Keba Konte, Founder
When did you start your business and why?
I founded Red Bay Coffee in 2014. My purpose was to combine all of the things I love into a single company into order to bring more soul into the specialty coffee industry. My love of community building, art & design, traveling, eating, drinking, problem solving and competing.
What problem did you aim to solve?
My aim was to solve the lack of diversity and inclusion in the specialty coffee industry. In my observation, this industry has historically suffered from a sameness and has underserved many communities including African-Americans. This is particularly ironic because coffee originated from Africa and Africa is still where most of the world's coffee is grown and produced. However, when it comes to equity Africans and all of the coffee growing origins do most of the back breaking labor while sharing the smallest piece of the dollar.
Tell us about your business journey - the ups and downs, pivots and changes.
In 2014, after owning two successful cafes I decided to move upstream and establish a coffee roasting company. I began by building a coffee lab affectionately known as the Coffee Dojo in my garage surrounded by a garden. From there, I built the brand, the coffee flavor profiles and started to go after wholesale accounts. Being a brand new business it was challenging attracting new customers. Eventually, we began to get traction and establish a name for ourselves in our hometown of Oakland, Calif Bay Area. We experienced the lurches and drags of growth while raising capital in every way imaginable. This included breaking records on Kickstarter, tapping into bank debt, angel investors and convertible notes and eventually raising a Series A venture capital round. Now we had momentum and were pulling down major accounts such as Uber, Facebook, Salesforce, Airbnb and Airport contracts. Our headcount grew to over 63 people at the beginning of 2020… and then the world took a sudden turn.
In 2020, the Corona Virus showed up and knocked us on our collective asses vanishing our revenues virtually overnight. We jumped into survival mode, furloughed 90% of our employees, turned off all faucets and pivoted to e-commerce.
The world responded with love and full throated support. Our investors, board of directors and the coffee industry showed up for us as well. This story is still unfolding but we have been able to bring back about half of our staff and have also opened up three of our retail shops. Today, our lifeblood is our online community supporting us through e-commerce.
What challenges have you faced as a Black business owner?
Actually, being a Black business owner has been more of an asset then a challenge. It has given us the opportunity to distinguish ourselves in a crowded marketplace. Of course, statistically speaking it is well documented that Black business owners are denied loans and venture capital at a much higher rate.
What are some of your goals for your business?
Our goal is for Red Bay Coffee to become an iconic American brand leading the way for other mission-driven businesses to find success pursuing purpose and profit.