Gaston Sitbon was born in Chicago. Due to his French father, he spent a good chunk of his life living in Paris. His own enlistment in the US military and natural sense of curiosity allowed him to continue exploring the world into adulthood. Today he lives in Wroclaw, Poland, where he is the founder of G Coffee Company, a caffeinated staple in the Polish coffee scene.
Growly met with Gaston to discuss his difficulties running a business in a foreign country, how he’s branded himself, and his four solid pieces of advice for people looking to start their own business. Get yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy the interview…
Let’s start off by you telling us a little about G Coffee Company.
I came up with the idea while working at one of the big banks in Wroclaw. I saw a TED video of Asher Yaron who built his own coffee roasting machine from a BBQ grill. I was amazed by it and decided that I could build my own as well. Over time, with the help of some great people like Adam Wlodarczyk, the idea evolved, and after about eighteen months we had a hand built coffee roaster.
Now how does one go from building a roaster to building a company?
I always jumped and hoped to land on my feet. I began by staying up all night 2 to 3 times a week to work on plans and designs while working full time at the bank. Then I opened a company on paper and rented a small space near the train station. Quit my job. Used pallets from the dumpsters to build a small bar. Used the rest of my savings to buy an Espresso machine and grinder. Opened the doors and held my breath.
This all happened over a 4 month period. It was thrilling and scary at the same time.
What are the challenges you face running G Coffee Company?
Creativity. Every day I’m running into obstacles like broken equipment, late shipments, faulty results, et cetera. Because the company is small and we don’t have bags of money laying around, any one of these issues can severely harm the business. The need to be creative in finding solutions is critical.
Can you think of any obstacle or limitation that you can look back on and say actually benefited you?
Money. Something we didn’t have much of. By starting with almost nothing, we were forced to do things like use pallets to build a bar, fix our equipment ourselves, build a roaster by hand, use copper plumbing pipes to build our coffee drippers and Nitro Coffee dispensers. All of which not only forced us to use our creative muscles but also became deeply embedded in our image.
Unlike many places that start (or seem to) with deep pockets, we don’t have that polished image with fancy equipment or flashy accessories.
What’s your day-to-day look like with your business?
Once a week we run B2C operations at EkoBazar, a local farmer’s market – that’s where we introduce new coffees and get direct feedback from people as to the quality of our work. The other six days of the week, I’m roasting coffee, meeting with partners and clients, coming up with new ideas, scratching off bad ideas, and running around the city finding ways to make things advance.
What is something you wish you had known before you took on your company?
Not EVERY opportunity is a good opportunity. There were a number of projects we took that were really not worth the effort – most of them were brought to us under the “it’s great advertising for you” banner.
What advice would you offer someone looking to start their own business?
Learn how to say “no” politely, not every opportunity is for you.
1. Learn how to say “no” politely, not every opportunity is for you.
2. Be sure to have an Artist on your team, they are the closest thing we have to Wizards.
3. Try to focus on one thing at a time, or else you WILL spread yourself too thin.
4. Do your best, at the end of the day you will know there’s nothing more you could have done.
What are some of the difficulties of running your business as an American in Poland?
Language, it’s predominantly about language. Coffee is a very intimate commodity and to build a business in a highly competitive market communication is vital. In English and French I’m extremely comfortable in developing relationships but when It comes to Polish my skills are limited to a handful of words and a lot of body language.
I’ve always been impressed with your ability to talk to anyone. G Coffee Company is highly regarded, but your personality is what people talk about. It’s almost as if you’ve been branding yourself as much as your company. Was that a deliberate choice? And are these skills you’ve had to develop?
Thank you first of all! I don’t think I was deliberately branding myself. I am proud of what we do so I let people know.
Like I said before, my Polish isn’t very good so using hand gestures and body language is my most reliable way to communicate – so all the videos and photos were my best way of getting messages out there.
Also, and this (I think) was my thinking at the time, that people will relate to companies that can be personified.
Can you put a face on Lavazza, Starbucks, or Illy?
Tell us how your work has made you a better person.
I’m happier in general – the small things I used to neglect are now cherished.
Thanks for your time, Gaston.
For more information about G Coffee Company and what Gaston is up to, check out its Facebook page.