When a global pandemic grounded Joe Townshend’s career as a pilot, he saw an opportunity to chart a course towards being his own boss.
Fast forward a year and Altitude Coffee is soaring, bringing great, hand-roasted coffee to everyone, from connoisseurs to bean beginners.
Here’s what we cover in this article:
Altitude Coffee fact file
Business name: Altitude Coffee
Founder: Joe Townshend
Year started: April 2020
How Altitude Coffee was started
I’ve always had a passion for great coffee and the specialty coffee industry.
It only intensified after years travelling the world as an airline pilot and getting to try some of the best brews from different continents.
The pandemic led to me being made redundant from my career as a pilot.
But I had always hoped that, at some point during my flying career, I’d be able to go part time and set up my own coffee roasting company. Losing my job became an opportunity to change paths and do something I truly love.
Ground control to major success
I had no prior experience of running a company—I worked as an employee in private sector businesses for most of my career. So, the learning curve was steep but rewarding.
Things like marketing and social media weren’t my strongest subjects to start with, but by working with the right people I’ve been able to learn a lot.
When it comes to capital, I had savings originally put aside for a home renovation project.
But when coronavirus started to impact the airline industry at the start of 2020, I decided to funnel that cash into the new business instead, and launched Altitude Coffee.
Initially, I invested around £50,000 and I haven’t had any external investment thus far.
Dealing with the daily grind
On some days, it’s not unusual for me to work 15-hour days, but I have fantastic support from my family and friends.
When you are starting a new enterprise and so many different areas need to be developed and organised, it helps to have a close network you can get advice and knowledge from, and who you can ‘bribe’ with some delicious coffee!
I’ve had days where I wished I hadn’t started, but there’s solace in knowing that all businesses in their infancy are hard work, and that hard work eventually pays off.
Getting the word out
I knew it was important to get the Altitude Coffee name out there to build up a customer base, and to do that I needed to use as many marketing channels as possible.
We launched during the pandemic, so we knew that getting to people stuck at home, working from the kitchen table, looking for fantastic coffee delivered straight to their door was key.
To begin with, we pushed word of mouth in the community, then started to build more presence on our social media pages with paid advertising.
More recently, we’ve started working with an established PR company to help us build brand awareness.
Lessons learnt: Good things take time
Have patience. It takes a long time to establish a brand and grow an audience, which can often be frustrating. But have faith in what you do, and things will progress.
Starting an online business: Challenges and setbacks
As an e-commerce business, I needed a good website to entice customers and get orders in.
I had a major setback with the original website build, which took four months longer than the one month projected, and eventually I made the decision to rebuild the whole website from scratch myself.
It was quite an undertaking, but I knew I take it as to the quality level I wanted it to be at.
Brewing up a successful small business
The majority of year one was spent designing and building our physical premises as well as developing the company brand with logos, photography, and social media set up.
Now we handle over 500 orders a month and have a fantastic customer base that is continuing to grow.
One of our core values at Altitude—and something we’ve worked hard to build on over the last year—is being in close partnership with the traders and producers that grow our fantastic beans.
We’ve seen first-hand how their passion and dedication is the secret to the amazing coffee they produce.
The flight plan out of lockdown
On top of continuing to build our customer base, we have plans to open our first Altitude Coffee Shop, which is very exciting.
Now that we are hopefully going to see fewer restrictions in place and the UK is gradually opening up again, we want to get face-to-face with our customers and showcase our fantastic range of coffee.
It’s also important for us to get feedback and build a real connection with our customer base, and so we’re itching to get out into the world now.
Joe’s message to budding business owners
If you have an idea that you believe in, go ahead and do it. You will always find reasons not to do something.
It’s human nature to be cautious, but if you don’t run with your idea, somebody else will. Don’t miss out on doing something you love.
How it started, how it’s going
Want to know what year one of business is really like? A group of business owners share their stories and advice to help you navigate the start of your entrepreneurial journey.
Never miss an episode
Subscribe by email and get Sound Advice delivered to your inbox every two weeks with the Sage Advice newsletter with a ton of related articles, templates and problem solving guides for small businesses so you can put our sound advice into practice.