We interviewed coffee entrepreneur and founder of Catalyst Trade – Emily McIntyre – who shared her journey with us, in the coffee world, the experience working with the community in Ethiopia that changed her perspective, and how she built and grew the popular online coffee marketplace called Crema.co.
Better Coffeer: Musician turned badass coffee geek? What made you decide to move into the coffee industry?
Emily McIntyre: Coffee drew me with its connectivity. Ultimately I seek the same intense connection with other people in coffee that I did in music. Whether I am on a stage singing old Scottish songs and watching the walls come down behind people’s eyes, or I’m on the phone with a coffee person listening to them describe their first exposure to quality coffee, it’s that sense of being bigger than myself that ties my career together.
I just stumbled into coffee, though. I was ready for a change, and someone told me I had a good personality for coffee, so I started putting in applications at coffee shops. Just a couple months later I was managing a shop and learning how to pull shots and pour latte art. That was over a decade ago!
Better Coffeer: How has the experience working with the community in Ethiopia change your perspective on life?
Emily McIntyre: I have to keep growing more humble. Every time I learn—often intensely—how different cultural backgrounds influence the way we interact with other people, I am reminded that so many things which seem non-negotiable to us are just expectations based on how we interpreted the world where we were raised.
Living and working in Ethiopia has also shown me that very few problems are actual emergencies. Calmness and humor is our best armor. Grace is a superpower.
Better Coffeer: What drives your obsession with words?
Emily McIntyre: I happen to be good with them, so words are my universal tool in life. I’ve seen their power. Even, sometimes, withholding words is intensely powerful. We humans are just words and thoughts strung together and written over our skins in invisible ink. I love the moment when truth shivers down my spine—when the words coming out of my mouth or someone else’s just EXIST and bring wisdom or joy with them. So, I’m obsessed with words because they make me happy and whole—and I have a sneaky feeling that could work for everybody!
Better Coffeer: How did you and Tyler Tate meet each other at Crema? Tell us your secret in building the successful partnership.
Emily McIntyre: Other than my life/business partner Michael (cofounder of Catalyst Trade and Catalyst Coffee Consulting), Tyler is probably the best partner I’ve ever had. I still miss working with him on a daily basis! We met four years ago when he contacted me just after he launched Crema.co’s successful Kickstarter. He was wondering if I wanted to write about his new business. We met in Seattle over coffee and just hit it off.
Over time, I worked closer and closer with him and just a few months later I joined him as cofounder. If there was a secret to our successful partnership I think it is that we are both very good at what we do, aligned in our goals, and good communicators.
Better Coffeer: Having worked in the coffee supply chain from farm level to retail, what are some of the unspoken changes that needs to be made?
Emily McIntyre: We need greater societal accountability for the large companies that own or control almost all of the coffee supply chain globally.
We need more for-profit businesses that are honorable, honest, and creative.
Since we are stuck with the current capitalistic system, we need more people with the resources and integrity to work with the system and influence it for the better. We need more hope, and more hard data.
Better Coffeer: What was the experience like joining 500 Startups Batch 19 and the key learning that can be applied for the coffee industry?
Emily McIntyre: Coffee businesses can learn a lot from other businesses. Marketing, systems, communications, finances—these are universal challenges. Tyler and I appreciated the exposure to other business models and the chance to tap into the collective consciousness of a very specialized and focused sector in business.
Better Coffeer: What was the toughest decision you have made?
Ooh that’s a tough question to answer! I think some of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make are each time that I’ve pivoted my focus in business.
It’s hard to end things or walk away from them, and it’s hard to accept the changes and risks of starting things afresh.
That said, I find it invigorating too!
Better Coffeer: Having run coffee marketing classes with coffee businesses, what are the challenges facing them to differentiate themselves?
Emily McIntyre: Basically all coffee shops are selling the same product, and most are using the same language and type of branding. Differentiation is as simple as figuring out who you are—whether as an owner, if you’re a small business or as a business, if you’re planning to grow beyond the owner’s personality—and regularly communicating it with the right people. It’s simple in concept but can be hard in execution.
Better Coffeer: Follow Your Dreams = bullshit?
Emily McIntyre: Yeah, I wrote that piece! I wrote it in response to the generalized B.S. advice given to millennials that arbitrarily picking a ‘dream’ (whether that’s being a digital nomad, or making enough money to drive a Lamborghini, or be an Instagram influencer) and then fixating on it is ENOUGH to make it through life and be successful.
We have to stay flexible and keep adjusting our goals as we get older, or we doom ourselves to a derivative existence.
In reality there are no silver bullets, and just wanting something isn’t enough to get it. And, as we grow, we often see that the trappings of our dreams aren’t at all what we wanted.
Better Coffeer: What's the best/worst advice you have ever received?
Emily McIntyre: Um… I firmly believe that actions speak louder than words, and people don’t change at their core. So, if someone acts untrustworthy, no amount of fervent adoration from them will change the fact that I can’t trust them, nor will time change their basic character.
A great piece of advice was given to Michael and me by our good friend Adam Reid, who teaches entrepreneurship to teenagers in a really cutting-edge way. He pointed out, years ago when we were having trouble making a decision, that if we were clear on our core values we could assess decisions by how they stacked up against those values.
We immediately created a decision-making template, which to this day we run big or small troubling decisions through, evaluating them against our core values. So helpful.
if we were clear on our core values we could assess decisions by how they stacked up against those values.
Better Coffeer: What are the books/people/places that have impacted you the most?
Emily McIntyre: So many. But I’m a hard core fantasy reader and writer (almost finished with my latest novel!) so I have to point to the glorious 70’s-era trilogy Riddle-Master of Hed. I’ve probably read that 12 times and still plan to get a portrait of Readerle tattooed on my inner arm.
Lifewise, there have been a lot of great books. I really appreciate It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Heinemeier Hannson and Jason Fried of Basecamp.
Better Coffeer: Where can fellow coffee lovers follow you along in your next exciting journey?
Emily McIntyre: I’m at @catalyst.coffee, constantly instagramming my cuppings, questions, and observations, so follow along and connect with me there! I’d love to chat!