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Engineering to coffee: an entrepreneurial journey

By Javier Gutierrez Abril - Posted on 10 October 2019

Javier Gutierrez Abril did the MSc in Finance at Strathclyde and went on to set up Caribbean Goods, a specialty green coffee importer, in Glasgow. Find out how he moved from studying engineering to finance to becoming an entrepreneur in Scotland.

I wrote this post drinking a cup of tea after tasting one of the worst coffees I have ever tried in the city centre of Glasgow.

I hate bad coffee – I was born and raised in Guatemala, speaking Spanish, playing football – and drinking incredible coffee!

My family has around 15 coffee trees planted in the garden which produce around 15 kgs of coffee a year which is enough to supply my house yearly. I didn’t realise it then but my house is located inside of Fraijanes plateau, one of the most famous coffee regions of coffee growing in Guatemala. Later, I would find out that Guatemala is one of the top specialty coffee-producing countries in the world.

After graduating from high school, I entered a classic young adult dilemma. What do I do now? Do I work? Do I study more? I have always been great with numbers, therefore, my dad advised me to study engineering. I never connected with that field of study but one thing that I have learnt through life is that knowledge is one of the most substantial assets you can have, and eventually, everything you have learnt will be useful.

During my degree, I took an exchange semester to Wyoming University, where I received my first entrepreneurship class. My teacher was a Norwegian immigrant with his own IT company in the United States. I loved the course, the idea of building your legacy and owning your time was mind-blowing. He had an anecdote of a football player who was playing in a team out of his league. Ninety minutes have passed and the football lands in front of this football player, who kicks the ball and scores, they won because of that goal. Lucky? Yes. But what was the difference between him and all the other players in the bench? He was out there playing, so the moral? Put yourself out there!

Before coming to Scotland, I opened my first business, Grupo Gaelico, and it was meant to be a digital marketing agency. After three months of “operations” and a vast amount of expenses, I had to close it. Why? I forgot something vital to any business – sales, the hard reality. I thought I could get unlimited clients through Facebook and emails, which - trust me - is never the case. Always remember, you do not need to build a fantastic service or product; you need to develop a product or services that people are willing pay for. Without sales, you just have an expensive hobby.

I came to Scotland where I did my MSc Finance and loved it. I feel I owe something to the Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network (SEN) - the people there are incredible and I have received so much help and guidance in setting up a company in a foreign country. One of the biggest challenges for every person who wishes to become an entrepreneur is coming up with an idea. I remember being in Andrew Ure Hall in a small room looking out the window thinking, what can I do?

My dad always advises me to rely on your strengths, not correct weaknesses. What are my strengths? Back then, I was the only Guatemalan around (strength); what does Guatemala have? (coffee); can I sell it here? (Yes). Boom, I got a project.

I made a business plan, which was a requirement for my visa application, which was a fantastic tool to spot my weak spots (again, thanks to SEN for forcing me to do a business plan). One of the biggest challenges of this project was the export/import of the product; you needed to be able to understand the different incoterms and requirements of the food industry in the United Kingdom and Guatemala. Also, you needed to be able to understand the future contracts of coffee (traded as a commodity). In a nutshell, you need engineering and finance knowledge, which had nothing to do with coffee itself. And guess what? I had it – as I said previously, everything you learn stays with you forever. Honestly, I never thought I was going to be importing and selling coffee when I was staying up until two in the morning studying for engineering classes, but I am happy I did.

Caribbean Goods is a specialty green coffee importer from Guatemala based in Glasgow. Traditionally, all the large green coffee importers are found in large cities and sell large units. Caribbean Goods, by basing itself in the north, lowers the shipping cost for northern coffee roasters and provides coffee in less than half the size of the standard industry unit. These small modifications help small and medium-size independent coffee roasters access green coffee from Guatemala. 

Hopefully, Caribbean Goods is going to be around for a long time in Scotland. My dream - to become the most prominent green coffee importer from the Caribbean Region in the United Kingdom.


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