As the founder of iconic Sydney cafe and coffee roaster Pablo & Rusty’s, Saxon Wright knows a thing or two about making a good cup of coffee. And it’s not just what’s inside the cup that matters; it has to taste good and do good.
Working in the cafe, Wright saw far too many unrecyclable takeaway cups headed for landfill every day. At the same time, sourcing coffee beans opened his eyes to the enormous amount of unused byproduct that farmers were left with.
“The more I thought about these problems, the more the two ideas merged,” says Wright. Eventually they grew into a million dollar idea: “Wouldn't it be great if we could use waste from the farms to solve the takeaway cup problem?”
So in 2017 he and Adrian Chen launched Huskee – with the help of a Kickstarter campaign – to make a reusable cup from naturally occurring coffee husks and recyclable polypropylene.
“The response from all over the world was overwhelming. We raised over $100,000 and quickly realised that this wasn’t going to be limited to Australia; there were opportunities globally.”
The international nature of the response meant that Huskee launched almost simultaneously in Australia, the UK and the US, while sourcing the husk and manufacturing in China. From the outset it was a global company, which meant it needed a global financial partner.
“The American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card was one of our earliest tools,” says Wright. “Because it has no pre-set spending limit¹, we could pay suppliers $20,000 to $30,000 at a time without having to worry about whether the funds were there to cover it. We had business travel expenses, manufacturing costs and IP registrations all over the world and the Card made looking after those international transactions easy.”
Businesses have up to 51 days to pay for purchases² on the Card – with that extended time between purchase and payment acting as a buffer against unforeseen expenses and freeing up cash flow for other costs. “And the fact we could earn Qantas Points³ on purchases made it even more appealing,” says Wright.
Just four years after the first production run, the company now makes three million cups a year. Growing at around 200 per cent each year, the company is looking to exceed that figure in 2022-2023 after a downturn during the pandemic.
Huskee has also earned more than three and a half million Qantas Points through its American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card. By redeeming these Qantas Points³ for business flights to the coffee farm in China and to connect with major distributors around the world, Wright and Chen have been able to further fuel their business’s rapid growth.
And with 25 staff to look after, “we even used those points to fit out the office. The Breville microwave, toaster and other appliances were all purchased using Qantas Points at the Qantas Rewards Store³.”
Another driver of growth has been the HuskeeSwap program that allows customers to bring in their cup and walk out with a fresh one at participating cafes. No time to wash your cup? No problem. “Operating my own coffee bar, I saw that when people brought in reusable cups it was actually a bit of a painful process ensuring that they were clean and that the orders matched. It’s very hard to do quickly and queues would build-up so we wanted to create a system enabling a cafe to operate with the same level of efficiency that takeaway cups offer.”
There are currently over 1000 participating outlets in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, France, Sweden and even the Maldives, with new enquiries coming in every day.
For the ever-ambitious Wright and Chen, it all amounts to a good start. “Our goal is to eliminate single-use cups and the more we grow, the more impact we can have,” he says. “We want to demonstrate that businesses can do something really good in the world and be profitable. They're not mutually exclusive.”
Unlock the possibilities
Saxon Wright and Adrian Chen share their top small business tips.
• The key to… starting an international business
“We’re not ashamed of being an ambitious company but growing quickly meant we needed a line of credit to support us, especially at the beginning when we were spending up to $100,000 a month on business travel and supplies,” says Wright. “Because there’s no pre-set spending limit¹ on our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card, we can access a line of unsecured funding across a 12 month period¹, while the FX International Payments platform⁴ we enrolled in made it really easy to manage accounts in four different continents at once and pay suppliers who wouldn’t usually accept Amex.”
• The key to… being adaptable
“It’s important not to be so buried in the day to day that you miss changes happening around you, so you need to regularly spend time out of the business looking back in. That allows you to identify broader opportunities and get creative with new ways of solving problems in the industry. It also means you can move quickly to jump on new opportunities as they evolve.”
• The key to… getting the most out of business travel
“We’ve been an international company almost from day one. I regularly travel to China where the husk is produced and to trade shows to meet major distributors from the UK, US and Korea. But business travel needs to be efficient and enjoyable, otherwise you can’t keep doing it. Booking flights on our American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card means we can take advantage of the complimentary travel insurance⁵ and earn 2 Qantas Points per $1 spent on Qantas products and services³. And by using those points to upgrade international flights I can make sure that I’m in good shape when I arrive on the ground.”
• The key to… growing slowly but surely
“The Kickstarter campaign meant we had interest from all over the world before we started production but going global so quickly was a huge challenge. Taxes, import duty and compliance regulation are different in every territory and working out how to navigate that really stretched us. We have the team to manage it now but getting control of our systems and proving the concept in our own backyard first would have helped to avoid some of those headaches.”
• The key to… maintaining good cash flow
“Once your products are ready, you have to pay for them quickly and move them onto distributors so you can start making sales. But distributors often have 30-day payment terms. That’s where having up to 51 days to pay for purchases² made with the Card is critical. It’s something we’ve leaned on a lot because it provides a crucial buffer. We can pay for shipping and manufacturing costs upfront on the Card, knowing we have some time up our sleeve while we wait for revenue to come in from distributors.”
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*120,000 bonus Qantas Points: Offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply by 2 November 2022, are approved and spend $3,000 on their new Card in the first two (2) months from the Card approval date. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any other Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the preceding 18 month period are ineligible for this offer. 120,000 Bonus Qantas Points will be awarded to the eligible Card Member's Account 8-10 weeks after the spend criteria has been met. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer.
American Express approval criteria applies. Subject to Terms and Conditions. Fees and charges apply. All information is correct as at 1 September 2022 and is subject to change. This offer is only available to those who reside in Australia. Cards are offered, issued and administered by American Express Australia Limited (ABN 92 108 952 085). ®Registered Trademark of American Express Company.