#HerImpact: Endeavor Entrepreneur Kim Thompson of RAW Coffee Company

The Dubai-based co-founder reflects on her entrepreneurial journey in her own words

Endeavor’s #HerImpact series is part of our ongoing commitment to increase gender diversity within the Endeavor network. #HerImpact is devoted to elevating the voices, sharing the perspectives, and showcasing the professional expertise of women in Endeavor’s global network. Learn more about how you can get involved with Women in High Impact Entrepreneurship at Endeavor here: endeavor.org/whie

RAW Coffee Co-founders and Endeavor Entrepreneurs Matt Toogood and Kim Thompson

I launched RAW Coffee Company in 2007. I remember lying on a sun lounger beside a lovely sports club swimming pool doodling potential names on a notepad. It was like dreaming up the name of a very much anticipated child — irrationally dreaming of cuddling and dressing a deliciously cute baby without considering the reality of impending sleepless nights or the “terrible twos.”

There have been many times over the past 11 years when I have questioned my sanity and wondered, if I had known what I was getting myself into, would I have done it? The answer would be yes, because like the terrible twos all three of my daughters went through, the memory is vague, and I now enjoy a wonderful relationship with my grown daughters who are to date my greatest achievement.

I genuinely doubt I could work for someone else or compromise the ability to choose my own direction, but I would have done a little more preparation, listened to advice and gone into entrepreneurship with my eyes wide open. Unlike many Endeavor Entrepreneurs I had no previous business experience, so my learning curve has been steep. My qualification was as a General and Obstetrics nurse, and I also have a degree in Alternative Medicine. I have a strong sense of self worth and am definitely a person happy to take a risk, and while my original goals may have been naive and not financially driven, I now have a fierce determination to scale this company and to see the brand succeed. I was very lucky that the three core pillars we started with were correct and our niche remains where we want to be: 100% organic, 100% ethically traded, and 100% fresh locally roasted coffee.

I am a people person. I love that I have been able to choose the team of people that are on this journey with me, and I acknowledge they are our company’s true strength. We have finally reached the stage where we have the resources to bring in new people who are skilled and better equipped than I am in key roles, such as Strategy and Finance Manager, our HR Manager, Training Manager and most recently a Senior Operations Manager. I have a larger than life business partner who has completely different strengths that compliment my own. I constantly thank my lucky stars that he is with me, as I am realistic enough to know that RAW wouldn’t be in the same strong position if I was trying to run this company on my own. We are constantly working on our communication, being considerate of each other’s opinions and managing expectations from often a polar opposite angle. I have had to learn to apologize for mistakes and learn not to avoid conflict, as it is often constructive. I have to step in and do tough jobs I don’t like to take my fair share of the not-so-pleasant side of running a business, and I still search for the elusive work/life balance I know is out there.

At 55, I am so grateful that I have the mental stimulation of learning new skills in my career. I thrive on the origin trips sourcing new coffees and am increasingly committed to moving all our buying to direct-trade relationships. The ability to select new partners at the origin end of our business who share the same principles and values as we do is invaluable, and this new direction is symbiotically beneficial to both us and our farming partners. I love that I am able to link personal interests into the direction my company takes, such as gender equity in our supply chain, recycling, removing plastic from our day to day operation, empowering the team that work with us so that individually they can grow and enjoy job satisfaction, being authentic in our values, and transferring that across to our product and service.

As an SME that is growing and scaling up, we have to be agile, constantly evaluating details of our business, keeping up with international trends, and trying new things. As first-to-market here in the UAE, we are enjoying a healthy head start both in the quality of our coffee but also in the holistic delivery to our B2B customers. Unlike delivering a bottle of wine for example, we have many variables we have to control to help our customers deliver an exceptional coffee experience. For example, water in the UAE is desalinated so we need strong Reverse Osmosis units; our milk comes from cows that don’t get to eat fresh grass; and our baristas often arrive on airplanes with no passion or interest for their craft other than huge responsibilities to send money home to dependents. So not only are we a manufacturer and supplier, but we also must impart that passion onto our employees, train them, and provide a total solution for our commercial customers so the coffee segment of their business can immediately and consistently deliver exceptional coffee and generate a sustainable revenue for both of us.

Challenges over the years have been numerous, but one that has consistently resurfaced is managing expectations and retaining my team. We have invested heavily in our employees in both time and training, so not only are they exceptionally well-skilled in their individual fields but they are our strongest brand ambassadors. In the last two years many competitors have opened near us, and some of our key staff have left to work for them at far higher salaries than we can offer, taking with them our knowledge and IP, and accelerating these businesses who are in direct competition with us.

To solve this, we’re working to improve our company culture. We are strengthening our internal communications throughout all departments, and have implemented a financial incentive scheme matched against quarterly targets, biannual performance appraisals, anonymous online surveys, team engagement with off-site social events, a weekly team lunch, and monthly birthday celebrations. We are also sharing more high-level financials and key strategy plans with more employees, so that our team knows the course we are heading and why, and our biggest challenges so that we can work collectively to find a solution.

I have been invited to speak to different women’s groups and startup organizations. I enjoy encouraging women to have a dream and go for it. If I can do it anyone can. Some of my biggest pieces of advice are: have a real love for what you are doing, because it is going to take over your life for a long period of time. Just jumping on an idea because it is trendy is not enough. Knowing your target market segment and your competition well, and thoroughly preparing and creating a business plan before you commit is essential. Then share your idea with those closest to you, and get their feedback. I also like to advise entrepreneurs that, whatever your budget is, multiply that by three, and you will be closer to money you will need to set up and survive. Finally, cover yourself legally and document everything in a contract assuming worst case scenarios — then pop that agreement in a cupboard and forget about it, but have the peace of mind that any partnerships or agreements are legally binding and safe-guarding your company.