International Women’s Day: A day in the life of a speciality coffee entrepreneur

International Women’s Day: A day in the life of a speciality coffee entrepreneur

International Women’s Day (IWD) is on March 8th. Like all industries, women play a crucial role in the coffee journey from plant to cup. With that in mind, we want to celebrate IWD by turning the spotlight on our own founder & CEO who has built a great brand, with award-winning products and tonnes of happy customers.

Greater equality at work appears to be at the forefront in the minds of most forward thinking companies, something we can all be thankful for. In the speciality coffee industry the journey of one bean will include the input of multiple companies from growing to trading, shipping, roasting, brewing, and everything in between. It’s fair to suggest that often, the impact of the role of women in this journey has been lost in wash.

We’re not just talking about the growing countries, where you might expect the role of women to be different to the role of men in the fields, as it might be in society. One green coffee importer recently observed, “in the nineteen years that WBC has been running, only one WBC winner (2018’s Agnieszka Rojewska) has been female while of the 65 contestants in 2016, 52 were men and only 13 were women.”

So, what opportunities are there for women in coffee and can we envisage them growing in the future? One good person to ask is Lynsey Harley, founder and CEO of Modern Standard Coffee. Since her first barista gig she has won a latte art championship, explored the world as a green coffee buyer, consulted for some of the biggest coffee brands as well as the Speciality Coffee Association, started her own speciality coffee business and created a line of award-winning coffee products - all of this before her 30th birthday.

We caught up with Lynsey to chat about her coffee journey and what inspires her as a speciality coffee entrepreneur.

How did it all start for you in coffee?

Whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh, I worked part time as a barista. Once I finished uni, I moved to London and still didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I worked as a barista until I decided what I wanted to do. Even now, I've still not really decided!

Can you tell us about Modern Standard and what the mission is? 

Modern Standard was born out of a desire to bring great tasting coffee to more people. My previous experience was working for commercial coffee companies, and my spare time was either competing or judging in the speciality coffee scene, it felt like a natural progression to start a business that reflected my experience and interests. 

Had you always envisioned becoming an entrepreneur

No, but I think I'm well suited to it. Wherever I worked previously, my role was a little bit like a minister without portfolio; they knew I added value but they couldn't really determine exactly where. With a business, you need to add value overall and support all the areas to grow, so I feel very at home spinning 50 plates at once.

What was the best book you've ever read about running a business?

I don't read books, my best advice is to learn as you go.

What have you found most challenging about owning your own speciality coffee business?

Keeping the standards where you want them to be, and developing the market.

What have you found most rewarding about owning your own speciality coffee business?

Having nice coffee to drink at work!

Are there any female-led brands that you've worked with that have helped to inspire you or your business? 

Abigail Forsyth at Keepcup; she's a total baller and I'm a big fan. We work with her brother at Minor Figures (We roast the coffee for their cold brew). Abi has kept her business solid on its focus for getting people away from disposable coffee cups, has kept it relevant since it launched and has remained just a really nice person.

What opportunities do you think are out there for people like you who want to make a successful career in speciality coffee?

There are lots of opportunities, it’s just a case of seeking them out. Too many people entering the industry expect to learn from their employers too much; it's a balance about doing the job and learning through observing. I spent a lot of my time and money educating myself outside of my first few coffee jobs and that really helped propel me forward.

What advice would you have for anyone interested in starting their business in coffee or hospitality?

Do it with a partner, it makes it easier to have someone else to rely on. I did it on my own and it was tough, I'm glad I did it now as things are super fun and exciting, but there were occasions when I wished someone else could take the lead for a while giving me a break. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. 

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

No one remembers second place.

If you’d like to learn more about Lynsey or Modern Standard Coffee, keep checking out her articles on our blog.

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