On Starting A Coffee Subscription Service As A Side Hustle
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Courtney and I’m the founder of Fernweh. I started around three years ago as a side hustle that I’m slowly trying to turn into full time.
I saw a gap in the coffee market and took the opportunity to start a subscription service that featured all coffee roasters throughout New Zealand. Fernweh is a German word meaning a longing for a far off place, I wanted to encompass this through coffee. Each month we feature a coffee roaster in New Zealand by sending out a single origin and a story of the roaster, throughout the month we feature them on our social media pages and have a blog post about them.
My flagship product is the subscriptions we offer. While we ship worldwide our primary customers are New Zealanders who are 20+. Our customers love trying the new coffees that they wouldn’t normally get themselves or they purchase as a gift. We seek out the best single origins in the country to highlight the amazing work of the roasters.
When I first started this company I thought it was a good idea, however, it was a lot of work in the beginning with getting the roasters on board as it was a unique concept and then selling to the customers took work as it needed more explaining than I had originally thought. We now have our website and business in a place where it ticks over and runs smoothly. I’m thankful for the beginning as there were lots to learn.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
This idea was birthed over one night over Mexican food while talking to a friend who is in the coffee industry. I’ve always flirted with starting a business in the coffee industry or doing something with coffee, however, the NZ market is heavily saturated so I never saw an opportunity.
I found celebrating even the little steps was so helpful to feel like I was going in the right direction and that this wasn’t just another job but it was my own.
When we were dreaming of this subscription service it didn’t take much convincing for me to start it. I love working with people so being in a position to work with the amazing coffee roasters and the customers was a winning situation for me. When looking at the market at the time there were only a couple roasters who offered subscriptions so being able to have a subscription that featured more than one brand was what I thought was a brilliant idea.
I’ve always loved coffee and I have a lot of friends in the industry so when I would tell them my idea they were excited and it was like a light bulb moment of why hasn’t anyone started this yet!?
This subscription service was quite different as subscriptions hadn’t hit the NZ market at the time. Now there are quite a few which are great for the current state of the world! At the time of starting this company, I was working as a Nanny full-time which was great because I had flexible hours allowing me to work on Fernweh.
It was slow growth, my expectations were very high, maybe unrealistically high as it was the first time I’ve started a business in NZ. I’m originally from America so getting used to the systems here took time. The cost to start Fernweh was quite low and I did everything I could myself along with asking mates for favors, including photographing my flatmates for Instagram posts.
I chose to call it Fernweh, as I love words, and this one, is untranslatable so I know there is no other word like it. I wanted to translate that into my business. I grew up with a heavy Scandinavian background so design and details are quite important to me and naming the business was one of the biggest hurdles. The fern also goes along with NZ as ferns are a big part of the culture here.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I was fortunate enough to have friends in the industry, and I had some website building background. In designing the product I knew it would be in a box, with coffee, tasting notes, and a story of the roaster. So deciding how the cards would be designed and the roasters would be featured took time. The coffee was the easy part, as I wanted the product to be an experience for the customer when they received it.
Trialing different boxes and working with a shipping company to get the right measurements was an experience. Sometimes you don’t think of all the intricate details when starting a company. Once I settled on a box shape and color it was then designing the cards and the look of my brand. The logo we started with was a triangle with a V in the middle depicting a Chemex with Fernweh written across the middle. We have now evolved and I’ve worked with a designer to give language, shape, and depth to Fernweh as a brand.
Sending out our first order was exciting with the finished product, at the time I was happy with the designs of the cards and the boxes we were sending out.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Launching the business was exciting as it was a 6-8 month process of build-up. Getting the website right, trialing different apps, and making sure the main details were taken care of taking the time. I will admit I can be impatient when it comes to things I’m excited about and one of my strengths is achiever so I love executing plans and visions.
When you start as a novice in business it’s all about finding the right people to help and to guide as you start and to help you keep going when you need inspiration.
When it came to launching Fernweh I was nervous as it was something I had been working on for so long, putting so much of myself, time and effort into this side hustle that it was a vulnerable process for me. It took around six months after the launch to see business start to pick up. It was all about brand awareness at the start and deciding which route was best for us.
At the start I financed it and since the launch, it has taken care of itself. The costs were relatively low at the start as we got a wholesale price for our boxes, shipping bags, and coffee. The only major cost upfront was paying for the website I decided to pay for a year as it unlocked certain features for my plan.
We launched the website by telling friends, blasting it on social media, and doing a pre-launch discount. It worked for the most part but because it was such new business and a unique concept there were a lot of questions which we have since ironed out.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The main thing that has attracted customers is the uniqueness of our subscriptions as we support local roasters all around New Zealand. A lot of people love giving these as gifts because it is the gift that keeps on giving.
As for growing, I work with a company called SponserdLinx who manages my google ads and SEO. We have weekly catch-ups to see what is working and what needs to be improved. Since I started working with them there has been an increase in traffic and sales. When I first started I was doing a lot of Facebook and Insta ads however I found these to be obsolete as there was not much of a difference. I will admit I hate Facebook so my company was mainly driven on Instagram because that’s what I feel I’m better at.
I have worked with a few magazines like Capital and Counter Journal which was a great experience for brand awareness and getting our name out there. However, I’m not sure how much traffic we gained from print ads compared to digital ads.
With our SEO we have revamped the website with keywords and certain things to increase traffic which has worked, each week I receive a report of the top and bottom performing keywords and how many clicks each one has received. The analytics on Shopify help determine where the traffic is coming from and what the conversion rate is, which is great for planning in the future.
For existing customers, we do a lot of email marketing and campaigns to bring customers back which sometimes works as most people that are not on a recurring subscription buy this as a gift so it’s more a one-off.
I’m currently working with a social media marketing person who I found over Instagram, he manages all my social media and design along with blog posts. It is great to work with someone who understands the brand and goals of what you want to achieve. I’ve worked with some previous companies who don’t take the time to understand, I always felt that because I’m a small business I would often be passed over rather than helped.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today Fernweh is performing well, over COVID and lockdown we saw sales soar and it has stayed that way which is encouraging as there has been a lot of time and effort put in. It is profitable which is great as it is a side hustle.
All of our sales run through our website and distribution is currently out of my house as there is space for it. We plan to expand, increase sales, and to support local.
If I could go back I probably would have launched 3-4 months before I did as I was waiting on details and certain things to fall into place. However, those details wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When starting it’s so good to have a support team around you to be there when you need inspiration, to talk, or to celebrate with. I found celebrating even the little steps was so helpful to feel like I was going in the right direction and that this wasn’t just another job but it was my own.
As far as mistakes, I made plenty. Looking back I would hold off on the print ads as they cost a lot and there is no guarantee that you will have traffic although I’m super grateful to have worked with the magazines, that is something I should have done further down the line. Focusing on SEO is the main thing when getting started as that will increase your traffic and hopefully the sales.
I also found with some of the roasters, getting them on board was not always easy. I had one roaster who is quite big tell me a year later “we’ve been watching you and we like what we see, so we will partner with you now”. I am appreciative of the roasters that took a chance on me at the start as it was such a unique concept and took many emails and phone calls to explain. As for now, we have a good relationship with the roasters, and our main focus is to support and shine a light on the New Zealand roasters as it helps retain our relationships.
I love to work and hustle so as far as habits and skills, I will work when needed and do what needs to be done. I don’t mind a heavy workload as it helps achieve my dreams and vision for Fernweh to become more. Bringing coffee to people is a joy and pleasure and showing off the NZ coffee roasters is a bonus, I love connecting people to something they didn’t know they were missing.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We currently use Shopify as it is a great platform, easy to use, and translates our business to the customers.
The apps we use through Shopify include, Go Sweet Spot, Instafeed, Beautiful Abandoned cart, Recharge app, Kit, Messenger chat, and Senguo.
Shopify offers great templates for starting and it’s easy enough to figure out for anyone. It makes it easy for new businesses or side hustles to succeed because of the ease and all the apps it offers.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
When you start as a novice in business it’s all about finding the right people to help and to guide as you start and to help you keep going when you need inspiration. Sometimes rejection is hard but it’s all part of business, you can either use it as fuel or let it blow your flame out. As I found, with some of the bigger names in coffee it took a year or so to get them on board as they wanted to see how I went. It was most of the smaller boutique roasters that said yes from the start that I still work with today.
I think the biggest thing is to just jump and start as you never know how it’s going to work until you take that first step. It’s hard and can be scary but if you have the right people around you as support you can succeed.
Planning everything takes time and there will never be a right time. If I could go back I probably would have launched 3-4 months before I did as I was waiting on details and certain things to fall into place. However, those details wouldn’t have made much of a difference and I probably would have worked out the kinks faster if I had started earlier.
Business is fun and there are always going to be learning curves but if you just jump your ideas could soar.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Fernweh has provided an update on their business!
11 months ago, we followed up with Fernweh to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
4 months ago, we followed up with Fernweh to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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