How Organic Coffee Cartel got its start
The OCC is committed to giving back money to the folks who need it most. Everyone in the Cartel has a day job or some variation on one. We cling to the transformative power of business when it focuses on the greater good.
By buying our coffee, you spoil yourself and make the world a better place. That doesn't happen too often. There was talk early on about making the OCC a 501(c)(3) non-profit company but the associated logistics and expenses seemed like a waste of time if the whole premise of the Cartel is to give our profits away. The tax consequences are simply irrelevant, regardless of our corporate structure. For now, the OCC is an LLC owned by me and my dad. The majority of our profits are used to benefit coffee-related charities.
What got you interested in starting your business?
An experience. In March 2007, I was a New York-based photographer riding on the rural back roads of Southern Mexico, in a van with a handful of specialty coffee professionals: roasters, writers, agronomists and traders, all on hand for a unique coffee-buying trip.
New to the coffee industry, I was wide-eyed when I heard from these pros about historically low coffee prices that put communities at risk and the lack of market information that hindered farmers from getting fair prices for their hand-selected organic coffee beans. But I also saw the relationships between Mexican buyers and growers as powerful tools for change, where challenges were addressed with peer-to-peer training and shared best practices.
That week in Mexico, with lots of input from everyone, I committed to create a new, charitable coffee label. And the Organic Coffee Cartel was born, with all those in the van as de-facto founding members. We'd sell quality coffee and then turn around and use the money for charitable good—all while having fun and thumbing our noses at conventional design and branding. The whole idea is to do good with great coffee—and to have fun doing it. So far, we've kept to the plan.
What were your experiences getting up and running?
Finding time to take the OCC from a conceptual dream to a functioning business was the real trick. I travel more than most and don't bring the most disciplined approach to spreadsheets and the like. My challenge was to outsource what made sense for others, with more expertise and patience, to address. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly BizFilings made my efforts concrete. There's nothing quite like opening a business bank account and depositing those initial funds.
The world of specialty coffee is filled with good intentions. I remember visiting the SCAA’s annual conference and seeing a dizzying array of charitable tie-ins and development programs funded by coffee. One of the more remarkable things I took away is that drinking better coffee directly results in improving the lives of everyone who made that cup possible in the first place. Conversely, drinking crappy coffee brings all but the fat-cat executives down. It was yet another reason to focus on quality. And it's what constantly motivates me.
What’s been your most rewarding experience so far?
The whole idea, for me, was to simply have fun with this stuff. Be irreverent. Be quirky. Be beautiful. The OCC didn't need to be profitable in the traditional sense, so why should we feel obliged to dull-down or mass-market our messaging? We didn't. If it makes me laugh or tilt my head with a smile, I'm likely to save it for future use. Some may shrug their shoulders at our "edginess" but that too is a sign we might be in the right place. "We're the OCC," I'll say. "We don't need to pander."
How did BizFilings help you along the way?
All the creativity in the world isn't going to get you legitimized to open a business bank account or take care of the things required by wholesale vendors. At some point you need to step up and enlist the professional services of a company like BizFilings to get you organized. When that day came for me, it was obvious that BizFilings was going to deliver exactly what was needed. They felt less like a vendor and more like a vested employee.
What’s next for the OCC?
The future is bright for sure. More exploring of the world through coffee, more friendships, more Robin Hood-inspired business. Spread the word!