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Mocha mogul: An interview with Ben Lion, co-founder of Crude

As part of Entrepreneurship Week, The University of Law Business School is hosting a series of events including a Setting Up Your Own Business panel. One of our guest speakers is Ben Lion, who will be talking about his experience of co-founding Crude, a coffee company with a difference… and a conscience.

We sat down with Ben to find out what the inspiration behind Crude is, and what his experience has taught him about starting a successful, reputable business in the 21st century.

Quite simply, the inspiration behind Crude was to create a drinks company that is focused on creating beautiful flavours from only natural ingredients with no added sugars, preservatives or additives. The idea behind the name Crude is an oxymoron; rather than claiming to be ‘honest and ethical’ or ‘clean and pure’ in the brand name we call ourselves Crude yet have total openness and transparency in every aspect of our supply chains, product designs and processing. Our current goal is to expand our transparent, flavour-focused ethos to the high street in the form of the Crude Café – a destination where our products are brought to life through the theatre of their creation – for example in store coffee roasting, cold brewing and beverage creation.

The importance of strong brand values was reinforced for me while at a Zarraffas coffee shop franchise event in Brisbane, Australia. It was evident from spending the weekend with the management team and franchisees just how powerful the benefits of a positive thinking culture was having on their business. The positivity wasn’t to the extreme of blind faith, rather a true belief in the brand and team that had created and grown the business. Every individual I met over the weekend passed on their positive energy, could articulate the values and ethos of the business and demonstrated their collective success from being part of the Zarraffas family.  This taught me the importance of setting out clear brand values both internally and externally, and working to recruit highly positive team members who were aligned to the company values. Building a positive team culture to support each other has been a key part of Crude’s growth, especially through the difficult times.

Another key exercise that I maintain in Crude is the importance of developing new product roadmaps that are founded in customer insight and market data. Before the practice of developing product road maps, new product development (NPD) would often come from single data points; a strong internal sales perspective, the voice of an executive ‘posing’ as a lead customer, or the latest innovation from engineering. Without a disciplined approach to new product development you can easily end up with products people don’t want, can’t afford or have no real need for. By developing a holistic, data-driven approach to NPD you can test, prioritise and ultimately ensure you are creating a viable and valuable product with a sufficient demand and customer base. Applying this to Crude has allowed us to focus and streamline our NPD, leading to us creating the world’s joint first ambient Nitro cold brew can, the first ambient bag-in-box nitro cold brew solution and a range of sparkling cold brew cans.

Having a strong set of values and principles is key for modern businesses to succeed. Social media and marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuck believes the greatest marketing strategy across all industries is ‘to care’. I think you need to be open, honest and transparent about what you stand for and how you go about your business. These are pretty simple values to understand, demonstrate and stick to, but they may not bring success on their own; I believe you also need a culture of creating and leading innovation within your company to deliver solutions around these points. For instance: we buy ethical coffee, have a transparent supply and process chain and care about the environment (we’re working on a number of different Crude re-usable drinks containers etc.), but so do most coffee or drinks companies. Pushing to innovate around the reduction of waste, energy and carbon footprint is where a competitive advantage can be claimed, which is why we are currently working on products that fit this need. Ultimately I believe the market will further police these values and, with the growth of smaller, often more ethical businesses as well as the increasing power of consumer choices, the strategy of clearly and honestly ‘caring’ is going to become more and more relevant.

For me, the three key building-blocks for starting your own business are:

1.    Understand your ‘why’ so you always have that driving motivation behind starting your business. Profit and financial freedom are results not reasons.

2.    Surround yourself with positive ‘can-do’ people that will test, drive and support you and your business.

3.    Avidly pursue self-development. Your business will never outgrow you, but you are the bottle-neck. The more you develop yourself the more the business will develop.

If I had to give one piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, it would be this: Take action. It’s much easier to reflect and adjust once you get started than to procrastinate, over-plan and never take the leap.

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