Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Stephen Miller, owner of Longshore Coffee, located in Providence, RI, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Longshore is a small-batch specialty coffee roastery in Providence, Rhode Island. We produce high-quality blends and single-origin coffees that are designed to highlight the best of what coffee can be.
Our customers are both specialty coffee enthusiasts who can enjoy nerding out over a unique single origin and everyday coffee drinkers who just want a reliably tasty cup.
One of the core values at Longshore is to bring specialty coffee to people who may not have previously experienced it. We do this primarily by presenting our products in a simple, unpretentious fashion and seeking to get our coffees on the shelves of local stores.
Tell us about yourself
I actually taught entrepreneurship for about five years as a high school teacher in downtown Providence. Every year I would have each of my students create a unique business plan, and I usually used a coffee business as my example. I'm a huge coffee nerd, so that made it quite fun and interesting for me.
A couple of years ago, a student asked me, "Mr. Miller, why don't you just do this for real?" I made the crazy decision to listen to this 17-year-old girl and decided to take the leap. I was already roasting coffee at home by then, just for fun.
During the next school year, I let the students watch me start the business for real and sold coffee to them and my colleagues. At the end of the school year, they graduated, and I left teaching to launch Longshore full-time.
Since then, I've been motivated by that story to continue working hard and being the example that I wanted to be for those young people. I also deeply enjoy the art and craft of coffee and see it as a worshipful act where I get to explore the complexities of God's creation.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Last year was Longshore's first full year in business and first farmers market season. Before the farmer's markets kicked off, I created some basic revenue projections to set realistic goals. By the end of the season, I had met those goals almost exactly! So I would say that my biggest accomplishment so far has been seeing the business go from paper to reality. I can now use that success to fuel the growth needed to make Longshore sustainable in the long term.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
For me, one of the most challenging aspects of running a business as a solo operator is that there really are no guaranteed plans or blueprints to follow. Nobody is going to tell you exactly what to do. You kind of just have to figure it out yourself. Creating and following a business plan is tremendously helpful for getting started and staying focused along the way, but it's not formulaic. Learning how to adapt is critical, especially in the early growth phase. But I've learned to trust the quality of my product and to plan progressively along the way.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
First, write a business plan and make it as detailed as possible. Make multiple versions, even! Then show your plan to someone with more experience who can give necessary critiques. Think of the early drafts of your business plan as a simulation. It is better to let the weak parts of it die in the simulation so that you can implement the better, more viable version in reality. By the end of the initial planning phase, you want your vision of the future to be high enough in resolution to have actionable steps in the near term but still blurry enough in the long term to make necessary changes without deviating too far from your overall goals.
Second, focus on creating a product that people will actually want. As obvious as that sounds, a lot of people seem to get caught up in their own excitement over an idea and let that cloud their judgment, then spend time and money producing something that only a handful of people will buy. I see this all the time at farmer's markets. This doesn't mean that you should just do what everyone else is already doing or that you shouldn't create something new. It just is probably unwise to pursue novelty for its own sake. "New" and "different" don't always mean "good" and "wanted."
Finally, you must be willing to learn your own weaknesses and lean on other people's strengths. My wife and I are both highly creative people, but she is a trained artist, and I am not. So I run most of my design decisions by her and trust her when she says, "Use this color," or, "move that text there," etc.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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