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Will Little of Little’s Coffee: “The best advice I ever got was to lead with quality”

The best advice I ever got was to lead with quality. Whether it’s the product itself, the brand proposition, the way you recruit, the way you answer the phone, quality needs to run all the way through your business. This has helped me focus on our point of difference when the way forward hasn’t been […]

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The best advice I ever got was to lead with quality. Whether it’s the product itself, the brand proposition, the way you recruit, the way you answer the phone, quality needs to run all the way through your business. This has helped me focus on our point of difference when the way forward hasn’t been clear. Just lead with quality.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Will Little.

Will runs two businesses: a second-generation family coffee production business (www.wearelittles.com) and a young, independent speciality coffee roastery (www.roastworks.co.uk) with the help of his wife Caroline.

Having dabbled in a career in graphic design in London Will moved back to Devon 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Will has a two-year-old daughter and a cute dog called Coco.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Little’s Coffee is truly a family business. Created by my mum and dad, my wife and I now run the business which aims to disrupt the instant coffee category by creating great coffees which suit today’s busy lifestyles.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Let’s face it, the instant coffee category is pretty boring. However, it still accounts for 75% of all retail coffee sales.

The perception is that everyone is turning to pods or fresh brew, but instant is actually king. The category is dominated by global giants and there is very little genuine innovation. We saw an opportunity to show the “big boys” what good looks like, so that’s what we’re doing.

It takes 3–4 kgs of beans to make 1kg of instant, so it’s clear to see the commercial reason why the quality of instant hasn’t been very good. Our philosophy is that if we use better beans going in, we’ll have a better product coming out.

We’re here to show people that instant coffee doesn’t have to be boring and we’re also really proud of the fact that we are the first brand of instant coffee in the UK to go plastic free.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I shouldn’t admit this, but when we first started I didn’t understand the difference between margin and mark-up, so I once priced a product for a customer at a very cheap price thinking we were making good money. Lesson learnt? Learn. And fast.

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?

I figured out quite quickly the power of using consultants. Where I had a skills gap I could hire someone for £500 a day that had done it a million times.

My general manager is a former consultant to the business who semi-retired and decided to carry on working with us. He is my mentor and I couldn’t do this without him.

We’ve worked with some amazing consultants who have helped our business in so many ways. There are often grants and help available for small businesses through various organizations to help to pay for consultancy.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I actually don’t think being disruptive is all that positive. The term is overused, and I don’t consider myself as a disruptor. I don’t like being called an entrepreneur either, for the record. I’ve just seen too many badly run, badly organized businesses who call themselves “disruptors”, “start-ups” or are run by “entrepreneurs”.

I’ve seen too many that are horrible places to work, make poor decisions and take uncalculated risks that jeopardize their stakeholders and employees. It’s not how we want to run things.

I think you can still challenge the market, but I prefer to steer away from the term “disruptor”. It sounds too confrontational. I think we need a new adjective.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best advice I ever got was to lead with quality. Whether it’s the product itself, the brand proposition, the way you recruit, the way you answer the phone, quality needs to run all the way through your business. This has helped me focus on our point of difference when the way forward hasn’t been clear. Just lead with quality.

The second bit of advice that’s really helped me is to always define your USPs. Most businesses don’t really have USPs anymore. They have SPs. It’s important to know what you’re doing differently to the rest of the pack. It’s a noisy world out there and if you don’t know what makes you different, how will the consumer?

Finally, if you get over-caffeinated, eat a banana. It’s the coffee professionals’ secret weapon. You’re welcome.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Oh, I’m definitely done! This year has been intense.

Only joking. We have more ideas now than ever! We really feel the functional food category is where most innovation will happen so we’re looking into that. We also want to keep exploring how we can make great coffee more convenient. Keep your eyes peeled for new ideas coming soon!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’ve read some great books, but one which I regard as the “holy grail” is The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber.

I also really enjoy podcasts. The Secret Leaders podcast is always a good one.

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

Be Kind. The jury’s out on whether there’s a heaven and hell, but karma will definitely get you.

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. 🙂

The biggest challenge we face is the environmental crisis. I wish people were more aware of how their actions impact the environment. It’s not the consumers fault, different industries are sweeping their crimes under the carpet and deliberately misleading the consumer.

For example, if the consumer really understood the impact fast fashion has on the environment, they would be horrified. It would be game over for much of the high street. I’m sure of it. We all need to educate ourselves about the facts and be accountable for what we do and consume.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Little’s on Instagram and Twitter @wearelittles

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