If you’re in London chances are you’ve heard of Pact Coffee by now. Either because I’ve told you about it, enthusiastically trying to get you to buy their coffee, or because you’ve seen ads offering £1 fresh, high-quality coffee on the tube, Facebook, or on a billboard. And if you haven’t come across Pact before, you might be looking it up by now. Coffee for £1 sounds pretty good, right?
The process you go through when ordering your coffee is also pretty cool. They suggest the best coffee for your preferred method of making it, and each grind comes with a mouth-watering description that leaves you a bit undecided. In a good way. Apart from that you feel great because you know you’re supporting their farmers and you’re drinking coffee for more than just the smell and taste of it - you’re actually supporting a bigger mission.
I was still looking for content to get Newfound started when I had my first cup of cookie tasting coffee (yes, cookie tasting - nice flavour, right?) and an email in my inbox from Anna from Pact (who by the way also tried calling me just to make sure I was happy with the coffee and check that everything went well). So that was easy, I got back to her and a week later I was chatting to Ed, Pact’s PR manager, having another cup of coffee. This time made with the V60 and notes of lemon sorbet.
When did you join Pact and what were the first steps you took in the PR and communications section?
I joined a year ago (Pact is three years old), Stephen, the founder, decided he wanted to spread the word about Pact and instead of using an agency he wanted someone in-house. I love food and drinks and was excited about working for just one brand.
The first step was to get the word out there to food and drink writers and all of the major newspapers and magazines, tell them what we do at Pact and send them some coffee. The product speaks for itself which is why we run a lot of offers. Once people have tried it they're pretty likely to stick around. Sometimes, instead of just offering coffee, I give them a code to use on the website and let them experience it as a customer would, so you get the same emails and interactions with our customer service guys.
Because it’s a startup everyone’s always open to new ideas and things happen very quickly. There’s always something to talk about. Stephen also speaks a lot about why he started Pact and what he’s trying to do with it, the bigger mission. Mostly it’s just telling the story and spreading the word about nice coffee. We’re not going to overstate how big we are, but we have grown massively, so it’s a fun story from Stephen starting the business in his kitchen to what it is today.
Building relationships with your customers and growing a network seem to be huge stepping stones in growing a business. You mentioned the story and a great product - do you think they are the two core features to help build those relationships and sustain them? Any other tips you’ve got to grow a network?
The missing element in that is the customer service. We talk a lot to our customers through social media channels. It’s all open obviously, so you can just search Twitter or Facebook and you’ll see all the comments, the good ones and the bad ones. The majority of what we hear from our customers is really positive, so that’s nice.
Talking about coffee shops and roasters, there are already so many of them out there, especially in London and Australia. On the one hand that’s great since it shows that there’s a market, but how do you deal with competition on a day to day basis and use it to your advantage?
It’s certainly not something that gets us down and it’s great that we feel like we don’t need to compete with the very best of coffee companies, they already make great coffee. We’re not trying to win customers from Monmouth for example. People who buy their beans there can carry on doing that, it’s great. We always say our biggest competitor is Tesco. It’s the supermarket coffees that we want people to start giving up and try fresh, high quality coffee instead.
A huge part of our mission is not only that people have a nice cup of coffee in the morning, but by buying high quality coffee we’re also putting a lot more money into the coffee supply chain, and this filters down to coffee growers. So when we talk about our mission statement, which is ‘making coffee a force for good’, a lot of it is just helping people to have nicer cup of coffee every day, but the more serious side is that there are lots of coffee growers who aren’t making as much of their crop as they should do. Some of them aren’t even making enough money to cover their crop, which is why things like fair trade are important. We’re another option on top of fair trade, we buy directly from our farmers. In fact we can guarantee to pay 25 percent more than fair trade all the time, and this happens naturally, we don’t have to artificially do that. It happens because we buy really high quality coffee. So if lots of people can shift onto quality coffee with us and whoever else, the coffee farmers will be doing much better. There’s a real positive purpose behind the business.
That mission statement seems to be one of your unique selling points. Is there anything that not many people know about the business or your coffee?
A lot of people don’t know that we do decaf, they associate coffee just with caffeine which is a shame. Decaf has a beautiful full flavour, it tastes really great.
Many people get confused about our business model too. They see us as a subscription setup where you’re tied into a certain amount of coffee. We actually only send coffee exactly when you need it and when you want it, so it becomes an effortless thing and it customises to your coffee drinking habit. Some people like coffee so much they get through a bag every three or four days, they’re pretty crazy. A lot of people get coffee every two weeks or so, and some people get it only every three months and it’s a nice treat. That’s the kind of flexibility that we’re pleased about offering.
I always remind myself that activity shouldn’t be mistaken for productivity. What daily routines have you established to make sure you’re actually being productive?
It’s a good mantra. We have a lot of startup principles in the way we work, some of them have become real operating things, they’re all written up on the board to remind us. Basically everything that we do should always involve one or more of those things. So when we talk about ‘adding zero’, we’re talking about coming up with ideas or working on stuff that will actually bring in ten or hundred more people and not one more person to try out Pact.
And when we’re talking about ‘the customer before everything’, we’re talking about whether what I’m doing is actually going to make them stick around for longer with us and not cancel their accounts, because at the end of the day it is about people trusting us. There’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes, we have a whole product team who are constantly thinking about the product, which is more than just a bag of coffee, it’s an experience. It should be you going on a coffee journey with us. Our blog is called ‘a journey to better coffee’ because we’re really into sharing coffee knowledge, new ways of making it, new countries - it doesn’t have to be this inaccessible thing. There’s a lot of cutting out on unnecessary meetings, so productivity is really important. We get on with stuff, we use Slack, Trello, and Google Drive - everything’s on the cloud and shared. This flexibility leads to more productivity.
And how do you innovate while sticking to your values?
The values drive everything we do, the mission drives everything we do. We naturally innovate, because that’s the nature of the business and the people who work here. We’re not going to get to the kind of size we want without innovating quite a lot and being as disruptive as possible. There’s a lot of A/B testing going on, so you have an idea and you try it with one audience and not with the other, and if it works you roll it out.
One of your values written up on the board is ‘risk failure’? How do these two words relate?
Stephen believes in failure not being a particularly bad thing because you learn so much from it, people shouldn’t be so afraid of it. He used to run this thing called Failboat where a bunch of startups would get together on a boat and just talk about stuff that’s gone completely wrong and what they learnt from it.
We used to have the 70 percent rule, which is used elsewhere - if you’re 70 percent sure that something’s going to work you just go ahead and do it without asking for permission from the boss. When you’re fairly sure of what you should go for, then just go for it.
If you could have a billboard anywhere, where would you put it and what would it say? (Credit for this question goes to Tim Ferriss)
We just started doing billboard advertising around London, they say ‘try fresh coffee for £1.’ The stage we’re at now is about getting as many people to try our coffee as possible. I think the middle of Shoreditch roundabout is quite a good spot.
Can you share some practical PR tips for companies just starting out, and even ones that are already more established, something that you believe has a huge impact on growth?
Going back to the purpose of the business is really important. I think the most successful businesses today are very purpose driven, having a purpose beyond profit and being honest about that. And if you don’t have a purpose beyond business, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing business. From a PR point of view it helps to be really genuine about that sort of stuff, it shows to people why they should care and why they should trust you. That dictates what you’re going to be saying when you talk about yourself and the business in PR. So it’s about the kind of messages which you then produce from that mission.
What’s next for Pact?
We want to grow massively, we want ten million people to be drinking our coffee and that’s just in the UK. It will be international one day.
We are just about to be doing pods, it’s another brew method essentially. We want people to be able to have Pact no matter how they make their coffee. We’re doing a Kickstarter campaign in a few weeks so that people can pre-order their pods.
We’ll continue doing more and more direct trade of coffee, establishing more relationships with farmers, buying more of their crop in bigger volumes. It makes a huge shift in their farming if they can start selling more of their higher grade. We want to help them do that, that’s some of the most exciting stuff.
Thanks for showing me around Ed, sharing your story, and literally giving me the full picture of what Pact’s all about. You might want to go ahead now and order your bag of fruit and nut espresso. Or peaches and cream if that’s more your thing.
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