Sales cures all: It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but getting quality paying customers is always king
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Wei Mullin.
In 2016, founder Debbie Wei Mullin started Copper Cow Coffee out of her sister’s garage after leaving her job in supply chain management at the World Bank to create a business based on her two biggest passions: Vietnamese cuisine + sustainable development. To-date, Debbie has raised $3MM in venture capital. Following its rapid entry into brick & mortar retail including Nordstrom, Williams Sonoma, HEB, Cost Plus, Walmart, and more, Copper Cow Coffee is now focused on bringing its product innovations directly to consumers with its popular monthly Coffee Club subscription. Copper Cow Coffee is a portable pour-over whose single-use compostable filter is inspired by the traditional Vietnamese phin, but comes pre-filled with coffee grounds, making it easy and convenient to use while on the move. Just place over any cup and add hot water for a fresh brew anywhere, at any time.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I used to work at the World Bank — working to help finance projects to combat poverty at one of the largest development banks in the world. Though I loved the mission, a large corporate environment was totally not for me. I longed for creativity and speed in my work and thought entrepreneurship would be a great option. And, with my family being from Vietnam, I was sitting on a great business idea that used my personal passion and understanding of one of our best kept secrets: Vietnamese coffee.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
While Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, it is relatively new to the specialty coffee market. Vietnamese historically relied on pesticides and chemically ridden processing practices for cheap coffee for export throughout the region. However today, with Vietnam being the fastest growing economy in the world, their domestic coffee culture has gone through a renaissance — consumers and farmers now care about quality across the entire supply chain, and I can’t wait to support these social and environmental improvements in coffee production in Vietnam by connecting them to the biggest specialty coffee market in the world: the US.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Hands down my sister and brother-in-law have been my biggest champions. They are both entrepreneurs and saw the drive to do this in me even before I did. Not only did they encourage me to do it — they let me live with them for the first year of the business, talking late into the night about my business problems and strategies. They are still the people I go to when I’m struggling the most in this journey, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without them.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Sales cures all: It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, but getting quality paying customers is always king
- Growth is hard: Growth is exciting, but it also presents lots of difficulty — hiring quickly, selling out, outgrowing partners. All these things happen when your business grows quickly so be prepared.
- Don’t let fear take over: When you can see the big picture it’s easy to catastrophize the future and focus on the worst-case scenario. This makes it harder to innovate and especially motivate those around you
How are you going to shake things up next?
We are going to come out with new products outside of the pour over to showcase the amazing depth of the coffee coming from Vietnam. Can’t wait to launch some new things this summer!
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I have listened to every episode of How I Built This on NPR, as well as the Start Up podcast on Gimlet. I love hearing the story of other entrepreneurs journeys and the struggles that they go through. Hearing about Au Bon Pain putting spinach in clothes driers, about companies almost going under and then rebounding. It’s all so inspiring and makes you feel like lonely on this very challenging journey.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be to have more female entrepreneurs. It’s so hard to see all the facts and figures about how women don’t start businesses. I love being an entrepreneur and never considered it until a male entrepreneur friend explicitly told me to do it. I didn’t have any role models in my life like this, and now that I look for them, they are some of the most amazing entrepreneurs out there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s that life is too short and long for you to not do something you love.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Instagram @debbieweimullin for personal or @coppercowcoffee for the company
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!