Monthly Archives: March 2015

Bootstrapping for Beginners

The fact that this is my first post of 2015 may give you some clue of how busy I’ve been recently… At least, I hope that’s the interpretation you will take. The last few months have flashed past in a under-caffeinated blur, and it really doesn’t seem that long since I did the Big Reveal post.

All that I was revealing then is now an actuality. We are not yet officially open, which is utterly maddening because I swear I’ve worked harder over the last few weeks that I did over the entire 16 preceding months in my cosy little tedious office job. So, so close but yet so far. But our space is now a Place, it has colour, personality, furniture, a Twitter following (!) and as of yesterday, functional bathrooms. What it lacks is a Highly Important Piece of Paper, significant only for the bureaucratic nightmare that it represents, but more on that in a minute.Dragon-Coffee-coffee-34107654-670-491

I remember watching Dragon’s Den a few years back in the UK. Some Scottish bloke was on there pitching his idea about a franchise of internet cafes (eek, that must have been MANY MANY years ago, now that I think about it!). I usually enjoy Dragon’s Den because I can always find something to admire/ridicule/borrow from in other people’s business ideas and the Dragons’ verdicts. Obviously in an entrepreneurial sense, this is called “research”. Ahem. Anyway, Scots Internet Cafe guy got shot down dramatically, with Theo Paphitis scornfully asking, “So it’s basically just a coffee shop, right?”

As if “just a coffee shop” isn’t entrepreneurial enough for the Dragons. As if it’s not worthy of investment. As if it doesn’t require their expertise. As if it’s easy.

This is my… fourth coffee business not counting my consultancy work (ye gads!) and my second coffee shop, and even after a certain amount of practice and experience, IT IS NOT EASY. I started my little coffee Ape van venture in 2009, and much has changed in 6 years. The coffee market, the economy, marketing techniques, and my own personal circumstances: I am now a Mum and I’m not even on the same continent as before. Calling the place Dr. Coffee’s Cafe has meant explaining the coffee PhD to a lot of people recently; I always say as fascinating as it was, the qualification is hardly vocational given that I haven’t stayed in academia. It took me all over the world, I’ve written books, I know far too much coffee-related trivia and I make a fairly decent cuppa nowadays, but none of that in any way prepares me for the grim realities of starting a business from scratch.

Telus (a phone company?) are supporting Futurpreneur (our funders) and running a Twitter campaign where people are encouraged to tweet their business tips for other wannabe entrepreneurs. #MyBusinessTip won me a virtual hippo:


Bootstrapping – learning whole new skillsets as you go and making sure you understand the process of *every single tiny aspect* of the business, is the way to go. Our experiences with the unreliable and seriously useless contractors taught me that if you need something doing, try and do it yourself! And also, the importance of getting everything in writing in words of one syllable, setting strict deadlines, the ins and outs of contract law, and never leaving anything to ‘trust’ and ‘good faith’! Once burned…

Whereas I didn’t actually have to tile bathrooms and fit toilets myself (although it was a close call!), and we had invaluable help from my parents in constructing the bar, there were still many many things I wish I’d never had to learn. Here’s an abridged list:

  • Using masking tape to do fiddly little edges and finishes on your paintwork
  • A whole new lexicon for Canadian plumbing fixtures
  • How to wire a decidedly odd, 4 pin dual-voltage plugs
  • The location of most lumber yards in Regina
  • How to finish aluminium window frames with duct tape
  • The intricacies of the health and safety /food handling code, building code and commercial plumbing requirements
  • Bureaucracy behind running a new business in an old, heritage building
  • How to program an insanely over-complicated cash register
  • How to run a pay roll system and do tax, EI and CPP contribution deductions
  • That rolled up newspaper is actually better than cleaning cloths for cleaning windows.

Right now, we are still waiting for the local health authority to inspect us, tell us whether our fridges are the right termperature, check our handwashing stations and prep areas, yada yada yada. They have to approve our plans (nearly a week, no response yet) then they will appear magically “at some point” after that to do a full inspection. But we don’t know when, and we are not allowed to open until they do. IF they don’t find anything to worry about during the inspection. Aaaaaaaaaaargh. This is the highly significant piece of paper that we are stressing over. So frustrating waiting for bureaucracy to grind it’s mammoth and incomprehensible gears when everything else is ready to go!! But, patience is just one more thing we have to learn, along with budgeting for the money we’re losing by not being open already.


I have to learn to have faith that we WILL get there, that others will come through for us, and it should be soon. But that is probably the hardest part of this immense learning curve!

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized