Updated: Jun 15, 2020
It’s up for debate who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Some say it was Albert Einstein, and others say it was Benjamin Franklin. Regardless, the lack of diversity I’ve seen in the coffee industry during the past year inspired me to seek out new results, which was a catalyst for my recent trip to Silicon Valley and Seattle. Dávila Kafe's west coast tour underscored the glaring need for change and different results in the coffee industry, particularly in the realm of representation and inclusion.
Alright, so you’re probably wondering what Silicon Valley has to do with a coffee start-up and inclusion. Am I right? Earlier this year a friend of mine asked me if I’d been to what she referred to as “The Valley.” After traveling to over 32 countries, I muttered a breathless “no.” Having been born and raised on the Atlantic coast, where life moves quickly and efficiently, I never felt the urge to “Go West, young man, go west…”. My interests kept me firmly grounded in the east and each time further east starting in the concrete jungle of New York to the world of think tanks in Washington DC, all the way to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.
But, as the founder of a startup that’s largely shaped and driven by technology (e-commerce), a visit to the tech world’s Mecca became more enticing, especially after hearing numerous tales of the Valley’s diversity problem. What I found is that we’ve got a long way to go both in terms of racial divides and the generational gap (More on the generational gap later). Although pledges were made to crack the minority ceiling in the Valley, the lack of diversity in both tech and coffee remain a glaring issue across the board.
Despite all of this, San Francisco had an ethereal vibe rich with east Asian and Mexican influences. Although it felt worlds apart from Washington DC’s policy think tank scene and New York’s fast paced Wall Street tempo, the west was strangely familiar. Unlike the east coast where startups aren’t always taken seriously, and the question at happy hours is usually “who do you work for?” a definitive upside to the Valley is that startup founders, venture capitalists, and risk takers are often respected and given serious consideration rather than being written off as “idealists and dreamers” as is often the case on the east coast.
While visiting the offices of some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent tech companies, I pitched Dávila Kafe to potential partners and investors. I also hosted a couple of pop-up shops at a venture capital firm, and RocketSpace, a global ecosystem where companies like Spotify launched. The exposure was welcomed and prepared me for more pitches in Seattle.
Spoiler alert: Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity didn’t prepare me for what I encountered in Seattle. Seattle, the city where specialty coffee was first introduced to the U.S. market, was the location of this year’s Specialty Coffee Expo, the premier symposium on coffee and what is generally referred to as “a gathering of the most influential thinkers and leaders in the coffee industry.” The key question at this year’s symposium was “Look around you. Who do you see? Who do you not see?” Hint: POC.
Unfortunately, despite the attempt to address the industry’s diversity issue, the symposium fell short. It was, for the most part, business as usual. Various speakers paid lip service to the issue of representation and then it was promptly swept aside. Overall, discussions focused on the latest trends in coffee, sustainability, and finding a path towards paying farmers a just wage, all without the input of those most affected by these issues—the farmers and producers. Although the discussions seemed to lack the commitment and nuance necessary for genuine change in the industry, the first step forward was acknowledging the problem and that much, at the very least, was done.
This west coast tour provided me with a great deal of insight and renewed hope. Hope because there’s a growing number of individuals, myself included, who are committed to changing the current landscape of the coffee industry. We want to create greater opportunities across the board for inclusion and authentic participation top-down. As our company continues to grow, we’re committed to bridging the divide between those who run the coffee farm and those sitting in the c-suite.
David J. Dávila
Dávila Kafe Coffee Company