Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverages but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Raphael Muntu, co-owner of Sawa House of Coffee, located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Our team is composed of my cousin Jack-Antoine, my dad Ghislain and myself. Our mission is to deliver the best specialty coffee in Congo to North America and worldwide eventually. To do so, we partnered with the SCPNCK cooperative located in Lake Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We decided to work with SCPNCK, mainly because they are able to produce one the highest quality of coffee, having certifications to back up that claim.
The main reason why our product is so excellent is that the exploited land is located 2000 meters above the sea, right on the Equator. Furthermore, the soil has been furnished by millions of years of volcanic sediments, which makes it ideal for cultivating heirloom Bourbon coffee trees and gives the beans that distinct fruity taste. Since the cooperative's inception in 2012, they have worked alongside child soldiers and many dedicated farmers, making it the biggest cooperative in Lac Kivu with 2300 farmers on duty. Every single cherry is hand-picked and manipulated with extra care.
Our association with the cooperative is also a huge asset to the economic development of the region and is a tool for the reinsertion of the members of the community who are affected by the war and the ongoing geopolitical issues.
On our end, the customers range from casual drinkers willing to try new flavours of coffee to experienced drinkers with an expanded palette. The latter is really the driving force for our recognition and success because they are the ones that can distinguish the quality of a coffee.
Tell us about yourself
I am the second of a big family of 6, and I am a huge sports fan. I have played elite sports all my life; I love competition and love teamwork. We started Sawa House of Coffee in 2019 after my dad, alongside SCPNCK CEO Gilbert Makelele, founded the cooperative in 2012. At that time, I drank coffee before sporting events and finals at school. It helped me wake up and gave me a boost before my workouts, a practice, or a game. In 2017, after my studies at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, I came back home, and my dad had received a package with ten different specialty coffees. I had never heard of that term before. Then, I started tasting the coffee and the different flavours the coffee had to offer. It was a great experience, and for the first time, I could distinguish the flavours. I was thrilled. I saw potential, and I knew I wanted to work in the coffee industry and expand my knowledge.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment is definitely being able to build a business where we are able to work hand to hand with farmers. Every week, I chat with Gilbert, and he sends us exclusive images of the land and the farmers in live-action. Not many roasters, coffee shops, or stores here in Canada have that proximity with farmers, and we are so proud of that. Also, the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and having to switch our business model from selling directly to businesses (who have considerably slowed down their operations) to customers was a transition we have made successfully.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing with being a GOOD business owner is that you really need to have knowledge in every aspect of the business. Before the start-up, I worked as a seller for different companies and did a lot of customer service. My strength is selling, but unfortunately, being a business owner does not only involve selling. You need to know the financial part of it, branding, management, and so on. With that being said, you do not need to be an expert, but you definitely need to have a little knowledge in every aspect of a business. For me, I had to redefine my entourage. I cut a lot of people that distracted me from my goals and replaced them with young entrepreneurs like me. We exchange ideas and uplift each other when times are hard.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The first tip I'll give is that you will definitely need a business plan to start a business, but the challenge in today's business landscape is that everything moves so fast with social media, so make your business plan as flexible as you can so you can adapt easier along the road.
The second tip I'll give is time management. It is important to put a deadline on every project you start. Sometimes the work can seem overwhelming, but respecting your deadline will make you aware of the progress you are making, and you can build off that.
The final tip I would give is that you have to get out of your comfort zone. Oftentimes, being a business owner will involve you making big decisions, meeting new people, or talking to a big group of people. It is important that you prepare for those moments and embrace the new challenges.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
If you are a young entrepreneur, do not be scared; go out there and ask questions, talk to people, meet new people, and share ideas.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email email@example.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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