How Martyn Dawes built a ?23m coffee company in 10 years

?When we met I was able to show him how the machines were, the results from the change to gourmet coffee, the positive reactions to the [feedback] helpline, that we had big retailers on board.

?What he experienced was a guy that was passionate. It was based on facts, evidence and what I had to show. That combination and potentially a large marketplace is pretty compelling.?

Giving staff that compelling story to buy into helped Coffee Nation maintain a ?virtually non-existent? staff turnover for years.

?Most people don?t get out of bed every Monday morning excited about what they?re going to do. So if you can give that to people it?s really important ? more important than money,? Dawes says.

Confidence in the business model also proved to be a big asset when Dawes was approaching retail partners for Coffee Nation. The business plan relied heavily on cooperation with petrol stations and other retailers such as Tesco, so being able to convince these people that the business had a worthwhile offering was key to its success.

?There?s a huge difference between selling a product and having something interesting to say,? he says. ?There?s so much noise out there that you?ve got to be able to say something different.?

He adds that it?s best to approach CEOs or at least other directors, rather than buyers, because they have the authority to do things more innovatively.

Coffee Nation initially relied on angel investors for growth finance but accelerating demand combined with the relatively high cost of each rollout meant Dawes soon turned to private equity investors.

Entrepreneurs who have gone through this process often have conflicting opinions, but Dawes speaks very highly of sense of discipline and momentum the investors brought to the business.

Dawes and his private equity partners sold Coffee Nation for ?23m in 2008.

He says it’s crucial to begin planning your exit way in advance ? several years if possible. You need to consider who you might be selling to, what your investors want, how much you can make and whether you want to stay on as a director.
Something else entrepreneurs can tend to overlook is what to do after selling up.

?You?re usually attached to your baby,? Dawes says. ?There can often be a post-exit vacuum for entrepreneurs.?

He himself now works as a mentor helping entrepreneurs to take their growing businesses to the next level.

He says that whilst there’s plenty of advice out there for starting a business, we need to focus more on going for growth.

?We need to get away from the startup mentality and think about what happens later,? he says. ?Focusing on startups is great, we need them. But then it?s about how do we go from the startup to the growing business.

?And if we get things wrong at the beginning then it becomes far more unlikely that you?re going to succeed.?

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