work within coffee enjoyably unless the business I work within can support that, can grow and evolve itself and that requires money.

I might see some strong disagreement here, and I’m not picking on people – I am pointing the finger at me as much as anyone else.  I haven’t sold out, I haven’t become money obsessed.  I am extremely interested in a sustainable business that can support those that work within it, and allow them to grow and progress and to earn what they are worth.

Where I might really get into trouble is where I suggest that our industry’s tolerance, and proliferation, of not-intentionally-profitable businesses has lead to a marketplace with undervalued and underpriced product.  This in turn is somewhat debilitating for new businesses opening into that market place.  It makes the challenge of succeeding in coffee even harder.  I could well be wrong, but I am still struggling to understand an industry where dramatically better product sells for barely a premium against mass market, commoditised coffee.

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