Alex Henderson and The Coffee Collective

Alex’s big idea

Through his startup, The Coffee Collective, Alex Henderson sells a signature blend of handpicked, speciality coffee – produced through small batch roasting. It’s fairly and ethically sourced from sustainable farms and smallholdings and accredited by the Speciality Coffee Association.

You can buy it via: The Coffee Collective website

Alex has already built up a client base with handful of repeat customers including a tea room and an independent coffee shop.

Being a trained Barista, Alex’s long-term aspiration is to make his high-quality coffee available to the community via a coffee van.

Challenges

Alex was injured during operations, having worked in bomb disposal for 12 years. This has left him in chronic pain,with nerve damage, a twisted pelvis and mobility issues along with cognitive challenges and fatigue.

Being a father of two young children, running his own business gives Alex the flexibility to work around his busy family life and disabilities.

How did the Military Tycoon programme help?

Alex wasn’t in a position to start his own coffee van, which is his ultimate goal. So, the Tycoon programme helped him take the first steps towards this business, by:

  • Focussing on getting the product right
  • Branding
  • Developing packaging
  • Marketing strategies
  • Building a customer-base
  • Making contacts within the coffee world
  • Better business planning
  • Better time Management

In his own words

Because it is my own, it was important to me that I came up with a good all-round coffee offering.It had to work just as well as a shot of espresso, in a filter/ French press, or as a milk-based drink.

With a sense of community at the heart of this, the beans had to be ethically and sustainably sourced directly from farms and cooperatives across the world. This was to ensure farmers got the best deal for their hard work and efforts. Mainly because I believe that we need to give back and look after each other.

From the proceeds of the scheme, I am currently helping to fund a veteran led, community allotment and Remembrance garden. Once I’m in a better position,I’d like to have a community space and fund more community projects.

Through contacts within the industry and the Speciality Coffee Association, I was able to contact suppliers, roasters and retailers to learn more about green coffee and the many processes involved from cherry to cup.

I worked closely with a small roastery to get the tastes and flavours just right. This meant trying many different roast profiles, weight ratios and then finally cupping and tasting sessions, meaning at the end we were all happy with the results.

The result was a medium/dark roast of the finest beans from Brazil, El Salvador and India. It’s a big, smooth, full-bodied coffee with hints of caramel and dark-chocolatey notes, without the bitterness.

How did he land those all-important first customers?

My first sale was actually to myself, because it didn’t feel right just grabbing a few bags to use for marketing and sampling without paying – I didn’t even give myself a staff discount.

But my first “real” sale was made by leaning on my social networks and by identifying possible customers in my local area, then dropping in to chat with them. I visited numerous small businesses, cafes and restaurants and simply walked in to pitch my product with samples.

Many of the cafes were unable to buy and use my product due to contractual issues with their suppliers which was a slight problem, but I got some great feedback and it didn’t stop me selling coffee to some of them for home use.

What helped the most on the course?

The scheme was a great way of testing the waters and trying my idea. The mentoring and support was really helpful and six weeks was about the right amount of time to develop ideas and get them off the ground.

The networking aspect also worked out well for me, both with customers and my new contacts within the industry. Not only did I learn a lot about the industry and get some sales,I got some great feedback from people which helped shaped my ideas and improve my product image.

I’m hopeful that Sage may become an important customer, by serving my coffee in their London offices and hopefully at an event coming up in the near future.

Advice to other entrepreneurs?

You have to love what you sell and really get behind your product. I’m such a fan of my coffee I buy it from myself and it’s all I serve guests at my home.

You get what you put in and the scheme was a great starting point for me, helping me to experience the challenges faced by businesses and startups. However, because I have a young family, many health problems and so much going on behind the scenes, I wasn’t able to put in as much time and effort as I’d have liked.

Overall my venture has been profitable and still continues to grow past the point where I’m able to keep it going after the scheme ended. I do like to think that if I was able to invest more time and focus solely on the Tycoon scheme I could have been much more successful.