Foodpreneur Highlight #1 : Marie & Michael Tuil from Direct Coffee
Welcome to our Foodpreneur Highlight serie, where we interview Swiss food startups that we love.
To kick off our first series of Foodpreneur Highlights, let me introduce you to Direct Coffee, the social startup that’s simplifying the coffee supply chain and funding social projects along the way.
We were honoured to have the founders Marie and Michael Tuil join us last week at our most recent FoodHack Dinner and share their story over (several) cups of their cold brew.
Following the dinner we caught up with Michael and Marie to find out more about Direct Coffee and what they’re working towards. Find out more in the short interview below.
Name: Direct Coffee
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Founding year: 2016
Pitch: Freshly roasted coffee in capsules, beans, or ground delivered in your mailbox as you need it. Each package supports a farmer’s child.
Can you tell me more about the founding of the company and what the problem is that you were addressing?
— Transparency in food value chains is demanded by more and more people, fortunately! Regional food is a very good approach — but it is not possible to take this approach for food that cannot be produced close by, like coffee. That’s why we decided to found Direct Coffee with which we trade directly with smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. Because we cut out middle men in the import chain, our customers can trace their coffee back to the farmers that actually grow it — and we save money that we invest back into the communities of the coffee growers with social projects.
What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
— The most important project we’re working on right now is the development of our coffee button with which people can order our truly sustainable coffee on the push of a physical button in their kitchen. We believe that sustainable choices nowadays are still often too inconvenient and that this is the reason why a lot of people choose unsustainable products even though they are not in accordance with their values. If you once have decided that you want your coffee to have a positive impact on our environment and all people along the value chain it should be easier to stick to this decision than to go and buy coffee in a supermarket.
What were you doing prior to founding Direct Coffee?
— Michael worked as a strategy consultant with a focus on Africa on projects in agriculture and health. Marie was working as a freelance journalist for German national newspapers writing about economics & society. After our honeymoon in Ethiopia we had the idea to found Direct Coffee — and it took us only one and a half months from the initial idea to going back to the country to meet farmers and partners for our social projects in person.
Why are you passionate about this? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
— What a question! It is a cup of delicious directly traded Ethiopian forest coffee that gets us out of bed in the morning! But what motivates us most are the regular trips to the farmers. Last year in November, after only six months of selling coffee we could already go back and implement the first social projects for the children of the coffee farmers. It is great to see the fruit of our work in such a direct manner.
What did the earliest version of Direct Coffee look like — and what is the same or different since then?
— We’re moving forward in a lot of directions and we love to innovate — in the last year we added new products like our Cold Brew coffee. But the overall concept stayed the same: Trading directly with smallholders, selling delicious coffee products in Switzerland and closing the cycle by implementing social projects for the coffee farmers’ kids.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
— We want to expand our business concept to other products like tea, rice, spices and dried exotic fruits and we’re looking forward to travel to new places, meet new farmers and contribute to a positive development of these communities.
What are the company’s core values? Why?
— Sustainability is a vague and often misused concept — nonetheless, it is our main goal: With our work we want to have a positive impact on society and environment. From choosing a coffee that grows in its natural ecosystem and protects the natural biodiversity instead of destroying it to working with a workshop for disabled people for the shipping and fulfilment in Switzerland — as entrepreneurs, it is us who decides what impact our business will have.
What are the company’s main objectives in the next year?
— Crucial for a self sustaining social business is that it has enough customers. We’re in a phase where everything is setup for growth and therefore finding new coffee drinkers is our main objective for the next year.
What are the greatest obstacles for the company this year?
— We don’t want to call it an obstacle — but we’re a couple and expecting our first baby this year. On the one hand, being self-employed gives us a lot of flexibility to adapt to this new situation. But it will also be a challenge to combine business and family — like for any other family.
How are you planning to overcome them?
— With a positive attitude — and coffee against the fatigue :)
You’re currently enrolled in MassChallenge Switzerland, what is the experience like so far and what are you looking to gain from it?
— MassChallenge gives us access to a pool of incredibly experienced mentors and a vast network. We’re sure that it will help us to reach our main goal for the next year: growing our customer base.
What is your advice to other food/drink entrepreneurs in Switzerland?
— Just do it! Don’t think about it too much upfront but try to launch a first version to get real feedback. And then: Adapt.
What is it like to work with your husband/wife?
— It’s great! We’re complementing each other well so that everyone has his own responsibilities. And one of Marie’s very important responsibilities is to say: “Stop!” after 7pm.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
— No! That was already a lot, hahaha.
Thanks for the interview Direct Coffee! If you're interested to find out more about their work, check out their website here. And to stay up to date with the next FoodHack Highlights and other news, make sure to join the once monthly newsletter and join us on Facebook.
Written by Arman Anaturk
Co-Founder at OneRoof.Agency, Vice-president at FoodHack, organiser of Product Tank Geneva/Lausanne. Find me eating food and travelling on Instagram and connect with me on Linkedin.