Do you want to open a business? Leticia Ramos-Pollock of Panther Coffee encourages entrepreneurs to ask themselves these five questions.
Leticia Ramos-Pollock has accomplished a lot—that’s why we featured her on the cover of our latest issue of Barista Magazine. Along with co-founding Panther Coffee in Miami, Florida, what make Leticia such a notable figure in the coffee industry is that she’s done so much at such a young age. In 2009 at the age of 24, her and her business partner and husband, Joel Pollock, decided to open Panther Coffee in an unknown neighborhood in Miami.
Now, at 31, she is slated to open two new Panther locations to join the three currently in operation. Her success story is inspiring, and perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of opening up your own café or coffee business. Leticia’s pathway to business ownership was not easy, and she’s the first to admit she’s made a few mistakes in the past (“think before you spend it!”). Here, Leticia shares some of the questions that all potential entrepreneurs should contemplate before opening a business.
- Why do you want to open your own business?
The pathways in coffee can sometimes seem limited, and if you’ve been a barista for any period of time, someone has inevitably asked when you plan on opening your own café. But opening a business for the sake of upward mobility isn’t enough, and you have to think deeply about why you want to open your own business. Make a list of the things that are important to you, and make sure those things can’t be gained in other roles. “Some of those things you are looking for professionally you can get from a team for free,” Leticia shares.
Owning your own café or coffee business isn’t the only career move to make, so try to explore other opportunities in coffee, such as working for an importer or a coffee gear company. “There are other awesome things that aren’t owning a business,” so make sure that owning a business is absolutely the thing you want to do.
- What do you want to do?
Leticia encourages young entrepreneurs with a bold statement: what you do with your business “doesn’t have to be your passion.” She categorizes potential business ideas into three categories: what you are passionate about, fulfilling a need of a community, or capitalizing on what you’re good at. These aren’t mutually exclusive (perhaps your passion addresses a need in a community), but it’s a false idea to believe that just because you’re passionate about something means it’ll work.
Think holistically about those three categories, and adjust your vision of your business accordingly. For example, maybe your passion is to own and operate your own café independently, but if you’re bad at bookkeeping or the back end tasks of running a business, you may need to adjust your vision.
- What is the right context for your business?
Most cafes and coffee businesses run out of brick and mortar shops, but that’s not necessarily the right context for your business. “There are so many things you can do without paying rent,” Leticia notes, and without the burden of paying rent, you can launch a business quickly and with very little capital. A physical space is not only sometimes unnecessary, but can also be a hindrance—if you think you can’t start your business until you have a space, you might be months or years away from getting your vision going and making money.
- What do your instincts tell you?
Leticia is the first to note that while she has good instincts, not everybody should listen to theirs. This question really requires you to know yourself and how you process information and understand the world around you. This is not easy, especially if you’re young. Are you good at reading situations? Have your hunches generally been right or wrong? If you feel you have good instincts, trust them.
That’s not to say that having good instincts is a make it or break it trait. It just means you need to know this about yourself and adjust accordingly. Leticia recommends to, “surround yourself with people with like minded values but different strengths. [At Panther], we agree on the morals and values, but some of us are good at different things.”
- Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?
Owning a business is hard. Of course, we all know that, but do we really know that? The struggles of opening a new business are overwhelming at best, and can be unfathomable at worst. “When you look from the outside you don’t see all those things,” Leticia says. Plans change, people disagree, money will run out. But if this is really what you want, you need to keep going. “Things get really hard before they get good, but you have to push,” Leticia notes of her own experiences opening Panther.
The best advice Leticia has: “Find a mentor and advisors.” Mentors and advisors help you find resources, motivate you, and if they’re good, push you to do better. Your mentors and advisors don’t necessarily have to be coffee folks, but people you admire and think can help you realize your vision and challenge you to work hard and make things happen.