It’s the dream of every working stiff to wake up one morning and be the boss. Some people are forced to go out on their own; others can pick the time and place.
John Sage is the latter. A former marketing executive with Microsoft, Sage is on a mission to make life better for some and is using his Pura Vida Coffee Company to do it.
The outfit, started in Sage’s hometown Seattle, aims to buy and sell only 100 percent Fair Trade “organic, shade-grown coffee,” Sage says, adding that he thinks that helps “ensure that farmers around the world receive a fair wage and can support their families. And the natural habitat they live and work in is preserved."
Pura Vida’s roots were planted in a 1997 meeting between Sage and business-school pal Christopher Dearnley, pastor of a church in Costa Rica. Dearnley gave Sage a bag of Costa Rican coffee as a present. It was dirt cheap there, but if sold in the United States, was worth three times that amount. Sage had his idea. He paid $2 a pound for beans, twice the normal price, and charged customers between $9-10 a bag –on a par with other premium specialty coffees.
That was all well and good but Sage wanted to do more to give back.
Pura Vida originally sold to religious groups; then began marketing to campuses. The company’s revenues reached $3.6 million in 2006. But there is a balancing act. To raise money and to accept donations from customers, suppliers and other supporters, a nonprofit organization called Pura Vida Partners was set up. It oversees all charitable programs in coffee growing communities.
And as the company expanded and its need for expansion capital grew, Sage needed to adapt.
“Even though I’m a guy who failed finance in business school,” he laughs, “I found myself spending much of the day trying to find creative ways to finance our company growth and our philanthropic mission.”
After trying a number of approaches (including debt and equity offerings), Sage adopted a fairly standard financing model – providing socially-minded investors with a way to invest in the company through a series of private investment rounds.
“I would tell would-be-entrepreneurs that if you want to help save even a small part of world, you need to have a business plan ready before you start,” he says. Sage advice indeed.