Dhiren: [00:01] Everybody thinks it’s very easy to get a business started but there are so many challenges that we overcome as business owners. I want you to maybe give us a story about the one specific thing that you have had to overcome
Maria: [00:12] So by the time that the COVID-19 hit the UAE and the world, the world was heading into a [no win 00:18] direction that we wouldn’t know when everything would open again, and if coffee shops would survive, etc. So we forced ourselves to look into a new revenue stream, which is our e-commerce. We sat one night, me and my colleague Carolina, and we put together an e-commerce platform on Shopify. We had our bags, so we took the pictures, we put all together on the system. My accountant worked on the numbers, we plugged everything, and in one night we had an e-commerce. On the second day, we had our first sales.
Dhiren: [00:56] Hello, hello, and a very, very big welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. Today, we’re starting something new. We’re starting the very first episode in our special three-episode series of the Coffee Roaster series. “Why coffee?”, you ask. Well, because I love coffee, and who doesn’t, right? But also, the coffee business is an amazing but complex business. It’s a delicate art and balance between art and science, especially with all of the inventory that coffee roasters have to move, roast and convert. It’s an amazing study of how something so raw as green beans can be converted into something so fantastically beautiful that people all over the world enjoy every morning. Now, if this is your first time here, welcome, and I’m so happy that you’re here and tuning into the show. I’d love for you to visit the elevatedentrepreneur.fm website, which is where you can find all of the other episodes as well as show notes, transcriptions, and a lot more fun stuff.
[02:08] The voice you just heard in the intro was Maria, the founder of Tres Marias Coffee. Imagine for a quick second that you’re a young barista fresh out of school, and then suddenly, you’re running a very successful coffee roasting business. Well, that’s the story of Maria. And in today’s episode, she tells us exactly how she got from being a young barista fresh out of school in Portugal, and then suddenly running a young but successful specialty coffee business right here in Dubai. She also tells us how she found success during COVID and how that’s changed her business for the better. There’s so much that I want you to listen to so let’s cue the music!
[Intro 02:55] You’re listening to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. A podcast designed to help retailers, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs simplify business operations and use modern technology to elevate their business. Here’s your host, Dhiren Bhatia.
Dhiren: [03:13] Maria, welcome to The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast. It is so amazing to have you on the show.
Maria: [03:19] Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here speaking to you and have this coffee together.
Dhiren: [03:26] Indeed. Now I have to tell you, I’ve never prepared for an interview like this where I’ve got your product and your coffee right here in my cup, which is amazing. So I know people can’t see this but when you and I connected last week, you told me about something, about a new product that you launched, which I want to ask you more about, but I quickly went and ordered it and I have some here and my cup. So thank you for making something so amazing. It’s been a treat having it at home.
Maria: [03:49] Awesome. Which coffee did you order?
Dhiren: [03:51] I ordered the Brazilian coffee and I ordered the Colombian one. And I was just saying to you before we started recording that I love the Brazilian more than the Colombian, not that I have anything against the two cities, it’s just that the Brazilian is both flavourful.
Maria: [04:04] Nice. Are you trying to please me because I’m on the podcast today and I’m Brazilian or is this a true feedback?
Dhiren: [04:08] No, not at all. Absolute true feedback. But listen, Maria, I want you to share. So I know you’re the founder of Tres Marias Coffee, which is a coffee brand here in Dubai, a specialty coffee brand. I want you to tell me how you got started. What is your background first? I know you’re a big expert in coffee. I know you’ve got lots of certificates, but I want you to tell the audience what [is] so special about coffee for you?
Maria: [04:31] Well, I started working with coffee in 2009 when I was living in Portugal and I was doing my studies there. So I started working with coffee to basically pay my bills. At that time though, I was working with a Portuguese brand called Delta, which is very commercial, so not [today’s 04:51] specialty coffee world yet. Then after that, I moved back to Brazil and I started working in a specialty coffee shop as a waitress, and by coincidence, this brand in Brazil was just starting their roastery. So they actually promoted me within three months to go to the roastery and just manage the small operation that they had. So basically, we were in a very tourist-focused area in the south of Brazil. My job would be to invite people when people arrive there to try our coffee and make sure that they understand what is the difference between a natural process and a honey process or wash process and basically just give them an idea of what specialty coffee is and how the experience should be.
[05:36] After that, I received a proposal to come to Dubai to work as a barista for a five-star hotel here. Well, at that time, I didn’t even know Dubai. “What is that? Where is it? What [will I] do there?” And then as I started developing more the idea of coming, the issue I had in my mind [is] that it would be like Emirates Airlines and then the hotel that I was coming to work at. I didn’t really have this idea that Dubai was such a fantastic city. So I came over September 2013, if I’m not mistaken, yeah. Working in a hotel was a great experience. Working as a head barista, especially coming from a country where we produce coffee and coffee is such a big part of our culture, my expectations were really high. I really wanted to invest more in my career and progress more. So they sent me to get a training with Raw Coffee Company, which was the first specialty coffee roaster here in Dubai. I think in 2008, they had opened up. So of course, when I came, I already had some experience, and they said, “Look, I think we have an opportunity for you to join the team and I think it would make more sense for you to join us.” And I joined them and I stayed with them for one year and something, and after that, I got my first opportunity to actually set up my own business here also in coffee, which is another roastery that I’m not part of anymore, since 2016. [That’s] where I started to get actually more experience not only in coffee but also how to run a business, right? So what is a P&L and purchase orders? You don’t really see when you add a barista, right, because you work behind the bar you are connected directly with your clients, so you don’t do the paperwork. So that was a great experience for me. I started to mature a little bit more in terms of running a business for the first time. At that time I was 25 years old so it was great for me to have that experience at that time.
[07:30] Then after that, I joined another roastery here in Dubai for two years as General Manager. In these two years, I started to spend all my time developing the company but actually also developing myself. This period of five years that I had been here by the time, I started traveling a lot for coffee, not only for buying but for courses. So I became an authorized trainer for the Specialty Coffee Association. I also became a certified Q grader. Q graders are professionals that can actually grade the quality of the coffee – if it’s commercial, specialty and all the details – based on the attributes of the coffee, like aroma, fragrance, body, acidity, sweetness aftertaste. So I became a certified Q grader and I started also connecting with the global coffee world. I started traveling for coffee exhibitions and meeting people and then I started also judging the national championships here in the UAE. So the Barista Championships, the Brewing Championship, the Ibrik Championships, and within two years I started also to judge internationally. Last year I actually did my test to become an authorized Certified Sensory Judge for the World Barista Championship. And this year, it would be my first international certified championship in Australia in November, but unfortunately due to the COVID-19 situation, it got postponed, so I’m hoping that for next year that’s going to happen. In 2019, I decided that it was time for me to do something different. The industry has changed a lot, so I took the step to actually open Tres Marias, and develop a little bit of more my vision into the coffee industry, rather than just work for a company or whosoever, so that’s where we are at the moment.
Dhiren: [09:16] It’s an amazing story and there’s so much I want to dive into with you. So first things first, you were in Brazil, you get this offer to come to Dubai and you’ve never heard of Dubai, you’ve never been to Dubai, what made you pack up and leave? Was there something that you heard about or someone told you about something?
Maria: [09:32] So I was in Brazil for a year and before that I was in Portugal, right? So I was traveling around Europe for some time. I lived in London for three months. I felt that I was very young as well and Brazil was always going to be my country and I can always go back to it. What I didn’t want was actually to be stuck there and not see the world. When a friend of mine actually changed his status on Facebook at the time from Brazil to Dubai. His family was friends with my family, we went to the same school. And then I started a conversation with him and he was the one who actually told me about Dubai. He was really happy here, really impressed. My family kind of trusted him and his family. And he told me, “I think you should come, it’s a good opportunity.” In my head, I was like, “Okay, so this hotel wants to bring me to Dubai.” You see on the TV, it’s all about gold and rich and Sheikhs, right, so that’s the impression you have. And they actually wanted to bring me with a job, they were going to pay [for] my ticket, they were going to pay [for] my visa. So the worst-case scenario is that I don’t like [it] and I wanted to come back to Brazil. Brazil is always going to be here, so why not? Let’s give it a try. So what really made me come is having a good friend here that gave me a good recommendation about the city itself. And also, my hunger to visit the world and travel and develop as a person and as a professional. At that time though, not even as a professional but more about finding myself, right? Like, “Who are you? What do you want to do?” Really creating a new path for my life. So I think that’s what made me come and take the risk of traveling all the way from Brazil to Dubai.
Dhiren: [11:11] Yeah, and Dubai is one of those cities, once you’ve come in, it’s very hard to leave because you love it here, it’s perfect. Except for the summer months, everything else is fantastic. The beaches are here, the malls are amazing. So it’s one of those cities that just suck you in and it’s very hard to get out, so that’s amazing that you made that trip on the advice of a friend. The second question I want to ask you, I know you’ve got lots of certificates. You’ve told me this offline, and you just mentioned that you’ve done a grading course and you are a judge. When you talk to me about that, I’m thinking, you know, like a wine sommelier, you have glasses and you swirl the coffee then you spit some of it out. Is it like that? Is that how you grade coffee?
Maria: [11:45] Well, yes, it’s pretty similar. To be honest with you, I’ve never done anything deeper into the wine world. That’s something that I really want to do in the [near] future but I do know that it’s very, very similar, but in coffee, we have something that’s called cupping. Cupping is basically a standard protocol by the Specialty Coffee Association. That’s how we actually grade the coffee. So basically, we use between eight to 12 grams of coffee in a bowl and then you fill it with water for 225ml, if I’m not mistaken. Then you have to first grind the coffee, and then you smell the coffee, and based on that you put a punctuation for that fragrance and aroma – aroma when we already poured the water and fragrance when it’s only the coffee powder. So basically, you first analyze the fragrance of the coffee, then you pour the water and you analyze the aroma of the coffee. You wait for four minutes [and] you break the crust because the coffee and the water will form a crust on the top. So you break that crust and you wait. When you complete 80 minutes, then you start drinking the coffee. So we actually don’t drink the coffee. When you do cupping you don’t drink the coffee as if you’re drinking a cup of coffee, but you actually do a very good weird noise that’s like [slurping noise], I don’t know if you’ve ever seen.
Dhiren: [13:04] No, I’ve not but this is fascinating.
Maria: [13:07] Yeah. So basically when you slurp the coffee, you’re actually spraying the coffee into your mouth and actually communicating with your [aerator nozzle 13:15] for you to also feel the aftertaste and communicate with all the flavours that you can find in that coffee. So based on that, you are going to analyze the quality of each attribute of the coffee – aroma, fragrance and then body, aftertaste, flavours, acidity and sweetness. So based on the quality of each attribute, you’re going to have a final punctuation. That punctuation is going to guide you to understand as a coffee buyer for saying what is the quality of the coffee and how much you should pay for that coffee.
Dhiren: [13:50] That’s amazing. So it’s not even close to the process of wine. With the wine, they show you in the movie, the guy, the sommelier is sipping wine then he spits it out and he tries a next glass. This is nothing like that. This is so much more scientific. This is so much more complex so kudos to learning all of that and remembering all of that. So what made you want to become a grader?
Maria: [14:09] Well, I think, in the coffee industry, the more you get involved, and the more you do, the more you feel that you don’t know anything and you have to keep educating yourself. So I started as a barista, just as a regular barista tasting coffee. But as you go deeper into the coffee world, you do have to understand better and have a better knowledge and speak the coffee language, right? I think that’s the most important thing, for you to start talking about coffee with other people that know more than you or helping other people that wanted to know more, is actually having the same language as any other coffee professional around the world would have. So having these certifications is much more than a paper framed on the wall. It’s more about actually educating, creating a vocabulary, learning about coffee and being confident about what you do, and making sure that you also contributed [to] your community. At the time that I took my Q grading certification, I think there was only one or two Q graders in the UAE. Now we are around 10 to 15, if not more, but I mean, the more education you have, the more you can contribute to your industry. So my idea with this certification was literally to first understand where I stand with my experience, but also to make sure that I learn and I can pass that through my brand and my products and in my community.
Dhiren: [15:36] Yeah, that’s amazing. I consider myself to be a bit of a coffee snob. When I go to any coffee shop, I’m the one that’s asking “What coffee is it? Where is it from? Which country is it from? Is it single blend?” So I used to think that as a barista, there’s not that much that you can learn but what you’ve just told me gives me so much more insight that it’s not just about making or pulling the right espresso shot but there’s more to that. It’s about grading and judging which is phenomenal. So kudos again for you to continue to do that and like you said, contribute back to that industry. One of the other things that you told me which I wanted to dive deeper into, you said you started working for all of these different coffee shops here coffee roasters here in the UAE, and then you started your own brand in 2019. Where did that idea come from? You said you wanted to start something of your own but what made you give that push and why 2019?
Maria: [16:25] In 2019, I finished my contract with the previous roaster that I was working at. And again, I always felt that there was so much that could be done more and more. I asked myself, “How can I actually add more value to the industry in the UAE at the moment?” And in 2019 funny enough, the Dubai government, DMCC more specifically, they invested 35 million US dollars in a facility that’s called the Coffee Centre. So the Coffee Centre is basically a centre where they have roasting machines, they have training rooms, they have a sensory room, they have a green coffee facility. So I thought “Okay, I’ve always wanted to have my business” but in the UAE, of course, I came here, started as a barista so I had to build my way up. That means for you to open a business, you do have to have money, right? And of course, local partners and all of that can get a little bit carried on when it comes [to] the little details of paperwork. But the Coffee Centre just made the idea of running my own business much easier because it’s a free zone, so I can own 100% of my company. Then I can rent a room inside the DMCC Coffee Centre itself where I can rent the roasting machine, I can rent the roasting room, I can rent the green coffee storage. My question on how I’m going to make my business work came to be answered by the DMCC, “Look, we’re going to give you a trade license, you can have your own visa, you can have your own room and you can outsource everything from here instead of making an investment of a million dirhams to rent a warehouse, to buy the machine and everything else.” So that was facilitated for me by this new project of the UAE government. That was number one. Number two, when I started my coffee journey here in the UAE, I think we were like five roasters. Today in the UAE, there are 60 roasters at least that I can count on the top of my head.
Dhiren: [18:23] Wow. From five to 60, that’s a big jump.
Maria: [18:28] It’s crazy, you know, coffee, not only the UAE but across the world has become very trendy, and it makes sense to the world that we’re living in now as well. And the specialty coffee industry is very young, like maybe 50 years old so what we’re living now is just the beginning. There is a huge future for the specialty coffee industry that will come soon and will be developing [throughout the years], but meaning that whatever we’re living now with the specialty coffee industry, this is still the beginning. So, of course, our industry here in the UAE has developed a lot and I felt that I was in the middle. [There is] a lot going on. There are a lot of roasters. Everybody is kind of doing the same thing. I don’t want to do the same thing that everybody else is doing. How can I do that? So at that time in 2019, I think we had one or two green coffee traders in the UAE. So I saw that as an opportunity as well to do more green coffee. Also, because that was an area of the coffee industry that I never actually explored deeper. I was buying coffee before from the coffee farms direct to trade from coffee traders, but I never actually understood how the green coffee industry works. And I saw an opportunity there, not only a lack in the market but also an opportunity for me as a professional to gain that knowledge on that part of the industry where I did not work before.
[19:47] So I said, “Okay, maybe now [that] we have so many roasters right now, I will add value to our industry by bringing and making available in the UAE, good green coffee beans for all these roasters to be able to source brewed coffee [at] an affordable price. And it’s going to be here stocked in the UAE so it’s going to be much easier for them.” I saw that opportunity but until that time, I did not see how I would actually add value as a coffee brand, so I started my first year as a coffee service provider. So if you want to have your own coffee beans, we’re going to help you to do your own brand of coffee by helping you with our roast, selecting the coffee beans, creating a blend, working on the packaging, registering the packaging, and creating your own brand – being an extension of your business. Together with the green coffee offer for the roasters and the trainings as well that we do and something that’s very strong in our company, which is our educational side – educating baristas, educating coffee professionals to understand more about the coffee industry. So that’s how Tres Marias was created at [the] first stage in 2019.
Dhiren: [20:58] Nice. And again, Dubai is a city [that’s] commendable for the infrastructure they set up. I know the DMCC also has a tea business as well, but I didn’t realize to the extent that they supported this whole business model. We at Cloudscape, which is my business, we work with probably about 30 coffee shops and coffee roasters, and we help them with technology, but I didn’t realize what kind of infrastructure that Dubai gives you. That’s phenomenal. You mentioned green coffee a few times, again, I’ve worked with a lot of coffee business, but help me, green coffee is coffee that is raw, correct? That’s just come off the plant and it comes in big bags, correct?
Maria: [21:31] Yes, correct. So just to give you a very quick [overview] on the coffee life, basically coffee grows in a tree and it grows as a coffee cherry. Inside a coffee cherry, you have two coffee beans. These coffee beans are in a green shape. So for you to make that green coffee become soluble, you have to dry the coffee, you have to roast the coffee. So three phases of the coffee – coffee cherry, green coffee and then after that they process the green coffee. They clean, they wash the green coffee, and they put in these jute bags of 60 or 69 or 70 kilos. And then they sell to the roasters who do the process of roasting, preparing the coffee to be soluble.
Dhiren: [22:16] Got it. And you’ve mentioned something else that I wanted to dive deeper into as well. You said they were between six to 50 roasters and so it’s interesting to know how you found a very specific niche and to say, “You know what, I don’t want to do roasting, but rather I want to be able to service these roasters by bringing in green beans.” Is that something that they couldn’t do themselves? Is there something that you could do differently in that business?
Maria: [22:40] Well, no. The roasters, of course, they can buy direct to trade and they can buy coffee by themselves but again, I take from my experience. When you have your coffee company, and a specialty coffee company, which means that it’s probably going to be on a small scale, you will be looking to partner up with people that are really good at what they do, and they can save you time and save you money and save you a headache, right, instead of just trying to do it yourself. In fact, when I worked in roasteries, I was buying green coffee myself and buying a container from Brazil. And then what happens is as a roastery, you pay for the container, the container is going to get a month or two to get prepared, the coffee to be bagged, every paperwork and everything. So basically, you pay for the coffee, and the cost is going to come to you probably within three months after the payment. And then if you had a B2B business, you are going to be working with credit terms with your clients. You are going to roast the coffee and then sell to the client and the clients are going to take 30 to 60 days to pay you. So in fact, I thought on my previous experiences that direct to trade relationships would be better from the price point of view in terms of saving, but the truth is that it really depends on how you run your business. But I see having a trusted trader or a trusted brand that can do that work for you and bring the coffee to Dubai, and stock the coffee here and release the coffee for you per month, would make much more sense than you bringing a container that’s going to take you a year to sell, that’s going to be [requiring 24:13] space in your warehouse, etc.
[24:15] Not talking, of course about all the other risks that you have when you buy green coffee. If you don’t have a relationship with a farmer, or with the brand that you are buying, then maybe you are going to receive a different coffee than what you actually purchased. There are many variants that can happen on you buying your coffee direct from the farm, and you buying your coffee with someone who can actually take the risk with you and make sure that everything is great and to the time you get the coffee, or even going further, which is our case. We partnered up with a company that’s called Ally Coffee. They are an American company that got purchased by one of the biggest groups of coffee in Brazil. We are not only traders, I’m not only selling the coffee to you but actually, we own our own farms. So we own our own farms. We are also exporters in Brazil, we own our own washing station in Colombia. So all these infrastructures that we have as a company can be utilized by a roastery [for] their benefit, and that’s [how] we try to add value. Actually, we have great coffees. We’ve stocked it here [so] that you can buy per month, you can buy per week, we can plan your purchase of the year together, and we are going to bring the coffee for you here. We are going to stock the coffee for you and you take the coffee per month as you go. So it’s literally making the green coffee need of a roastery easier and more convenient for the coffee roasters in the UAE.
Dhiren: [25:40] I didn’t realize there’s so much subtlety to this business. I commend you for finding that niche and I think that’s the secret to any business. As a business owner, you always want to find that one segment of a market. So normally, someone might say, “Oh, look, there are 50 rosters in the market, 50 roasters, I don’t think we need to do this anymore.” But like you said, if you find a specific niche, a specific need and you’re able to solve that, you could compete in any market because there are very few people that become that specialized like you. One other thing that I want to ask you is what is the story behind Tres Marias? Where did that name come from?
Maria: [26:16] The funny answer would be Tres Marias will come from different moods that I will have – my bitchy mood, my nice mood – but that’s not the right answer, that’s just a joke. So basically, Tres Marias is one word or one sentence. In English, it’s called the Three Kings. Three Kings stars, which stays on the constellation of Orion. So in Portuguese and Spanish, these three stars that are aligned in the sky together are called Tres Marias. So the name was inspired by the constellation and the stars, applying to literally my story in the UAE [of] how in a very crowded place, we made sure that we created our own space and our own category. And regardless of how big the market is growing, and we’ll grow, we’re going always to be there, very easy to be recognized by our personality, by the quality of our services and our products, etc. So that’s where the name actually comes from.
Dhiren: [27:15] That’s such an interesting story. Initially, I thought as well that you are Maria and so that had some relation, but I didn’t realize. And this is the best thing about name origin stories, there are so [many] layers to coming up with the name and I love that, I love that story. So, Maria, one thing that I want to ask you as a business owner is, you’ve started Tres Marias, it’s 2019 now, everything is getting set up, you’ve got an amazing infrastructure, but tell me the one hard thing that you’ve had to do in your business? Everybody thinks it’s very easy to get a business started but there are so many challenges that we overcome as business owners. I want you to maybe give us a story about the one specific thing that you have had to overcome.
Maria: [27:52] I agree with you. People think that setting up a business and having your own operation is easy. In fact, it’s very challenging because you’re not running to reach a point, right? Running a business is actually always, everyday challenges and problems to solve. And regardless of how far you go, that’s never going to be the end. If you start something and you reach your goal, from that goal, you’re going to have to set up another goal and take your business into that other direction. So it’s a constantly challenging environment for us here. And I think so far for our year and a half of business, the most challenging period was definitely the COVID-19 situation. As I said, in the first year, we were not working as a coffee brand. We were service providers. So by the time that the COVID-19 hits the UAE and the world, we saw ourselves, our whole business actually operating [at] less than 50% of what we were doing before but still the same team, the same type of expenses, etc. So imagine we’re doing coffee and we have orders and then everything stops, not only stops but also we don’t know where we’re heading. So you have a problem to solve, but you also have a new structure to put in place and that was very challenging for us. I think one of the things that we love about Tres Marias’ team is that we work very fast and we are very good [at] solving problems.
[29:18] So by March, we understood where we were heading, that the world was heading into a [no win 29:23] direction that we wouldn’t know when everything would open again, and if coffee shops would survive, etc. So we forced ourselves to look into a new revenue stream, which is our e-commerce. We sat one night, me and my colleague Carolina, and we put together an e-commerce platform on Shopify. We had our bags, although we’re not selling the bags, we had it. So we took the pictures, we put it all together on the system. My accountant worked on the numbers, we plugged everything, and in one night we had an e-commerce. On the second day, we had our first sales. And today, in fact, after four months that it was started, we see Tres Marias actually as a coffee brand in the UAE, offering coffee for home users and with a different experience. I think that was the most challenging moment of our business but at the same time, looking back now, it was actually a point of decision where we said, “Okay, what do we do now?” And in fact, that moment actually shifted us into a direction that makes much more sense for us as a company than actually what we were doing before. And we’re so glad that out of that challenge, we took something positive that has been working for us and it is a direction that we would like to explore further.
Dhiren: [30:41] That’s amazing. And I think what I’m hearing from the whole conversation is, “Be ready to adapt.” Not only just your mindset, but also your team. Get ready to adapt and think on your feet. And I have to say I’m one of your customers. I enjoy your brand new product. I ordered it right away and I have to tell you, the service is phenomenal. I ordered it the night before – my wife ordered it and we got it the next morning. I feel very proud that I have specialty coffee in my home in the cute little box that you guys have. I know my listeners can see it but I can see it behind you. You have all these amazing cute boxes. Like you said, adapting and taking a decision and sticking with it is very key in times of uncertainty, no matter if you don’t know the outcome, adapting and taking that decision. So again, fantastic work done by your team. And I know you mentioned that this is the new way for Tres Marias. It’s now become like you said maybe the brand itself. So does that mean that you are not going to do all the other things like the sourcing and focus on this or are you going to do both now? What does it mean for the future?
Maria: [31:42] We will continue to have the same type of services that we were offering before but now we have a new challenge which is actually Tres Marias as a coffee brand, and that’s where we really want to focus our energy. We’re expanding the team to make sure that we can keep our services and we can grow and do more things, but at the moment, we’re going to keep the same services but focus a lot on Tres Marias as a coffee brand. As I mentioned before, the reason why we didn’t do Tres Marias as a coffee brand by the time we set up Tres Marias, is because I had a question mark that, for me, is really important, and I wouldn’t create a brand just for creating a brand. Tres Marias has to exist as a brand to solve a problem, right, or to be there to add value to our industry. And before, I didn’t have this idea very clear, but the COVID situation made us actually stop and rethink, “Okay, wait we have a problem here. How do we sort this problem?” And by sorting that problem, we actually answered the question that we had before. “How do we actually solve a problem in the coffee industry?” And for us, it was a very turning point because I said, “Okay, I can offer roasted coffee beans for people. How [am I] going to do it?” I don’t want to just have a brand that it’s a logo and then it’s a stick in a bag. No, I believe that the brand has to exist from inside out. To exist first and then that has to be shown to the client.
[33:08] And I think that moment happened for us after our first year of business, where we also found ourselves with tons of coffee drinkers at home wanting to drink good coffee but not able to go out and source it in the coffee shops and buy with the baristas, etc. So we took that opportunity also to ask ourselves, “Okay, how can we make specialty coffee more accessible?” Because sometimes people really do [think], “Oh, specialty coffee, you have to have this and you have to have that”, but the truth is that specialty coffee is simple. And I think that as we grow as an industry, we have to be more accessible. That’s the only way that we’re going to attract more people into the specialty coffee industry. [That] was the point where we started thinking, “Okay, how can we make specialty coffee more accessible for people?”, and we created our instant specialty coffee where it’s very simple. People just add water and drink a good cup of coffee. Then after that, we started also working on our specialty capsules for Nespresso machines that [are] going to be launching as well in a month from now. So, at that point, I solved a problem in the company by adding an e-commerce platform and making our brand consumable for the coffee drinkers at home. And at the same time as well, we explored the idea of making our industry more accessible to attract more people into it by launching our instant coffee, and soon enough our capsules. So I’m a big believer of everything happens for a reason, at the right time, and I think that was definitely our time to jump into this new chapter.
Dhiren: [34:46] Indeed, and I think you’ve laid the foundation for my next question, which is about technology. But before I go there, I want to mention something, I want to echo that again, I think you’ve mentioned something very, very important which is “A brand should exist to solve a problem not just for the sake of existing.” And I think you’ve done such a phenomenal job of waiting, looking for the right moment and coming up with a unique proposition to say that “This is the problem be solved.” And I think any business that comes from that thinking will remain successful regardless of the time. So I think that’s a great point that you brought up. That’s phenomenal. I want to talk about technology because I think technology can be a very big part of any business. So I want you to tell me how has technology helped you in Tres Marias? You mentioned you started Shopify but tell me more. How do you think it enables you?
Maria: [35:35] Well, me myself as Maria, I’m not very good with systems and websites and these kinds of things, but at some point, I was forced to learn and improve. And even if we wanted to scale the business in the way where we are heading now where we are aiming to do, we do need to have technology behind us to help us to implement systems and be more efficient and save time and minimize errors, etc. So this has been actually a very big point in the company and we’re trying to really understand how we use technology in our favour, which is the case of Shopify, of course. It’s a great platform that we have been learning a lot. Apart from Shopify, we also have our newsletter system where you update the newsletter it sends out [and] you can track everything. So we have been learning how to use technology in our favour to run a better operation and a more systematic operation. I don’t think we are the best example now because we’re in the learning process but definitely from what we have been learning and we have been applying, all the systems involved in ordering, tracking, follow-up and everything else, it definitely helps us to operate in a much more consistent operation.
Dhiren: [36:50] Yeah. And you also talked about something important there, you talked about the willingness to learn. Some business owners, know that they have a need to solve a problem, but they’re not really willing to change and adapt and learn something new. But like you said, you are willing to learn and you showed that by launching an e-commerce website in one night. That’s not an easy feat, and that willingness to learn should always stay there. I want to stop for a few seconds here and just really think about the journey you’ve had. So you started in Portugal in 2009, you moved to Brazil, you moved to Dubai because a friend asked you and here you are now, almost 11 years later and you run your own business. What drives you? Where do you get this inspiration from?
Maria: [37:29] Thank you. I mean, when you put it this way, it really makes me go back and think about everything that I have been through. And I think, honestly, I always believed that I could do something great, and really make a mark on whatever I do. Of course, learning how to do that and where I would do that was very challenging. Starting from 20 until right now, I think [it] was very challenging because we don’t know really where [we’re] heading, right? So you’re just leaving and trying to find yourself and like, “Why do I exist? Why am I here? What [did] I come to do here?” And asking [those] questions and not settling for just whatever is given in front of you, I think it’s what really guided me to be where I am, which is [to] always question why. “Why is this the way it is? What can I do better? How can I do better?” I never stopped to listen to people when they’d say like, “Oh, you’re not good enough”, or, “Oh, you’re not worth it.” Of course, it’s going to affect you, right, but it shouldn’t matter, and you should never forget your vision. When I was younger, I always told myself, “I want to have a good life. I want to be able to help my family. I want to be able to travel the world”, and I started living day by day and never forgetting about my vision. And the universe made sure that they presented the right opportunities for me, and I was brave enough to take it so here I am.
[38:52] It’s not easy being far away from the family as well. Sometimes you spend two or three years without seeing your parents, without seeing your brothers, and at some point, you realize that you’re building your life away from them and this time is never going to come back. But nothing that’s great comes without sacrifice, right, so we have to also consider that. If you have your vision, you just have to make sure that you do everything that you can to reach that. That’s going to take time, it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take some sacrifices on your part. But as long as you’re willing to give it, it’s going to pay off, which is the case of me being able to run my own business now. It’s the result of a lot of things that I left behind, and I never forgot my vision. So I think that’s what drives me to wake up every day and come here and do Tres Marias and ask myself, push my team, push myself.
Dhiren: [39:46] Well, if I could give you a round of applause, I would because that is such an amazing story to share and so much in those words that you’ve mentioned about believing in yourself and not listening to the people that don’t believe in you. Keeping your vision upfront and centre and waiting for the right time. All of those I think are key lessons that we can all pick up in our lives, right? And oftentimes, especially now with COVID, a lot of us get demotivated and a lot of us forget the things that you just talked about. So I hope that this serves as a reminder for other business owners who want to do great things just like you. So, again, thank you for sharing that. I loved that. I want to ask you about your team. You’re such an amazing leader so does your team have the same passion? And how do you inspire them to do such great things every day?
Maria: [40:34] My team, they are everything. I fight with them a lot and I push them to their limits. I think it’s not very easy to have someone like me on their heads every day because I have a lot of expectations and my expectations are really high. So I make sure that I keep pushing them all the time to do better and not only for Tres Marias because Tres Marias is in [their lives 40:56] today, right? But maybe tomorrow they’re going to go back to their homes and I just wanted them to take the opportunity that they have now in working with us and doing whatever they are doing now. Take that opportunity and make the best of it, not for Tres Marias – for Tres Marias it will be a reflection – but for themselves. For them to take this lesson from these experiences further into their lives in future opportunities that they will have or when they run their own businesses.
[41:23] So, I come to the office every day, I work as hard as I can. I never say, “No, I’m not going to do this. You do that because I’m the boss” or whatever. I don’t see myself like that. I see myself just as part of the team as I am, and I work as hard as they do. And I’ve tried to set an example of working hard and make sure that they see my hard work and they say, “Okay, it’s not just a company that they don’t care about.” No, we care about every detail and I try to show that from my side as well so they can follow that and duplicate my vision. Honestly speaking, I think that whatever Tres Marias has achieved until now, of course, it is based on the vision that I have for the company, but it wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of my team. So all the claps and applause is for them together with me, of course, but without them, it wouldn’t be possible, and I make sure that they know that.
Dhiren: [42:19] Yeah, absolutely. So lead by example and really believe in the team and show them that anything is possible if we do it together and we all come and we believe in something bigger than just the company itself. So true. Maria, I also want to ask you just before we start to wrap up, a couple more questions. If you were to give advice to an entrepreneur, what would that be?
Maria: [42:39] Never forget who you are. I think that’s what I’ve reminded myself [of] every day. I think we can get lost. Success is going to be different based on what you think success is and what I think success is, right? So there are a lot of things that have a lot of variables over there and whatever is happening with your business today or with your life today is today. So if you’re doing very well today, tomorrow you might not be doing well, not because of you, but because of the situation of the world or whatever it is. So I think reminding ourselves and applying every single day, who we are, where we come from, and not forgetting our roots, and being true to our values, I think this is the most important thing. So regardless of what happens around you, you’re going to know exactly where you stay and where you sit. Whenever things decide to be shaky, your inner is going to point you in the right direction, [to] the right decision at the right time. So I think remembering who we are, it’s very, very important for business.
Dhiren: [43:40] Indeed. Absolutely, I wouldn’t have said it better in terms of helping other entrepreneurs. What does it mean to you to be an elevated entrepreneur? Because you’re on The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast and this question is so important for me and for other entrepreneurs.
Maria: [43:55] I would say an elevated entrepreneur is someone who really shines in the industry that you are working [in]. So someone who is actually doing a great job in [their] industry. I think when you are a good entrepreneur, regardless of what you’re dealing, I don’t think it fits exactly for the one product or your current business but it’s kind of a lifestyle I would say. That spirit will probably work with anything that you tell yourself that you’re going to do.
Dhiren: [44:24] Maria, now that you’ve talked so much about Tres Marias, I’m sure a lot of my audience and the people that are listening maybe want to try this so where can they find this amazing coffee?
Maria: [44:33] If you want to try Tres Marias Coffee, you can always visit our e-commerce platform tresmariascoffee.com. Starting from today, by the way, we have free delivery all across the UAE and you are going to find a lot of options. We have coffees starting from the entry-level of a specialty coffee, up to the latest drying processes from coffee farms like anaerobic fermentation and oscillation fermentation. So if you are a coffee geek and you really know you want to try something very unique and specific, you can try our Extravagance. And if you’re looking for your everyday brew something more subtle that you’re going to like, that’s going to be safe, you can try our Everyday Brew [inaudible 45:16]. And if you’re going to the malls, we are available at Tovala shops in Mall of the Emirates, in Mirdif City Centre.
Dhiren: [45:27] That’s amazing. And if people want to reach you directly, is there somewhere they can come contact you if they want to discuss entrepreneurship, for example, where can they reach you?
Maria: [45:36] Through my LinkedIn, you can reach me by email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m very open, so feel free to reach me.
Dhiren: [45:46] Yeah, that’s so nice of you. I will definitely link up your LinkedIn profile and your email in our show notes. That’s really nice of you to offer. Maria, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the show and I really thank you for your time and all the feelings you’ve shared with us so openly. Thank you for being here.
Maria: [46:03] Thank you. Again, I wanted to take the time and thank you as well for the invitation. It’s a pleasure for me to be here and sharing my experience and hopefully inspiring other people as well. Thank you for this creation and [for] giving us the opportunity to be here.
Dhiren: [46:22] If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to The Elevated Entrepreneur show at elevatedentrepreneur.fm or wherever you’ve been listening to this episode. And finally, if you would, please do leave The Elevated Entrepreneur podcast a review so that you can make it easier for other entrepreneurs to find this show. Thank you, much love, and I’ll see you in the next one.