How Colin Harmon of 3FE Cafe & Roastery turned his passion into a business – AIB is Backing Brave

Colin Harmon using coffee machine in his cafe.

He left a steady job to pursue his dream and learnt a lot along the way. As part of a series of initiatives we’re undertaking to support small businesses, we listened to Colin Harmon of 3F Coffee, as he told us how he transformed his passion for coffee into a viable and successful business and revealed some heartfelt insights. AIB is Backing Brave.

Started in December 2009, 3FE covers everything involved in coffee from roasting to barista training. While working in the Financial Services sector, Colm drank a lot of coffee mainly as a hobby. As he learned more about coffee and tasted more coffees, he realised that this was something he really wanted to get involved in. After trading in his suit and diving head first into the coffee world, Colm hasn’t looked back since.

From 20 Cups a Day to 20 people on the books

Coming from the humble beginnings of a one-man operation, equipped with an espresso machine and a counter, business was initially very slow. From twenty cups of coffee sold on day one, to employing over twenty people, 3FE has developed into a national brand and has joined the export market.

Colin has won four Irish Barista Championships and finished in the top four of the World Championships on four occasions. 3FE staff have also entered and won many different coffee competitions, testimony to Colin’s commitment to building a quality product. 3FE has become a hotspot for international customers in the process.

Still focused on his core business Colin still sees the shop as a hidden gem of hospitality within Ireland. He has not deviated from 3FE’s primary business proposition: serving their customers high quality coffee.

Being Brave: Diving from a Steady Job into the Hospitality Business

What does it take to be Brave? Colin made a key brave decision when he decided to leave his steady job in Financial Services to pursue his coffee dream. His brave moment came with the support of his family and friends and a firm strategic focus. Brave means facing up to a new challenge and sticking with it. Colin’s first big business move came when 3FE opened their first shop on Grand Canal Street. Signing the lease for this represented a serious business commitment. He had to commit to a fixed cost and week-on-week expenses.

Fast forward a few years on and business is now booming for 3FE. Some of the recent weeks being the company’s busiest yet.

Brave is doing it Day In, Day Out – Consistency is Key in Hospitality

The most challenging part of running a coffee shop for Colin is consistency. The complex process of delivering a consistently excellent yet ephemeral product like coffee is 3FE’s greatest challenge today. As business grows daily, maintaining the same standard of good-tasting coffee in greater numbers requires the uncompromising attitude of 3FE’s professional staff. Customers of 3FE know that the coffee is always worth the short wait.

What’s the Payback? It’s Something Money Can’t Buy

It’s all about social payback for Colin. He loves meeting his customers, their friends and family and loves that he can’t traverse Dublin City without meeting the people he’s gotten to know through the coffee shop. His social business has its benefits. If he’s ever in need of anything from fixing a flat tyre to having a picture hung, Colin is only one customer away from a helping hand. Small businesses like 3FE bind communities closer together.

What’s next for 3FE? Colin is happy to take stock of what he has accomplished and be thankful for the success 3FE has had. It took a lot of hard work to get a small business to this point. The business has achieved the two dreams he had when starting out; to own a coffee roastery and open a coffee shop. Stay tuned. Six months down the road 3FE could be braced for further expansion and business development then.

Here’s the Great 3FE Business Takeaway. Listen Up!

Colin’s main advice for other start-ups? Do the research, know the product or service inside-out and grab some work experience in your chosen industry for a short period of time. Get a feel for the business.

When it comes to executing your business idea, remain focused on your idea no matter what, believe in your abilities, source good mentor advice and most importantly, just go for it. Be Brave.

To see the full chat with Colin, simply watch our below.

Learn more about how We’re Backing Brave and could be supporting your business, connect with AIB on Facebook, LinkedIn and follow @AIBBiz on Twitter. Listen to the Backing brave conversation here #backedbyAIB.

Colin Harmon is a customer of AIB. Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.