After starting his career in the tobacco trade, Amir Gehl founded Difference Coffee when a quest to investigate his own dislike of the bitter liquid turned into an obsession with the bean trade and a mission to make truly good coffee available to the masses. Roasted in-house by World Barista Championship head judge Jonny England, Difference was the first company in the UK to offer award-winning speciality coffees in machine-compatible capsules direct to consumer.
A few short years on, Difference now supplies landmarks such as The Dorchester and Annabel’s and is served in 48 of the world’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants, including Alain Passard’s Restaurant Arpege and Guy Savoy and Sat Bains’s eponymous eateries. We sat down with this industry disruptor to ask him about making your passion your work and the importance of mistakes…
Setting up a business is difficult and it takes time to succeed. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. However, knowledge can be acquired and investment can be raised if the idea is good enough. There is no shortage of investors out there if you have a good product.
"Never give up if you truly believe in your idea. Work hard to make it work."
When I started my business I had zero industry knowledge – it grew out of a mixture of curiosity and pure hedonism. I wanted to drink more world-class coffees and nobody was packaging them in capsules, so I decided to go for it myself. It took quite some time to learn about the trade side of commerce. I didn’t realise existing supplier contracts meant restaurants often couldn’t just switch – or that many would simply care more about cost than quality – but I believed in my product and knew it was just a question of perseverance and determination.
Having your own business gives you the ability to make mistakes without anyone criticising you. We all make mistakes and bad decisions. It is the CEO’s job to take decisions and be flexible enough to review the results and correct them. As long as you make more good decisions than bad ones, you should be okay – but not having to answer to investors or partners is great.
If you plan to start your own business be prepared for the hours you need to dedicate to it. It can get quite lonely and exhausting working 80 hour weeks away from home. If you think owning your own business gives you freedom then you’ll be disappointed to learn the reverse is true. But, if you enjoy what you do, if it’s meaningful to you, then it’s worth all the sacrifice.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is “do what you love”. Business is tough. You will have good days and bad days, and possibly more of the latter. Choosing a profession you love helps you through the bad days. My particular business is also really congruent with my passion for luxury hospitality. Getting to eat at Michelin-star restaurants and stay at 5* hotels and call it work is incredible.
Don’t underestimate the importance of feedback. I’m an extrovert and am very sensitive to external feedback from clients. When you get that “aha!” moment with a new customer, it’s incredible! For me it’s a testament that people love what I do and that motivates me to keep going and improving. I never stop researching and am constantly trying to find ways of adding value to the work I do. By building relationships with key people in your industry and always going the whole nine yards you’ll be able to offer your clients something special and that’s how you succeed.
Never give up if you truly believe in your idea. Work hard to make it work. But also keep a flexible mindset and learn from your mistakes. You need to be open to change. Be intelligent and have patience – perseverance is key.
For more quick-fire business advice check out previous Six-Minute Mentor Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE…