What is your full name, title, and business name?
Kenny Sipes, Founder, The Roosevelt Coffeehouse
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
The Roosevelt Coffeehouse is built to support organizations fighting the injustices of hunger, unclean water, and human trafficking both locally and around the world. In five years we have donated over $125,000, impacted over 30,000 individuals and have seen over 700,000 people engage our mission.
How did the idea for your business come about?
That’s a long story. Was it in 1984 when U2’s Unforgettable Fire wrote lyrics about injustices? Was it Invisible Children’s video storytelling? Was it my trip to Lesotho, Africa in 2008 that reset who I was and what I was to do? Was it coordinating a decade of inner city mission trips in the United States with hundreds of students helping others? Was it when I resigned a ministry job after ten years with no plan? It was a culmination of it all. Once you are able to get out of your privileged bubble you have the ability to lose your blinders to what you didn’t see or were ignorant to before. Not everybody is willing to take action once the blinders are off. I chose to take action.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
Early on, we were super humbled by Columbus’ response. Two things happened the first month we were open (April 2015). One, three weeks in, we had our grand opening. Hundreds showed up and we were able to make a significant donation to Salvation Army’s Human Trafficking work that was directly serving woman who had been rescued that week. Two, in June, Shannon Hardin (now City Council President) had been elected to City Council and asked to host an after hours minority business forum at the shop. It was well attended and it felt like from there we had cemented our place in the city as a refuge for the doers of Columbus.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
As a non-profit I am not an owner, but a founder and executive director. I am not a title guy. I am as successful as the team I build and how well we treat those that engage our experience. What does being an entrepreneur mean? It is terrifying. Every day is an act of faith. There are no guarantees. Who saw a pandemic coming? In the end, the goal is to never rest on your laurels, be willing to adjust, remain teachable, and surround yourself with those who understand or are inspired by what you are doing.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Everything. Having been a suburban family man for so long, I was unaware of how much Columbus supports Columbus. It is a beautiful thing.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
Born in Minnesota. Moved here as a middle schooler, but my dad was an airline manager and we had Minnesota Viking season tickets well into my adulthood. About once a year we would fly to the Twin Cities to see a game. I graduated from and live in Pickerington. I love Cbus. With four kids who live locally, I would doubt you will see me ever leave.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Screw the naysayers. They were never on your team in the first place. Push through the pain and setbacks. Communicate well with those who do support your vision. They will help and want to be involved. They have the capacity to make your vision a reality.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
Accounting. Legal. Business. I knew none of it. And yet here we are.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Wanting the best possible job experience for our employees.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I care about what everyone thinks. Five hundred good Yelp reviews to one bad one. And guess what I am obsessing on?
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Passion over product. Your social impact desires, or wanting to love what you do have to be anchored in a commodity that you can sell.
Because I care about what people think, it was imperative to me to be fully ready when we opened. I see too many startups rush opening the doors and giving people a half full experience. And the cost of that is you are evaluated by that, not what you intend to be. Be what you intend to be from day one.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
We will see if expanding too early costs us.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Asking for help. Securing a brilliant lawyer. Hiring loyalists.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
When we were being courted consistently. Gravity and Brett Kaufman seemed like the best fit.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Pursued creating a roaster entity so that our brand was ours from shop to coffee.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
A couple of expansion opportunities. From architectural plans to construction company planning. Lots of time, decision making, and disappointment.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
This may sound funny, but stickers. We don’t skimp on quality and we give them away. They find their way to laptops around the world. Literally. We get an email request every other day for someone requesting them. The branding reach on those stickers has far outweighed how much we have had to spend on them.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Survival. As a non-profit social enterprise supporting organizations fighting hunger, unclean water, and human trafficking we are reenvisioning what our impact can look like. This currently has us focused on less orgs, but giving us increased intentionality with the ones we are working with.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Word of mouth. Instagram.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? Please provide name and business name so we can give them credit!
Lawyer: Christopher Hammond at Dinsmore and Shohl
Social Enterprise: Allen Proctor at Social Ventures
Private Foundation Doers: Dan Sharpe and Emily Savors at The Columbus Foundation
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Joe DeLoss. He is my man crush and business wisdom giver.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I am a spontaneous doer. I don’t connect with the long term. I believe your investment into the day at hand will define that for you.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
Seek wisdom from others who can be objective. Remember, this too shall pass.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
A great idea will succeed no matter what. I believe timing and luck are more prevalent in startups that we care to admit.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
The goal is to make sure everything we do impacts others and remove anything that doesn’t. We hope to be a nationwide purveyor of coffee. This year the roaster has shipped to forty states, so the goal is at hand. One of my kids manages Gravity, so we are aligned, but ownership is not a part of our model as a whole.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
I already told you, Joe DeLoss is my man.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
You know what, I am on a book kick, so let’s go with The Book Loft.