For almost two years, Bernoulli Finance has had the privilege to work with Devoción and witness firsthand how the finest and freshest coffee makes its journey from Colombia’s most inaccessible zones to a continuously expanding list of locations around the world. It seemed high time that we shared a glimpse of this wondrous enterprise in our Workshop. We sat with Devoción's founder and CEO - around coffee naturally at Devoción's first NYC location, in Williamsburg - and chatted about challenges, achievements, and the dots in between.
Bernoulli Finance: Is Devoción Coffee something that you wanted to do when you were 10? Is what it is now same as when you just started out? How?
Steven Sutton: Even in my wildest dreams I never thought that I would end up in coffee. When I began Devoción it was a little different. We had one house blend and we were trying to understand how to explore Colombian coffee production. We had a clear vision of what we needed to do to start being different from competition, but did not fully comprehend where it could lead us. Today, we have 5 house blends and hundreds of coffees to choose from. We have become expert coffee buyers and know very well where we are headed and who we want to be in the global market.
BF: You claim to be the only exclusively farm-to-table coffee roaster in the world. Why is this distinction important?
SS: There is no other coffee in the world that has the freshness that Devoción promises. We are literally months fresher than our nearest competitor. Because we are talking about gastronomy, freshness is extremely important, thus making this distinction very important and unique.
BF: What is more intuitive to you: giving people what they want (i.e. finding a need in the market and satisfying it) or convincing people to use your product (i.e. creating a need and selling a solution to it)? What is the philosophy you've followed at Devoción and could you elaborate how?
SS: I think it all depends on the market where you operate. In the case of Devoción, we started in Colombia and had to do a bit of both. We consider ourselves leaders… trend breakers, so to create a product and a need for it is second nature to us... it's who we are. Nevertheless, to survive the first years in a small undeveloped market like the one where we found ourselves and to get to where we are today, we did have to create another brand / product at a lower price point to satisfy people's needs and to generate the necessary cash flow. But when we speak purely of Devoción , indeed we create and teach why we are different... why we live by certain standards that our products showcase.
BF: What have been your biggest indicators of success?
SS: I think we have had three major indicators:
- We were invited by the Colombian government to represent Colombian coffee for a whole year in trade shows geared toward the promotion of Colombia (this was especially important because normally the Colombian Coffee Federation has this honor).
- Barely two years after arriving in the US, Devoción was accepted by the majority of the most important American food critics and guides (Zagat, thrillist, eater, to name a few) as the best? coffee in the country.
- Devoción coffee is now featured on the menu of Eleven Madison Park, voted the b est restaurant in the world in 2017.
BF: What aspect of your job do you find the hardest (or impossible) to delegate to someone else?
SS: My job is making sure that all wheels are turning. When I started out, as a small business owner I was managing all aspect of the business, no matter how small, because there was just I doing everything. But as the company grew and in order to help this growth, delegating tasks, positions, and even management of individual business elements, became a must. For me, this was one of the hardest things to do. But one thing I could never delegate, as an active and vested company owner, is the overseeing of the company operations - making sure that all departments and every piece of our company is working well on its own and together with everything else.
BF: How do you pass on your passion about your business or your product to people who work for you? Do you think it is possible for someone other than you, the founder, to be as dedicated to the company as you are?
SS: Our company is called Devoción ... it’s all about passion. From the moment you walk in the door you feel it. I pass my passion by sharing, explaining, and living every moment of this company with my employees, vendors, and clients. We all give 1000% of our love and devotion, and at the end it is contagious.
BF: How do you deal with uncertainty in your business? Where do you draw the line between analytics and a gut feeling?
SS: Analytics and gut feeling go together. You can't run a company without both. It's the combination of these that makes the best decisions. You need analytics to make an educated guess or decision, but it needs to feel good to pull the trigger.
BF: What has it been like to have an external-party collaborator like Bernoulli Finance working on your team? How has it improved your business?
SS: It has been amazing. They have helped me walk faster and see clearer. All of their tools, insight, and work have helped Devoción make better and quicker decisions in addition to being incredibly organized and structured. There is no big decision that I do not pass by them.
BF: What are three tools such as software or apps, that you use on a daily basis for work or personally and/or cannot live without?
SS: My business is service, so answering quickly is key... my email is the #1 tool I can't live without. My second tools are Skype and WhatsApp: I need to be connected to our Colombian team and our farmers in on a daily basis. My third would be Bernoulli Finance tools: they help me manage my cash flow and provide indicators that help me run my business accurately.
BF: What advice would you give to companies just starting out?
SS: Dedicate your time to the most important thing: Growing! Seek help and invest in things that help you achieve this. In the case of Devoción , a perfect example of this is hiring Bernoulli Finance.