By Richard Lofthouse

Coffee Beans

No prizes for imagining that coffee plays a disproportionately large role in the creation of Oxford Today. As academics-turned-journalists, where would we be without the magical brown beans and their associated rituals?

So at the first inkling of a really exciting new coffee venture with Oxonian involvement, it's no surprise that I was off like a shot to meet Felix Rossknecht (2009, Harris-Manchester) in foodie-renowned Bermondsey, the recent new home of Pact CoffeeLodged in a couple of rooms in one of those start-up-creativity-hub-complexes that increasingly seem to define the UK economy, my first impression is just how straightforward the Pact Coffee business model is.

Felix, who recently finished a degree in business management at Oxford’s Said Business School, shows me the engine room of the business. It’s a cheerful young crew, packing the latest roast into hundreds of slender, slick, card envelopes to be posted all over the land. Roast it, pack it, ship it. What business model could be simpler or easier than that? 

Like all great businesses, the reality is rather more complex and clever than the appearance. Founder Stephen Rapoport started with the basic insight that freshly roasted coffee is far better than months-old beans acquired from supermarkets. More importantly, he got his timing right in discerning the existence of a large, nascent customer base fed up with stale supermarket coffee that was roasted and ground months ago and has all but lost the will to live. Ten years ago, I’d warrant, they’d have shrugged their shoulders and carried on buying their coffee from Sainsbury’s.

But the real secret was Rapoport’s familiarity with web commerce —  as the founder of Crashpadder, the rent-a-room business sold eventually to Airbnb, its still-larger San Francisco competitor. He determined to make the experience of buying the coffee blindingly slick. He developed a special slim package that can carry 250g of beans but fit through all but the tiniest of letter boxes, also slipping into the Royal Mail large letter class and keeping shipping costs under control.

Finally, Rapoport sensibly engaged expert suppliers to take care of all the actual coffee importing and roasting, so when the beans arrive at Pact, they just need to be weighed, ground to your exact specification if you require, and posted. Felix tells me that he was recruited by Stephen through a website called Angel.co, to help develop marketing to grow Pact. It all happened in a matter of days late last year. It turns out that the company has only recently turned one and yet it already has 16 employees.

Current favorite coffees are the Pact espresso blend, described as offering ‘Full, complex, orange liqueur body with hints of cocoa,’ and a recent Indian Bibi described as possessing ‘Molasses body with a hint of pecans and light stone-fruit acidity.’ The measure of that success is what Pol Roger UK MD James Simpson had told me over lunch a few days earlier, having himself just visited Pact. “They’ve grown like wildfire,” he said with genuine respect and possibly a tint of envy – a world away from the centuries old, production-limited and time honoured world of the French champagne house, in other words.

Backed by seed funder Connect Ventures, and Rowan Gormley of Naked Wines, Pact is an exciting start-up with big plans. In fact, it reminds me of the day in 2000 when I met three Cambridge friends who had founded Innocent Smoothies not a year before – I was a fledgling business journalist and they were on to something big. I think Pact might be as well.

Why not try out Pact Coffee using our exclusive offer? You can get your hands on 250 grams of Pact coffee for just £1, includes shipping. There are no catches: just check our offer page for details of how to take advantage.

Image by Nic Taylor under Creative Commons license.