In today’s episode, I speak to Orit Mohammed, founder of Boon Coffee. After finishing her Masters of Arts in Economic Development in the United States, Orit spent a few years working for some international organizations. In 2008, after getting married to a fellow Harrar native, she moved to Dubai where she and her husband continued to establish their business in the UAE and start a family. After having three children and raising them for a couple of years, she decided to reconnect with the coffee culture she grew up with.
Boon Coffee, a company that started off as a “one roasting machine and a box of cups” now supports thousands of coffee farmers based in Ethiopia. Orit’s decision to source Ethiopian coffee – arguably the best coffee harvest in the world and geographically very close to the UAE – formed a strong link between hardworking farmers and consumers who are very particular about the source of what they consume. The company recently added a B2C component to their business by introducing two cafes in Dubai.
Orit loves being in Dubai and is proud of her product as well as a brand that has traveled not only through the GCC but also all the way to Europe and the United States. In this episode, she walks us through the challenges and stereotypes she’s had to confront as a result of being an Ethiopian female entrepreneur.
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Dhiren: [00:01] This episode of The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast is brought to you by the Cloudscape Care Package. This care package is designed specifically for retail and restaurant business owners. If you’ve got a retail or restaurant business or are considering opening one, then talk to us at cloudscape.ae or drop us a line at email@example.com, and we’ll show you how the care package and all of its features including training, implementation and support can help you set up for success.
Orit: [00:28] Four years ago when there was [inaudible 00:30] then we had all types of coffee, I looked, even Lavazza had coffee from Ethiopia and they were featuring Kapha. And I said, “A few years ago, nobody would mention. Now every stand, every roaster was talking about Ethiopian, Ethiopian, Ethiopian coffee.” It was amazing. I said, “The world is bigger!” But it really is a proud moment when you say wow, because people now will ask you if you have Ethiopian coffee.
Dhiren: [00:59] Hello and very big welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast, and also the second episode in our special Coffee Roasters theme. If this is your first time here, my name is Dhiren Bhatia, I’m your host, and I’d love for you to check out our website, theelevatedentrepreneur.fm, where you can get access to all the other episodes, as well as the very first episode in this special series, which is episode number 12. Before we cue the music, and before we start the episode today, I want to run a quick thought experiment with you. I want you to think about something and it will only take a few seconds. What comes to your mind when I mention the country Ethiopia? Is it the country that you’ve been wanting to visit? Or is it the image of conflict and civil war? Or is it images of general poverty? Today’s episode is going to change that for you because today’s episode is about Orit, the founder of Boon Coffee. It is a story of how Orit’s passion of wanting to bring change for herself and her family ultimately led to change for her country, and how she has changed the image of Ethiopia here in the UAE to that of a country of spectacular coffee. Today’s episode is going to be a bit longer than our usual, but stick with me because today’s episode takes us from the UN, to changing diapers, all the way to Australia. So I’m really excited for you to tune in. So let’s cue the music.
Intro: [02:35] You’re listening to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. A podcast designed to help retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs simplify business operations and use modern technology to elevate their business. Here’s your host, Dhiren Bhatia.
Dhiren: [02:53] Orit, welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. It’s so nice to have you.
Orit: [02:58] And it’s really nice to be here.
Dhiren: [03:00] Indeed. And it’s a pleasure because I know you are being interviewed on Vice Arabia, that’s coming out soon. So it’s just an amazing honour. So thank you for being here.
Orit: [03:09] My pleasure.
Dhiren: [03:11] Awesome. So Orit, why don’t you get started and tell us a little bit about yourself?
Orit: [03:15] My name is Orit Muhammed. I was born in Ethiopia. I grew up in Ethiopia and later on I moved to the United States for schooling. I actually studied political science and I did a Master’s in Public Policy and African Development at Howard University in Washington, DC. Worked a few years, I went back to Ethiopia and kind of fell in love – you know how that goes – and came to Dubai with a husband.
Dhiren: [03:43] With a husband, I like that. That was just me plus one.
Orit: [03:45] Yes. It’s the husband who brought me so at that time, husband plus Orit, yes.
Dhiren: [03:50] So that’s a really interesting story. I know you and I met a few weeks ago and I got to hear some of it but I want you to tell me what made you move from the US back to Ethiopia?
Orit: [04:00] Growing up in Ethiopia, I always wanted to [inaudible 04:04] NGO, and some kind of multi-national, governmental or non-governmental agencies because growing up, those are the most successful people you see. I wanted to have the license that said, UN, where I could do things that nobody would stop me, and my children go to the most exclusive schools, the best schools in town. I just felt like they were treated better in a weird way. So once I went to America and studied, things changed. My perspective of a lot of things changed and then I realized that there are a few NGOs that are doing really good work, but it’s not necessarily the ones who live a better life. The whole thing wasn’t supposed to be us helping them but them helping us so that kind of reverse thing happened. So I did work for a lot of NGOs in America, including Amnesty International in my first years of school. Well start getting that I realized that change was going to come from grassroot not necessarily from high. So this is what I did. I knew exactly what I was going to study, what I was going to do, but obviously, that journey changed a lot of things, the way I see the world, but I always was sure that I would go back. My family is still in Ethiopia so I came back to Ethiopia. I worked a few years in America, but then I came back to Ethiopia to start my career. But I didn’t last too long, you see.
Dhiren: [05:32] Clearly because you’ve made it here with a husband.
Orit: [05:34] Yes.
Dhiren: [05:35] So what year is this? What year did you go to the US?
Orit: [05:38] This would be in the ‘90s but I’ve been going to the US since the late ‘80s because Ethiopia was going through some changes governmentally, so we were originally sent to America when they were still a socialist country so we couldn’t come back until the Ethiopian government changed, I think around 1991, ‘92 I believe. So that’s the time we start coming back and going back again. We were very young when we first went. It was me and my sister the first round. So when we went back for schooling at Howard University, I wanted to study African Development. That was my goal. I did my thesis on Structural Adjustment Programs, both in Africa. So I was very focused, but didn’t realize that things would change so drastically when I came back. Even Ethiopia was going through economic shift, so when I came back again, Ethiopia had changed drastically from a small, quiet country, lots of tradition, to a country that was changing and becoming more modern. We still have a lot of tradition but things were changing very fast, especially late ‘90s. When 2000 came in, when I came back around 2002 to four, it was nothing the way I remember growing up. It wasn’t that quiet. I grew up in Addis Ababa, the main city. It changed completely and we knew, we felt the buzz like things were happening so fast. We’re just trying to–
Dhiren: [07:04] And is this because of the advent of the internet and that kind of stuff? Or is it more change because just–?
Orit: [07:10] Well, the government changed from a socialist country to a more [advanced 07:14] kind of country. So things change very fast, and the country kind of opened up for new ideas, new opportunities came. It was very socialist. I think it was very close. We were young, so we didn’t notice that part, but at least there was a lot more freedom in terms of people traveling back and forth, and doing things. So the business was growing much faster. So you could feel that Ethiopia was going through a transition of change.
Dhiren: [07:44] So you’re back in 2002 to 2004.
Orit: [07:46] Yeah, you know, now I calculate everything with the children’s age. I add plus or minus.
Dhiren: [07:54] When you say we I know that you have lots of sisters. How many sisters are there?
Orit: [07:56] Yes, I have five sisters. So there are six girls in my family.
Dhiren: [07:59] Wow.
Orit: [08:01] My father was blessed even if he didn’t know it.
Dhiren: [08:04] don’t think he saw it that way. I’m joking. It’s an amazing honour to have because it’s six of you. That’s amazing.
Orit: [08:10] Yes, I think we became six looking for that boy, but that’s another story. But we grew up with a very strong mother, who taught us everything is possible, even though in a weird way, we grew up in a conservative Muslim family in Ethiopia. We were taught that we could do everything. That gender role in a weird way didn’t affect us, because we were all girls. So all of us are the same, right? So they provided everything equal. I went to an all girls school too in Ethiopia. I thought the boys were yucky. By the time I went to America, I was very comfortable. We didn’t realize a lot of issues with the gender or race or any of that because we kind of lived in a bubble in Ethiopia. So when we went to America, when I was saying I’m going to be studying political science, I’m going to do this, I’m going to be a diplomat, I’m going to have the license plate, people were like, “Where are you coming from, yeah?” But this is probably most of the class African children’s dream to live in these kind of big cities.
Dhiren: [09:10] Yeah. So there are two interesting things I want to jump into. So one is because you were in an all girls school and you were an all girl family, was there ever a distinction made that as a girl you can’t do this like a guy can?
Orit: [09:19] No.
Dhiren: [09:20] That’s amazing.
Orit: [09:21] So if I had a girl, which I don’t, I have boys only now, that hurts the worst, that I probably would prefer that kind of all girls school. It was really amazing. And a lot of girls came out of that school did amazing.
Dhiren: [09:33] Amazing. So it’s 2004, you’ve come back to Ethiopia, you’ve got six sisters in your household and you’ve come from the US, you’ve studied and you’re all about getting into the UN. What comes to me by the way, it’s going to sound very cliché but I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie The Interpreter on Netfix?
Orit: [09:48] Yes.
Dhiren: [09:50] And I’m thinking something like that because Nicole Kidman has done such an amazing role. She’s from the same region. She talks about wanting change. Not that I’m complaining, I’m just saying that that’s sort of the story–
Orit: [09:59] I think a lot of people who came back did really feel that when you live in two different parts of the world. Because growing up, I was young in Ethiopia so I didn’t fully grasp the culture or the mindset of people. I didn’t understand them because I thought that yes, I could change. But then again, then you come and you see you can change, but it’s going to be a slow pace. It’s going to be very much slow, very frustrating, but it was different. But I was so excited to come back. And the States were fantastic. I really enjoyed my time. It allowed me to grow different from the family, from the structure. Too [many] rules were in the family that when I went to the States, it was a lot of freedom. So it was knowing, just even learning about yourself. So it was really nice. I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun but also, I met a lot of different people. The United States has that ability to make you also believe that anything is possible.
Dhiren: [11:00] The Land of Opportunity.
Orit: [11:01] Yes. And really I did [think] that, “Oh, I’m ready to go back”, which in hindsight, I wasn’t that ready.
Dhiren: [11:09] So tell me what happened after that. You said you got married, but then you’re here now running a business.
Orit: [11:13] Yeah, so it didn’t even take long but I met my husband when I was in America still, in my last year. We started communicating so when I came back, we got married fast. It was a fast decision but now looking back, I’ve been married 16 years, so it was a good decision. But at that time, it seemed like a rushed decision that we met, we stopped, came back, got married. So when he said he lives here part time [unintelligible 11:38].
Dhiren: [11:40] That’s how he got you.
Orit: [11:42] Yes, he didn’t say “I live in Dubai”. He said, “I went to Dubai in [inaudible 11:47] So for the first five years of our marriage I was in Ethiopia most of the time and he used to commute back and forth and I was very happy. But once I had three children in five years, three boys back to back, it kind of puts a stop to everything you thought about. I was in a fast moving car and literally had to put a stop.
Dhiren: [12:08] Yeah.
Orit: [12:09] Everything I know, everything I thought I knew had to be changed, re-examined. It was an interesting time those five years. I was a new mom, new wife, then when I came to Dubai, it became a new country. It wasn’t easy at all. Those were probably the toughest years. I started coming here after like, 2006 I came here. But I would go back quickly because everything was so hard, either I had a baby or I was pregnant. It was nothing, so I would always go back. So I didn’t move here until my son started school, which forced me to be grounded here.
Dhiren: [12:46] Like you said, everything now works in your boys’ years.
Orit: [12:48] Yes.
Dhiren: [12:49] So I can see you’re doing the math in your head.
Orit: [12:51] I’ve become like that typical mom.
Dhiren: [12:55] Having three boys is an accomplishment in itself and running a big business despite that. Kudos.
Orit: [13:00] You stop counting years. Literally you just count the children’s ages and then you add or subtract.
Dhiren: [13:06] So you’ve come to Dubai now, you’ve settled. So how did you get into coffee?
Orit: [13:10] Well you see, I came here. My second [interview 13:13] was about 2009. And when I had my third son, which is Ahmed, who is now 10 years old, he’s the one who was born here. I stayed home three years after that with him. My stay home time got long and I knew I wanted to do something, I couldn’t be still. When I was in Ethiopia I was working. But here, there were three years that I was a stay at home mom. It was great to be with the kids, but I needed to do something. I felt like my fast paced life from the first part of it. I felt stagnant, but I didn’t want to leave the kids. I wanted to be a hands-on mother. Then I realized, well, maybe I can start a small business, so this is it. I was at the playground, I would be watching the kids and discussing with the other moms, “I think I’m going to start a coffee business” but it really wasn’t the coffee business. The only thing I knew is that I wanted to do something that I liked, something that I would enjoy. So obviously, that African Development ride wasn’t going to happen.
Dhiren: [14:15] Yeah, I was just going to ask you so that whole mindset has changed now.
Orit: [14:18] A hundred percent.
Dhiren: [14:18] So there’s more grassroot changing–
Orit: [14:21] Yeah, we are changing diapers, not the world.
Dhiren: [14:25] Hey, that’s change.
Orit: [14:27] So I wanted to do something that maybe I can interpret – in my mind – until the boys get older. Not that I knew a lot about coffee. I knew I loved coffee and I grew up in a country that celebrates coffee. In Ethiopia, coffee is part of our culture, part of our DNA, everything revolves around coffee. And most of the people in Dubai or the UAE, Ethiopians, actually send items to Ethiopia to do business. So I thought why not take something beautiful and–
Dhiren: [15:01] And bring it here.
Orit: [15:02] Yes. And in this region, Ethiopia didn’t have such a beautiful story. People were still associating it with poverty and that’s mostly in the world, especially here because most of the Ethiopians they know are either domestic workers are laborers, which is kind of crazy because Ethiopia is just about three and a half hours flight. A hundred million people live in Ethiopia so there’s so much diversity, so much beauty. Obviously, there is poverty, it’s part of our story and hopefully we’ll change that but it’s not most of our story. If you come to Ethiopia you’d be amazed. There is a lot more to Ethiopia than a poor country. The other, I felt, 90% wasn’t discussed here. So I thought, “Okay, this coffee is simple. I know coffee”, and I’m from the Harar region, the eastern province where coffee was first traded in the world. So I’m telling you it was in my DNA. I always say but any Ethiopian literally say that, because coffee is part of everybody’s daily life. And I thought, why not? And, of course, my great grandfathers, my generations were coffee farmers in that region. However, my dad had broke the coffee thing and actually became a doctor. He went to Russia and became a doctor. So when I said I’m going back to do coffee, he was like, “What do you mean? I did all this for you guys to have better opportunity.”
Dhiren: [16:31] Is that why he moved away from coffee?
Orit: [16:33] No, politically, a lot of changes were happening but yeah, instead of farming, from education, he became a doctor. So he went to Russia all the way. It was a socialist country so at that time, I think in the ‘70s, a lot of Africans used to go to medical school or any kind of school in USSR at that time. They didn’t understand it, but they wanted me to be happy. They knew I would be doing something. Even the name when I chose like, “I have a company name Boon”, literally means coffee in my language.
Dhiren: [17:03] Is that what it means?
Orit: [17:04] Yes.
Dhiren: [17:05] I was thinking Boon like Boon from The Gift of the Earth but now we know.
Orit: [17:10] It literally in Amharic means coffee. And in a lot of Ethiopian language boon means coffee too, but the other word in Ethiopia is buna. So boon and buna is very much the word for coffee in Ethiopia.
Dhiren: [17:23] Right. So the English translation [of] the company name then is Coffee Coffee.
Orit: [17:27] Exactly.
Dhiren: [17:27] I love it.
Orit: [17:28] Exactly.
Dhiren: [17:28] It’s like the joke from the movie, “It’s so good they named it twice.”
Orit: [17:31] Yeah, absolutely. But in Arabic, it also means coffee beans. So it’s one of the words that actually traveled from our part of the world. Because as coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, it’s one of the words, so it literally it means coffee beans in Arabic too, and in Dutch it means beans, so coffee beans. That’s a bonus because I didn’t know but they would come and say, ‘Oh, it’s a Dutch company” and I’m like, “What?” At first I was like, “What Dutch?” So now is the test. In English it means coffee coffee. In English what does boon mean?
Dhiren: [18:05] A gift.
Orit: [18:06] It’s a gift or a blessing.
Dhiren: [18:08] I love it. So from a branding perspective, you nailed it, right?
Orit: [18:11] I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t know the English or the Dutch. For me, it was very personal so it was Boon Coffee.
Dhiren: [18:19] This is now you’ve made up your mind. You want to get back into coffee. You named your company Boon Coffee. What happens next?
Orit: [18:25] Go to Freelancer and find logo makers.
Dhiren: [18:29] Every entrepreneur’s story.
Orit: [18:31] Literally that’s what happened. I was at home and I used to joke and everybody thought it was kind of cute that I’m running around with the children but talking about business. We started, my husband was very supportive and he used to say, “Okay, this will keep her calm. At least she won’t be complaining and calling me 100 times.” He was very supportive, especially at the beginning. So the first thing is, we brought in 500 kilos of coffee on a plane to the house, and I was looking at and going, “Okay, what are we going to do with this?”
Dhiren: [19:04] 500 kilos? That’s a lot of coffee.
Orit: [19:07] , it is, especially at that time it was. And then I started finding people to roast it and giving it to my friends or my neighbors. That’s how it started. And when people were tasting it, they were like, “Oh my God, this is good coffee.” Because you think what you like not everybody likes. So I knew the coffee in Ethiopia was really good. It’s a coffee producing country, and it’s so close. Ethiopia is literally – in a vessel for our coffee to get here, it takes only a week, four or five days. In a plane, you could be in the mountains of Ethiopia in three and a half hours. So it never made sense for me that there was no coffee directly coming from Ethiopia. Several years ago in Dubai, there weren’t a lot of roasteries. There were a few roasters already but probably one was just specializing, high-end roastery. And nobody talked about the origin of coffee. Nobody discussed, they would discuss the blends or something, but nobody would discuss as Ethiopia as a feature.
Dhiren: [20:09] Because it was the thing to have Italian coffee, right?
Orit: [20:11] A hundred percent. Yeah, everywhere you go everybody advertise, “We have Italian coffee, Italian coffee.” And I love Italy but coffee is not Italian. There is Italian roast. They made it fun, they made it elegant. Italians with the espresso with the cappuccino.
Dhiren: [20:30] And it’s now always part of that DNA. So when you think Italian, you think espresso.
Orit: [20:33] Exactly.
Dhiren: [20:34] Good marketing in that sense.
Orit: [20:35] Yeah, and they have, but the beans itself is not Italian. The beans could be from many parts of the world [but] for sure there’s not going to be Italian beans. But coming from Ethiopia, I didn’t think that people really thought that because in Ethiopia, we get the green beans, we roast, we grind and we make coffee. So for me, that was easy. This is how it should be. But when people just equate coffee with Italy here, it was amazing. I was like, “What do you mean?”
Dhiren: [21:09] And maybe this is your idea of change?
Orit: [21:11] Yes, let’s go back to that.
Dhiren: [21:15] I see it this way is that you’ve done so much for your country and you’ve really brought it into the limelight, but I think we’re jumping ahead. I want to stop you here for a minute and talk about the 500 kilos of coffee sitting in hour house.
Orit: [21:26] Yes, the 500 [kilos]. And my neighbor, Mr. [Emtiasi 21:30] helped us carry it. To this day I owe him. So we put the coffee and we started roasting so people were discovering [it]. And I will tell you, for the first year, of course, nobody was buying.
Dhiren: [21:45] So these are green beans? 500 kilos of green beans and unroasted coffee sitting at home?
Orit: [21:50] Yes. And you know you can’t use any cleaning agent close to it because coffee absorbs smell so we were so careful.
Dhiren: [21:56] Wow.
Orit: [21:57] It was just sitting there. True story, we dropped the kids at school. I was driving a car. My husband sitting next to me and I hear on the radio that “For all the local businesses, there is a big break. You can submit and you’ll get a free license and 100,000 dirham. Today’s the deadline by 12.” So I said, “Can you write that number?” And he’s like, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to submit my business.” We joked and he gave me the number and we went into the office. I had to do some work, not related to coffee. I was looking and he came in and said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Oh, I’m going to write. I called the number and they said, ‘Send us your business idea.’” I mean, when I wrote it, literally, he was standing like, “You have to pick up the kids. I had to do this. I had a lot of work to do.” I typed very fast, brief and centered. And then while I was on the playground months later, I get a call and they’re like, “Are you Orit? Are you running Boon coffee?” I’m like, “Yes, yes.” And they’re like, “Okay, we want you to be on our radio show.”
Dhiren: [22:56] Wow.
Orit: [22:58] I was like, “What?! Who is this?” I really thought it was my sisters playing jokes.
Dhiren: [23:04] Could be a prank.
Orit: [23:05] Yeah. And they’re like, “on the radio next week”, and they were talking fast. I was at the playground so you could hear kids running. So I was running away from the kids and the kids are chasing me. I was like, “Oh my God.” So then I went, and finally, I took all their information. I called my sisters and I was like, “Guess what? I’m about to make it.” They’re like, “What are you talking about?” Because until then, the people who were taking my coffees were just my neighbors and my friends. So we were selling 20, 30 kilos of coffee a month maybe. It wasn’t a big business yet. So when I got on the show though, there were like 12 contestants, and some of them were big businesses – recycling plants, energy saving bulbs, and other 12 big businesses. So I lost on the first round. And I was like, “Oh, it was great to be on the radio”, but I was called back because they got so many calls and texts from people that they actually thought I’m a wildcard to come back. So when I came back after losing the first round, I actually made it all the way to number two. Not number one.
Dhiren: [24:12] But that’s an achievement from being a last minute entry to being removed and then being bought [back]. That’s amazing.
Orit: [24:18] Yeah. So it gave me the chance to introduce Boon a lot of people on the radio.
Dhiren: [24:23] And what’s at stake here is 100,000 dirhams, right?
Orit: [24:25] Yes. In retrospect, it was the best because we’ve changed so much since then. I think we weren’t even ready if we had been given all that. It was really amazing because I got to meet so many people, and it literally was my big break. So I start getting a lot of big orders and calls from people that wanted to know more about that coffee.
Dhiren: [24:46] Because they heard you on the radio.
Orit: [24:48] Exactly. And so we did one of the big [inaudible 24:53]. It was amazing. I had so many people who recognized us and are coming. So now we became people to know. But still, I didn’t have any B2B business. Again, it was by chance somebody mentions to somebody that I went and did a coffee tasting for La Serre, which became La Serre, but at that time it was Amredi Hotel, which is now a Vida Hotel. So they had a coffee tasting and somebody invited me literally by accident because that was one of the exhibitions. When I went, the guys asked me, “Where is your coffee?” Because I called and I said, “I’m bringing coffee.” I had a French press and a bag of coffee and to this day, my friend [unintelligible 25:32] we became friends and laughs because everybody else was bringing machines and everything. I didn’t know what a coffee tasting was. I knew I had good coffee so I was going to take it and give them a taste with the French press. I was like, “Do you have a water boiler? I hope you do.” So they did. They tasted it and they were like, “Okay, this is good coffee, but bring a higher machine for us then come back. They gave me a chance which I did. They came back and we got the contract. I mean, it took a little long, but we won. So La Serre became literally my first client..
Dhiren: [26:08] So far, you’ve been selling coffee to your neighbors and your friends and you’re getting bigger and bigger, but no B2B business. And now this is finally how you land your first big deal.
Orit: [26:16] Yes. I didn’t know because it was one of the first restaurants to open. But I didn’t know any of this. I just went [with] somebody at an exhibition, mentioned that they didn’t like the coffee that they were tasting, and I was standing there and then somebody said, “Why don’t you try her coffee? She has coffee.” It’s simple as that. So it was being at the right place at the right time kind of thing, but I was out there. I was going to the food exhibitions. I was meeting people. I was that girl who comes in with a pack of coffee everywhere, and even with the moms because I like coffee. So I like talking about it. I like tasting it, so it wasn’t hard.
Dhiren: [26:56] It doesn’t sound like work.
Orit: [26:57] No. So every free minute when the children were in school and stuff, I was doing my coffee thing. I was roasting, but it [was] really those two years [that] gave me the time to learn my trade. So I learned how to roast, I was packing, and I was delivering. Well my husband used to do most of the deliveries, but I would be in the warehouse for hours. We rented a warehouse when the show happened, you know with the big break. We bought a roaster and so I was trying. So almost all the blends that are the top selling blends, they are blends that I created the first because I knew what I wanted. I know what good coffee should taste like because I grew up with coffee every day. Every day we would taste and blend. So we would roast and so it was easy, that part, but it gave me time to learn a lot more because I thought I knew a lot about coffee, but not necessarily so. What makes it sweet? What makes it sour? How is it so acidic? So I learned a lot in those two years.
Dhiren: [27:57] Did you need to do any certifications?
Orit: [27:59] You do but I never became a barista. That would be the hard part for me. But I actually did. I went to courses to learn about roasting, because I knew roasting was the essential part of the process. Because with all the hard work that the farmers do, and the sorters do and the exporters, if you burn the coffee or you don’t roast it correctly, it doesn’t matter, right? So, the roasting I knew I had to learn. But saying that, the barista also would make a big major impact because at the end of the day, running a café, if you don’t have a trained barista, that also will make a big impact.
Dhiren: [28:37] It’s part of the chain.
Orit: [28:39] Yes.
Dhiren: [28:40] What year is this that you signed at La Serre?
Orit: [28:42] La Serre opened seven years ago. Six years ago? When this radio show happened – the big break – we quickly brought in one container of coffee.
Dhiren: [28:53] Wow.
Orit: [28:53] That’s 20 tons of coffee.
Dhiren: [28:56] This is no longer sitting in your house I would assume.
Orit: [28:58] No. We had to get a roaster, a roasting machine, a warehouse. And it was really too much because there [were] no clients. I was still selling 20, 30 kilos, maybe we moved up to 50 kilos a month.
Dhiren: [29:11] So what gave you the confidence?
Orit: [29:12] My crazy husband, I tell you. I was planning but he moved faster. And I kept saying, “No, no, no, you’re giving me more than I can chew” because I was scared. I really was scared, especially when I saw the 20 tons of coffee arriving in Dubai. I was like, “Oh my goodness, how are we going to sell this?” And it was a very hot summer, I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be roasted?” And he used to joke that “You’re going to drink all the coffee” because I would be doing the tasting and the roasting all day at the warehouse. All day at warehouse I would roast so many batches of coffee and taste them.
Dhiren: [29:43] And this is all from Ethiopia? This is amazing Ethiopian Coffee?
Orit: [29:45] Yeah, so I had really great people in Ethiopia who would help me choose the coffee. So when they’d come here, I could quickly roast them and taste them and start creating blends that I liked. Ethiopia was giving me good products so all I had to do was figure out how to present it, yeah?
Dhiren: [30:01] You make it sound really easy but actually, it’s not that easy.
Orit: [30:05] Coffee is everybody. There are a lot of people who love coffee, yes? But once you start drinking [it a] different way, then you realize how much you don’t know. So most people drink one type of coffee in terms of not necessarily one blend, but one type of roast, probably dark roast, and they don’t necessarily use it as anything but caffeine jolt. But for me, it was never I [inaudible 30:29] but for Ethiopians, it’s actually a calm down. We sit down to have coffee to take a break. It’s not to drink and run.
Dhiren: [30:37] So interesting, right? It’s a very interesting paradigm shift.
Orit: [30:40] Yes. And when you see a part of jebena, which jebene is the clay pot we make coffee, it’s coming. It’s time to sit, relax. You’re going to have to spend another hour looking at that coffee pot, 45 minutes minimum. So it’s not something that is for a rush. It’s usually the woman when everybody leaves, friends come, children, the family. This is the time to sit and drink, in the afternoon with our friends. Our house used to be full with aunties and friends, cousins. For me, that was it. I wanted that, people to enjoy it like that. Not necessarily just drink and put a lot of sugar and milk. We drink our coffee black, straight up. And you can enjoy it because if you’re drinking it very slowly – black coffee – you’re forced to taste the coffee, and you start knowing “Oh, this is too acidic”, something you know?
Dhiren: [31:35] This episode of The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast is brought to you by Cloudscape and Cloudscape’s many different products designed specifically for retail and restaurant business owners. If you’re considering opening a retail or restaurant business, or maybe have one already and are looking to solve technology problems, then let’s speak because we can give you a helping hand and make sure that you’re set up for success. For more information, check out cloudscape.ae or get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dhiren: [32:08] So you’ve got 20 tons of coffee, you’ve got a big warehouse, you’ve roasted coffee now you’re creating blends, you’ve got La Serre happening. What are you thinking now?
Orit: [32:15] Well, let me tell you about the La Serre. So the La Serre when they opened I saw it was very busy. They opened at one. The table that was sitting next to me they ordered two coffees – cappuccino and a black coffee. I was watching them and the tables were very close. So I was watching–
Dhiren: [32:32] Oh. It was like a mystery shopper sitting there.
Orit: [32:33] Yes, watching them drinking it. Probably one of my best moments is that, and my husband is like, “Stay cool. Just play it cool.” And I’m like, “I can’t be that cool. They’re drinking it.” Watching every expression. I’m sure they’re like, “She’s stalking us.” But when they finished, I was like, “How was the coffee?” And the women said, “It was strong”, and the man at the table at that time said, “It was really good.” And he said, “Why?” and I said, “I’m the roaster.” He was like, “Oh”. To this day, we’re still friends.
Dhiren: [33:02] Amazing.
Orit: [33:03] We’re still friends. So it gave us that “Oh, finally, it’s good. You see, it’s good. I don’t even have to work so hard.” I worry. Something is– So it’s from the beginning and the end, you did it, so you want to see what people reaction is that are not somehow related to you or know about you.
Dhiren: [33:20] Yeah, because you want to get feedback and this is a great way to get feedback. Sit next to a table–
Orit: [33:24] And stalk people.
Dhiren: [33:25] And watch every expression and take out your phone. There was a frown, there was a smirk.
Orit: [33:31] Yes.
Dhiren: [33:32] That’s amazing. That’s such an interesting story.
Orit: [33:34] Yes. Literally La Serre was the gateway because it became the best restaurant that year and the coffee sales were amazing that a lot of people start asking us. So quickly we’ve had [unintelligible 33:46]. We had a lot of businesses coming through.
Dhiren: [33:52] And What year is this?
Orit: [33:54] Like 2014, 2015, but it was amazing. So I was no longer that niche coffee selling girl.
Dhiren: [34:01] You ordered the French press.
Orit: [34:03] Yes. So people are like, “Where’s your coffee?” and you’re like, “I’m in La Serre, [pick a spice 34:37]
Dhiren: [34:38] That’s important in this part of the world. They want to know where your coffee is.
Orit: [34:10] Yes, because before then, when I first was trying to take this coffee to places, the first place that called me, actually, was not nice when I took the coffee. I took it to one of the cafés. They saw my website and they called me to come to a tasting. When I went, I just gave him a bag of coffee, and he was like, “Why is this special? Is this Italian coffee?” And I was like, “No, it’s not.” He said, “Why is this special?” And I didn’t even know the words because I was so hurt. To me, what do you mean why is it special? I wasn’t ready to even explain to him because he was so forceful. So I literally walked out with my bag of coffee and I was like, “Okay, I’ll be back. Thank you very much” and I walked out. I had tears and I told my husband “I’ll never do this”, and he said, “This is business. You can’t take it personally. So you just have to do it better.” Imagine that was the first guy. I don’t even know how he found us because from the website he called. So the website went live and somebody called and I went. So a random manager could have just put a stop to all the dreams I had because I was ready to give up that day. I was like, “I will never go and ask” because it’s the hardest thing to do. Take something that you worked so hard [on]. You take it and be like, “No, it’s really bad.” Literally what he said. Now, I have been so much I’m like, “What do you mean it’s bad?” You know, I would have said that.
Dhiren: [35:33] You had a list of things to tell him.
Orit: [35:35] Of course.
Dhiren: [35:36] So you get better at business, right?
Orit: [35:38] Yes.
Dhiren: [35:38] And now after having spent so many years in coffee, and I know you have a retail café, which I want to talk about in a few, I want to sort of look at your progression. You’ve come from someone who wanted to change the world, you’ve become a mom, three kids, three boys, and you’ve now launched a business and it’s no more selling 500 kilos of coffee from your house. You’ve opened up a full on business, you’ve got business coming in. What are you feeling?
Orit: [35:58] For me, I’m always happy. People say, “Why are you happy?” Because if you hear the first interviews or the ones on the show, this is nothing I expected to happen. It has become much bigger than what I thought would happen. So for me, every day when I see the numbers, I’m like, “Wow, this is fantastic.” I have 22 staff right now. I have a lot of coffee coming in through contract. It’s amazing. So corona came in, put a stop to everything. But who would have thought? Sometimes you have to start the journey to know the path. I would not have thought this big, I really didn’t. I really thought it was going to be a small business I can manage while my children were at school. The first time I hired somebody, I literally lost sleep. I was like, “Now, I have to worry about their family. I have to worry about this. I have to make sure this company succeeds. Because now I have more people depending on me for their income, for their livelihood.” So now we’re fast forward 22 people and still to this day, I have to make sure things that things are done properly. I can’t afford not to because I have so many families now. We have to make it work.
Dhiren: [37:09] You mentioned corona came in and I know that sort of bought a big change in your business. Let’s talk about that. So when did you open your first B2C, your first café?
Orit: [37:17] In JLT I’ve had the café for five years and we’ve kept it because we needed baristas. We do a lot of the barista trainings and quality check for the coffee because selling coffee is not just selling a bag of coffee. We provide machines, maintenance because restaurants don’t want to deal with hassle of just buying coffee and somebody does the machine, somebody does the maintenance, somebody does the training, so we do the whole gamut. So we always had to have a lot of baristas so it didn’t make sense just to have a small coffee shop downstairs so we could do the training for the baristas. And also instead of them just sitting in the office, [they] operate the café, which worked out perfectly fine. So that’s how it started. But the second cafe in [inaudible 37:59] in Nakheel Mall asked us if we wanted to be part of their concept that was coming at that time on the pond. And it was like two years ago, we were very excited. So we came in and opened in the food hall cafe. So that opened in December. The mall itself is the same. We actually opened in December, but January, February is when people start knowing where the place is. It was almost a soft opening in December. So January, February. March 20th, I’ll never forget that day. Literally the first week of March, yes, schools closed. If you remember the first week but still corona was far away. It was more of a joke. We used to send jokes to each other. Well, the joke stopped March 20th when everything closed and from getting hundreds of thousands of orders a day to zero. But something amazing happened.
[38:53] Like literally the first couple of days, I was so frustrated. I didn’t know, but you have to keep calm because it’s everybody, it’s not just you. It’s the whole world. What are you going to do? You have to deal with it. We’re going to get through it. You knew because the world is going to get through it, it’s just that we’re going to be different people now, but I knew that it wasn’t like– It’s not personal, it’s not just you, it’s not just Dubai, it’s the world. Everybody you talk to, from California to Australia, it’s the same issue. So the amazing thing for us is 95% of our business was B2B, we were supplying. So we had 5%, maybe we’d get a couple of calls a day to order for bags of coffee, but most of our business was at the cafes and restaurants and hotels. All of a sudden, within a couple of days, we start getting a lot of orders online. So we had amazing clients and customers who found us, people knew us from the restaurants. They started ordering directly.
Dhiren: [39:53] And you already had a platform for that?
Orit: [39:55] We did. Before, it was doing 5% of our business, but all of a sudden, it became 100. So many people, and I must tell you, this community is fantastic because when it rains it pours. Our website crashed with the orders. So I was like, “Oh my God, it can’t be worse.” Then people start doing WhatsApp. So it became the lifeline of our business. It saved us. Those people who were placing orders, literally saved the company.
Dhiren: [40:23] And did you do anything before this to boost that?
Orit: [40:25] All organic. I didn’t do anything. It was amazing. And we got so many texts and emails saying that they’re here to support us. People were very positive. They were really all about helping the local businesses.
Dhiren: [40:40] And there’s been some amazing movements happening behind the scenes in helping F&B businesses. A lot of things have happened around Dubai. So that’s amazing.
Orit: [40:49] What I realized is that I can’t depend so much on one type of business. I have to diversify. Now I’m concentrating on opening the cafés – Boon cafés like the one in Nakheel Mall and see how we could do the B2C also.
Dhiren: [41:04] Having multiple channels you think is very, very important.
Orit: [41:07] Yes, in order to survive.
Dhiren: [41:10] As they say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Orit: [41:12] Yes.
Dhiren: [41:14] And it’s easy for me to say this sitting on the other side of the table but having been through what you have been and having grown this business to where it is today, and now having multiple channels, so you opened Nakheel Mall the location in May you said?
Orit: [41:25] No, Nakheel was opened in December. We stopped it literally in March.
Dhiren: [41:30] Café was shut in March and then you had all these online orders come in. And this is a brand new café that has just opened.
Orit: [41:34] Yes. Literally, it was getting notarized after February because the mall itself was new, nobody knew it. It really was at the height of when people finally discovered it.
Dhiren: [41:46] And when did the castle reopened back? May?
Orit: [41:48] Yeah, remember that–?
Dhiren: [41:50] And I’ve had the pleasure of being to your café. It’s a beautiful café by the way. I love the decor. It’s one of those places where you can come in, swing into an armchair and have the coffee just the way you imagined it.
Orit: [42:00] Yes, but the growth of Boon is about people really. To this day, La Serre has changed management, owners, every staff, everything, but coffee still remains the same. We’re still there. I met chef Izu in La Serre, and he’s been my number one supporter, my ambassador for Boon. He has literally dragged us everywhere in the world, every restaurant he opens. And it’s really amazing because he gets nothing except the coffee we provide. And I’ve had these kind of great supporters – a lot of chefs who have helped us.
Dhiren: [42:40] I think it’s also a testament to the quality of you creating these and maintaining these relationships. They’re not easy.
Orit: [42:46] No, they’re not. But we went to Sidama to look at the coffee. He went with me to Sidama because the shift happened that people started caring about where their products are coming from, where the food is coming from. So some of the chefs and food people wanted to know, the restaurant owners, managers wanted to see. Where is it coming from? So we went all the ways to Sidama but once they saw that, they were like, “Yes, we’re going to stick with this.” So they knew everything was correct, ethical, done correctly, that they were like–
Dhiren: [43:17] Because they’ve seen the journey from farm to table and they’ve seen the whol process.
Orit: [43:19] Exactly. Since then they’ve been 100% supporters.
Dhiren: [43:23] And this is your moment where you sort of brought Ethiopia right back into where it belong, right?
Orit: [43:28] Literally, at the beginning, I think I talked about Ethiopia more than the coffee because I had to sell Ethiopia in a weird way. I didn’t even realize they didn’t know Ethiopia that well. But once everything is that to show them how beautiful it is, and this is just one part of the gift of Ethiopia, the coffee, but Ethiopia has so much more. So we have done shows about Ethiopia, about the northern honey, the [inaudible 43:53], the coffee, the culture. So I’ve done so many articles or radio shows on Ethiopia to show the world. Once everything, even the coffee is like because each type of coffee is a town in Ethiopia. It’s a region in Ethiopia. So when you say you’ve got a Sidama or Kapha, Harar, these are cities in Ethiopia, towns. So all the names of the coffee is a town. So it’s telling the story of through the coffee. Four years ago and there was [inaudible 44:25] and we had all types of coffee. I looked, even Lavazza had coffee from Ethiopia and they were featuring Kapha. And I said, “A few years ago, nobody would mention. Now every stand, every roaster was talking about Ethiopian, Ethiopian, Ethiopian coffee.” It was amazing. I said, “The world is bigger!” But it really is a proud moment when you say wow, because people now will ask you if you have Ethiopian coffee.
Dhiren: [44:48] Amazing. It’s this transformation, right? From thinking about Italian coffees now asking for Ethiopian coffee.
Orit: [44:53] Yeah, a hundred percent.
Dhiren: [44:55] Almost like a proud mom.
Orit: [44:56] Yes, really. I mean, the world has shifted in terms of specialty coffee but knowing where your food is coming from, people realize that not necessarily the factors of Italy or European. That doesn’t mean it. You need to know where is the item originated. You could have beautiful tomatoes from Italy. But that’s from Italy. But the coffee has to be local roasted or something. That is the great part. So I came at the right wave so I could push the Ethiopian coffee here where people are finally asking, so it became easy to sell.
Dhiren: [45:33] It’s more of a thing now. It’s a feature, right? It’s one of thse things you put on the posters.
Orit: [45:37] Not only Ethiopian now you say I have the good coffee from this region, from this village. So we went very specific. Even I’m learning a lot about the map of Ethiopia. I’m discovering, I’m like, “Where is this?” So really, it’s amazing. Anyway, every time I say that.
Dhiren: [45:54] So from 2006, all the way now to 2020. So you’ve got B2B, you’ve got B2C, you’ve got e-commerce going. What’s next?
Orit: [46:02] Well, I’ll see where the path leads me, but I’ve learned so much about business now. We’re opening more cafés.
Dhiren: [46:09] Is that part of a big focus now for Boon?
Orit: [46:12] Yes, but that’s not the goal yet. No, but even the roasting it’s just that, I don’t know, with the corona, the world has shifted and we need to be very flexible, diversified. Maybe exporting it to the States or to Australia or something where we’re not just in this region. If you had asked me five years ago, would I be sitting here discussing this path? I wouldn’t. So I really don’t know. The roads have been opening for me continuously. And this is what I always tell people when they say, “Oh, I have this idea.” Start the path because once you start is when everything opens. Because you cannot sometimes think of the thing because I knew I was going to be a diplomat. I knew I was going to have that license plate. I knew I was going to have the daughters.
Dhiren: [46:58] All that is so different now.
Orit: [46:59] So different because until you start the walk, you don’t know how it’s really done.
Dhiren: [47:05] And also, I think what must happen will happen. It will happen at the right time.
Orit: [47:08] Yes, but you have to start the journey.
Dhiren: [47:10] And what about opening cafés in other parts of the world? Is that something that you thought about?
Orit: [47:15] Yes, and we’ve been approached, so we’re just trying to figure out how to do this because owning your business is hard. It’s hard to let go and give it somebody else to manage it. I can’t be everywhere, right? So just trying to discover how I could do that.
Dhiren: [47:31] I want to go back one step. You said owning a business is hard. It is indeed and you’ve made it look so easy. So I want to maybe just ask you to think about the last many years, what is one of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome.
Orit: [47:44] Being a full time mother and full time worker. Being a hands-on mother because you want to spend as much time with your children as possible, especially when they’re young, and owning a business requires you spend a lot of time also. So at the beginning, I was going crazy because I’m jumping from one area to another, running, then you discover that you can’t do both. You can’t be perfect at both, I can’t be a supermom, and I can’t be this. So I really have discovered that it’s okay. I’ll be in a meeting and I’d be like, okay looking at the time and say, “I have to go”. Literally, I would get up and go to pick up the kids. Or with the kids sometimes I can’t come to every function they have. And instead of beating up myself, it’s okay. Sometimes the smaller things I miss, but I’m there most of the time for the big things because you cannot be in two places.
[48:35] And as a mother, people expect you so when you go to school a little late, you feel like, “Oh my God.” You feel judged as a mother and when you’re at work and you’re literally getting up to pick up a child in the middle of a meeting, you feel guilty too. At the beginning it used to bother me but now it’s really okay. It’s fine, and as the kids are growing up, there will be times when Daddy will be there, there will be times when I’m going to be there. There’ll be times for meetings, I might postpone or other [arrangements]. These things were very hard. I must say I have fantastic neighbors – friends and neighbors. Dubai creates that, right? A network where your neighbors become the family and your friends become your sisters. So they’re there to take up the slack. It takes a village. I really literally found my village and my kids are super happy. So they’re not always missing [me]. But I have to realize there’s times I have to cut the business and become a mother, I cannot think about business. Once the kids are at home, I’m 100% at home. At the beginning was the hardest part to manage as the business grew fast and I still had little children. So I had to compromise but now it’s okay.
Dhiren: [49:53] It is, and you found that balance. The key lesson here or the key thing that we should all take away from this is finding your own balance.
Orit: [49:59] And there is no such thing as a perfect balance. For each of us it will be very different. So that was the hardest part of the business.
Dhiren: [50:09] I also want to ask you what gives you the inspiration?
Orit: [50:14] Being Ethiopian in Dubai teaches you a lot. This is a country where 100,000 domestic workers are here that look exactly like me. So for me, it’s imperative I make it. I showed them too. And I see in Ethiopia, Ethiopian girls coming. They’re so proud. They’re the most proud. They’re like, “Whose business? This is mine.” You know, I’m speaking Amharic. They’re so happy. Me, it’s easy. I get the best coffee in the world, yes. The ladies on that end have sorted it, picked it and processed it for me. So my job is to just showcase and I’ve been blessed. I come from great generations of strong women like my mother who helped us to believe that we could achieve. So I never thought it’s not possible. My sister is in Ethiopia running a factory. It’s just a matter of which job to do in terms of hard working pay. That I know, because this business for me, I never thought I was a businesswoman. So coming to this part of the world, I had to become a businesswoman. I will tell you, at the beginning, I was like, “No, I’m not doing this.” I kept saying, “I want to be hired somewhere.” But I had to think so my inspiration is that I have to make this work. Now, I feel like as a black woman in this region running a business, it’s imperative I succeed. There’s a lot of people looking at me, and even when schools asked me to talk, I know who’s paying attention, who’s looking at me, and a lot of the girls are, especially black girls. There are not a lot of us running businesses. There are not a lot of us doing things. To this day, people ask me who’s the owner of the company. Who’s the manager?
Dhiren: [51:58] Doesn’t that make you feel weird?
Orit: [52:00] At the beginning, it used to bother me, now, depending on who’s asking, the answer is different. Because if I feel like somebody just wants to talk, “He’s not here. He’s just left. He was just here.” Yes, but most of them, I correct them and it’s a proud moment. Even in the cafe, “Who’s the owner?” and I’m like, “I’m the owner”, and they always have that very surprised look and then most people smile afterward. It’s like, “Yeah, see, this is possible. We have done it which means it’s possible.”
Dhiren: [52:26] And I know that all of your sisters are amazing businesswoman, you mentioned this to me when we met the first time. I’m so interested to hear that you said, “I thought I would be in a corporate career.” Why is that?
Orit: [52:37] Because I was the one who wanted the license plate. I was the one who didn’t think– I really was into the politics of things. I wanted to change the world. I really did. I thought there would be ways that the world wasn’t going the right way and that we can do something. I do give back to the school communities in Ethiopia. In Harar, pay for education or in Addis Ababa, I help the poor. So the change that I thought was coming, it’s going to come much more in the grassroot of it.
Dhiren: [53:09] And have you felt that you’ve changed in your way after all of the things you’ve done?
Orit: 53:14] In a way that for Ethiopia and Boon Coffee in this region, most definitely, like people now know the coffee. It’s no longer that nice coffee. If you go to any to any Dubai coffee scene, people will know Ethiopian coffee. They may not know Boon but they will know because we pushed it so much, our success was so fast that other people started saying, “Okay, why don’t we do that? So why don’t we discuss the origin of places?” So especially when I see the Ethiopian coffee featured in so many places that it is, and just the mere fact that girls could be inspired that they can do this too, and we were lacking that.
Dhiren: [53:56] I also want to ask you, what role has technology played in your success?
Orit: [54:00] Well, I had to learn it. Technology plays a great role because even in COVID, if we didn’t have these technologies [inaudible 54:10], even social media, everything is now technology-based. You need to know it. “You can no longer say, “Oh, it’s not good. I don’t want to do social media. I don’t want to do this.” Even the coffee from the stock, from what’s missing, what’s coming, to the shipment that’s going, everything is now tech-based. We have to make sure our orders are coming to us correctly, that it’s being channeled correctly. So we export all the way from Oman to Saudi. Saudi became one of our largest buyers. So all this is now completely connected to technology. And we have to have people who know, who studied this and also for me, we’re still trying fast because coffee is so basic, but any business you run now requires you to have technology.
Dhiren: [55:04] Absolutely. I think in your business or any inventory business, like you were saying earlier, it’s important to know where your inventory is.
Orit: [55:11] I’m doing projection and estimation all the time, and without technology, it would be somebody literally counting it.
Dhiren: [55:18] Counting beans in the warehouse.
Orit: [55:21] But even roasting has moved very much. Before, it used to be I would roast coffee in Ethiopia in a pan over charcoal, but now you’re using a Probat German roaster, which is very much science.
Dhiren: [55:34] And I know there are systems that you can actually hook up a piece of software to the roster to tell you how you’re doing and have you achieved the blend you wanted.
Orit: [55:39] Yes, exactly. So the coffee should taste the same from me roasting it or another roaster roasting it.
Dhiren: [55:47] A hundred percent. So I’m so glad you mentioned that. I think technology is and will play a very big part in any business’s success, especially post COVID. Like you said, you have to diversify into multiple channels. And I think systems like e-commerce or inventory management all need to be looked at. I think it’s an investment more than it is a cost.
Orit: [55:06] I agree. We’re literally changing our website and it’s because of COVID, we saw our shortcomings – we never paid much attention to that aspect because the businesses will send you an email, you will process and send. But when people start ordering online, asking you questions, “What does this mean?” You’re like, “Oh my God”, and things crash.
Dhiren: [56:26] Yeah, that’s the nature of technology. Like [inaudible 56:28] restarted it. Things are going to crash then it will get better.
Orit: [56:31] Yeah, so now we’re re-examining it.
Dhiren: [56:34] That’s amazing. Can I ask you to share maybe one lesson that you would impart to someone who is just starting?
Orit: [56:43] I think you have to be very fluid and very flexible. Because whatever business you start, you have to know your trade. The first two years, literally, I was selling 20 kilos of coffee, but that didn’t stop me from moving forward, planning ahead and learning, because all that education previous to coming here really didn’t apply to this – teconomic development or public policy – as in the roastery, I had to learn how to roast. So whatever business you do, you have to be the master. So to this day when there is coffee somebody roasts and gives me, I could tell them exactly where the problem is.
Dhiren: [57:27] Proof because you know the craft.
Orit: [57:29] Yes. So unless you do that part, you will always be depending on the other people. So, if I had skipped and we moved in, me hiring a roaster, then I’ll be depending on the roaster, always changing, changing. And I see that with a lot of other roasters or coffee shops that open. They depend on other people. So when you start a business, whatever business, you have to be a master of your craft.
Dhiren: [57:54] I also want to ask you, we’re on the show called Elevated Entrepreneur, what do you think makes an Elevated Entrepreneur?
Orit: [58:01] I know this is overused and very cliché but it’s the passion. It really is the passion. You have to put hard work. You could have all the passion in the world, if you don’t have the hard work, you will not make it. You have to do something that you like, but you have to work hard. I see a lot of people saying “Oh, my passion is this”, but they don’t get their time. They get distracted easily. Even for me, my family was like, “You’re really going back to coffee?” because I worked in America. They’re like, “Maybe you can go back into policy and different–” They didn’t feel like it was moving forward. I would come home with hair smelling like coffee. “Last generation we have to leave the coffee farms and you’re going back.” I was determined to learn about coffee, if anything, I’m going to know everything to know about coffee, so I worked many hours. So from the name, the logo, the color, to roasting, roasting and roasting, cupping, tasting. If you were my neighbor, my friend, my family, you came for vacation, we would be at the roastery with my sisters, my mother. We’d be there roasting, tasting each. There’ll be like, “Oh my God, you’re going to burn your heart [inaudible 59:12]”, but I would be tasting. I would get everybody’s opinion, “Did you like the coffee?” No? I know why not. I learned a lot.
Dhiren: [59:21] And can I ask you a question? Do you have any regrets in what you’ve done? Is there anything you would undo and redo?
Orit: [59:27] Not in the business because it literally has been a blessing. I’ve met fantastic people. I see our coffee a lot of places. So I don’t have regrets because it’s been amazing. But I should have worked in that Starbucks when I was in University studying instead of studying 24 hours.
Dhiren: [59:46] You would have learned everything there is to learn about coffee.
Orit: [59:47] Exactly. No, but when I was in school, I was so focused on studying. I was so focused that I really should have been at the coffee shops.
Dhiren: [59:58] I mentioned already I think you’ve done such amazingly well for yourself but not only that, I think you’ve brought the change in so many different ways. And change in terms of inspiration for people of color in this part of the world. I think back home, you’ve bought Ethiopia on the mainstage, and I think that’s a testament to your desire to change.
Orit: [01:00:18] Thank you. Thank you. I like to think so. But No, I’m just kidding. It’s a journey. So from me coming to Dubai and saying, “Oh, my God, what am I going to do in this country?” The kids started school, I was like, “I’m not staying here.” But to this becoming my home and my children’s home, Dubai is the perfect place between the East and the West. In a very nostalgic way, it has made me appreciate Ethiopia. I have the best of both worlds. When you live in so many different parts of the world, nowhere is perfect. There is always a place you say, “Oh, I could be there. Oh, I could be there.” But you could be happy anywhere.
Dhiren: [01:00:51] So I want to start to wrap up and I want to ask you two questions. Before we started recording, you talked about podcasters. I’d love to hear from you, do you recommend any books and podcasts for other entrepreneurs to read?
Orit: [01:01:04] I just read stories because I love listening to stories about everything.
Dhiren: [01:01:09] You mentioned S-Town.
Orit: [01:01:10] S-Town for podcasts, but it’s not about business.
Dhiren: [01:01:12] No, but it’s something that you like.
Orit: [01:01:14] I love that show. I love the book Shantaram. There are a lot of books that I like, like The God of Small Things, The Alchemist, of course, it’s everybody’s favorite book.
Dhiren: [01:01:23] Paulo Coelho.
Orit: [01:01:24] Yeah, and I love all his books, actually. And I do love revolutionary books, like I love Malcolm X. I’m forcing all my children. When you read other people’s story in books, you realize even though this may happen in India, or this may happen in Alaska, it’s very similar.
Dhiren: [01:01:41] We’re all the same. We’re all humans, we all have the same problems. We all have the same trials and tribulations.
Orit: [01:01:44] Yes.
Dhiren: [01:01:45] And lastly, where can people find Boon coffee and where can people find you?
Orit: [01:01:51] Okay, so, we have our website booncoffee.com, but we have the cafe in JLT and our new cafe in particular, well, it’s not new anymore, the food hall in Nakheel Mall. But there are a lot of restaurants like Lime Tree Café, as I said, Carine, Gaia, all of them still carry and Mandarin Oriental, the old hotel in Jumeira.
Dhiren: [01:02:13] So would it be fair to say if he went to the restaurant and say, “I’d like to order Boon coffee please.
Orit: [01:02:16] Of course.
Dhiren: [01:02:18] That would be the way to do it.
Orit: [01:02:18] Yes.
Dhiren: [01:02:19] That’s awesome. Orit, thank you so much. Absolute treat and I love listening to your story.
Orit: [01:02:24] Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Dhiren: [01:02:30] If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to The Elevated Entrepreneur show at elevatedentrepreneur.fm or wherever you’ve been listening to this episode. And finally, if you would, please do leave The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast a review so that you can make it easier for other entrepreneurs to find this show. Thank you, much love, and I’ll see you in the next one.