The past four years have been quite a whirlwind for Jeremy Lyman and Paul Schlader. In that time the founders of New York coffee chain Birch Coffee have experienced both the struggles and joys of being a small business owner. Luckily for the pair though there have been more successes than struggles as Birch now has three locations across New York City. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Lyman and Schlader about the lessons they learned from starting their own business and how they have been able to grow their business with the lessons learned along the way.
BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Paul Schlader: At first, I wanted to be a pilot, but when I was 15 I had the feeling I wanted to own my own business. It was because I played bank as a kid and enjoyed the transaction - watching the exchange happen between the consumer and the business owner. I didn’t know what kind of business I wanted to own specifically, but I wanted it to be my own creation.
Jeremy Lyman: I don’t remember just one answer! When I was 10, I used to make silly drawings and force any guest at our house to buy one for a dollar. I once drew a house on a piece of paper and set it ablaze in my brother’s bedroom, in order to snap a few Polaroids for the newspaper I wanted to start at the age of 12. I think any of these youthful activities are a dead giveaway that I didn’t want to be an accountant.
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BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start?
JL: We own and operate Birch Coffee, a small chain of coffee shops. We also have a coffee roasting business and a number of wholesale accounts. In addition, Birch Coffee also started a small iced coffee growler delivery service where we act like old-fashioned milkmen dropping off fresh coffee every week on custom-made tricycles and pick up the empty bottles. We started with one shop in Manhattan less than four years ago and we were received really well in the neighborhood. We simply started by going around to other coffee shops and seeing what was working and what wasn’t working and just improved. It was hands-on research and development. We were truly fortunate enough to have some true friends and family believe in us and invest the startup capital we needed…and we just went from there to create Birch Coffee as it is known today.
BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?
PS: Having a platform to inspire change. Interestingly, when you own your own business people start taking you seriously and start listening to you! We wanted to affect and inspire as many people that we could. With three shops in Manhattan within four years and being relatively young, people have told us that our story is inspiring. That’s a real wow moment. Talking to some people who have quit their jobs and gone on to other ventures because of us, that’s the best compliment.
BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?
PS: We were incredibly overstaffed and not making money when we opened our first Birch Coffee shop on 27th Street. We were losing money. Instead of using our own labor to make us more proficient in our own procedures, we were hiring staff and already thinking of what would be next for us. We should have been the primary employees behind the counter for the first few weeks!
JL: The biggest mistake I’ve made to date is holding on to things too tightly. When we opened our first store, I thought if things were not being done my way, they were being done incorrectly. I quickly learned that many of the people working for me had been working in the coffee business longer than I had and that I simply had to loosen my grip if I was going to truly enjoy what I was doing. There is a difference between simply loving what you do and loving it and enjoying it at the same time. The trick is to do both.
BND: What was your main motivation in starting this business?
PS: My main motivation was to own a business that I loved and that people loved. I wanted to enjoy what I did and love my work. The jobs I had up until owning my own business left me with emptiness and feeling incomplete. I enjoy being my own boss but that wasn’t my motivation.
JL: Whether it is a good thing or not, I am one of those people that will need things to be uncomfortable before I am willing to make a change. It’s definitely something I’m working on, though. Before Birch Coffee, I was working a job I didn’t like, trying to sell something I didn’t care to know anything about, working for someone else. It was the same every day and I got to a point where I knew there had to be more out there. I was correct.
BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?
PS: Working with large groups of people and managing them was the biggest help because I have dealt with so many different personalities. That helps in getting teams to do the things that you need them to do and motivating them to be responsible. It’s about teaching and showing. Being able to help people to get where they need to be helped me in the journey to owning my own business.
JL: I had worked in the service industry for a number of years, so I had a very good understanding and training about how things needed to run. On the education front, I also majored in economics in undergrad, and although I maintained a solid C average, I guess I managed to retain the important stuff! I have always loved math and that has played a major role in our operations.
BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it?
PS: The biggest challenge has been working with a partner and finding your roles without having to declare the roles. A big challenge, which I have learned is common, was working toward my strengths. For me, finding my confidence in my strengths was a true learning experience. I knew when I was good at something but didn’t have experience at the ownership level.
JL: In the beginning, the biggest challenge was working with a partner. When Paul and I started working together, there were many things that were hard for me to let go of and let Paul handle, even when he was probably more capable than I. I’ve found that a lot of times ego can get in the way of letting business operations take their course. After seeing the frustrations on my end and becoming simply exhausted from working so many hours, I knew that if this partnership was going to work, communicating better with Paul was essential. The solution started out as sitting down daily and just talking about what needed to get done and determining who was going to do it.
BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?
PS: Remain open to what your business could and should be. Don’t try to fit your business into one idealogy – let it evolve into what it needs to be. It may stray from your original idea and that can be a good thing! Also, stick to your principles when changes in your business happen so you remain true to your business and personal ideals.
JL: Don’t let anyone try to rouse you from your dreams. I met so many different people on the journey to becoming a small business owner and it was the best experience of my life. On that path I encountered people who didn’t think the coffee shop business was such a smart move. I could go to law school, continue my mortgage career. Anything but starting my own business! The key is to not just dream your dream, but to live your dream. If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish it. You just have to believe you can. If you don’t, no one is going to do it for you.