On the up · 19 August 2019

How to scale up your business from zero

Co-founder of Revive Eco, Scott Kennedy started his business as a way to provide a sustainable solution to dealing with coffee waste, and with as many as 55 million cups of the brown stuff being guzzled every day in the UK, it wasn’t a bad idea.

The company’s mission is bold, namely generating value for the half a million tonnes of coffee waste that’s produced on a daily basis. But did such an ambitious aim lead to any stumbling blocks along the way? (Well, considering the fact that in the early days it was just Kennedy and his co-founder Fergus Moore running around Edinburgh picking up coffee granules….what do you think)?

Kennedy talks exclusively to Business Advice about what he’s learned from the cut and thrust of startup life, including what others, no matter what industry they’re in, can learn too.

Business Advice, (BA): What things did you consider when building your business model?

Scott Kennedy, (SK): A simple business model is a good place to start if the problem you’re trying to fix is fundamental. If you want an impactful business, (and let’s face it, all businesses need to be impactful to succeed), you’ll also need a sustainable business model. But you also have to create a profit or you won’t be around in a year’s time to act on your goals. A business with the best environmental intentions is null and void if it’s no longer around to do anything. We want to be around in 15-20 years time, so it was essential that we got our business model right first.

BA: What early mistakes did you make with Revive Eco and what did you learn as a result?

SK: Like many early-stage start-ups, we were trying to bite off more than we could chew. In our case, we were reaching out to all the coffee shops we could in Edinburgh saying, ‘yes we can deal with all your coffee granules.’ However, we had no system in place, we were on foot picking them up and taking them to garages and processing them there.

We were so eager to help cafes with their coffee waste but we were overwhelmed with the task– we learned a lot from that period.

However, reaching out to other businesses and speaking to them provided us with some useful insight into the coffee industry which helped us build relationships that we still have now.

BA: Is there anything you wished you had done differently during that stage?

SK: We’ve learnt so much over the past 2 years. One regret I have is not asking people for their help along the way. I was always of the opinion that we were just young startups, so why would anyone with experience want to give us their time? What’s in it for them? Then, further down the line, I realised how willing organisations and business leaders actually were to chat with us because, at one time, they were in our shoes. I wish we had been more proactive with our outreach for mentors –  there’s so much support out there if you ask for it.

BA: Do businesses like yours have the ‘investment edge’ considering the environmental changes taking place?

SK: Investors are certainly becoming more proactive about investing in circular businesses. More organisations are seeing value in circular business models.

So many industries out there are built on finite resources. So investors are seeing value in organisations like ours that will actually be around in 50 years time to do business.

It’s a slow shift towards a sustainable way of doing business, but there’s a shift happening and it’s consumer lead. The impetus is coming from the bottom, not the top. Which is a really powerful thing and will drive change across the sectors.

BA: In your opinion, what early mistakes do startup founders most easily make?

SK: Speaking about my own experiences here; during the early days of my business, I spent almost 90% of the time applying for competitions to get funding or even just in the hope to gain accolades to boost our credibility. What I soon realised was the danger of getting sucked into being a ‘competitive business’,  meaning that you only become known for winning awards – and not for what you actually do.

However, entering competitions can also be useful for your company’s development. For example, it can help you think about strategy and look at the bigger picture. When you’re running a startup and constantly looking at the micro every day, the bigger thoughts can get lost.

BA: What are the most effective ways to gain funding as a sustainability-driven business?

SK: For companies implementing circular measures, crowdfunding is really useful. The reaction we’ve received from people across the world who are tuned into the ethos of our company and what we’re trying to achieve has made the crowdfunding model a useful one for us.

So many people have been getting in touch simply to make donations. It’s the power of community, they know we need resources to grow and to deliver what we do, – they’re so driven into giving us their time and money to help us achieve that.

Bringing that consumer community who want to enact positive change closer to us through crowdfunding has been central to the development of our business.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Annie May is the Features Editor at Real Business and Business Advice. Following her graduation from LSE, she embarked upon a freelance career in current affairs journalism. Annie has written on subjects varying from African history and contemporary politics to community business and current affairs news in London. At Real Business and Business Advice, Annie is passionate about highlighting inclusive and diverse business disruptors and organisations for our evolving readership. Annie believes in fostering community inclusion and has volunteered for organisations such as Fairfield House, a UK based Rastafari centre and a senior citizen association for ethnic minority men and women.

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