No ordinary cuppa: How one small business takes Melbourne to the world
Discovering new coffee roasts and deciding upon a favourite for your daily cup is an incredibly personal experience. From freshly ground single origin Kenyan beans, to a quick mug of International Roast – there are so many options to choose from, and the team at Three Thousand Thieves want you to discover which are your favourites.
According to founder Athan Didaskalou, the Three Thousand Thieves business was based on the relatively simple idea of helping people discover new coffee roasts via a kind of ‘virtual’ tour of Melbourne.
Didaskalou says Melbournians have nurtured a specialist coffee roasting industry full of unique producers that are simply begging to be discovered by coffee lovers, and he saw an opportunity to connect the coffee drinking community directly to these producers through a unique subscription model.
But the team at Three Thousand Thieves are not simply selling and sending samples of coffees to their customers, they’re delivering entirely new experiences through the post. With so many local roasters experimenting with different beans, blends and roasting methods, there’s always something new for the team to share with their adequately caffeinated audience.
“The biggest turning point was realising that we are curators and that we actually curate an experience for people, we help them discover new things,” says Didaskalou.
“That shift in mentality from ‘oh we’re just supplying them coffee’, to ‘oh, we’re actually creating an experience for them helped then open up new possibilities, new channels for distribution.”
This sense of adventure has been the spark for international expansion of the business, and has inspired a very specific way of packaging and delivering their product, which the team now sees as their ‘secret sauce’ – the thing that really makes their customers love the service, and keep coming back for more.
Vision: The word 'Singapore' appears over gleaming skyscrapers. A curved framework of tubes and struts forms the shining metal shell of the Helix Bridge. A brunette gazes at the view from the bridge. She stands in a tropical garden.
Text: "Dawn Phua, 3000 Thieves Customer."
[Chic music plays throughout.]
Dawn: I found out about Australian coffee when I was holidaying in Australia last year. And I realised the coffee culture is actually really strong. When I came back from Australia, I was wondering where could I get a regular supply of beans. So I was actually browsing online and on social media and chanced upon Three Thousand Thieves.
Vision: A blonde man lets himself into a stylish warehouse space and makes filter coffee. Text: "Melbourne." The man stands near a work bench. Text: "Athan Didaskalou, Founder, 3000 Thieves."
Athan: So I think Melbourne's coffee scene has grown into this magnificent utopia of coffee. Melbourne's famous for it worldwide. We produce some amazing quality coffee. And it's not that we're growing any of it, it's that the people who are bringing it in and doing stuff with it actually are spending the time and committing to getting as much flavour out of the coffee as possible.
The moment I came up with Three Thousand Thieves, I was working for a coffee roaster in the suburbs, old Italian guy. He knew his stuff, but I wanted to experience more. The biggest turning point was realising that we are curators and that we actually curate an experience for people. We help them discover new things. And that shift in mentality from "We're just supplying them coffee," to "Actually, we're creating an experience for them," helped then open up new possibilities and new channels for distribution.
When we started to feel big is when we started to get a lot more international customers.
Vision: Dawn picks up a box and runs her thumb across a white and gold sticker. Split screens show Athan packing a box and Dawn examining a box's contents, which include a bag of coffee beans and a bundle of photos and leaflets.
Dawn: So when I received the first package, I thought it was beautifully done. It had a really nice sticker and that brought a smile to my face. And when I opened it, I was expecting, like, just a bag of coffee beans, but there were cards inside talking about the roasters and about the beans. So the whole experience of receiving the package is really different.
Athan: We try and include photography and stories that are more than just about the beans, that are actually about the people behind the coffee as well. And that's a big part of what we do. And I think people relate to people more than they relate to the actual coffee itself. And I feel like that's quite nice. It's that connection, that human story, that people bond to.
Dawn: When I drink the coffee, I can actually make reference to the cards and enjoy the coffee the way that they recommend it.
Vision: Athan carefully places a bag of beans into a box, then smooths down the white and gold sticker. Athan and Dawn drink coffee.
Athan: We give them something, they give us something back and it's a great community vibe. I think the biggest... My biggest advice I can give to anybody looking to grow is to focus on community. Anybody can sell a product, but not everybody can build a community around the product and the service that you provide. And that's what's going to help grow to new local markets, to bigger international markets, and to other different products and services as well. Your community is essentially what you're building, not the business, per se.
Dawn: It just reminds me of the fun times that I had in Australia, meeting new people and just enjoying a cup of coffee.
Vision: On a Three Thousand Thieves label, '3TT' appears in a black circle. The red Australia Post logo appears on a white screen.
After learning a lot from their own business’ journey, the Three Thousand Thieves crew have developed some tips and insights about starting and growing a small business that they can now share with others:
- Pay careful attention to the experience you’re creating for customers of your online store. Package your product so that people look forward to it. Remember, it’s a big part of the experience of buying from you.
- Tell your story, and that of your product. People connect with people – so help them know who you are and what you’re about.
- Create community around your business and the way you do things. Find ways other than purchasing your product for people to connect with you and other like-minded customers.