Pact Coffee’s Stephen Rapoport: Why our mission is central to our growth

Coffee culture is having a renaissance. We are aping London of the eighteenth century, when our ancestors couldn’t get enough of the brown stuff. But while their caffeine fuelled debates about politics, fashion and philosophy, we still mostly use it to get us out of bed each day.

One entrepreneur hopes to add an additional motivation for drinking it: “to make coffee a force for good.” Founded in 2012, Stephen Rapoport’s Pact Coffee has a mission to do exactly that. “We all have objectives and goals. A mission is not what you’re trying to do, nor how you’re trying to do it. It’s why,” he explained to a room full of entrepreneurs at a recent Leap 100 breakfast hosted by Mishcon de Reya.

Pact Coffee is a coffee delivery service, which operates on a flexible subscription model. It trades directly with growers in countries like Brazil, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Pact imports the produce, roasts it, and delivers it to customers.

Rapoport didn’t work out his mission until 12 months after starting his firm, but “that mission is now written in two-foot high letters on the walls of our offices.” He was inspired to formulate it by the human rights abuses that impact unskilled labourers in the industry and wants everyone to switch to specialty growers, where demand for better quality coffee ensures a higher price and incentivises improved products.

Rapoport points to three ways that having a mission has helped him at Pact Coffee. First, marketing: “We’ve given customers a mission they can get behind… We found that our customer acquisition costs could drop, and our loyalty has massively increased.” Second, “internal research has shown us we attracted more talent because of our mission – 80 per cent of people who apply for jobs referenced the mission as a reason for applying.”

Third, Rapoport recently had to step away from a failing crowdfunding campaign and in the process make over a dozen team members redundant in one morning. “Inherited wisdom says that, if you lose a third of your team, 20 per cent of those who remain will resign,” he says. But “having a clear mission allowed staff to understand why we withdrew. We could talk with transparency about the options that were on the table.”

Rapoport says coming up with a mission is hard. “You have to ask yourself why you chose to set up your business, and why that business over any other business. You need to ask what should be changed, built or fixed,” he says.

“Only then will you have your mission statement. It might take a day, a week, or a month. I’m a sole founder; to me the mission statement was very personal. When I had come up with the bare bones, I took them to the team and got their input on wording. It may sound like a tedious process, but it led to some interesting conversations – for instance over the difference between ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’. In our case, coming up with a mission statement took 10 weeks.”

“The best question I heard, when trying to establish our mission, was ‘if the business fails, but your mission is realised, would you be happy?’ If Pact went under but 10 per cent of the world’s coffee drinkers went specialty, I would be over the moon.”

The only thing holding back Pact is the public’s appetite to buy into the mission, but we are increasingly happy to pay more for products with a difference, so a coffee distributor with a mission makes a lot of sense. That’s why Pact is a Leap 100 company, and why Rapoport is an entrepreneur to be reckoned with.

This article originally appeared in City A.M.