Interview with Entrepreneur and philanthropist, Jordan Karcher of Grounds & Hounds Coffee
They say dog is a man’s best friend and they’re few things most people enjoy more than their morning cup of coffee.
So, in a fitting marriage, Jordan Karcher launched Grounds & Hounds Coffee. The canine-inspired coffee brand donates 20% of all proceeds to various rescue partners while filling their bags of brew – which include Morning Walk Breakfast Blend and Paper & Slippers – with green coffee that is 100% Fair Trade and Organic certified. We spoke to Karcher to find out more about his growing brand.
How did the idea for Grounds & Hounds come about?
The Grounds & Hounds Coffee that you see today came about through multiple iterations of an idea I originally developed while in December 2010. What was once an idea for a brick and mortar shop has transformed into an e-commercial and retail driven coffee company on a mission to eradicate animal euthanasia. The true catalyst for the idea occurred on March 24th of 2012 when I encountered my future business partner and best friend, my dog Molly.
What entrepreneurial traits do you think are most important for a successful entrepreneur?
I have read countless articles and studies that outline “traits needed to be an entrepreneur” and while many of these traits are absolutely necessary, I have found the single greatest trait to be grit. Simply, the ability to never feel that you are above or below any task. The ability to withstand the constant pressures and uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with launching a venture. People tend to hold a very sexy view of the start-up world. However, I credit much of my team’s early success to our ability to consistently show up to battle every day. A favorite saying that our team lives by is “Life is tough, but it is infinitely more rewarding to those who are tough on themselves.” This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up over every little thing. Rather, it means that you should show up to work every day with high expectations, and expect to exceed those expectations. We are all overachievers, who expect nothing less than to overachieve.
With that, what were the biggest challenges with developing your brand?
A lot of people do not know this, but I actually launched Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. while I was completing my MBA. I don’t say that for a pat on the back, but rather, I say it because I had NO money at all. Technically, I had the opposite of money, I had student loan debt. Because of this, it took a great deal of time simply aggregating funds to complete “the next step” in the brand launch process. On a weekly basis, I would go through my house and find items to sell on eBay, Craigslist, etc. After I gathered enough money, I would execute the next step in the launch process. Slowly, the brand and imagery all came together and we materialized on March 21st of 2014!
How did you go about sourcing coffee?
We wanted to find the best green coffee possible from diverse growing regions throughout the world. Our goal was to create a line of coffees that appealed to anyone who embraced our mission. Keeping this in mind we sought beans that would allow each coffee to have unique notes and traits that could meet the needs of a diverse customer base. To improve our ability to track down great green coffee I partnered with a specialty coffee roasting veteran who was kind enough to introduce me to amazing green coffee. We then made the decision to seek out Fair Trade Organic coffees, as we wanted our impact to span our entire supply chain, rather than simply helping pups and disregarding the rest.
Have you been able to learn anything about your customer? How important do you think the charitable aspect is to them?
Through our first 10 months we have been able to learn a tremendous amount about our customers both through digital interactions and more importantly countless face-to-face interactions. While there are some extremely interesting commonalities shared among our customers, the aspect I find most interesting is how demographically diverse our customers are. When we launched, we had very specific customers in mind who we believed would readily embrace our social initiative and specialty coffee product. However, we are constantly blown away by the range of customers who demonstrate a passion for Ground & Hounds coffee. If I were asked to describe a “Grounds & Hounds Superhero,” I could readily detail 30 people with very diverse attributes or I could simply describe the three shared emotional similarities between each: passion for making a difference, love for a great cup of coffee, and desire to be a part of a community.
How have you been able to keep costs under control when so much of your profits are going to charity?
We put extreme emphasis on making the maximum impact with every dollar spent, closely scrutinizing and minimizing frivolous overhead, and fostering a culture for creativity within constraints. Our mission is to eradicate the unnecessary euthanasia of animals within the U.S and hopefully throughout the world. With that goal sitting firmly in the front of our minds, we make a concerted effort to eliminate wasteful spending and create a high level of value for our customers. Further, we believe that some of the greatest creativity can be found within tight boundaries. We view this type of constraint similar to how an artist would view a blank canvas. The edges of a canvas forces an artist to convey a story, an emotion, in a predefined space. In the same thread, our constrained resources, force us to create, communicate, and innovate as a form of survival… You would be surprised how creative you are when next month’s rent relies on the outcome!
What's something you know now that you wish you had known when you started your business?
No one will tell you what to do tomorrow. This may sound like heaven to a lot of people (which it can be), but as an entrepreneur you quickly realize that without an action plan in place, and a strategy to guide you forward, nothing will happen. Your team needs to constantly be thinking “next.” In our very early stages, we were simply trying to put together 2-3 day strategies. As we grew, the time frame became 1-2 weeks, which became 1-3 months, and planning for tomorrow became second nature.
However, I still often refer to March 22nd as the day I truly became an entrepreneur. We launched on March 21st and had an amazing day. While day one sales rolled in, there was a feeling that this is how it will be every day. And then I woke up on March 22nd. This is the day that you realize all of the work you did for the launch, simply helped you reach the starting line. What you do from day two onward will truly determine the success of your venture.
Now for some lighter questions! Favorite dog accessories?
Molly and I try to keep the accessories pretty simple, but I am a huge fan of the design driven collar and accessory companies currently in the market. A few of our favorite collar brands are Yark, Found My Animal, and Gitli goods.
Of course, when I need a laugh, I love seeing dogs wear boots…
Favorite dog foods? Treats? How do you pamper your own dog?
Molly’s two favorite dog food brands are I and Love and You, which is a very cool company out of Colorado, and the Texas based producer, Merrick. When it comes to treats, Molly doesn’t seem to have a discerning palate. She loves just about anything that tastes or smells like beef jerky (but who doesn’t…). However, nothing I can think of would spoil her quite like leaving her with my parents for a few days! I assume she views our family home in the same manner that I would view an all-inclusive vacation – unlimited treats, playing, and squeaky toys (all it’s missing is an open bar).