Graham Cooke of Cafe Last: “‘Learn to build detailed, organized systems”

‘Learn to build detailed, organized systems.’ I never knew how challenging it was to build large systems before launching this business. I have had experiences building out small teams and training people to do relatively simple tasks. But every organization leader needs to know how to build complex, detailed systems if they are hoping to […]

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‘Learn to build detailed, organized systems.’ I never knew how challenging it was to build large systems before launching this business. I have had experiences building out small teams and training people to do relatively simple tasks. But every organization leader needs to know how to build complex, detailed systems if they are hoping to scale their operations.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Graham Cooke.

Graham Cooke is an entrepreneur and the founder of Cafe Last. The pandemic affected his businesses greatly, and he pivoted and created a new e-commerce store called Cafe Last during the process. Since soft-launching in September 2020, the brand has doubled in revenue every month and is expected to clear 47,650 dollars in November 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I think there is this misconception that all entrepreneurs were born this way, they were selling lemonade at age five, mowing lawns, and finding the next way to be successful. In reality, I was a relatively normal child. I’ve always thrown myself fully into whatever has piqued my interest. As a teenager, that was music and playing in bands. After college, that become building businesses.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The greatest life lesson quote I learned is this — you never fail unless you give up. People think that being an entrepreneur is about starting a business and then succeeding or failing. In reality, it’s about facing problem after problem and overcoming them time and time again. You only really fail if you give up.

This pandemic has shown me that this point is truer than ever — nobody saw this coming, and it’s the business landscape has shifted drastically. Many people are unwilling or unable to adapt to the changes, so they give up — this is failure. Luckily, I was able to shift my focus to starting an online-venture and keep moving forward, even though my other businesses were hit hard. As long as you keep moving forward, you will find success.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. Basically, what the author posits is that we expect the grand changes in our life to appear dramatically like in a movie. In reality, we mold our future incrementally by the actions we take each and every day. Oftentimes, these actions are boring or even imperceivable, such as eating right, exercising, or learning from a great book.

These actions, which are easy to do and easy not to do, eventually compound and turn us into who we become. In my life, this has been so powerful for me to learn because it is the entire basis for my business. When you eventually become successful, everyone says that you are an “overnight success”. In reality, that success has come from incrementally pushing yourself forward. Each and every one of us has the choice to make; do what we know we’re supposed to do, pushing ourselves forward towards success, or ignoring this and becoming worse versions of ourselves. The daily actions compound and eventually define us.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I had a portfolio of websites that were generating revenue, either by direct-sales, advertising, or performance marketing. I also own a portfolio of real estate that generates revenue via rental income and sales. The performance shook up each and every one of these businesses and I was truly unsure of where things would land.

The advertising rates for my websites plummeted because advertisers were suddenly uncertain of the market, and my short-term rental business temporarily shuddered because of the lockdowns. It was a time of great uncertainty, but I knew it was also a time of great potential success if I played my cards right.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

My partner and I knew that online-sales would likely skyrocket due to the pandemic and that coffee shops all over the US would, unfortunately, shudder for the time being. We had discussed the idea of launching a business together in the past, and we could see the time had arrived. We dropped our other engagements (as much as possible) and threw ourselves fully into Cafe Last.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

We knew that things were moving online due to the pandemic, the only thing to figure out now was what specific vertical to enter into. The “aha” moment I had was when I walked down to my local coffee shop and there was a sign on the door that said, “temporarily closed”.

I knew my fellow coffee and espresso lovers wouldn’t be able to handle this, so there was going to be an enormous shift towards people buying machines at home. Acting on our instincts, we did market research to confirm this fact and surveyed the landscape. Then, we dove headfirst into the project in mid-July, and we have worked full-time on this ever since.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Honestly, it is a strange time to start a new business, but we have surpassed our revenue projections month after month. We had our first sale in September, and we’re expecting to close out November 2020 with just shy of 50,000 dollars in revenue.

We’re hoping this growth continues over the next couple of years as we expand our operations. Fortunately, we positioned ourselves to be successful after the pandemic is over since we sell both commercial and home machines.

The idea here is that once shops start opening up again, we will be able to service those customers along with home ones and continue our growth trajectory.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m immensely grateful that my partner, Jordan, believed in me. Cafe Last is a joint venture, and it wouldn’t be experiencing nearly as much success if it wasn’t for his input. We complement each other nicely — he is analytically-orientated, while I am more people-orientated.

As for a specific story, I remember we were both jumping up and down celebrating after our first sale. It was such an amazing moment to experience after months of working hard to build this business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

In my opinion, the most interesting thing that has happened to me is the sheer number of connections I have made all over the world. I have had three-hour long phone-calls with strangers in Italy who have since become friends. I have made connections with CEOs of one-hundred-year-old companies. I’ve been able to help small customers, cafes, and restaurants all over the United States. That has been the most interesting and fun part for me — every day brings something new.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.‘Learn to build detailed, organized systems.’ I never knew how challenging it was to build large systems before launching this business. I have had experiences building out small teams and training people to do relatively simple tasks. But every organization leader needs to know how to build complex, detailed systems if they are hoping to scale their operations.

2. ‘You will experience the best and worst of people.’ Since starting this business, I have experienced acts of kindness and friendliness. I have also seen people try to take advantage of my company and my team, and act in bad faith for material gain. You never know what is going to happen, so try to savor the amazing moments and look past the bad ones.

3. ‘Try not to stress over what you can’t control.’ As a business owner, it is easy to overanalyze and chart out projections for months of even years at a time. As this pandemic has shown, we actually have very little control over outside forces. The best we can do is adapt and prepare for different scenarios.

4. ‘Learn to enjoy the ride as much as possible.’ Launching a business is a rollercoaster. There are wonderful emotional high-points, and challenging, frustrating lows. Try to enjoy the ride as much as possible, and you will find it.

5. ‘Find people you have synergy with.’ When you combine teammates who complement one another, the results are incredible. It’s a bit of a cliche, but when this happens, the results are greater than the sum of their parts. It’s immensely challenging to do this, I think it requires a deep knowledge of yourself and your team, but this should be the ultimate goal when hiring people for your business.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Absolutely! There are a few tips that I have learned to try and make things easier. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, and it can be easy to work all the time. For the sake of your health and overall wellbeing, I think it is crucial to step away from your business for a few hours each night.

Additionally, I recommend trying your best to take weekends off whenever possible. It may sound counterintuitive, but I actually find that by unplugging for a couple of days, I come back to my business with renewed vigor and I end up being more productive. You need to give yourself time-off so you can relax, recharge, and focus on something other than work. Trust me, it’s worth it.

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?

The amazing thing about being a human is that you are capable of changing yourself into whatever you want to be. It’s challenging, absolutely, but it’s possible. In order to do that, you need to move forward towards your goals one step at a time until you get there. Always keep yourself moving towards your goals, and get back up when you get knocked down. Eventually, you will get there, it’s just one step at a time.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I am always interested in connecting with people who are trying to better themselves and turn their dreams into reality. If you are a person who is doing that, reach out to me via email, and maybe once the pandemic is over we can have lunch!

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place to follow me online is at Cafe Last. We also have a Facebook page you can follow me at. I’ve never been the biggest when it comes to social media. You can also send me an email at [email protected]

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for the chance to be here! I had a blast.

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