Sam Keck, Coffee, Business, and Innovation – InnovaBuzz 299

Sam Keck

Sam Keck, Commonfolk Coffee

In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest,  Sam Keck, who is an entrepreneur and founder of Commonfolk Coffee, located in the town of Mornington, on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne. 

Sam has spun a successful roaster/retailer into a series of social enterprise efforts, including Zukuka Bora, a farmers initiative benefitting coffee growers in Uganda; and Home Ground, which is focused on providing training and job options in hospitality to unemployed youth on the Mornington Peninsula. By fusing the high demand for quality coffee with organized social enterprise, Sam’s work shows us how coffee can do more than just taste good—it can also do very serious good for communities at home and around the world.  Indeed, it’s a model for how business in general, can be a force for good in the world.

In our discussion, Sam and I talked about:

  • The importance of a pioneering mindset and innovation
  • How to leverage technology in your business in a way that frees your time for relationship building
  • Being flexible and pivoting your business in difficult times

Andrew Van De Beek in episode 242 introduced us to Sam.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

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Strong coffee is good but a strong culture is just as important. – Sam Keck @CommonfolkCC on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

Show Notes from this episode with Sam Keck of Commonfolk Coffee

Key points and takeaways from this episode include:

  • Broaden your network to include people who could mentor you and assist you in your business. 
  • Commonfolk Coffee means that great coffee is for every folk. 
  • Strong coffee is good but a strong culture is just as important.
  • Let your people drive your culture. Let them be your ambassadors.
  • Allow them your people to make mistakes. Encourage them to grow and develop the culture for themselves.
  • Empower your people to go for it. Let them know that you are there to hold their hand and not to berate them. Love your people and stand by them.
  • Utilise technology but don’t assume that you can just Google it and pick the first multi-national company that pops up. Ask the right questions. Go to your accountant or advisers and find out what they know about these and where they can provide assistance in this sphere. 
  • Commonfolk Coffee established “The Cup That Counts” initiative to contribute towards creating a fair and sustainable coffee industry. For every single cup of coffee that Commonfolk sells, 20c goes to support the Zukuka Bora Coffee Company in Uganda, that helps equip farmers with the skills and networks to develop their own successful enterprise and the “HomeGround” initiative that provides cafe training for disadvantaged youth in under-served communities in the region. 
  • All publicity is good publicity. You need to have a strong media presence. You need to have a strong voice and identity. Take advantage of PR and the media.
  • Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean that your product is better than someone else’s. It just means that the consumer gets access to your product ahead of someone else’s.
  • Find yourself a good accounting partner or software partner that can help you shave hours if not days of your workweek. There is always something for everything. There’s no way that you can grow a business in today’s climate without investing in automation and digital resources.
  • If you found a plan, you plan to fail.
  • If you measure twice and cut once, it puts you in really good stead to keep a project on track and get it done.
  • Work with motivated people, even with customers. Sometimes, it means limiting the people you sell your product to.
  • A product is only a part of what makes any product successful. You don’t necessarily need to create a new product or offer a new solution. It might just be that a whole heap of those products is not marketed well.
  • You’ll be better off getting ahead of others by looking for the weak points in already existing industries or products, particularly in your industry, rather than trying to reinvent something from scratch. 
  • There’s a difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur. A lot of entrepreneurs are not inventors. They’re just really good at changing someone else’s idea or product that already exists that consumers all of sudden see so differently.
  • Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, instead, look for the opportunity. If you’re not seeing it, you’re not looking harder.
You'll be better off getting ahead of others by looking for the weak points in already existing industries or products, rather than trying to reinvent something from scratch. – Sam Keck @CommonfolkCC on #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Sam’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Listen to the interview to get the full scoop.

  1. #1 thing to be more innovative – Look outside your bubble. Look outside of your industry. If there’s someone innovating that’s better than you, go find them.
  2. Best thing for new ideas – Good PR. Look for opportunities to get out there.
  3. Favourite tool for innovation – Technology – fin tech and software that speed things up.
  4. Keep project/client on track – Do it yourself. If you are a one man band, don’t expect that someone else will do the work, if it can’t be. Align your team from the start. Find people and customers who you align with and understand what the project is and what you want to achieve. Have clear mandates about how it should be delivered. 
  5. Differentiate – Be honest. Practice what you preach. Have a plan in place from day 1 and do not deviate from that.

To Be a Leader

Search for the silver lining. Get good at things you want to do. You are not born an entrepreneur. You are born a coffee guy or a public speaking guy or a coach. You just use those tools to become an entrepreneur in your space. There’s no point trying to sell something that you are not good at. Invest in yourself. Give yourself space make mistakes and fail, to get back up and have another crack, and enjoy it while you’re doing it.

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Sam through their website.

Suggested Guest

Sam suggested I interview Marcel McCarthy of digital brand and marketing agency, OneToo. So Marcel, keep an eye on your inbox for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Sam Keck.


Cool things about Sam

  • He graduated with a degree in Zoology.
  • AeroPress, Ikawa sample roaster, and a stubby holder, are three coffee apparatuses that he’d take in space with him.
  • James Hoffmann and Alan Adler are two of his coffee heroes. 
Don't try to reinvent the wheel, instead, look for the opportunity. If you're not seeing it, you're not looking harder. – Sam Keck @CommonfolkCC #InnovaBuzz podcast Share on X

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

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