Coffee Republic founder reveals entrepreneurial secrets

Entrepreneurial
spirit is a state of mind that can still apply in large organisations and not
just business start-ups, according to Sahar Hashemi, co-founder of Coffee
Republic, speaking at Personnel Today’s HR Directors Club at the Cabinet War
Rooms.

Hashemi
set up Coffee Republic with her brother Bobby in 1995 and has built it into one
of the most recognised high street brands with a turnover of more than £50m.
The pair both gave up high-profile jobs – she was a lawyer, he was an
investment banker – and living in “the comfort zone’ to stake everything on
their business idea of setting up New York-style coffee shops in the UK.

Living
by her own motto “leap and the net will appear”, she and her brother embraced
the essence of entrepreneurship and followed their gut instinct that theirs was
a great idea.

After
their business plan was rejected 19 times, they finally found a bank willing to
lend them the £90,000 necessary to start the business.

“Rejection
is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur,” said Hashemi. “The only way to
get a ‘yes’ is to go through the minefield of rejections.”

The
first six months were, by her own admission, “a disaster”. She employed her
first staff without interview and subsequently found out they couldn’t speak
English; sales were only £200 a day when break-even was £700; and supplier
relationships were tough because they had the “liability of newness”.

“It
was very demoralising,” Hashemi said. “As an entrepreneur I had to face up to
criticism and a real ‘told-you-so’ attitude. I realised quickly that any
venture needs persistence and stickability – the customer can reject you at
first, but will come round in time.”

It
was April 1996 when Coffee Republic began to break even, and soon other stores
began to open around London. In 1997 it became a publicly listed company on the
Alternative Investment Market, and it now has more than 100 coffee shops around
the UK.

One
of the keys to Coffee Republic’s success, said Hashemi, is the people that work
for the company.

“I
noticed our employees were making a real emotional connection with Coffee
Republic, and in response they were encouraged to develop skills outside of
their job role,” she said.

Although
no longer involved in the day-to-day management of the company, Hashemi still
wants the culture of the organisation to keep alive her entrepreneurial spirit.

She
said that spirit can apply in larger organisations with the proper support
structures and resources. “I think it’s a question of activating the
entrepreneurial spirit within people. For me, work is more fun than fun, and
you have to encourage staff to approach work in that manner.”

Hashemi
said organisations were now starting to embrace this new way, being more
creative and promoting a different way of thinking within their business.

“The
important thing to remember as an entrepreneur is that if you can’t find away,
you make a way.”


Sahar Hashemi has spoken at events including the Institute of Directors Women’s
Summit, Wall Street Journal Europe Summit and Enterprise 100. She lectures at
the London Business School Entrepreneurship Summer School and was named as one
of the 20 most powerful women in the UK under 35 by the Independent on Sunday.
Her book Anyone Can Do It went to number one on the Amazon business books chart
and is ‘suggested reading’ for the London Business School entrepreneurship
course.

By Mike Berry

www.hrdirectorsclub.com

 

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