For 20 years, Abigail Forsyth has run a string of cafés across Melbourne, arguably the coffee capital of Australia. This meant she was at the forefront of the rise of the disposable coffee cup – and the incredible amount of waste it generated.
"We tried to find an alternative but couldn't find a good-quality reusable cup that also met barista needs and standards, like fitting under the espresso machine," she says.
In partnership with her brother, Jamie Forsyth, she came up with the idea for sustainably produced, reusable KeepCups in 2007, then spent two years refining the product to ensure it also met café needs in terms of size.
"In recent years there has been a huge explosion in the awareness people have of the waste crisis, thanks to things like the ABC's show War on Waste , David Attenborough's Blue Planet II, and many countries and organisations pledging to ban disposable cups" she says. "Getting rid of them and creating a reliable reusable option was just such an obvious thing to do."
But not everyone had the same opinion.
"Someone once said to me that KeepCup was a stupid idea because it was just a plastic cup, and there were already hundreds. Their business advice was to just sell off the prototype. There were a lot of truths in the statement that we had to address early on but it made us determined to research and make a great product, evolve the concept and change industry perceptions."
"Getting KeepCup into independent cafés and roasters was really fundamental in seeding the idea for reusable cups to consumers. Also, getting big players on board to change their set up to facilitate reusable cups was a big win – in 2018, McDonald's had began putting espresso machines at drive-through check-outs so filling reusables is supported operationally. This is a huge win."
"Yes, it's about creating a product, but it's also about driving operational changes to facilitate the behaviour change."
Over the past 10 years, the business has sold more than 8 million reusable cups, keeping billions of disposable cups out of landfill in the process. It has expanded internationally and now has three bases – in Melbourne, London and LA – is available in 65 countries, with more than 40 employees joining the team since July 2017 alone. "We really just followed the interest of the product overseas as people began to understand the total waste crisis we are facing all over the world," Forsyth says.
"There have been challenges along the way. Finding the right people in different markets is not easy, especially when you need them to be at the forefront of creating a nuanced message for your product to fit the culture of your new audience. But it's exciting to see behavioural change. I love walking down the street in LA and seeing someone holding a KeepCup, passing the reusable message on to others. It's what keeps us inspired."
1) Think about the legal structure and set up that you'll use in your chosen market, as this will have massive implications for how your business operates.
2) Get a response to your product in your chosen market – you can't just pick up your business and move it; you need to take cultural differences and the audience into consideration.
3) Take time to find the right people on the ground. For example, in Australia we're well known and a growing business so finding people who are a good fit is easier than, say, in LA, where we are still a very small business. Think about how, even as a small business, you can attract people you need to help your business grow.
4) Understand your business and why it's successful in the current market. This makes expansion into new markets much easier, as you can understand the touch points and therefore the differences and create a response.
5) Make sure you have the right accounting system in place. We're all attracted to the fun part of work, like the communications and the design and colour. Having the right accounting system in place is not as glamorous but it's critical.
"We primarily earn through flying with Qantas both domestically and internationally. We have offices in Melbourne, LA and London so we need to travel for business. A good way to ‘double dip' is by paying for flights using a points-earning credit card, which we do."
"We've used them a fair bit for domestic and international holidays, making the most of Points Plus Pay. (Using a simple online calculator, you can select how many points you want to contribute toward a flight, then see how much money you'll need to spend to book that flight, or vice versa.) It's simple to transfer points from the Qantas Business Rewards account to other staff or family members for flights. We've also redeemed points for flight upgrades when travelling internationally for work."