We caught up with Guy Levine, founder of Abe & Co to learn about how and why he started the business and to see what our other business customers can learn from his experiences so far. Grab a coffee and enjoy this insightful 5 minute read….

On starting his first business

I started my first online business when I was 17, a classic car portal where we listed cars for sale, events and created websites for classic car dealers. It was fantastic, as a car lover I spent a lot of spare time travelling around the country seeing amazing classic cars. It was every car lovers dream, especially at 17. I wasn’t particularly academic and I can’t say that my parents approved, but it was a great education for me.

I was given a book on HTML 3.2 and got on with building the site which was a fantastic learning curve for me, and built my tech skills from a young age. I exited the business the day after my 18th birthday and was hooked on digital and commerce.

After a few more entrepreneurial ventures, I decided to form a digital marketing agency, to share the valuable lessons I had learnt along the way through my own endeavours. I could see a lot of people giving advice, but not that many people who had actually lived it. That just didn’t stack up for me.

As a young entrepreneur the learning curve was very steep. I could build 500 page websites but didn’t know how to fill in a manual PAYE return. Leadership wasn’t a word I even knew the meaning of, and it was hard to get my foot in some doors due to my age. I even needed a guarantor for my first office.

Despite all the challenges it took off, and I had to learn on the job, quickly.

On the birth of Abe & Co

Now running Return, a successful agency who helps ecommerce companies scale up, I came back to my love of coffee, and had that same nagging feeling that in order to really help our clients, we had to understand what it was like to be in their shoes. It was time to hatch my next plan.

I used to subscribe to a coffee company who sent me a stash of high quality coffee each week. I would spend hours tweaking my coffee machine to get the best cup of coffee I could. But I felt disconnected for the company – questions used to take 48 hours to be answered, and as the experts they made all the choices, but I wanted to have a say and be part of something.

So I decided to start Abe & Co Coffee Roasters. A coffee company which focussed on helping coffee lovers find and make the best cup of coffee they can, but most importantly, one they love to drink. The name came by accident when my Uncle sent my Mum my great grandpa’s birth certificate. His name was Abe, which just clicked for me. I also liked the idea of having a brand which stood for family values.

I spent a weekend building the website, set up a Stripe account to accept credit cards and ordered a coffee roaster. I bought every book I could find on coffee roasting and watched every video on Youtube. I also went to the author who wrote the most highly regarded book in the coffee roasting industry and asked him to mentor me – he said yes! I look back and think taking the leap and asking for advice from the best was a short cut to success.

I worked with a design agency to help me formalise my brand across different elements such as our bags, websites and email marketing. A lot of people will choose a coffee purchase by what the packaging looks like so it was essential to get this right from the start. It has evolved slightly and been applied to different things, but I am happy with how it stands now.

As we are growing, I will start to resource with more people who are better than me at all the key areas of the business so we can really grow. However, the key will be to make our clients feel they are part of our conversation and the journey. We send out lots of samples to our subscribers to get feedback, and rather than stock coffee we think the experts rate, we like our clients to let us know what they like.

On what running a business has taught him

The bigger we have grown, the more exciting it has become, but most importantly, I feel I can offer realistic advice to our agency clients from what we are seeing at Abe & Co. Sometimes it isn’t just a case of throwing more money at boosting sales, there are more strategic elements which need to be fixed.

I know the time it takes to source stock, implement stock management systems and see behind everything that leads to someone clicking on an advert and purchasing.

On the importance of being different

Where we have really tried to be different is with our Facebook community group, anyone can join but it gives us real live data as to what the coffee community is interested in, talks about and needs help with. Anything can be discussed, including other coffee brands, but it keeps our fingers on the pulse of what the consumer wants, and ensures we don’t become inaccessible.

While some great coffee companies focus on sourcing exotic coffee in limited lots, we have seen our clients want good coffee, which is easy to use in a home machine, and they want to be able to pour simple patterns with milk called Latte Art. They are also interested in looking after their machines, and hearing about any new gadgets. From knowing this, we ensure all out content is tailored to them.

On motivation and balance

Being that typical entrepreneurial character, I find staying motivated easier than say no and taking on too much. I thrive off new ideas, listening to clients, seeing what is new in the world of coffee and back to my initial start-up driver of finding out what is working in the ecommerce space and sharing it with our agency clients. Sometimes I get a bit too excited and have been known to make after working hours calls about the latest ecommerce growth hack I have found.

I also find having the balance between our own brand, and working with other clients keeps me engaged. Being managing director can be a really lonely place, and often you find yourself doing none of the jobs you loved doing in the beginning but having a portfolio of activities keeps it fresh for me.

On developing a team

In every business I work in or work with I want to make a difference. Internally I want to give my team confidence, opportunity, and the ability to push themselves. I actually believe one of the main jobs of a managing director is to give confidence to your team. Being extremely driven, I don’t find this comes easily to me – when the old ‘I could do it quicker myself’ syndrome kicks in, but it is something I work on every day to keep my teams motivated and most of all, feeling valued,

Externally, I want to make a difference to the lives of people we work with, whether that be starting their morning with the best cup of coffee they have made, allowing companies to scale their size, or helping junior marketeers at our clients get promoted. It’s not just about win, win, which actually sometimes feels like if we both lose a little bit, we will be ok, but actually how can we help you win?

On having a vision

Moving forward, I have big visions for both companies. As an agency who works with ecommerce businesses and want to keep helping them scale. To understand the ins and outs of an ecommerce business, to give guidance on platforms like Shopify, to run social media campaigns, Google advertising and be a true growth partner.

For Abe & Co, keeping the client at the heart of the business is essential and sourcing fantastic, environmentally friendly coffee which is paid for at levels where the farmers are well regarded is key. We are looking at our first app, so clients can record their coffee likes and dislikes, and create their own flavour profiles, and are just about to start a client selection team, where we send samples of the coffee we are looking to purchase and ask our clients for their preferences. Community sourcing a percentage of coffee purchases, as well as using our expertise to find something special means we will stay the client’s choice.

Thank you Guy for such an interesting story of your journey so far. We love your brand and are proud to have supplied your Abe & Co printed t shirt!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as we have and want to share your own start up story please get in touch