On the 6th of May we had the pleasure of having Sahar Hashemi as our speaker, founder of Coffee Republic and Skinny Candy. Sahar spoke about the challenges she faced as an entrepreneur and her journey, and expressed her optimism for the next generation of women entrepreneurs
The idea of Coffee Republic was inspired by a trip to New York to visit Sahar’s brother, then an investment banker. Sahar had just left her job at a prestigious law firm in London after 5 years, feeling that the training had been invaluable but that she did not want to sacrifice her fun and passion for 9-7 hour days. In the 80s, there was a general idea that work and fun did not go hand-in-hand; the mentality was that these big corporations were “not paying you to enjoy it”. Sahar refused this, but initially decided to start interviewing to become an in-house lawyer.
The trip to New York sowed the seeds for what would become Coffee Republic. Sahar describes falling in love with the American coffee shops, so different from the sandwich bars in the UK. She went to a coffee shop in NY expecting the same awful, congealed coffee she found back home, and was amazed at the variety that coffee shops offered, at the possibility of having a skinny or soy latte, with cinnamon or vanilla or syrups on it.
The catalyst for Coffee Republic was a conversation at a Thai restaurant with her family. She was innocently remarking on how much she had enjoyed the American coffee when her brother suggested that they partner up and bring in a coffee brand like Starbucks to the UK, which had yet to see the arrival of such coffee shops. After much deliberation, she decided to go for it. Coffee Republic was eventually valued at 50 million in April 2001, 6 years after opening its first shop.
After selling Coffee Republic, she went on to write her own book, “Anyone Can do It”, which became a cult book in entrepreneurship. Later, missing the thrill of having a start-up, she started a brand of sugar-free candy, Skinny Candy.
On Entrepreneurship and How it has Changed –
In the 80s, when Sahar grew up, there was only one entrepreneur to compare yourself to – Richard Branson. The idea seemed to be that unless you have made your first million in the playground or, ironically, dropped out of university, then you couldn’t really be an entrepreneur. She would never have thought someone like her would have been able to do it.