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Published 15 May 2023
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7 minutes

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Maya Haiman-Eilon of Mont58 Coffee

For NerdWallet’s Entrepreneur Spotlight series, Maya Haiman-Eilon, co-founder of Mont58 Coffee, spoke to us about the importance of sustainability, and how the business has dealt with rising costs.

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How do you remain loyal to your local customers while also expanding your business? That’s a balance that the people behind craft coffee roastery Mont58 have deftly managed.

Founded in 2018, Mont58 started in Shai Eilon and Maya Haiman-Eilon’s shed in their back garden with a pair of 2kg roasters. Now it’s a Great Taste Award-winning brand delivering coffee all over the UK – including by bicycle. 

Maya spoke to us about saving to start your own company, the challenge of sales and marketing, and why being sustainable is best for business.

Why did you start your own business?

Mont58 grew out of the couple’s individual interests: “The passion for coffee is mainly Shai’s. My passion is more business,” explains Maya. “We both wanted to have the flexibility and excitement that your own business allows you to have.”

Shai had started roasting for himself, then family and friends, then their neighbours, before starting to explore other avenues. “It grew organically …” says Maya, “until the point we decided to go for it and turn a sidekick into a business.” 

“We built a shed in our back garden, where we still have part of our roastery,” she says. “We got a couple of small coffee roasters … and started doing local deliveries.” 

Maya and Shai were always keen on diversifying their revenue streams to include both wholesale clients and individual customers, the latter supported by a subscription model. However, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was easier to grow the wholesale business. 

“Let’s say there’s a deli shop you want to supply your coffee to. You contact them, you go there, you speak to them, and it happens or not,” says Maya. “But getting individual people to know about you can be quite tricky. It takes time for word of mouth to build.”

Then the pandemic hit. “It was scary at first, as we lost all of the cafés and offices we had started supplying.” But then overnight individual orders suddenly exploded. “Basically all of our lockdown was just work, work, work all the time. Which enabled us to accelerate our growth.”

» MORE: How to start a business

How did you fund your business?

Before starting Mont58, Maya ran her own pilates online streaming service, while Shai worked as a marketing director for TripAdvisor. These roles provided the funding foundation for Mont58.

“We didn’t want to [start Mont58] with any financial pressure. We [had] a family to support and a mortgage to pay and everything else,” Maya says. “So we actually saved for a year. We put a bit of money aside every month, with the aim of being able to not earn any money for at least six months … We thought this would give us enough space to develop what we wanted to do.”  

During the pandemic, Mont58 also took the Bounce Back Loan from the government. But thanks to the business’s performance during lockdown, Maya and Shai didn’t touch those funds until recently. “We used it last year to grow, rather than to ‘bounce back’.”

» MORE: How do business loans work?

What are your running costs?

“The main cost that we have is the cost of goods,” says Maya. That’s everything from green coffee beans for roasting to packaging.

“Food and coffee packaging is a nightmare if you want to do it sustainably,” she says. “It never feels like you reach a point where you are happy with your packaging. So there are always costs to do with the development of packaging.”

There are also postage costs, the salaries for their employees, and Mont58’s business energy bills. The rise in energy costs in particular has been an issue, as it coincided with the business opening a second, bigger roastery in Ashford, Kent.

“It really impacted our business,” says Maya. “The second roaster allows us to have more capacity, which was the aim, but it also uses up much more energy.”

And the UK energy crisis hasn’t happened in a vacuum. “All of our costs have risen in the last year … And we have tried as much as we can not to transfer this on, but we’ve had to raise our prices a bit.”

“I think generally people want to support a local independent business, and everyone understood [why prices had risen],” says Maya. “But in parallel to that, everyone’s bills have gone up, and everyone feels like they have less money in their pocket.”

Fortunately, Mont58 has a loyal base of customers, especially in South East London. “We’ve seen a bit of a plateau in subscriptions, but that has been compensated for by one-off purchases. People still buy the coffee, but some people might not feel like they can justify a subscription on their own budget.”

What was your biggest challenge when you first started?

“Sales and marketing is still the biggest challenge for a business like ours,” says Maya. “For marketing you have to invest heavily online, the money small businesses often don’t have. And for sales, you have to really like sales, and none of us do.”

Maya and Shai have worked as smart as they can when it comes to marketing. “We’ve tried to be clever about it. We’ve done partnerships with other people, we did giveaways to get more followers,” reflects Maya. “If we did buy ads in a magazine or publication, we have always tried to get something more out of it, such as a bit of editorial coverage.” 

But it’s a never-ending challenge. “I would say it takes up more than 50% of our time.” 

» MORE: Marketing challenges for small businesses

What has most surprised you about running your business?

Starting a business provides one set of obstacles. But growing your business throws up an entirely new set of problems. “The challenges of growing surprised us more than anything,” says Maya.

“I always imagined that growing your business would be a really great feeling and a good opportunity, which it is, but it is the harder thing to do. In my opinion, it is harder than starting,” she explains.

“When you start you almost have nothing to lose, and everything you do is a game. But there is a tipping point where you have to grow but you are not making enough to cover your new costs.” 

And this can leave your business in a precarious position. “You invest quite a lot in order to grow, and then you feel vulnerable on the cash flow side.”

» MORE: How to grow your business

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from running your business?

While you can order Mont58 coffee from anywhere in the UK, if you live in South East London, your coffee is delivered by bicycle straight to your door. It’s part of the business’s efforts to be as sustainable as possible – a decision that has benefits beyond being good for the environment.

“Whatever business you are doing,” says Maya, “there is no other option than doing it sustainably … As well as being the right thing to do, it has quite meaningful financial rewards. It is a good business decision.”

This is because of the impact going green can have on your brand – as long as you take it seriously. “For example, when we did a bit of market research about what [Mont58’s customers] value most about our brand … what they liked was our sustainability ethos.”

And making your business as sustainable as possible can create a point of differentiation between you and your competitors. “If [Mont58’s customers] had to choose between us and someone else, they would choose us because we deliver to them by bike, our packaging is recyclable, and we pay the London [Living] wage,” she says. “Customers, at the moment, want to identify with businesses and brands that reflect what they think is important.” 

What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs?

“There’s quite a lot of funding opportunities that no one tells you about,” says Maya. That means you may well be leaving money on the table that could help you grow your business. 

“Invest some time in exploring those funding opportunities,” she advises, “and get registered on all sorts of initiatives by your local authorities, or the government … Because if it’s not you, it is going to be someone else who gets it.”

» MORE: Small business grants

Dive even deeper

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What is Invoice Financing and How Does it Work?

Invoice financing can make it possible for businesses to borrow money against unpaid customer invoices. But how does invoice financing work, and is it right for your business?

What is Equity Finance?

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Equity finance allows your business to raise money by attracting investors to buy an ownership stake. It’s a way of funding growth without having to worry about loan repayments and eligibility.

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