Listen and Learn: A key to a Business as Mission Startup

One of the first Business as Mission companies that I got to know about fifteen years ago was a coffee retail operation in a capital city of west Asia, in the former Soviet Republic.  I learned a vital bit of “how to” as I talked to a team member and then visited the operation.  I learned to not build a product and look for a customer, but to look for a potential customer and ask what product he wants.

The company, Capital Roasting Company (CRC) did just that.  The team knew they wanted to open a business, so they set about a process of understanding what the people wanted.  They did this research while they were making friends and learning the language in the capital city.

This is what they discovered.  Since the country had been abused by the Soviet regime and had achieved independence in 1991, the team discovered the following sentiment among the youth (college age and mid-career). There was a large number who wanted to migrate to the west or wanted to get jobs with multinational companies entering their country.

As this information was processed by the team and verified with multiple sources, they decided that in order for the locals to achieve this dream, they needed three things; they needed to:

  1. Learn to read and speak English
  2. Learn to like coffee (since their country was a tea culture)
  3. Understand the economic and religious roots of the west

The team understood the quadruple bottom line of Business as Mission and had the expertise and access to resources in order to build a profitable coffee business, which had 22 employees in two stores when I visited (Need #2).  The buildings had rooms in the back or side, which provided teaching and resource rooms for Needs #1 and 3.  There were classes in English, the free-market system, and Christianity.

Today, the two stores are totally self-sufficient with no foreign employees or capital.  They have accomplished these “customer wants” for dozens of people, some of them employees, but many who simply come to hang out and take classes at the CRC coffee shops.  Many have become coffee lovers and followers of Jesus.

  • The full story of the CRC is in the upcoming book, Missions Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missional Professionals.

Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures

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