Micro-Interview: Rob Bathe, Folly Coffee
This quirky-lovable founder shares insights on coffee ecommerece, goofy marketing, and more.
When I came across the Folly Coffee Podcast a couple of months ago, I knew something about it was different.
The host was fun. Unique. Not afraid to speak his mind in a way that’s unusual in the coffee industry. And what he was saying was genuinely interesting.
I knew I had to interview him.
- How pivoting to ecommerce kept his roasting business afloat
- Rob’s 4 top productivity tips for staying focused
- Why “surprise and delight” isn’t a long-term strategy
This is going to be a really good one.
Meet Rob Bathe, Founder of Folly Coffee
You started Folly Coffee at the start of the pandemic right? How did you get the word out amidst all the chaos?
We launched Folly Coffee Roasters in January of 2018.
In our first year we grew primarily through co-ops and grocery, and in our second year and the first part of 2020, we were experiencing strong growth thanks to new retail and cafe partners throughout the Twin Cities and beyond.
When everything was closed down, it shut down the entire cafe/restaurant side of our business so we pivoted hard into digital.
I built a new website in two days with a revamped subscription service and made it much more user friendly to drastically improve the buyer experience.
Marketing efforts through our strong Instagram following and email list was laser focused online, looking for exciting ways to engage customers and cater to new needs with the Stay at Home Order in place.
Folly has a pretty unique brand voice. I’d love to hear how you developed that, and whether or not it’s helping stand out.
The brand voice wasn’t so much developed as it is an extension of who I am, which makes messaging very easy because it’s really just me talking in written, video, or audio form.
However, it was an intentional decision not to stifle that fun side, which seems to be the norm in high end specialty coffee.
When I first got into high end coffee, it was intimidating to learn because I knew nothing and terms like “Naturally Processed Yirgacheffe” or “Fully Washed Kenya Nyeri” were unknown to me. Because of this, I made the decision early on in building the brand and messaging that everything needed to be approachable.
A big part of our mission at Folly is to introduce new people to high end specialty coffee and not simply cater to the existing coffee snobs (oh which I am definitely one now ?)
Tell me about your marketing approach. I know you’ve done some fun, quirky promotions and have a podcast — how are those helping you build Folly?
The marketing approach is simple. Above all is having a superior product. Fortunately, the quality of our coffees has been recognized on multiple occasions, including a 2019 Good Food Award as a Top 15 coffee in the country.
Our Head Roaster Jeff was even named a Top 15 Coffee Taster in the country on the Coffeechamps circuit last year and placed 2nd at regionals this year before COVID-19 closed down nationals. Without an intense focus on quality and constant improvement, no amount of great marketing and quirky promotions will create happy, life long customers.
That being said, the coffee is about the only thing we take seriously in our approach. It is insanely difficult to capture attention, so I am more than willing to make an ass out of myself with funny/stupid videos.
After all, if a funny or stupid video gets someone to think about the quality of coffee they are drinking, then they are thinking about the quality of coffee they are drinking!
We go hard on Instagram and that has gained us a following of over 13k followers and have started in on Tik Tok.
As for the The Folly Coffee Podcast, I only started because it is something I enjoy. It is rooted in coffee, but even in just under a year it has already evolved to include a lot of small business and lessons learned the hard way in growing Folly Coffee.
Do you have a favorite productivity hack that keeps you focused?
- Consistent exercise for both the physical and cognitive benefits. This is built into my schedule as non-negotiable.
- Keeping a regular sleep cycle. Our lives are regulated by sleep, both the amount and quality.
- I keep a to-do list of each day planned out in advance. I check off what I complete each day. If I didn’t complete something I intended to do, I try to identify why to modify how I’m using my time in the future. This to do list is organized by priority and urgency to make sure things are getting done on time. It’s also really satisfying to physically cross off things haha.
- Avoid meetings when possible. I love meeting in person because I am a fan of people, but I’ve found that over scheduling meetings can burn a lot of time.
What’s going to happen to coffee ecommerce as the country re-opens and people start vising coffee shops again?
People have discovered the value of ecommerce during closures and this will lead to sustained growth of online shops, but even the best website in the world can’t replace the advice of a great barista.
Shops create an experience that satisfies the social needs of humans. Shop owners should be wildly focused on the entire experience the second a customer walks in the door.
What do they see? What do they smell? What coffee am I drinking? Is ordering intuitive?
The more of an experience a shop can create, the more they separate themselves from online or generic chain stores.
How are you surprising and delighting your existing customers to keep them customers?
In theory, surprise and delight is a wonderful way to market, but it is a very short term solution. It generally costs a lot to surprise and delight, especially as a wholesale only business.
In boxing they say it’s not the knock out swing that wins the match, it’s the consistent jabs. PLEASE DON’T BOX YOUR CUSTOMERS.
What I’m saying is, if the “surprise and delight” method is a knock out swing, consistently great coffees and consistently great customer service are the jabs.
We will run promotions that customers enjoy and definitely increase engagement, but it is the foundation of coffee and service that has fueled our growth.
A HUGE thank you to Rob for being so forthcoming!
Buy a bag of Folly Coffee here.
Hey ? I'm Garrett Oden
Freelance Coffee Marketer
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