Dubbed the “Grind Bond”, founders David Abrahamovitch and Kaz James hope the project will enable them to fund an in-house roastery for their house blend. While the crowdfunding platform has successfully raised over £82.6m to date for a range of businesses, Abrahamovitch said the public nature of this method of raising investment was a consideration before they ploughed ahead.
“I’ve been following the crowdfunding movement for a while and thought it could be a great opportunity – with customers getting involved and having the chance to contribute,” he explained.
“It’s a very public forum, but it’s about putting our best foot forward and doing as much as we can to make sure we don’t fail,” he said.
Looking at Grind’s track record so far, failure on that front looks unlikely. Its first branch was established in Shoreditch four years ago, before subsequent offerings sprung up in Soho, Holborn and London Bridge. The company is set to turn over around £5m a year from the four sites, with Abrahamovitch estimating that “we’ll sell around 750,000 cups of coffee in the next twelve months”.
The first spurt of expansion came following external investment last year from John Ayton, founder of jewellery brand Links of London, and the next focus is the in-house roastery, which is where the idea of using crowdfunding to help realise this came about.
Initially, James and Abrahamovitch had been underwhelmed by the offerings of numerous big retailers, so set about devising a custom house blend. Neither had any knowledge of coffee (or cocktails) beyond their experiences as customers.
James, a musician and part of the duo Bodyrockers, moved over to London some ten years ago when signed by Universal Records. He met Abrahamovitch then and after his music career led him on a globe-trotting tour, soon wondered why it was he couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee in London.
We’ve seen a vast array of coffee shops crop up across the capital in recent years, but Abrahamovitch admitted he was surprised “they weren’t here five years ago. Lots are materialising, but I think there was room for a lot of them”. He feels London is still behind where it could be in terms of its coffee culture.
Research from Euromonitor last year indicated that the UK’s per-capita consumption was 0.389 cups of coffee a day – coming pretty far down on the list of the world’s biggest coffee drinkers. Compared to places like the Netherlands at 2.414 cups, Finland at 1.848 cups and Sweden at 1.357 – there’s apparently still room to foster our coffee culture.
The approach Abrahamovitch and James have taken from the beginning, has been going into everything with a customer mindset. “You need to decide what you’re going to do and just do it. We didn’t really ask people – we built it for us, as if we were the customers,” he explained.
Abrahamovitch cited the recording studio at their Shoreditch site, frequented by Sam Smith, Pixie Lott and Tinie Tempah, as a further example of this. “Kaz had the recording studio which encompassed both elements he loved – the music and the coffee.”
It’s this seemingly relaxed pursuit of their respective areas of interest that has helped diversify the business. Now catering to daytime customers as well as nighttime ones, Grind provides cocktails and the London Bridge branch bills itself as an “all day and late night espresso bar, cocktail bar and kitchen”.
People come just to try Grind’s renowned Espresso Martini, which is a personal highlight for Abrahamovitch, reflecting the strength of their products. “We have put as much thought into the nighttime offerings as the daytime ones. We broke down every product and researched everything from glassware to the best spirits,” he explained.
They soon discovered areas they hadn’t paid much attention to were of real value – “I never realised how important the type of ice was to a cocktail, so ice machines became a focus”. The founders’s meticulous approach paid off – they’re on track to sell around 100,000 cocktails in the next twelve months, which will total between 30 and 35 per cent of sales.
“We knew we wanted to do food at some point, but we weren’t galvanised until we were offered the space in London Bridge. Branching out depends on the sites we get offered – it’s about fitting the concept to the building,” Abrahamovitch said. He said the route of expansion they’ve taken so far has been quite an organic one. “Soho felt like the next natural step. If we weren’t in Shoreditch, we were in Soho, so it just made sense. Then the Hoxton Hotel asked us and as with London Bridge, we couldn’t say no to those opportunities.”
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Abrahamovitch agreed that the initial location proved a particular stroke of luck. “The great location meant we instantly did well. It’s by Silicon Roundabout, but when we first looked into it, the area was just taking off.”
“Once you’ve got that one really cool site, it becomes a lot easier to get your name out there, with people coming to you,” he added.
While Abrahamovitch had experience with starting up a business as part of the founding team of insurance and legal business InterResolve – which raised £10m through VC firm Balderton Capital, he said Grind was a different entity entirely.
“You have to do a multitude of tasks at once, thinking about everything from product to licensing to planning permission to staff. You have to be a jack of all trades, and that mentality can be tricky for some people,” he said. The building process had also been a challenge when they first started – Abrahamovitch explained they now had a “great team of builders” but at the early stages, “you have to be really careful you don’t overspend massively”.
With Grind’s various sites now established and more in the works, the team has looked towards Crowdcube (and its customers) to help push the business onto the next step. Abrahamovitch said this will be the crowdfunding platform’s “biggest ad campaign yet”, as it has selected a few brands and has put posters up across the rail network.
It’s an exciting prospect for the company – both for what the grind bond would allow them to achieve (after a day in action, it had already reached over £266,000), and in terms of further brand recognition. While the importance of digital has become an increasing focus for businesses, the value of traditional marketing is still integral to a company’s success.
Abrahamovitch said “we’ve chucked everything you can imagine at it”. This encompasses lots of online work and social to appeal to both new customers and the long-term loyal ones –“we’ve emailed our 5,000 black card membership holders”. The physical presence has also been worked on – “we’ve got vinyls in the windows at our sites and something like 40,000 stickers to put on all the coffee cups”.
The posters themselves should reach 26m ABC1 consumers and Abrahamovitch said seeing one in person was particularly impressive. “We spent a lot of late nights worrying about the poster design, but we’re really happy with how it has turned out,” he said.
With a strong upward trajectory established, what piece of advice would he give others looking to turn an interest into a successful business? “Don’t get distracted from the product. People who have asked me for advice might be worrying about a logo design or the till system – these are important, but if you don’t get the product right it doesn’t matter,” he said. If you fail there, you won’t get the chance to tinker with all the other elements of the business. “People will be very forgiving on a lot of things if the product is great.”
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