In 2013, Colin Pyle and a couple of friends founded CRU Kafe to create a brand “that worked on making the whole supply chain a win-win for all involved”. With the world rapidly changing, and customers eager for innovations and demanding more socially and environmentally responsible businesses, Pyle believes that, at some point in the future, “we’ll look back in shame at what big corporations have done” in both these fields and “wonder how we let it happen”.
An adventurous, innovative spirit, Colin Pyle says successful entrepreneurship comes down to “hard work and making your own luck”. As a close observer of the London start-up scene, he fears that Brexit will have a negative impact on the funding available and that start-ups will soon shift to cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Berlin.
You’re the co-founder of CRU Kafe, an ethical, organic coffee brand, using recyclable pods and partnering only with traditional, certified organic farming companies. What is the dream behind this project?
In my old life, I started up a currency trading company where every day I went home knowing it was a zero-sum game. For every winner, there was a loser. After I completed my MBA in London, I knew I wanted to do something different: creating a brand around something that stood for more than just a product, but rather a brand that worked on making the whole supply chain a win-win for all involved. Coffee is such a huge part of everybody’s daily lives. However, few of us realise just how hard people work to make the perfect cup. Educating people about the process and getting them hooked on the amazing stories that exist within the industry is a very rewarding endeavour on a daily basis.
You’ve set the goal to develop a wholly biodegradable pod to reduce waste to landfill. How is it going?
It’s not easy and has been something I’ve been working on since day one. The issue with being a small business is that we’re somewhat restricted to working with existing materials and companies as we just don’t have the budget for an R&D facility. Because we’re making a compatible product, the most important thing in the customer journey is that the user experience is the same as or better than what they currently have. A lot of capsules on the market that are compostable or biodegradable have high failure rates in the Nespresso machines and therefore it really doesn’t do any good if people don’t want to use them. The other issue we’ve had is taste. We can’t allow the material to impact the taste, which for some of the materials is a challenge. Because of these two hugely important factors, we have yet to find a capsule that ticks both these boxes adequately. We will not compromise compatibility or taste for anything, because if we lose those, we won’t have any customers to sell our capsules to. It continues to be in our vision and feel that we’ll crack it very soon.
There is a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility in the CRU Kafe project. How relevant is this – and should it be – for companies today?
It’s in our DNA, it’s who I am and who my two co-founders are, it’s authentic and we’re completely transparent about it. We genuinely care and got into this industry to do things differently, and part of that is being socially and environmentally responsible. The world is changing where customers are demanding to work with better brands that are about more than just profit. It’s a bad business decision today to go against this super trend, and when it’s better for business and better for the world and people, it will become widely adopted. We’ll look back in shame at what big corporations have done and are doing at some point in the future and wonder how we let it happen.
You were also co-host at Silicon Real, a weekly podcast in association with London Real TV, getting to tell the stories of innovators and entrepreneurs in London. How is the London technology start-up scene today, also in the face of Brexit?
I was co-host on Silicon Real for about 75 episodes then got far too busy with coffee. I parlayed that into a monthly fireside chat at Soho House, where I interviewed some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. I love learning from people and hearing their stories. I always take something away. The London start-up scene is frothy and Brexit will definitely have a negative impact. You’re already seeing it from the funding side and we’ll undoubtedly see a shift in start-ups to places like Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Berlin. The world is small, and while London is an amazing city, it still needs to be competitive and smart about attracting entrepreneurs. London had a chance to be on a par with some cities in the US for the start-up scene and I think Brexit has put it well behind.
What is it that makes an entrepreneur?… and a successful one?
The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful entrepreneur is when the questions are asked. Failure is inevitable. The key is to learn and adapt and minimise the losses. I think it comes down to hard work and making your own luck.
Which areas do you believe to be more exciting to watch in the coming years globally?
I’m a big fan of wearables for the fitness and health community. There is so much that we can do to maximise health but also stay healthy with more data. I’m also super excited for driverless cars, AI and machine learning. The world is an exciting place and will change more in the next 20 years than we could have ever imagined.
We’ve mentioned CRU Kafe and Silicon Real, but you also founded a Mandarin House in London and Lingos, an online community for language learners and teachers. And you broke a Guinness Record in a 65-day motorcycle journey, circumnavigating China with your brother. Do restless minds make the best innovators?
Never being satisfied with the status quo and always asking questions are two of the biggest traits of entrepreneurs. However, being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good one. The most common theme among successful entrepreneurs is often their ability to focus and execute once the path has been chosen.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far, business-wise?
Never give up. Success is often just around the corner of what looks like failure.
Any new travel or professional adventures planned that you would like to share?
Head down and working hard – we’ve built a great brand in CRU and now we need to focus on executing our vision.
Colin Pyle is an adventurer, author and entrepreneur. After founding a successful currency firm in Canada, Colin left in 2010 and took to the highways of China to shoot the “Middle Kingdom Ride” with his brother Ryan. They circumnavigated the country by motorcycle and set a Guinness World Record in the process. The two of them followed this in 2012 with “The India Ride”, a 54-day circumnavigation of India. The brothers’ TV production company, G219 Productions, produced both shows for the Travel Channel, along with books.
Colin completed an MBA at Hult International Business School in London before setting up and co-producing the podcast Silicon Real, interviewing some of the biggest names in tech every week. He parlayed the podcast into a monthly fireside chat at Soho House, where he continued to interview some of the leaders in business from around the world. He currently runs his coffee business CRU Kafe with his co-founders, John Quilter and Bodil Blain.