Elevator Pitch: Joe Merchant & Co

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Vik Radia from Joe Merchant & Co.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

Joe Merchant & Co is a monthly coffee subscription service, allowing coffee lovers to discover and experience new beans from top local roasters. We find amazing coffee from talented roasters and send it out monthly (straight after it's freshly roasted). Our aim is to make specialty coffee more accessible and provide an element of surprise and discovery each month. We provide tasting and information notes with each coffee so that customers can learn more about what they're drinking, without the coffee snobbery that can be a bit of a turn-off!

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

The idea is completely bootstrapped and self-funded. Our first priority is our members, so we want to be able to provide them with a quality service and ensure we are doing right by them before focusing too much on growth and profits. We want our members to be happy, to be a part of our business and spread the word for us. At the moment, word of mouth and social media are the main strategies as we continue to grow our membership base at a personal level. As we grow, we will reinvest profits into more marketing activity. We've also had some online influencers interested so this will also be a strategy we'd love to keep going forward.

What's the biggest challenge facing your business?

Postage costs are a killer! Our offering is very competitively priced so as a result, postage costs erode any profits but we are committed to helping the nation drink better coffee.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

Competitors include roasters who offer their own subscriptions as well as similar offerings based in other states. Regarding roasters, we differentiate ourselves from them as we offer a different bean from various roasters, meaning our members get to discover new beans as well as new roasters. Coffee roasting is an art and variety is the spice of life, so if you only ever subscribe to one roaster, you'll never get to experience or appreciate what else is out there. This doesn't mean our members don't still order from their favourites - some of them subscribe to our club in addition to their regular coffee to introduce some variety and have a new experience.

As for similar membership offerings, they tend to only focus on roasters in their own city (for example, Melbourne and Brisbane). We are based in Sydney, so we do want to showcase the quality of Sydney's roasters but also work with roasters all over Australia to increase the discovery and awareness element. We also pride ourselves on being approachable and open to anybody that wants to drink great coffee (not just the uber-cool coffee crowd!).

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

I personally love Trello. It allows me to document and organise anything from my personal to-do list, to travel plans and of course roasters and coffees! The fact that I am always in synch between my phone, tablet and laptop is a real help. I even got my wife on board with Trello and she used it to plan our wedding!

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Paul Graham (of Y Combinator fame) is famous for saying "do things that don't scale". Whilst not to be taken out of context, this means we really want to engage with our customers and provide a personal service. We love hearing from our members and want to continue to ensure we offer them something that they truly want.

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