Small Business Profile: Ellie Eckert, Founder of Written Coffee
Hi Ellie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Ellie, and I’m a blogger turned business owner who has spent the last few years seeking inspiration in coffee shops from New York to LA and San Francisco. I recently moved back to my home town to start my dream company: Written Coffee.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
When I graduated high school, I had a grand plan of moving to New York City to study journalism. I’d be a big editor! Write for my favorite magazine! As you can probably guess, life took me on a different path. I was studying at Baruch College and my professors had one rule: you can’t write about fashion. So what did I do? I started a blog, where I could write unedited about – you guessed it – fashion (and eventually coffee). The blog got me my first job (while I was a freshman in college), a PR intern turned PR assistant at Bed|Stu Footwear. From there, I went on to sign a contract to be on Seventeen Magazine’s Style Council, and when that was up, to write as a lifestyle contributor for AOL. See? Life had different plans.
When I graduated some of my best friends asked if I wanted to do some contract work for their digital agency, and I spent the next few years working as a digital strategist, before the blog struck again. I was living in Los Angeles (and working remotely for the digital agency) when a recruiter who saw my blog asked if I wanted to interview for a job at Pottery Barn – there was a DIY room, they said. “When can I interview,” I said.
A few weeks later, I was moving to San Francisco, but I continued to write on City Brewed about all of the coffee shops I was exploring.
About a year ago, I started really considering the idea of owning my own coffee company – a dream I’d had since my first year in New York. The whole “if not now, when” quote swarmed my head, until I finally decided to make the plunge.
Okay before we get to Written, could you tell us about City Brewed? When did you begin that and where does your love of coffee stem from?
It was that first year in New York – when my professors insisted I write about business – that I decided to start my own website. I was going to so many artisanal coffee shops, something that really didn’t exist at this time in my hometown of Palm Harbor, Florida, so I wanted to document everything, and interview everyone. I had never seen a space so inspiring – beautiful, industrial designs, people from all over the world connecting over a cup of coffee. That's when my love really flourished. I loved that something so seemingly simple as a cup of coffee could inspire storytelling, ideas, and passions.
So I signed up for Blogspot, did a DIY collage on the floor of my dorm room (this became my first logo – scraps of paper pulled together to represent City Brewed: style, coffee, and beauty). I Googled everything: code, how to tweak the design. It was very, very grassroots. A few weeks into the blog I bought tickets to the Independent Fashion Bloggers Conference, where photographers snapped my photo for Nylon Japan and New York Mag and it kind of, in a weird way, took off from there.
What led you to start Written Coffee? When did you know it was time to start your own coffee roasting company?
My dream of owning a coffee company came that first year in New York, when I was 19 years old. But I knew I wanted to start with roasting my own product, rather than selling some else’s brand.
When thinking of what I wanted my brand to be like, I also knew I wanted to do things a little differently, so I spent months Googling, asking questions, plotting on my commute to work.
It wasn’t until my lease was ending in San Francisco that I really considered making the jump. I figured, well, I could do this crazy thing and maybe, possibly make my dreams come true, or, I could sit back and be comfortable and wonder “what if?”
We'd imagine that it's not a simple process to become a coffee roaster. What steps did you have to take to make your product, source your beans, etc?
It’s funny, I’ve spent years writing about coffee, asking roasters this same question, but it never clicked just how intensive the process is. I knew that I wanted to personally source the beans – at least for the first bag. So I started Googling, again, until I stumbled upon an article about a farm in Guatemala that was innovating the coffee scene, using sustainable practices, and supporting the community. Something in my gut told me this was the first farm. But then it was about getting in touch with them – not an easy task, as you might imagine.
After a few months of “research” (read: stalking), I finally got in touch with the farm owner and was invited to come down to meet in person. The next few months was a whirlwind of cupping (basically tasting) 11 different coffees, importing beans, finding the perfect roaster to partner with (hi, Joel!) and working with my designer Candace to bring all this vision to life. And boy did she bring it to life.
We release each new offering “Chapter” by chapter. That allows me to spend a little more time behind the scenes choosing the right bean partner, cupping, and dialing in the roast. For Chapter One, I was set on sourcing from one farm, which made things a little easier, but I still had 11 different coffees to choose from. I was in Antigua, Guatemala for five days, and spent three of them at the farm. We slurped, sniffed, and finally decided on #11 – a bean that we all agreed was one we’d want to sip all day long. Et, voila!
You approach things a little differently at Written, by launching Chapters of coffee, sharing stories, and donating to partners. Could you tell us more about your concept and the International Women's Coffee Alliance?
The Chapters came from my love of storytelling, and wanting to inspire slow moments spent over coffee. Each new Chapter is super curated, like an edition of your favorite magazine, and I hope to tell important stories with every new launch.
Chapter Two spotlights women – women in coffee, and women in all walks of life who are making waves and changing the narrative. For that reason, I was set on partnering with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance – an organization that aims to empower and support women in coffee by donating monetary funds, knowledge, education, and community support. They really are doing amazing things, like sending a group of volunteers to different countries to teach women producers how to roast, thus giving them another source of income.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I remember the first artisanal coffee shop I ever stepped foot in. If I could bottle up that feeling and keep it forever, I would. It was a mix of inspiration, excitement, pure joy and passion. I swore that I would find a way to pass that same feeling onto others.
While I’m not sure they feel those same…feels…when they sip my coffee, I love when I hear someone say Written has changed the way they think about coffee. When I hear that excitement – the excitement of someone who’s really enjoying that cup of coffee – I get excited and want to work harder. I love seeing how people are enjoying life with Written Coffee. Whether they’re taking Saturdays in stride with a cup, or chatting with friends over a cup of Chapter One, it’s a dream come true.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with Written?
There are always those “I’m in over my head” moments, but I have to remember to bring myself back and put my blinders on. I try to take it step by step, and tackle each challenge as it comes. I’m learning along the way, so it’s always trial and error. Is this the right heat sealer? Am I roasting enough this week? How can I get in this store, or on that bar? Questions pop up daily, but I’m using that same City Brewed scrappiness to make it happen. Google is definitely my friend.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Oh, I love this. When women encourage and empower other women, beautiful things happen. Have you ever been in a room where women come together (preferably over a glass of wine) and just talk, support one another, give feedback, and ideas? Holy powerful. What would the world be like if we had more of that? I think at a young age girls are taught to compete against one another – and not in a healthy way. Girls compete. Women empower.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
If I could write a book about this exact topic, I would (hey, wanna write a book?). Emily Weiss, Leandra Medine, and Diane von Furstenberg are three women I just can’t get enough of. But in real life, I am so grateful to have a big, badass group of women in my life. Women who take charge, chase their dreams, and make serious waves. Women who want to see other women succeed. Women who I could sit with for hours brainstorming and just getting so excited about life and dreams and plans. They’re footwear and clothing designers. They’re directors and PR execs. Some of them are moms and some of them are going back to school to chase new passions. I gain inspiration from them every single day, and I’m lucky enough to call them friends.
What have you learned from creating your own business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
You won’t know everything up front. Be curious, and follow those curiosities. Hone your skills, learn, and invest in yourself. Practice, practice, and practice some more, and don’t forget to have fun along the way.
Do you have any resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
I love the Unfold App and Canva – so great for making Instagram posts and stories. I also use Toggl everyday to track how many hours I’m spending on certain projects, and Asana to keep track of those projects. Evernote is my go-to for note keeping. It’s where I plan future Chapters and brand ideas.
Speaking of brand ideas, I have a cork board next to my desk where tack up ideas. Any time inspiration strikes, I’ll write down the idea on a post-it and put it under one of three categories: story ideas, brand ideas, or dream press collaborations.
While it’s maybe not a resource, one thing I do every Saturday morning – I have an alarm set on my phone – is reflect on the week, and plan for the next week. I just take a few minutes to write: little wins from the week, progress I made, and how I can do things differently next week to reach my goals.
How do you manage your time?
This is one that I’m still learning to navigate. I sometimes find myself stuck to my computer for 12 or 13 hours – yikes. If I have a day like that, I try to balance it out by getting outside for a few hours the next day, or working less hours from a coffee shop. I work from home, so it’s easy to fall into the “oh well I’m home, may as well work,” trap.
I’ve started using Toggl to keep better track of where I’m spending my time – so I’ll report back on how that works out!
How do you deal with moments of self-doubt?
It’s so easy to get in your own head, especially when you’re having a challenging day. A good cry and some journaling is my go-to. No, but really. Cry it out. Sometimes that’s all it takes to recenter yourself and come back stronger. I always keep a notebook on me wherever I go, so any time those “poisoning” thoughts pop into my head, I write it out on paper. Usually it’s a lot more daunting when it’s in your head. When on paper, I can look at it clearly, like “oh, ok, that’s completely unreasonable.”
I’d also suggest finding your “place.” You know, the place you can go to feel at peace and center your thoughts? For me, that place is a causeway near my house. Since I was able to drive I’ve been going there. Hard day? Causeway. Breakup? Causeway? New pimple taking over my face? Causeway.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
Right now I’m really trying to hone in on the coffee craft. I’ve been cupping as much as I can, working to perfect my pour-over, and trying to learn the roasting ropes from Joel. It’s a science – and it’s really freaking cool.
I’d absolutely love to learn how to code, like really code. So much of my career thus far has been digital, and I can do those minimal tweaks, but how cool would it be to code a website? Or build your own app? I’ve been taking courses here and there on Codecademy, but I’d like to take it more seriously.
Written is still pretty new, but what are some of your goals/dreams for the brand?
I have to remind myself that it’s still just a little guy (we launched in February). I have so many dreams for Written, from opening a brick and mortar that’s a total experience when you visit, to collaborating with travel brands, and one day bringing a group on a sourcing trip so Written drinkers can see the whole process from farm to cup.
What are some of your favorite places in St. Pete?
Well, I’m so glad you asked! I love to grab a coffee at Intermezzo, then maybe lunch at Bodega, some shopping at Plain Jane (they sell Written!), Ashe Couture, or Haslam’s Book Store, and I’d finish up the day at Green Bench Brewing. Anyone up for an afternoon in St. Pete?!