Ali Abdaal sits down with fellow entrepreneur James Hoffman to uncover his business lessons as a coffee business founder.
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Issue 024

Turning a passion into a business: takeaways from James Hoffman on Deep Dive Podcast.

Ali Abdaal sits down with fellow entrepreneur James Hoffman to uncover his business lessons as a coffee business founder.
When two of my favourite content creators get together to discuss a topic I'm interested in, it's a win-win.

In this case, James Hoffman (coffee expert, founder, YouTuber and author) and Ali Abdaal (doctor turned YouTuber and podcaster) sat down to discuss the ups and downs of starting a business for Ali's Deep Dive PodcastSpecifically, how to turn your passion into a business without sacrifice.

Here are my takeaways from this fascinating conversation...
Screenshot from Ali Abdaal's interview with James Hoffman for the Deep Dive Podcast on YouTube
1. Passion doesn't always equal business success. But embracing business mechanics can improve your chances.

So many designers I know are passionate about their work, but also start side projects and businesses as an outlet for their creative passions outside of our industry.

Often these pursuits are far removed from digital or design. Businesses in pottery, carpentry, clothing and apparel… sometimes even coffee shops.

But having a passion for another craft and the initiative to turn it into a business doesn't necessarily equal success.

Understanding the economics of a new pursuit before getting started can mean you're better informed about the realities of running one of these businesses before taking the plunge.
"Work on the business, not in it... get out from the daily manufacturing within a business; whatever it is that you make and sell and do, and into a higher level...

Understand the model and mechanics... it's a machine." 
- James Hoffman -

Doing this homework can help you decide if it's really worth pursuing. And if it's still a yes, you'll be more confident to get started on the right footing.

2. Profit should be a force for good, not a source of shame.

Profit can be empowering. Creating a runway of capital can free us up to work on meaningful projects.

But profit is often a dirty word discussed in binary terms - good or bad. Profit should be an enabler for better things to happen (or be created) in the world.
"I need profit to do the things I want to do. It's the enabling factor in being able to pay people properly, hire more people, do more interesting stuff, improve what we do... I need to make profit - and good profit - to have a sustainable business."
- James Hoffman -

Overcoming limiting beliefs associated with profit can free us up to do incredibly impactful work, particularly when we explore the opportunity to invest in sustainable businesses and the people who can help us run them.

3. Grind and hustle are an unsustainable approach to starting a business.

Design has been particularly rife with the mantras of hustle culture over the past decade.

I've become increasingly sceptical of advice advocating this approach to business-building, particularly given the noticeable rise in cases of burnout in our industry.
"I regret not starting with twice as much money, hiring more people...and going home at five o'clock."
- James Hoffman -
There have been periods in my professional life where my work/life balance has tipped into unhealthy territory. James's advice is that you can still succeed without pouring yourself completely into a business pursuit.

It might take a little longer, but you're more likely to come out of it with your health (and passion) intact.

4. Thinking of starting a coffee business? James has you covered with the industry economics.

Designers have a reputation for taking their coffee quite seriously. Are you curious about what it would cost to start your own coffee roasting or cafe side business?

"The best operators understand hospitality, and they understand coffee's place within that... they're the most profitable, the most successful. Because they're the holistic operator, not just the coffee obsessive."
- James Hoffman -

James shares a detailed breakdown of the capital costs of creating a physical coffee roasting business. But there are also plenty of opportunities for designers in the world of coffee that don't involve starting a coffee business.

My time watching James' many product reviews and Q&As has consistently highlighted the opportunity for designers to improve the experience of coffee in so many areas.

Service design and way-finding in hospitality. Machine ergonomics. Packaging design.

But the biggest coffee nerd problem that needs our attention? I recommend watching James's attempt to review smart scales that will have you dying to redesign these frustrating product interfaces... 

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