Entrepreneur Spotlight: Brian Gumm – From Hobby to Full-Time Businesspatrickluensmann
By: Lea Hensel, Business and Community Services
Founder, Director of Product Development & Roast Production
Ross Street Roasting Co.
Like many businesses, Ross Street Roasting Co. has the humble beginnings of starting in a basement shortly before that inevitable move to the garage. A garage that faced Ross Street in Toledo, Iowa to be exact. Coffee roasting started out as a hobby for Brian Gumm and a way to provide some unique gifts to friends and family. That was in 2014.
Flash forward to 2017 and his business serves cafes and retail stores in the Central Iowa area, as well as maintains an online store that serves the entire U.S. He followed the path many entrepreneurs take when they have a great product and it expands outside of the familiar friends and family. Featured in the local newspaper. More recognition through a feature in the Des Moines Register. Competed in pitch competitions. Started to grow a social media following. Took on a partner. And this summer, switching gears to turn what has been a side gig, into his full-time gig.
Gumm is a great example of how an entrepreneur can turn a hobby into a job, how to take advantage of opportunities, and how to stay focused on the passion that got it all started.
Knowing When to Add to the Team
Gumm started selling coffee to Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids in March 2016. As Ross Street Roasting Co.’s first cafe customer, Gumm says it was a good fit from the start. Another fast forward to today and Brewhemia is now a partner with the company. So how did Brewhemia go from being the first customer to partner?
“While I was not actively looking for a partner in late 2016 when our partnership talks began, we both quickly saw the value and opportunities that could come about by partnering,” he explained. “The goodness of the fit came in that 1) we both focused on high-quality coffees: me at the roasting phase, them at the cafe/brewing phase; and 2) the good pairing of all the personalities, gifts, and strengths of the various partners. We can pair off to focus on different aspects of growing the business. One partner is starting to roast with me, which increased our production capacity. Another partner is the experienced entrepreneur of the group, and he and I work together on big-picture strategy for growing the roasting business into new channels.”
In the announcement press release, Gumm explained that he was close to maxing out his capacity to run the business AND continue to grow it. Which makes sense once you also know that this was just a side gig, not his full-time job.
Going From Part-Time Entrepreneur to Full-Time Entrepreneur
So how did Gumm know that this summer was the time to take his side gig into full-time? Circumstance.
“It came about sooner than I’d anticipated,” he said. He started Ross Street Roasting Co. just two years ago while spending the past five years as a full-time telecommuter for a small, private university in Virginia (my grad school alma mater). “My job there is to train instructors to design and teach online courses. My daughter is starting college there in the fall, so I had planned to keep that job for another few years while she completed college (she gets a tuition discount from me working there),” he explained.
However, he learned this year in March that his position is being eliminated so he started contingency planning with his family on the business side as well as in their personal life. “Going full-time with the roasting business had been my dream all along. So if this is the “”push”” to get me there, I welcome it. It’s exciting and scary, but I would say it’s more exciting than scary. We’ll see if that changes after July 1st,” Gumm said.
Transitioning from being part-time to full-time comes with challenges. “The speed at which we’ve had to make big shifts in our plans has been the biggest challenge. That stress has been added to a steadily increasing production schedule (due to higher sales) being done on a small coffee roaster that is starting to get maxed out,” he explained. “So it’s all heading in the right direction – it’s just hard to keep up with the pace.”
Where to Start
Many times, entrepreneurs are not sure how to start or where to go so I asked Gumm what the best resource was that he would recommend to fellow entrepreneurs.
“My first big break came after networking with the 1 Million Cups group in Cedar Rapids/Iowa City,” he told me. “It was where I gave my first pitch as a brand new startup/entrepreneur, and it was through that group that I made the first contact that became my first café account, Brewhemia. And given that they eventually became part-owners in Ross Street Roasting Co., and my active business partners, I’d say that was a pretty key resource.”
Additionally, he shared how the internet and networking have played a key role in his craft, business, and brand. He uses social media to keep up with market trends, connect with others in the industry, talk with customers. He joined an industry trade group, the Roasters Guild, which is part of the Specialty Coffee Association and gained access to online resources and an online network. He even went a step further and started a team site on a chat platform called Slack, and has connected with other startup roasters from around North America (U.S. & Canada). “Being in a small Iowa town in a rural county, I can’t overstate the importance of the Internet and social media in this venture. It simply wouldn’t be possible without it,” he concluded.
Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs
Rounding out, I flipped the questions to one of my favorite questions I ask entrepreneurs – what advice would they give current and future entrepreneurs?
“Start small. Focus on your craft, focus on quality. Have fun, do what you love and brings you joy,” he said. “The first time I dropped a 1/4 cup of green/unroasted coffee beans into a hot air popcorn popper, I was in love. Keeping things at a hobby level for a 1.5 yrs while I worked a day job and had a family gave me the room to not worry too much about “”going big”” or growing too fast. I was able to focus on the craft and start daydreaming about where this passion could lead.”
This allowed him to then just slowly expand around his schedule before officially making it a business. Even at that point, he continued the “start small” approach that led him to where he is now with business partners, property ownership and a dedicated production facility that now needs his full-time attention. The slow start really allowed him to build a solid foundation for the company.
Gumm’s Lasting Advice for Readers
“I grew up in the small town of Prairie City, near Des Moines, before moving off to college and living in bigger cities here in Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia. Then we moved back to my wife’s hometown of Tama-Toledo. In addition to starting this business because I loved roasting coffee and saw a legitimate business opportunity, I started the business here because small town Iowa needs forward-looking entrepreneurs to help start new businesses in new industries in rural Iowa. Networking amongst entrepreneurs is key, and forming rural-urban partnerships is also key, especially to enhance the prospects for small town economic development.”
“So I hope our story encourages other small town folks to dream big, start something new, connect with others around the state – in cities and across the countryside – and help revive the flagging rural communities and economies. Love your neighbors, is basically what I’m trying to practice in my own business and encourage amongst others.”
You can learn even more about Ross Street Roasting Co. on their website at rossstreetroasting.com and be sure to check out the blog for coffee and gear reviews, learn where their coffee beans come from, and see what Gumm is up to. Plus, you can also follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.