As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beverly Marlbranche, A Haitian native and founder of Caribbrew, a fair trade company that sells Haitian/Caribbean coffee, and more. Caribbrew is a fair-trade coffee company that operates across multiple markets. Caribbrew makes a difference in the life of Haitian coffee growers and provides the freshest coffee and top-notch coffee-inspired products to our customers. Beverly embarked on a journey to revive the Haitian coffee production and now shares her story.
Thank you so much for participating, Beverly! Tell us about yourself.
I am originally from Haiti and came to the U.S. for college in 2009 and pursued my studies in Business Administration. After working in the financial industry for three years, I decided to start my own company. My number one interest was to share a taste of my home country with the world, so I embarked on a journey to revive the Haitian coffee production.
How do you believe your venture and/or organizations benefit others? Please give us an example.
I always like to say, we are the coffee that keeps on giving! We work with over 200 farmers to source our coffee and pay them upfront and above the fair-trade minimum price, which is way above the market price in Haiti. Moreover, we work with young adults in Haiti to monitor production, roasting, and shipping to the U.S. Secondly, we also sell coffee-based skincare products, which are made here in Newark, NJ. Our workforce consists of people from the local community and immigrants. As we grow, our goal is to continuously provide equal opportunities throughout our supply chain.
What was the skill you had that you found the most useful when starting your venture?
I would say my ability to motivate and work in groups (teamwork). To get started, it first took a vision, but that is not enough. Good leaders are the ones who are able to rally others around a specific goal. Especially in the early stages and until today, where I am not able to fully compensate our core team, getting them excited about the vision, convinced them to join our team and definitely motivates them to make it happen.
Can you give us an example of the hardships you faced during the earlier stages of your venture? How did you overcome it?
We have had multiple challenges. One of them was figuring out the supply chain for coffee, and specifically for Haitian coffee. We had to first educate ourselves, then reach out to people who know more than us, from small business advisors to friends and family who started similar enterprises.
Another hardship is fundraising. We have been in situations where there are opportunities, but no funds to capitalize on them. Once I realized we were not yet attractive to institutional investors, we looked into low-interest and equity-free fundings, such as grants and small business competition.. For these types of competitions, practice makes perfect! We won 3rd place last summer in the Columbia Small Business Pitch competition and this year we also won 3rd place at Rutgers Business School Competition, providing us with some seed capital.
We met at Columbia University's Startup Accelerator, Almaworks. How was your experience?
My experience was really good actually. The energy in the room was always uplifting, and it was motivating to meet with other entrepreneurs, also working on their ventures. Besides the motivation, the weekly check-ins kept me accountable. I would say in the end, I wish we could pitch for seed funding. That would have had a great impact on the business, but overall the advice we received and the wisdom that we gain was priceless!
What were your main takeaways?
There were many! One of them was from an advisor and also an entrepreneur. He told me - You have multiple streams of revenues with this coffee business. Now you need to figure out which channel is the most profitable and focus on that!
We have been applying this advice since then by focusing on a niche market, and we have definitely seen growth in sales and expertise (for that niche market)!
Kindly share with us your experience with meeting investors and what that journey has looked like for you.
Quite frankly, we have not reached out to institutional investors. We were surprisingly approached by the Wharton Social Investment Fund, and they wanted to see more stability (such as a large wholesale account on board with recurring revenue) before considering us.
In the meantime, I have approached a family member who is an entrepreneur and investor himself, and he wanted too much equity. Since then, I have changed my focus to grant and pitch competition to raise seed funding and invest in marketing.
What advice would you give women who would like to follow in your footsteps of becoming founders in the consumer space?
I would tell them to have a clear vision, and continuously learn their industry. Also, they should set the standard high when it comes to quality, and customer satisfaction as the consumer space is highly competitive. Last but not least, work hard and play hard. Don't get too emotionally involved in the business as there will be difficult days and don't be too hard on yourself.
To connect with Beverly and learn more about her journey to entrepreneurship, connect with her!
WRITTEN BYAngelica Deleon