A Coffee Company with a Cause; with Greg Pittman

Cassi Lowe
Nov 19, 2019 · 10 min read
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Cause Roast isn’t just a coffee company. Everything they do is done with purpose. They encourage everyone involved, from suppliers to team members to customers, to live intentionally and help create a better world.

Greg’s experiences traveling in Africa inspired him to think bigger than himself. Throughout his endeavors since then, his focus has been on combining people, purpose, and profit to make a difference in the world.

Read the interview below for Greg’s advice to other social entrepreneurs on building strong relationships and following your dreams.

Tell me more about your company and the work you do.

Cause Roast, as you can pull from the name, is a coffee company with a cause. It began as a passion project in 2015 and evolved into a business in 2017. And the idea was inspired by a conversation that my partner and I overhead. We were sitting in a coffee shop, and we heard two girls talking, and one girl said to the other that they were going to quit coffee to go on a mission trip.

It struck me, one, that someone would be willing to cut coffee to do something good. But then also, more than that, it hit me that this is an overwhelming philosophy to doing good in America: this idea that if you’re going to do good it’s got to suck, or it’s got to be painful, or there’s sacrifice involved. And that if you want to do good it can’t be fun at the same time.

I started looking at it more and more, and realized that even some non-profits use that tactic on donors. This idea of what I like to call either positive or negative reinforcement. For example, the cost of a latte will feed a kid for a month. There’s nothing wrong with feeding a kid at all, or putting shoes on people who don’t have shoes, or medical attention to those who need it, or whatever it may be. But the way in which we deliver that message can be better.

Just like parenting, and even in psychology, if you approach someone and say, “If you do this you’ll be punished or disciplined.” That may change their immediate actions, but it doesn’t actually affect their behavior or attitude towards whatever that may be. And so I started looking at it and thinking, “Okay, I if I really want to change people’s behavior, and change their attitude as consumers, I need to be able to say, if you do X, you’ll be rewarded for it.”

So I introduced this idea of doing good with coffee. And that’s the high level, and super short version of a longer story.

Can you tell me more about what kind of products and services you’re offering?

Cause Roast provides coffee subscriptions. We roast specialty grade coffee that’s carefully sourced from all over the world, but in particular we tend to go to Central and South America and Eastern and Central Africa the most. We offer that in purchases online, so you can buy a bag of coffee online or subscriptions. We also have some complementary products that we sell as well, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

We have a coffee truck that I custom built — a 1972 VW bus that we send all across North Carolina to serve what you would get in a coffee shop: a full coffee bar, espresso drinks, teas, drip coffee, pour overs, etc. We do this on the consumer level and on the wholesale and corporate level. So we’re not only providing beans for individuals who are wanting to try our coffee or who love our coffee, we’re also providing bulk orders for cafes, small and local grocers, and other retail shops.

What was your background originally before this?

I spent a good bit of time in Africa when I was in high school and early college. That is part of what changed my worldview. That was my first experience globally. That experience really changed my perspective on thinking about things that are bigger than myself, thinking beyond my immediate community, and also is what made me want to be able to reach out and do things to help those in need.

I realized how simple so many of the solutions are, and if there was someone willing to stand up and do it that it’d be amazing to see what kind of impact we could have. So that being said, I came back from Africa, and I launched a nonprofit with a friend of mine who had been on that same trip. We started providing mosquito nets, malaria treatments, and education materials for communities in Uganda. And all of that was because of what we had seen firsthand on that trip. That was my first endeavor on a larger scale of the social entrepreneur kind of world. Spinning ahead, years later I’ve moved around in several different roles.

I’ve done a lot of different things. I’m not like your traditional career man, or career woman, where you stick it out for years in a company. I’ve moved around, done things that I find interesting, that challenge me and allow me to flex my creative muscle and my entrepreneurial muscles in a different way. I’ve always had this idea of being able to do things that had people, purpose, profit all in the same mix. That’s why Cause Roast is such a passion of mine.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout your journey and career?

There’s an overlap of personal and professional, and there’s also one big professional one that I think has stood out. The overlap is this idea of relationships, and I mean that in a not buzzword kind of way. People are the essential mix of any business surviving, because they’re either your customers, your employees, or your teammates. I’ve found that so many times I have taken for granted the people that I have around me that are working, and championing my cause, or that are fans of me personally or fans of what I’m doing.

Whether I’m a millionaire or not financially has no bearing on whether or not I have a million dollar network of people that are huge supporters and who buy into what I’m doing. And I have failed a lot of times to recognize that, and recognize the value that that brings. Just as much as I have failed to communicate that to other people.

In reality, one of the things I’ve learned is if you’re willing to ask for help, I think most people would be utterly astounded at the amount of help that people are willing to give. The amount of support they’re willing to give, advice, encouragement, whatever it may be. So in many ways, I may be the founder and CEO of Cause Roast, but there were a lot of founders involved, if you will. I have had so many people help me, encourage me, give me free advice, give me support, all kinds of stuff. That is a huge part of why we are where we are today.

The best example is recently, I was at a restaurant and some guy walked in, and I saw him sit down, and he was one of those guys that captivated me for whatever reason, across the restaurant. He was a Harley guy, very salty looking, had his leather Harley cut on, and just kind of looked like a rough-around-the-edges guy.

I couldn’t stop thinking, “Man, I wish I could go talk to that guy.” And I left the restaurant, started to get out of the parking lot, and turned around and walked back inside and walked right up to him and I was like, “Hey man, I’m going to hate myself for the rest of my life if I do not talk to you. What’s your story?” The power of that little question has been one thing that has gotten me into so many opportunities, so many people’s lives, so many cool moments in my life have all started with that small question, “What’s your story?”

Mike is his name, and he proceeded to give me a whole spiel about himself and where he was, and ironically we’ve had lunch three times since then. I think the world of this guy, and I love hanging out with him. He’s three times my age, he looks way cooler and more rough around the edges then I do, but he’s also been able to offer my so much life advice and wisdom in general.

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

There is a double-edged sword with the idea of chase your dreams. A lot of people say that, and in some ways I think it’s cool if you have a dream go for it. But I’m one of those people that would say that’s a bunch of hogwash. Test your dream out. If you’ve got a dream, that’s awesome. Figure out if it’s chasable. But don’t be glued to your dream. Be glued to what it can become. If I was glued to my dream, I’d have been out of business and broke three years ago.

Your dream doesn’t show up exactly like you dream it, and sometimes your dream is actually terrible in reality. This is not at all how I pictured where Cause Roast would be, or we would have gotten to where we are. If I had tried to stay narrow-focused on, “This is exactly what I had dreamed, this is exactly how I’ve got to get to it” then I’d never have made it. That’s why I say it’s a double-edged sword.

Yes, you do need to chase and be persistent, but you’ve got to have a wide gaze but a narrow focus. So that you’re not so dialed in that you can’t see where you need to pivot, or where the opportunities are shifting you. But if you’re not focused enough, you’ll constantly be chasing whatever dollar bill you can collect. In which case you’ll be kind of like a shotgun spray. A lot of things happening but no real impact. That would be one piece of it.

The other piece is entrepreneurship is a lonely game and it is a fight. Make sure you have the right people around you, and make sure that you are willing to rough it out. Because Entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, is not Shark Tank. It’s not what Tim Ferris says, or Tony Robbins, or any of those guys.

That’s the billboard for entrepreneurship that they’re trying to get you to come down that road, but in reality, the road of entrepreneurship is super bumpy, super thorny, you’re going to have a lot of cuts, and bruises, and blood, and sweat, and tears along the way. The beauty of it though is it can be really fun. You may not sleep a lot, but it can be really fun. Ultimately it will be very rewarding if you’re willing to stick it out and you’ve got the right people around you.

What’s your vision for the future? Either for your business, or for the world, or for both?

The business is a statement we’re trying to make in the world. Our big thing with Cause Roast is we want to be an inspiration for not just my generation but for generations in general to live intentionally, to live consciously, and to think beyond themselves and find these opportunities that they can leverage what they may have. Whether it’s a coffee addiction, or whether it’s finances; that they leverage those things for good in the world.

That’s why everything we do with Cause Roast ties back to that, the mugs we sell say, “Live with Purpose” on them. That’s our mission, to be stewards and caretakers of what we’ve been given. People, planet, environment, these different elements that we’re working with. Coffee beans, the relationships that we have with coffee farmers, with employees, with all of the people in the logistics line, customers, all of this; we want every touch that someone has with our brand to be inspiring, empowering, and to make them think, “How can I step out and help create, or co-create a better world right now?”

It doesn’t mean you need to write a check for a billion dollars to some organization. It could be something simple. Pick up the trash on your street, start trying to eliminate the amount of gallons of water you use, or waste, in your house. Whatever it may be, if everybody started doing that, that would have an exponential impact.

As far as our vision for the business itself, as I said we have the bus, and we’d love to have either a couple of those and a brick and mortar, or one or the other. This idea of multiplication, having one and then going to two or three.

We’d also love to see Cause Roast in multiple shops, in multiple retail outlets, and becoming a household name. We want to be a household name from a profit and product perspective, but also we want to be a household name in that the company is leading the way in providing clean water. Or that we’re the company that’s trying to get everybody to live a better life, or to think more globally, or to think bigger than just what’s going on in my 25 house subdivision.

What action do you want readers to take?

Check us out online. If you’re in North Carolina come check out the coffee bus. Start thinking about ways that they can get involved with clean water organizations. We partner with World Hope International and have done a lot of work with Charity Water. Look at opportunities, ways that they can get involved. Whether it’s doing fundraisers, or doing events with them, or even just talking about them with people.

We love opportunities to get out and share our story. Whether that means driving the bus somewhere, showing up and talking, or someone buying coffee and telling their neighbors about it.

Find Greg Online:

Cause Roast: https://causeroast.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gepittman

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