Folly Coffee Roasters, founded by Rob Bathe, was one of five finalists in Ford's Five Pitches in Five Blocks competition, where entrepreneurs have five city streets to tell how their company would benefit from a 2019 Ford Transit Connect. In the contest, each founder had the opportunity to put their story-telling skills to the test to talk about their business.

Folly Coffee Roasters is based in Silver Lake, Minnesota, and specializes in small-batch, single-origin, and light-roasted coffee. Since launching in January, they have expanded from selling in just four stores in the Twin Cities to more than fifty, with more being added every month. They sell four different styles of coffee, all in fun packaging. Bathe currently has to use his car for deliveries, forcing him to make multiple trips to the same stores.

How did you get your business in motion?

Folly Coffee began when I quit my job in May of 2017, moved back home to Minnesota, and met Roaster Ken at a farmers market. We spent seven months through the summer, fall, and winter building out the space to get our commercial license that led to a launch in January of 2018. When I say building out the space, I mean quite literally--the two of us building out the space in a pole barn warehouse in Ken's backyard as winter rolled into Minnesota.

While we were building, I met with potential customers and had them sample our fresh-roasted specialty coffees. This really put the business in motion. The quality of coffee many people are used to versus the complex, amazing flavors we pull from our high-end beans through the roasting process has converted many from the usual bitter cup they were used to getting from the national chains. My favorite comment was, "Whoa, this actually tastes like what you are sayin!"

I also believe our fun and engaging approach to marketing with our unique packaging has brought a lot of excitement to our coffees. But that aside, we take roasting extremely seriously.

What are your biggest roadblocks to success?

As a small, lean startup, we have limited resources to compete with larger coffee-roasting corporations. We don't have a budget to go out and spend large sums of money on marketing campaigns. The roadblock for us is how to raise awareness of Folly Coffee. In the meantime, we rely on word of mouth and the smart use of our social media channels, which we're working hard to build so new customers can learn what we're all about.

We have samplings every weekend, which gives us the chance to talk in person with our amazing customers.

Folly Coffee drinkers are the best customers in the world, and it is their intense passion that has helped us grow so quickly in our first nine months in business.

How important is mobility to your business?

It is EXTREMELY important. Freshness is absolutely paramount in the ultimate cup of coffee you drink. This is why we deliver everything ourselves, instead of the industry standard of working through a distributor. Traditionally, coffee roasters roast large batches of coffee, drop it off at a distributor, and the distributor delivers the coffee as it is needed at retail.

We flip this around. We take orders from customers, then roast the coffee so stores and online customers receive their coffee within 24 hours of the roast. This requires a lot more driving to deliver coffees throughout the Twin Cities and is a lot more of a time commitment. But when it comes to the quality of our product, making this commitment is an obvious decision. Drinking old coffee is like chewing on an old piece of cardboard. In our first nine months of business, to stay lean, I have been delivering all our coffee out of the trunk of my personal vehicle.

What does the "road to success" look like for you?

The road to success for Folly Coffee is not only seeing our business grow in both sales and staff, but also seeing the specialty craft-coffee category grow. There are not many businesses or products like high-end specialty coffee that benefit everyone in the supply chain. At Folly Coffee and the rest of the high-end specialty craft coffee industry, we look to drive the quality and prices up for coffee. This results in economic sustainability at origin, higher quality of life, and even better tasting coffee. Next time you are buying coffee, take a minute to research the company you are buying from, and spend more on roasters and coffees that are pursuing this mission. Seeing Folly and the craft coffee industry grow through this mission would be my definition of success.

What drives you?

The people around me drive me: the incredible depth of knowledge and skill of head roaster, Ken Schweikert, and the intense passion and pursuit of all things coffee of Jeff Mooney.

Also, seeing a potential customer in a store sample our coffee and witnessing as the light bulb flicks on for them as they take their first sip of our coffee. Owning a small business is no small task. There is more stress and constant work than I ever predicted going into this, but it is the people around me who keep me going. It drives me to see everyone around me succeed and to bring joy to our customers. Not to mention our insanely delicious coffees!

Published on: Oct 15, 2018