Masterton subscription business Bean Merchant has spent months building a quiz to determine personalised coffee flavour preferences. Founder and former teacher Jonathan Broom talks lockdown delays and his long-terms plans for the business.
What does your business do?
Bean Merchant caters coffee from New Zealand's top roasters based on people's preference flavours. We have a one-minute quiz that you go through and it gives a flavour profile of what your tastes are in coffee and matches you with coffee that suits those tastes. It is a subscription service, so you sign up and we deliver you a coffee from either a single roaster or mix of roasters over a set period. We deliver both coffee beans and ground coffee.
We've been working on Bean Merchant for two years and have gone through a series of stages of preliminary websites and launched around three weeks ago with our final quiz.
What was the motivation for starting it?
My partner and I started drinking coffee at home, we got an espresso machine probably like six years ago using supermarket pre-ground beans and developed from there.
We discovered that getting a grinder and grinding your own is better than buying pre-ground, then we discovered a roaster in Christchurch where we lived and we looked at all the different flavours they had from their different beans and we really got into finding out how beans create their flavour, we looked at the altitude they are grown at, the processing methods, the climate of the region they are from and then how they are roasted. We looked for a place in New Zealand where we could explore that and explore different types of beans from different types of roasters and there wasn't really a place so we thought if it's not there then maybe we should build it.
How big is your team?
No employees, it's just me and my partner Madison. She works fulltime and I'm at home looking after our 18-month old Esme so we both work on the business in our free time. It is a side gig at the moment, but we would like to turn it into something bigger.
How have you funded the business?
Orders come to us and we send the orders straight to the roaster, and then the roaster dispatches the order to the customer there is no warehouse or machinery needed on our part, so the funding has been pretty minimal. It was the building of the website that took a lot of funds and we funded that ourselves; we sold our house in Christchurch and moved to Masterton and used a little bit of that money to build the website.
How has Covid-19 impacted the business?
Covid delayed our launch. We paused our first trial during the four-week lockdown because our roasters stopped roasting and then we started back up again when they started roasting as an essential business. We thought lockdowns would be quite good because people were wanting more coffee deliveries at home and doing more brewing at home and not going out, but we didn't quite get to tap into that as we weren't operational in time for the lockdowns and the business wasn't ready to explore where those opportunities could lead.
We had 10 people for our first trial and they all came out of it really loving it - six of them stayed with us for the next trial, and we've had a few more people jump on board since then. We're at nine or 10 subscribers at the moment, it's very early days, but there is quite a lot of interest around the business.
Where do you see the business in three to five years' time?
I'd love to grow Bean Merchant to encompass more than just coffee beans, and to look at some of the different types of brewing and kind of open up New Zealand's home coffee industry and offer alternative brewing methods to home coffee makers. We'd also love to grow the number of coffee businesses and roasteries on board - we'd love to have as many as we can on board all across New Zealand.
How do you make money from the business?
At the moment we don't. There is a percentage of the costs from the roastery that the roaster gives us. We try and sell the beans to our customers at the same price that the roaster would and then we take a small percentage from the roaster for each order. There's no subscription fee - with our service you just pay for the coffee you get each week.
What advice would you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
If you have the money and resources to support giving it a try then jump at the opportunity otherwise you will never know whether it could succeed or not. Being in business is super fun and I've learnt things I never thought I'd even think about, things like marketing and the back-end of website design; being in business is a learning journey.