Robert Rudnick is one of three co-founders of Coffee Circle, a provider of high quality and socially-conscious coffee across Germany. Uniting the principles of social responsibility and fair trade with a passion for high-quality coffee, Coffee Circle sells coffee sourced from Ethiopian farms, as well as brewing equipment and other accessories, and donates a portion of profits towards various development projects in Ethiopian coffee-farming communities.
The winning startup team of betapitch Berlin 2012 will receive coffee cups from Coffee Circle, as well as 1 kg of Germany’s best coffee.
What inspired you to found Coffee Circle?
We were inspired by a trip we had taken to Ethiopia. One of our co-founders, together with his brother, had started an organisation over there which helped found a school for orphaned girls to learn skills for the job market. We had been helping him with the final stages of the project, right before the school was to open. During our time in Ethiopia, we tried the local coffee, which we found to be exceptionally good. At the time, we were looking for ideas for a project on which we could start a company. We had been really interested in food and espresso, but not so much in filter coffee, which is how it was served there. After tasting the Ethiopian coffee, we decided that it was so good, that all we would have to do is import it, and it would then sell itself with its quality alone.
Doing good through selling coffee was not our original aim, but, after seeing how poor the living conditions of Ethiopian coffee farmers were, we decided we wanted to help them out as well. We then decided that we wanted to not only sell good-quality coffee to customers but to bring them closer to the product, and make them part of the “circle”, as we call it, giving them a say in how the company is run and in how we spend our money. We give one Euro from each purchase back to the coffee farmers, and our customers can choose which project they wish to support.
So there is as much of an educational element to Coffee Circle as there is one of providing consumer goods?
Yes. We have to educate our customers about what makes good coffee. Many of them go to the supermarket and choose their coffee based mainly on the packaging and all the funny words printed on it. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of people thinking they know more about coffee than they actually do. There is a huge difference between the coffee you can buy from us or from other small roasters, and the coffee you get in supermarkets. It’s very hard to sell coffee through the internet, because people often assume they know more than they do about coffee, and are skeptical towards any form of online advertising. What we do to attract customers is simply show them how we work. We try to be very transparent about our process – we show them pictures of every step, and explain to them how coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted; and what kind of effect each of these processes has on the coffee, on the farming communities, and on the environment.
At the time of your founding, was there much of an interest in high-quality and socially-conscious coffee in Germany, as there had been in North America for several years? Since Coffee Circle was founded, have you noticed an increase in awareness?
When we founded Coffee Circle, there wasn’t much of an interest in socially-conscious coffee in Germany. Concepts such as fair-trade, or the idea that coffee could be a truly high-quality product, were unknown to a lot of people. Though a few other companies centered around high-quality coffee have started up since our founding, we find we still have to reach out to a lot of people who may not yet be used to the idea of buying coffee online, or who may not know just what sets our coffee apart from the others.
You work based on the principles of fair trade and direct trade. What exactly is your relationship – as Coffee Circle – to the coffee-farming communities in Ethiopia?
We’re based mainly on direct-trade, though the concept is still virtually unknown in Germany. Our principles are very much connected to those of the Fair Trade labeling organisation though.
Our projects mostly have to do with education or health. In 2011, we completed 5 projects: we built a well, equipped a health-station, supplied a school with furniture, supplied another school with books, and built a sports facility. Focusing on health and education would ensure that our work would not only help the communities initially, but would have a bigger impact on their ability to eventually help themselves.
Before founding Coffee Circle, we had already had some experience doing development work: Moritz [Waldstein-Wartenberg] had been working extensively in Ethiopia, and I had also done some development work in South Africa as part of my studies. Together, we decided to take our experience and come up with three founding principles for our work. First, we decided that we wanted to meet with the coffee farmers and their families on the ground, and base our projects on that – not only on what would be convenient for us. Second of all, there should be no dependency on us. We wanted to have a lasting impact on the communities, but without any running costs that they could not pay back themselves. Finally, we decided that the impact of our work should be measurable, and that we should be able to see just how successful our projects would be.
Finally, what’s one thing you expect to see at this year’s betapitch? What would you like to see more or less of?
One thing I do not want to see is copycats (Editor’s Note: Rest assured: there will be no copycats at the final round of this year’s betapitch, as they will all have been disqualified!), nor do I want to see companies based on a simple idea without much thought. However, I’ve seen a few betapitches, and participated in the first one, and I know that there have been plenty of companies that have combined great original ideas with a creative and innovative use of technology and other resources.
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January was the month we settled in our new ‘haus at Rudi-Dutschke-Straße. Just like moving into a new apartment, it was cold at the start. It felt a little new and different, but the moment the Club Lounge started filling and members were getting lunch together at the betahaus | Cafe, a new magic started to happen. The magic we call the betahaus community. It takes time to build, but the connections that blossom inside the ‘haus stay forever.
In February betahausX released The Accessible Transportation Challenge - a partnership with Toyota Mobility Foundation for the BETAPITCH challenge in Berlin. Devoted to making Berlin a more accessible city, this edition of BETAPITCH gathered many startups working on great new transportation solutions.
In March, we announced a soon-to-be-open second location in Berlin in our favourite neighbourhood in the city. We took over the iconic Geyer Werke building in Neukölln and with the help of our architects from Kim Wang we turned the place into a four-floor coworking space. We shared with you some fun facts about the space before it’s opening and made a virtual map with our favourite businesses around the ‘haus.
In April, we celebrated a decade of coworking with our biggest party in the last few years - ''10 Years in beta''. For this one we transformed the coworking area in betahaus | Neukölln into a party venue. An art exhibition took over The Basement underneath and The Garden was filled with activities like acro yoga, mandala painting, and a collage workshop.
‘’One of my many favourite betahaus moments this year was when Christoph, Max and I stood nervously in the Garden to give a speech in front of all our friends and members at our 10th birthday party. We talked about our values, our future goals after this whirlwind of a change and our intention to make tech more human. There was just so much love and appreciation around us.’’ - Madeleine (Co-Founder, betahaus)
"My favourite betahaus moment of the year is the woman who was gently putting beef and minced meat around our 10 years party installation. Until this day, no one knows exactly who she was and if this was a part of the installation, but out of all the things we saw on the 10 years in beta, she stays my highlight.’’ - Maria (Graphic Designer, betahaus)
The 10 Years in beta party was also the official opening of betahaus | Neukölln. Spring was the perfect time for our new project to start growing. The Club Lounge started filling, amazing new teams joined the community such as LAUDO, Obst Digital, Wonderwerk, Trybe and The Zeitsprung Project. Our Gil became the Lord of the house, giving hugs to everybody, fixing all kinds of problems in the ‘haus and keeping it run smoothly with the rest of the Front Desk team. This was also the month when we launched our beloved weekly yoga classes guided by our dear Cynthia from Arrive Yoga.
" People matter! Community was always what we were all about. ‘’
In June we launched #PeopleInbeta - our monthly blog post series in which our Content Manager - Vihra interviewed teams and freelancers from the betahaus community to present the variety of creatives we have in ‘haus, to understand their missions and get some useful advice for our audience. We talked on topics such as sustainability (with PlanA) , decentralized digital identity (with JOLOCOM), curated music experiences (with Bespoke Sounds), freelance photography (with Sara Herrlander), full-stack development (with Obst Digital), design (with LAUDO) and much more.
In the summer, we launched a couple of new events in Neukölln like Freelancers, Unite!, The Backyard Sessions and My friend’s BBQ.
Freelancers, Unite! developed as our productive coworking session with freelancers from in and outside the ‘haus. Once a month, we picked an important freelance topic (such as taxes, time-management, etc) and invited experts to give us insights on the topic. We saw so many new faces and had the chance to come back closer to where we started from - the freelance, grassroots culture.
Another event, which started in July (and turned out to be our favourite events) were The Backyard Sessions. Organised by our queen of Neukölln - Robbin – the Backyard Sessions are our creative evenings with live music jams, movie screenings and cocktails.
This last event was hilarious because for quite some time, nobody knew exactly who organised it or invited them. The friend was throwing a BBQ for the community in the garden and this led to all our members joining and staying after for a beer or two with us.
‘’My favourite moment this year was the second friends bbq which was actually cancelled because of the rain forecast. But despite the bad weather, people show up and it turned into a super nice intimate evening with Elizaveta and Paul giving a garden concert.’’ - Robbin (Community Manager, betahaus)
''In July, it was great how the casual after-work BBQ turned into an impromptu acoustic blues jam session with Elizavetta Barsegova and Paul, who have the voice of an angel. Actually, all of the My Friend's BBQ's and Backyard Sessions were AWESOME.’’ - Paige (Head of Marketing, betahaus)
This year we released a new event format in Kreuzberg called ‘’The betaSalon’’. It's an open panel discussion which aims to give stage to important topics and give free speech on them. The fist one we did on the EU elections, last month we talked about changemakers, but our favourite one for this season stays ‘’Mother + Founder’’ where we partnered with FemGems podcast and recorded a live podcast episode for them having Madeleine Gummer von Mohl (betahaus co-founder), Kristine Zeller (co-creater of ooshi period underwear) and Luisa Hoffman on the stage.
Every September, our co-founders take part in the Techfestival. in Copenhagen, spending a few days disconnecting from the daily life and focusing on creating a better, more human-centered tech future. This year the think tank which included our co-founders Madeleine and Max came up with the TechPledge. The Tech Pledge was made to emphasize the need for a new direction in tech. Similar to the Hippocratic oath for doctors, the Tech Pledge is a promise to make tech a force for good and ensure responsible and sustainable tech leadership. It’s a commitment to driving a new direction in technology.
One of the most exciting projects for betahausX this year (which is also continuing in 2020) is their new startup challenge called The Werder Lab - a global startup competition that aims to reimagine the way clubs like Werder work with athletes, fans and partners.
This year couldn’t end without us having our favourite events - the end-of-the-year holiday party and the BETAPITCH Global Finals. On the 6th of December we saw the 9 finalists of the regional BETAPITCH competitions pitching in front of our jury. Congrats to Troy from Hamburg for winning the big prize.
We finished the year at our Holiday Party celebrating anything and everything at betahaus | Neukölln together with our members, friends of friends and our favourite artists from Passiflora LIVE, Tapete and Kotoe.
Thank you for being with us in 2019. It's been a crazy big year for us and it wouldn't been possible without your support, trust and the hard work of our amazing team. Have an amazing holiday time and we'll see you again in 2020.