UK Coffee Week is back in full force this week, fundraising for Project Waterfall. Project Waterfall is an initiative dedicated to bringing clean water facilities to coffee growing communities around the world. We spoke to Jon Penn, one of the co-founders of Hackney Coffee Co. to discover the vision behind their coffee business and why good branding is so essential in the social media age.
Just under two years ago in the autumn of 2015, brothers Jon and James Penn and their close friend Kevin Mills launched Hackney Coffee Co. It was born from a trip to Colombia, where James and Kevin first tasted speciality grade coffee beans and a long burning wish for the trio to work together. Hackney Coffee Co. has been a work of love and dedication from the start.
That is, dedication to providing a good quality product and dedication to their East London heritage.
The shop’s premises are located in a building that’s been owned by the Mills family for more than 60 years. Its history, which reaches back as early as 1868, includes stints as a transport depot, brewery and a mechanic’s garage. For the Penn brothers, their cockney grandparents ran butcheries in the area and worked hauling sugar from the Tate & Lyle refinery in the Docklands. Their East London legacy has been the grounding for the company, and their vision for the future.
Launching later this month are 4 new coffee blends for the brand. Each are inspired by Hackney’s past and appropriately named as such: Kingsland, Columbia Road, Sadler’s Ascent and Regent’s. However, they are not content to limit themselves to coffee. Three full time staff manage their café on just off Cambridge Heath Road in Hackney. Furthermore the brand’s expansion plans include a restaurant and cocktail bar – all into the existing heritage building.
Before their foray into coffee the co-founders had starkly different backgrounds. Jon was in retail product distribution, James a lawyer turn law recruiter and Kevin ran an electrician business, having previously worked in the banking sector.
“While I don’t like to call anything serendipitous, I have to say our coming together was in a way. I definitely believe you create your own destiny, but the three of us made it work in business terms.”
In the age of social media
It was Jon’s knack for entrepreneurship that’s held the key to gaining a loyal following. Included in Jon’s portfolio of ventures is a digital marketing firm that handles all of Hackney Coffee Co.’s communications and branding right down to the highly recognisable moustachioed and bowler hat clad skull. In fact, in the 18 months since Hackney Coffee Co. began they’ve amassed an astonishing 43,000+ followers on social media.
“From day one we’ve made sure that our social media and marketing plans were airtight. We’ve got a very distinguishable aesthetic that appeals to our customers. Not to capitalise on that would have been incredibly foolish, and it’s done us proud. We have customers who travel to us from all over London to try our coffee because they’ve seen us on social media and know what we’re about.”
Their branding is so recognisable that a fan in the States even requested permission to use their skull as their next tattoo! Good-naturedly, the team acquiesced, even providing usable artwork, but they have yet to see the finished piece.
Managing the finances
But, of course, it’s not all fun and games. When it comes to the nitty-gritty running of the day-to-day, Hackney Coffee Co. relies on Xero, a cloud accounting software to handle all of their financial needs. Covering invoicing, payroll, and bank feed among other tasks, Jon says it’s been an immeasurable timesaver.
“We’ve definitely saved on costs by being able to manage many of the day-to-day tasks in house, rather than always relying on a financial advisor, and Xero’s simple user interface is a dream. With their app store you can build Xero to perform exactly the tasks you need and nothing more so you never pay for more than what’s necessary. I’d definitely recommend it for other businesses starting out. They’ve done for accounting what Apple’s done for consumer tech – it’s so simple a 3 year old can use it.”
When it comes to what the future holds for the UK coffee market, Jon is optimistic.
“As consumers become more and more educated about coffee they’re naturally going to want higher quality product – no more reaching for the jar of instant coffee. I think we’re currently undergoing a natural shift, especially with social media exposure these days. Customers want to know that what they’re consuming is wholesome, both in the product itself and in its supply chain. Hackney Coffee Co. is part of this movement and we hope to continue to be for many years to come.”
Jon’s Tips for Starting Your Own Coffee Business
- Plan – Research costs, double check them, then research again. The opening costs can be astronomical and you need to be sure of what you’re investing in. For example, just one of our espresso machines costs nearly £25,000!
- Expectations – For your business and for yourself. Do you know where you want to be in 5 years? In 10? While you can’t plan every step of the way, knowing where you want to be – setting yourself goals – can provide a very handy guideline to your business.
- Location – They say it’s everything, and they’re not lying. The calibre of footfall can make or break a business in its first year.
- Social Media – Make sure to leverage it. To start with, it’s a free marketing tool at your disposal. Look to create big impact for very little money.