By Janet Civitelli
Today's blog post continues my series of interviews with people who started businesses after a career challenge. I am excited to tell the story of coffee entrepreneur Forrest Graves from JumpinGoat Coffee Roasters.
Forrest, what type of career did you have before you launched your business? I was a Business Consultant for a well-known Fortune 5 company. I was part of a broad team that sold capital equipment to the print industry. My career has spanned sales, marketing, and sales operations.
Describe the circumstances of your job loss, how long you looked for a job, and how your job search went. I was laid off along with countless others in response to the economic downturn of October, 2008, with my employment actually ending the day after Christmas, 2008. I was seeing job openings after I got word, but to me, the jobs were actually false indications of opportunity because I was also seeing "hiring freezes," a steady rise in unemployment, and fewer "new postings." While I kept looking for several months, I was more aggressive in deploying my plan "B"...to hang out my own shingle. While I searched and considered my options, I simply felt a knowing that I would be better off to do my own thing.
Please tell us about the business you started. Our flagship business, JumpinGoat, is coffee and tea, but more specifically, it's coffee roasting. We purchase green coffee that comes from the 10 major coffee regions around the world...we roast it fresh, and we sell it via retail, wholesale, and over the internet. It's a very exciting time for our business, and due to an overwhelming response we are currently developing a JumpinGoat license business opportunity. The most unique aspect of our coffee shop business plan is that we don't actually vend coffee by the cup. When they come into our store in Helen, GA, we offer our patrons a free cup of specialty gourmet coffee. Our business model success is driven by the simple fact that customers can brew at home for much less than they pay for a cup of coffee at big box retail.
How did you survive financially while you started your business? I was raised in the country, and subsequently I was taught some pretty basic values about self-reliance and survival. I was taught that survival is largely about good planning, tools, and resources. Community is also a great thing. For instance, with barn-raising, if you help raise a barn when you yourself don't need help, more than likely when you need help to raise your own barn, you will get the help you need. I also get a lot of inspiration about survival from observing nature. Even a squirrel will bury nuts for a hard winter and that behavior is innate. I cannot imagine a squirrel trying to outsmart Mother Nature, meaning, since we cannot possibly know the future, it's best to be well prepared.
How does your current income compare to your previous income? I was at six figures prior to starting JumpinGoat, but I was way underpaid and even more underutilized at my former job. I don't fault anyone for that; it’s just an unfortunate fact and a testament to me of how easily large corporations can lose sight of what's important to people. My passion and income are now fueled with the truth that I'm actually building something sustainable. I am now the benefactor of a few additional streams of income: a better "work life balance," freedom to make my own mistakes and failures, and the notion that there is no cap on my financial well-being. JumpinGoat outperformed my previous income after only six months in business.
What skills and previous experience were you able to bring to your business that help you to succeed? Perhaps my most appreciable skill is listening. My wife may disagree, but when I'm not waiting to hear myself speak, I can be one of best listeners on the planet. I also love people, too, and I'm experienced with dealing with people. I fashion myself a pretty good life observer of sociology. I think when you put that together with hard work, execution, and the ability to envision what success actually looks like, you have a fair chance to realize your own rendering of success.
What is the best part about running your business? When I see the customers happy, I'm at peace. If a happy customer tells someone about our products and that customer also became happy, I'm ecstatic. If that second person tells someone, and they also become happy, at that point, I have reached one of my most important business goals. I'm not sure I can describe how that makes me feel, but it's really, really good!
What is the most challenging part about running your company? Bridling growth. I am always balancing top line revenue with bottom line cost while scaling the business. It's easy to want it all, but it's not sustainable or practical.
What new skills did you need to learn to be a successful entrepreneur? I reached an appreciable level of success as a person and in business when I learned how to "execute." I fundamentally believe this is one of the most important skills an entrepreneur can have. Without execution, all you have are perhaps a few ideas, or worse yet, unrealized ambition and dreams.
What career advice do you have for job searchers who may be considering an entrepreneurial path? The new paradigm in business, marketing, and web 2.0 is the social media revolution where everybody seems to be an expert. I've been in computing for perhaps 30 years...I'm a certified network technologist, and I believe that social media can be a huge gotcha for many people starting out in business. Don't operate with the belief that if you build it, they will come. Be cautious about search engine optimization and social media pitches. Instead, focus heavily upon "cost." Controlling cost is one of the most important things you can do for a new business. Don't start out with the notion that you need three rounds of funding to start your business. Instead, try to begin where you are, and where it's appropriate, to keenly identify your market and build your brand. Once you define your market and you have proven beyond any doubt that that there is a demand for your product or service and that people want to purchase your product or service, write a detailed "go to market strategy," and then execute! The free enterprise system is built around supply and demand, and it's best to validate both components before you engage in business.
Anything else you would like to share? Yes, thank you for asking. I extend my sincere thanks for the opportunity to share with your readers. I appreciate the valuable contribution that you make in providing tools, resources, and community...it’s a valuable contribution. Keep up the great work!