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Coffee Business

Exploring Culture with Emily from Catalyst Trade

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SCI Emily InterviewEmily: [00:00:00] Hey, I'm Emily McIntyre. I'm a founder and the CEO of Catalyst Trade. We are a boutique Ethiopian importing company that is majority Ethiopian-owned and boots-on-the-ground, super focused on traceability and processing, and also really bought into the concept of doing good with our company and spreading increased benefit throughout the supply chain from producers all the way through to consumers.Alexandra: [00:00:30] This is great, because I think that you're going to have a lot to say about what we're going to talk about today, which is vision, mission, values, and why that's important in a business. So our big idea is that business goes beyond simply working inthe business, that without a clear understanding of why you're doing what you're doing and a long-term vision for your company, you'll have a harder time being successful. Have you seen this in your own business ventures? Emily: [00:00:54] Absolutely. I think that I can pinpoint 2017 as the year that I began to really understand that. Prior to that, my various business ventures were successful in some ways, but alsostruggled in the sense that we would ally with people who weren't really the best for our business, or ultimately not synced up with our core values, which weren't really well-stated. And we were interestingly, always very value-driven. We were always coming at this from an incredibly intentional and ethical and passionate angle, but we hadn't formalized our core values, and we hadn't found a way to incorporate that into our business. And it was really showing for us. We were just bumping into barrier after barrier, after barrier, and a friend got us thinking about this, and I ended up systematizing our core values in a unique way, which I've built on for the last few years.And I can absolutely pinpoint that as the time -the point where, not only did we start seeing really strong, forward momentum with our businesses, but we also began to really attract the right kind of partner for us and, you know, fast forward a few years, it's hugely integrated into our business now -core values, mission. Every decision we make is run through that and I'm happy to share about some of the ways that I've tried to systematize that. But not only that, we also, named our product lines after our core values, and, the more we align that way, we find the more we see success and we also see success in those core values being implemented in a practical way.And I believe that if you can't see your core values implemented in a daily way, There's not really much satisfaction in your work. And so, I find myself increasingly... everyday I wake up and I'm excited because what I do is I'm creating a world where the core values that I seek, they become more and more pervasive and exert more and more influence. That is something worth fighting for in business.Alexandra: [00:02:57] Wow. That's amazing. I love that. Yeah. I would really like to hear... that's actually the next question I was going to ask you, like, what do those systems look like for you? So we have different kinds of things that we talk about is finance, hiring operations, customers, and you talked about decisions. So you don't have to get to all of those, but those are kind of what we focus on.

Emily: [00:03:17] Okay! Well, first of all, as a business owner or manager, there are a lot of yes/no decisions that have to be made. Do we partner with this person? Do we take this contract? Do we expand here? Do we take this loan? Do we, you know... there's tons of decisions where you simply have to decide you're going to go one direction or another, and you can get in the weeds about those decisions.So what I did in 2017 and have used dozens of times since is I actually created a template, a sheet of paper, that was divided into three columns. And at the top of each column were, you know, one of our core values. For Catalyst Trade, that is: sustainability, excellence, and innovation. And then I had a couple of, kind of open-ended questions to ask myself that I put below those.And then I use that as a place to notate with my business partners when I make a decision. So for example, if I need to decide whether to expand in a certain direction, you know, you do all your research, you gather as much as you can, and then you still have to make the decision. And you need some kind of a rationale or a rubric to make a decision or else you're just going on, like, gut calls, which are no good with business. You have to have a reason, for making any kind of decision. And I believe that those reasons should be informed by core values if you're going to run a cohesive business. So at that point, once we have all that information, what we do is we sit down and we'll ask ourselves those questions. So for sustainability the question might be, what does this decision look like 10 years from now?Best I can tell. Reverse engineer it, you know, what does that mean for now? And also does this promote longterm success for all of our stakeholders, not just ourselves at this moment, but also the producers that we are allied with and the different stakeholders along the way. That's the sustainability piece.Moving over to the column for excellence, we would ask, does this promote excellence?Are we getting better with this or worse? And it actually is a good question to ask, because sometimes you have the chance to speed up your processes. That's excellent.But then, maybe it's incorporating less quality. That's not excellent. Unless you decide that your higher excellence is having better systems, in which case go for it. So you can ask yourself those questions and kind of narrow it down.And on the innovation piece, one of the questions is actually, is there another way to approach this? Are we missing something? Are we blind here?And that's where I like to call in counsel from people I trust. "Hey, you know, here's the scenario? Am I missing something? Do you see something I don't?" And once I've done all of that, usually the decision is very clear to make. So there's that on decision-making. You asked about hiring. I think that's a really cool thing to talk about with core values, because we all know thatthe coffee industry is often not very cohesively run with hiring and HR is sort of an afterthought. That causes so many problems and I see that as a basic respect problem. If we don't respect our employees enough to treat them seriously and create systemsthat will allow them to have high quality of life while working for us and grow and become the kind of people that they want to be while they're working for us, then we're failing in our roles as employers. So for hiring, I think that it's important to approach this with core values front and center. Not just communicating core values and what they mean

to potential employees, but also letting those drive the onboarding process and the continual management process, as well as any kind of reviews that happen.I also have developed an incredibly detailed rubric that I use to try to assess some of the softer skills and personality aspects of potential employees in a way where I assign them kind of a numerical value based on what we are looking for. And when I have maybe 40 or 70 different line items in this sort of ranking system, it allows me to clearly see people's strengths and weaknesses and how they stack out against what we need.Of course, you know, part of excellence is judging people on their potential, but also seeing where they currently are and where that might mesh with where we're going. Alexandra: [00:07:28] Right. Emily: [00:07:29] I can go into any more detail you like, but, feel free to move us along to another topic. Alexandra: [00:07:34] So, okay. That's cool. So you mentioned decisions and hiring and... what would you tell someone ---so like for probably like you pre-2017, like someone who wants to go into the coffee business, coffee shops, whatever that looks like, and they want to move forward without that clarity, what would you tell that person? Emily: [00:07:55] Don't do it. You're setting yourself up for failure. The world is littered with business people who got into business sort of in a haphazard way. I was one of those and I'm lucky because my business partners and I have learned really hard and really fast and sometimes the hard way, how to systematize things and approach it from a more methodical angle. We have to be methodical about the way we structure our businesses, both from an ethical and core value standpoint, and also from the systems, to deliver the product that we want in such a way that our customers will want to take it.So, yeah, I would say. Just get clear on everything, as much as you can, knowing that this will all change as soon as rubber hits the road, as soon as your business gets engaged. Yeah, you're going to immediately find that you were totally off-base about some things, but if you have some kind of a framework in place, then you actually can make modifications instead of just having to scrap it all and start over, which is chaos and costs a lot of money when you have a working business.Alexandra: [00:09:00] We also wanted to talk about something more like what's going on right now with COVID. And do you think that businesses, with that clarity -maybe even you've experienced this in your own business -would fare better during COVID or at least have a better chance?Emily: [00:09:18] 100%. 110%. I would just say -and I have no data to back this up, this is just me saying this, you know, estimation -I would venture a guess that those companies right now, during COVID, which are run through mission value and constantly improving. You know, the coming to center so that the mission and value and the actions are more and more increasing, increasingly resonating together, thatkind of company, I think will a hundred percent be more successful at the constant pivots necessary to make. Here's the

thing, right. Crisis happens all the time with business, whether itis that some part of your supply chain just folded and you have to totally source a new one overnight, or there's COVID, or you have some kind of a financial crisis, or you have employee crises.There are so many things that can go wrong, that you as a business owner are constantly going to need to be at your very best and primed to make good decisions fast. And. If you have a framework for making those decisions, and if you know, why you're doing what you're doing, then you can easily make adaptations.Ifyou're just kind of there doing the thing cause that's what you do, you don't have a good basis for steering the ship. You don't really know how to react. There. There is no solid line that you can shift. You're just sort of trying to make it work. And frankly, it's a very bad business practice. It's understandable. I've been there many times myself. But it isn't going to work if you end up with multiple crises in a row. Maybe you'll weather one, but then the next time around you're weakened, and you don'tquite know how to proceed. Whereas if you're, you know, vision value and mission oriented business that actually acts on what you say, you're going to improve with every time that you have to make a pivot with, with business. You're going to get better. You're going to get faster. You're going to get more researched. You're going to get more driven and your employees are going to get more behind you because you're going to do a better job of communicating why you're making the changes that you're making.Alexandra: [00:11:17] Wow. Yeah, that, for me, it's like, so confirming of so many things Samuel has told me because I'm not a business owner, you know, but you're saying the same things he always says all the time. So it's just like so cool to hear other people say like, yes, absolutely. This needs to happen.Emily: [00:11:32] Absolutely. Alexandra: [00:11:34] So this question from Samuel is, did the company you manage have a clear plan for how it was going to successfully compete in the market. So it sounded like at the beginning, maybe it wasn't so clear. And then there was a move at a certain point to make that more clear. Right? Emily: [00:11:51] In a sense, I think you could say that. Actually, Catalyst Trade, the company that I run, we had a very clear entry plan and we succeeded beyond our expectations when we entered the market. But that is because my partners and I had been doing this work together for several years prior. We'd built the market. We'd done the research, we'd built the supply chain. So when we launched this entity, it was, it was on track. To Samuel's point, I do think that sometimes it takes a while to figure out how your product might fit the market. But I would actually tie that back into this whole concept of starting a business with your vision, your voice, your values, all of that present and front and center, because it's so much easier for customers to align with you and identify with you and purchase your product on a regular basis and make it part of their lives.When you're extremely clear on who you are and what that looks like, from a marketing standpoint, you know, this doesn't have to be complex. Actually, when I started business

with my business partners with Catalyst, our brand wasn't very cohesive, but it was cohesive because it was my partner, Michael, and me just like kind of bleeding all over everybody with our well-intended hard work, you know. And the farmers were front and center and storytelling was front and center because of my background. And we traveled through the country, just basically sitting in people's cafes and sharing stories with them. And they got on board with us.Now the brand has changed over the years, but it's actually still based on that sense of transparency and connection. We connect with our customers in a way that I don't think anybody else does. And our customers are special. They're people who care more. They're people who want to get below the surface, and they're people who, want to know more about the boots-on-the-ground andwhat that means and to support that.And so that is our unique brand and it absolutely ties into vision and our values and our core values that we act on on a daily basis. So I think that's an example of a super cohesive way to enter the market. That research was done in, for a few years leading up to it and we kind of made it happen, but then when catalyst trade began, we hit the ground running. It was totally awesome. For a cafe I would say -you know, a cafe or a roasting company -don't kid yourself. You're definitely selling the same product that almost everybody else is. So you don't have to try to differentiate yourself with crazy antics, but what you do need to do is really hone in on exactly why you're doing what you're doing and what aspects of that you want to communicate through your brand's story so that people can identify with you. If you're an earnest -I guess yes -earnestness is, something that can actually be acted out in such a way that people can identify with it.If you're a kind of snarky upscale cafe, then you really need to be careful that, you know, everything you put out from the beginning is that voice. And it's, it's actually pretty easy. It's also easy to mess up because we don't see ourselves clearly. So if you can get clear onwhat it is that you're offering from the beginning and just keep going with that and, you know, modify course as needed -take measurements, metrics are great, you can see what people are, what's succeeding, what's not succeeding, and then make small changes accordingly -you will see so much more incremental success than if you just sort of flail around trying to figure out what you're doing on a public stage. It's less embarrassing too, I've done both. It's nice to know what you're doing in front of the public. Alexandra: [00:15:30] Yeah. So what would you say that was, then? You said you began Catalyst with a very -you guys were very clear from the get-go... do you think what happened when you say, like you honed in on it more (?) was that you realized that it had to kind of permeate every part of your business?Emily: [00:15:48] I think that intuitively we were already doing that actually. My business partners and I are not everything. I mean, we have some definite weaknesses, but one of our strengths is that we are 100% aligned with our core values. We always have been, we do business that way, to our detriment sometimes -it doesn't matter. So when we say we're going to do something, we do it. And then we also find ourselves pretty much living out those values. I wouldn't say it was so much that as [that] we were not aware of how to use

that. So it was, we weren't systematizing it. We were not approaching decisions and marketing and all of those things from a very distinct angle.As soon as we locked in on that, and began to communicate what was in our hearts in a really clear and easy to identify with way, our success really began to show.Alexandra: [00:16:45] Okay. Yeah. I think that those are all the questions I have for you, unless there's anything else you'd like to add to that or... Emily: [00:16:52] Yeah, definitely! A couple more thoughts... Alexandra: [00:16:55] Go for it!Emily: [00:16:57] I think that, this is one of the most fun parts of doing business actually. And the fun thing too, is that unconventional business-people can thrive here.So I have done business now for many years, I've started multiple businesses. Some have failed, some have succeeded, and others are just kind of like in the middle. And one of my biggest takeaways is that business is. It's a tabula rasa. It's a blank slate that you can impose your vision of the world upon.This is so, so, so cool because we live in a world where so much of what we do is outside of our control and we can feel out of control too. And I think that by entering business in a meditated way, choosing to really tap into in an articulate fashion what it is that causes you to do what you do and why you do it, and then basically reverse engineering the entire company from that angle, you're going to have such an outsized effect. So if you have a vision for the world and you don't really know how to get there, it's kind of simple. Well at the same time, it's complicated, but sit down and write it down and then figure out what kind of core values are reflected here, and then systematize those as you create your business.And then everything else is just creativity. It's so creative and fun to do business this way. It is not soul draining. It is invigorating. That means you get to make your own decisions. And if you're not the owner of the company, but you're managing the company or you're in the team, that's trying to accomplish things, the good news is that a lot of business owners who've been in business for a long time may not be as clear on these core values as they could be. And so if you get to be a part of creating these core values in a more intentional way, you can be part of the new genesis of the company and that can create new opportunities for yourself.So it's -I just want to say that it's not a big intimidating thing. It's as simple as knowing yourself and the impact that you want to make in the world and articulating that in as systematized way as you can so that you can repeat it and grow upon it and bring people along with you. So thatover time you just kind of get this drive of people that think the same way that you do, who are making the same impact in the world.It's glorious! Business is the way we get anything done nowadays. Business is the way that we connect with other humans and the way that we do it in a good way for those humans

and for ourselves. So, yeah, I think it's incredibly essential and it's probably one of the most invigorating things about business.Alexandra: [00:19:31] I'm, I'm not a business owner, but I might be! Emily: [00:19:35] Cool!Alexandra: [00:19:37] I feel inspired! Okay. So you would say it's knowing who you are, systematizing that, and getting creative with it. Emily: [00:19:44] Absolutely. Yeah. And don't get intimidated by other people who seem like they may have it all in the bag. I can tell you that nobody really does.And so, no matter how intimidating other people might seem, really just tap into who you are, learn that, and don't look at your competition. Look ahead to where you want to go and go there. And your competition will or will not be there. It doesn't really matter because you really only want people who are aligned with what you're trying to do.And so you don't even have to bother with the rest of it. There's enough room in this world for all of us. All we have to do is attract the people that we want to work with and just make it incredibly easy for them to continue working with us. And then we all grow together and we find success at the same time.It's amazing. It's like the most fun thing ever. And I wake up every day, even during COVID, invigorated to go to work because I know that the impact that I'm making is the one that I want to make. And even though some days it's very discouraging and difficult still, it's on my own terms. I'm solving my own problems. I'm so grateful for that. And I like to find people who are into the same thing. Alexandra: [00:20:49] I love that. I love your passion. You're obviously very passionate about it, which is great. Which obviously means that what you're saying is true, that you actually do wake up invigorated about it. Yeah, okay, that's good! Okay, anything else or...Emily: [00:21:04] No, I think I'm good!

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Episode 1

Season 1

by sci.coffee, SCI