The year of the Bear
I have never been very good at keeping things short. If someone asks me to give a ten-minute talk, I will always do over fifteen and if I’m asked to keep it under 500 words, I’ll usually write double. This characteristic spills over to my buying habits too. My wardrobe and fridge will attest to the fact that I am very much a quantity over quality sort of guy. This is why it’s so difficult for me to sum up all that has gone on this past year in one short blog post but let me at least try and you can read on, in the knowledge that this is probably not my first draft!
This time 12 months ago, we were supplying one coffee shop (George’s cafe, Holborn) and set to launch the website on January 31st (2019). I had no idea what to expect and was quite honestly prepared for yet another entrepreneurial turkey. You may or may not be surprised to know that Blue Bear is not my first business. After leaving the Police in 2014, my friend Luke and I set up a security company that would essentially do anything for money. Anything legal that is. We gave some lectures, provided event security and did the odd bodyguarding job but made little to no profit. So, to support one ailing business, I launched another, a landscaping and handyman firm aimed at doing the jobs people didn’t have time to, which I aptly titled ‘Can’t Be Grassed’. I had one customer, which was a miracle in itself after I managed to strim a stone through her living room window on the first turn around her garden.
Somehow, despite my less than successful track record, I felt compelled to go ahead with Blue Bear Coffee Co. as a means of generating support for organisations fighting human trafficking and even allowed myself a little hope that it may just take off. Now, as I look back over the past twelve months and see the hundreds of bags of coffee sold across the UK and shipped all over the world, not to mention the international take-up of our podcast, it really would require the very gloomiest of pessimists not to see this as a brilliant start out of the blocks.
It certainly hasn’t been easy. Like all start-ups, money has been tighter than a post Brexit budget! Launching Blue Bear alongside working a full-time job has often left me feeling exhausted and incapable. I have never been the sort of Alan Sugar or Dwayne The-Rock Johnson type who can happily survive on four hours sleep, to keep their entrepreneurial empire afloat.
At times I’ve found it incredibly disappointing too. I have sat in front of dozens of people this past year and shared the story of Blue Bear, what we hope to achieve through it, and how they can support us in fighting human trafficking and injustice all over the world, simply by buying our coffee, to be met with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. I’ve often wanted to either cry (most cases) or lean across the table and grab them by their throats (some cases) but had to remind myself to open my palms, relinquish my grip and let go (metaphorically, of course).
If I could define why Blue Bear seems to have gone so uncharacteristically well, I would hazard to guess that it’s because, at its heart, it has nothing to do with me. Blue Bear is simply a response mechanism to a global issue. Whatever country you live in, I’m sure that at some point this past year, you’ve come across a news story about human trafficking. You don’t have to look far to find it. The world is waking up to the fact that we have a problem and it requires some major attention. Blue Bear is one of many initiatives investing in that change and I think people understand that.
What I have found most encouraging this year, has been seeing people connect with our cause and take it upon themselves to further it. I have an extremely long list of people I would like to thank who have blogged about us, shared us on their social media, sponsored our start-up fund, given to our podcast campaign, introduced us to wholesalers, brought us into their workplaces, shared us with their churches. To all of you, I extend my sincerest thanks.
This past year has served to remind me how many generous, compassionate and inspirational people exist in this world. Connecting those big-hearts with people in need has been an absolute joy and testament to the fact that, despite the sad things people do to each other, "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)
Happy New Year – a huge thank you – and bring on 2020!
Written by Bryn Frere-Smith