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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To be honest, I sort of fell into it. I was always working somewhere between content marketing and the music industry and around seven years ago a friend of a friend was searching for someone to help him curating music for his boutique surf spot on the beach in Costa Rica. The owner was a big music fan, but he just didn't have time to keep all the music up-to-date. So I got introduced to him, we shared similar tastes, and agreed that I would do the music for his space - curating it and updating it with new music on a regular basis.
This for me was a dream come true. I could finally work with music all day, and at the same time, I could help create an awesome experience for the guests. I saw people's reactions when they heard a song they liked. I saw them dancing, getting a little closer to each other at the bar and that for me was really rewarding.
This was the moment when I realized that there is something special about this idea and I got interested if there is actually market out there. I did some market research, and a lot of interviews with different hoteliers people in the industry trying to get more feedback. And the idea started growing more and more.
Interesting is the story of the last years winner in the category “Creative”. Hamburg based headraft literally took music experience to the next level by creating the world’s first AR Music Video for the German band “die Fantastischen Vier”. Designed for their song “Tunnel”, the cited app unfolds a virtual story world once the track starts playing, giving fans the opportunity to go on an interactive journey with the band rather than being a passive viewer.
Applications are now open! Finalists will be awaited by a curious jury of five leading industry experts. Among others, Kathleen Cohen who was already taking part in the first year will be in the panel of judges again. With a 25-year multiplatform career history under her belt, she is one of the most regarded in the field. As a digital experience expert, she has successfully implemented projects for DreamWorks Interactive and IBM Innovation, to name a few.
Needless to say, the yearly AUREA Award is definitely the place to be. Apply and become a member of the community bringing together all the promising products and solutions in the AR/VR sector.
Well, both. Currently we offer the following two options: shorter publicly available Brand Playlists and long-form private Soundtracks for spaces. For both of them we work closely with the client to understand how sound fits into their brand DNA and what their audience is like.
We believe that the guests’ experience with a particular space doesn’t have to begin and end with their stay. The idea of the Brand Playlist is to be a public brand playlists designed to engage the customers before, during, and after their visit at a space. It’s always accessible for them and serves as a new, dynamic marketing channel.
The Soundtrack is slightly different. It takes sometimes up to weeks of work and is designed by a world-class artist, DJ, or tastemaker. For it we first work with you to develop a deep understanding of your business and style. Then we match you with the perfect artist, DJ, or tastemaker to create unique, always fresh playlists, custom tailored to match your brand.
In both cases, we update them regularly based on guest habits and clients’ needs.
The way we engage with the music community is something really important for us and honestly, what makes us different than other background music providers. A lot of the background music providers out there have internal teams of maybe five or six DJs that do all of the music for their clients. We aim to connect with the local scene and always work with local DJs. There's some kind of magic in finding the exact right artists for the brand.
And on the flip side of it, when we hire artists, we make sure that the project is also inspiring for them and that they would be interested in participating. We always make sure to pay them well. The whole project creates for them a new income stream that they wouldn't have otherwise.
Yes! This was really fun. The objective with the betahaus "betabeer sounds" playlist was to showcase the community side of betahaus. There are so many cool, interesting people in the betahaus community and we thought a playlist could be a perfect way to not only help bring the community together but also show the diverse funkiness of the communities of Berlin and Neukölln, which is why Hazy Pockets, a longtime local Berlin DJ known for his eclectic mixes, was perfect for this project.
This playlist moves from bluesy 60s rock into surf and tropicalia, picking up momentum into Motown and onwards through some laid back disco tunes. Perfect for the betabeer events betahaus hosts monthly!
Oh, there are just so many! Like the Imren Grill for instance where you can find the best homemade Turkish food or Das Gift and Gordon which are both run by great music people. Kohelenquelle in Prenzleuer Berg is my favorite local bar (or rather kneipe). To satisfy my techno / electronic records needs I always go to Hard Wax and one of my most special places is the Zions Kirche steeple, which has an awesome view of the city and a great Weinerei close by.